The Philippines was declared as Asia’s Leading Dive Destination by the 28th World Travel Awards in 2021. It is the third consecutive year that the country won this title. It has undeniably some of the best diving spots in Asia, with adventures that await beginners and professional divers who want to experience the thrill of roller-coaster drift dives. Underwater photography enthusiasts will enjoy documenting the diverse marine life that thrives in the clear tropical waters.
The archipelagic state is part of the heart of the Coral Triangle, the world’s center of marine biodiversity. It has the third-largest area of coral reef in the world at 25,060 km2 which is home to 75% of the world’s coral species and abundant biodiversity that includes 3,000 species of fish. The government, environmental organizations, and local residents are working together to protect this rich marine biodiversity.
Get ready to dive into these amazing underwater spots waiting for your visit when international travel resumes.
- Tubbataha Reef, Puerto Princesa
The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is said to be one of the country’s oldest ecosystems. It covers 96,828 hectares of underwater adventures. This atoll reef has a very high density of marine biodiversity, with more than 700 fish species, over 360 coral species, 11 shark species, and 13 dolphin and whale species already been recorded, and its North Islet serving as a nesting site both for birds and two species of endangered marine turtles – the green turtles and hawksbill turtles. The site has a spectacular 100-m perpendicular wall, extensive lagoons, and two coral islands, with exciting pelagic action involving white tip reef sharks, manta rays, and whale sharks.
- Anilao, Batangas
Anilao, in the Municipality of Mabini, is located just a short drive away from the Philippines’ capital of Manila. This has made it a haven for weekend diving enthusiasts from the city, especially those who are into underwater photography. It is located along the Verde Island Passage between Batangas and Mindoro, which is considered as the center of marine shore fish biodiversity with 319 species swimming in its blue waters that coral taxonomist Douglas Fenner says is home to 74 genera of hard corals. Anilao is a destination for both macro and muck diving enthusiasts, with rare critters like rhinopias, and colorful nudibranchs. It is also a perfect place to perfect blackwater and bonfire diving skills in macrophotography.
- Dauin and Apo Island Dumaguete
The Municipality of Dauin has many dive spots for different levels of enthusiasts. These spots are protected marine sanctuaries that look after the sea’s biodiversity. Dauin is a big draw for those who are into muck diving, owing to the fascinating tiny creatures that dwell camouflaged along with the corals, seagrass, and rock formations. Exciting sightings can start close to the shoreline, and these include different kinds of pipefishes, razorfish, frogfishes, sea horses, wasp fishes, snake eels, sea moths, dragonettes, flounders, snappers, stargazers, and crabs and turtles.
A scenic 30-minute boat ride from Dumaguete brings divers to Apo Island, a marine sanctuary organized by its local community. It offers myriad opportunities to explore on the ground with its volcanic rock formations, and undersea where 400 coral species where over 650 species of fish reside. There is a community of sea turtles that don’t mind swimming serenely alongside divers and having these awesome moments captured on camera. For a feeling of exclusivity, book a stop at the Marine Sanctuary found southeast off of Apo Island, where only 100 divers are allowed per day to preserve its ecological balance.
- Apo Reef Natural Park, Occidental Mindoro
Apo Reef is the largest atoll-like coral reef in the Philippines. Covering an area of 34 square kilometers, it is the second-largest connecting coral reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. The pristine waters of the 30-meter deep channel are teeming with 385 species of fish have been identified in the area, including angel fishes, parrot fishes, jacks, and trevallies. Divers can also encounter reef sharks, moray, giant squid and giant clams. It has a mangrove forest which serves as source of food, spawning ground, and sanctuary of several marine and bird species.
Among the activities available for travelers are scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, lagoon rafting, and watching the birds, dolphins, and turtles that abound in the area.
- Puerto Galera, Mindoro and Verde Island
The name Puerto Galera is Spanish for Port of the Galleons for the trading vessels that would anchor off its shores of this place. Today, it is popular for its numerous diving spots as part of the Verde Island Passage of the Coral Triangle of Asia. Its clear waters allow for high visibility that is perfect for diving among the hard and soft varieties of corals that house about 60 percent of the world’s shore fish. Puerto Galera is part of the Dive and Drive tourism circuit that has been developed by the Department of Tourism that includes important dive sites like Ticao Island in Masbate and Anilao in Batangas.
If the Coral Triangle is considered as the underwater Amazon Forest, Verde Island is at the center of its heart. The Verde Island Wall –two rocks jutting out southeast of the island is considered as the best dive sites in the Philippines, with excellent visibility and lot so nooks and crannies to explore. Colorful corals are home and playground to white tips and other sharks, mantas, tuna and jacks with pelagics like parrotfish, unicorn fish, and Napoleons adding even more color to the visual impact of clouds of anthias. For a spinning good time, head out to the Washing Machine, so-called for its wild current that is popular with divers who are looking to enjoy a unique thrill.
- Cebu (Malapascua, Moalboal)
Located at the Northern part of Cebu, Malapascua Island is a must-visit for divers to enjoy the rare and thrilling experience of swimming with thresher sharks. The pristine waters of this tropical island paradise offers more unforgettable adventures. After a 5 a.m. thresher shark dive, enthusiasts can also go on shipwreck explorations, deep and tek dives, dusk mandarin fish spotting, and night dives to observe rare nocturnal creatures. Another dive attraction is the underwater tunnel that runs through the length of nearby Gato Island, home to white tip sharks. Here, divers can explore undercuts and small caves to discover the secret lives of marine animals such as cuttlefish, banded sea snakes, crabs, anthas, and lionfish. The beach life is just as grand, where you can walk anywhere in flip-flops to enjoy the charming, relaxed life on the island.
Moalboal in the local dialect means bubbling waters, owing to its freshwater springs. Its dive sites offer an array of exciting experiences, with Copton Point already offering two – the Copton Deep that has an aircraft wreck to explore and Copton Shallow that has table corals and shallow corals through which dart a wide variety of fish. Likened to the effects of stained-glass windows at church, Pescador Cathedral is a magnificent cave that captures shafts of light at midday to bathe the surroundings with a heavenly glow.
- Bohol (Anda, Balicasag, and Cabilao)
Beautiful Bohol, with its breathtaking natural wonders such as the Chocolate Hills and Man-Made Mahogany Forest, along with historic sites such as its centuries-old churches is also a haven for divers. The warm sands of Bohol’s AIona Beach is the jump-off point for dive safaris to Anda, Balicasag, and Cabilao.
Anda is a relatively new dive destination and it is being developed with sustainable tourism in mind. Conservation efforts are supported by the friendly community, with guides who expertly help divers find the best spots. Coral-covered shallow flat reefs are home to a host of creatures such as hawkfish, fire urchins, and Coleman shrimp. Schoolers such as snappers, groupers, puffers, and turtles like to converge in these clear waters. Cabilao has the small island charm. It has only five barangays or communities, but 20 dive sites. Underwater life ranges from small soft corals to large gorgonian sea fans. The Lighthouse 1 and 2 are popular dive photography sites. Balicasag is a protected area because it is a sea turtle meeting, breeding, and feeding area. There is a site that is literally named Diver’s Heaven, because here, each dive is a good dive.
- Coron Wreck Diving, Palawan
Coron has been described as one of the best spots in the World for wreck diving. There are 24 Japanese ships that were sunk in the area by an American air raid during World War II and the 12 wrecks that have been discovered are now home to corals and other forms of aquatic life. The shipwrecks are very well preserved and are all located in quite shallow water starting at 6 to 10 meters which is perfect for recreational diving. For enthusiasts, there are also dive courses which may be booked through Dugong Dive Center.
Safe and Protected
The Philippines is proactive in protecting its marine resources, not only through government mandates but also through community engagement. The locals of the areas understand the importance of caring for the environment as their source of livelihood and as their legacy to the next generations. The Philippine Department of Tourism works closely with the local government units of the popular dive sites and new circuits in order to ensure that the marine biodiversity is allowed to thrive through responsible and sustainable tourism efforts.
All these tourist destinations have health and safety protocols in place to protect locals and visitors alike. Everyone is expected to comply by wearing face masks, regularly washing their hands, and practicing physical distancing.
To check out up-to-date information regarding local destinations that are open and the safety protocols and requirements needed for each location, you may visit philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel, Apple Store, or Google Playstore.