Jump in: seven of the best diving spots in the Philippines

With its prized position in the heart of the Coral Triangle, the Philippines is a place of dramatic biodiversity, where rainbow-coloured reefs and unique wreck dives are all within easy reach.

Thursday, June 11, 2020,
By Philippine Department of Tourism
The island of Malapascua is a good jumping-off point for wreck-diving, with spots including the Donna ...

The island of Malapascua is a good jumping-off point for wreck-diving, with spots including the Donna Marilyn, whose 98-foot hull is now home to an incredible array of soft coral. 

Photograph by Getty Images

This nation of more than 7,000 islands offers exceptional adventure opportunities to snorkellers, marine wildlife enthusiasts and divers of all abilities. The Philippines sits in the Coral Triangle, an area of tropical marine waters in the western Pacific that represents one of Asia’s richest marine eco-systems, home to more than 500 species of hard and soft corals and a kaleidoscopic variety of fish, along with some of our planet’s biggest marine mammals and predators. Whether exploring the open ocean on a liveaboard or finning around reefs that fringe pristine sandy beaches, the Philippines is a glorious corner of Southeast Asia waiting to be discovered when we can travel again. Read on for seven of the country’s best underwater sites.

Just off the northern tip of Cebu, the reefs around Malapascua are widely cited as the best place to spot thresher sharks.

Photograph by Getty Images

1. Malapascua
Best for: spotting a thresher shark

Just off the northern tip of Cebu, the reefs around this tiny island are widely cited as the place to spot thresher sharks. It’s one of the few places in the world where these shy, fierce-tailed creatures are regularly seen. The waters off Malapascua are also home to several other species of sharks and rays, along with  photogenic macro life — the likes of scorpionfish, mantis shrimp and seahorses — found around nearby Gato Island. Malapascua is a good jumping-off point for wreck-diving, with spots including the Donna Marilyn, whose 98-foot hull is now home to an incredible array of soft coral. 

The sardine run is legendary in Moabal; it sees up to seven million fish gather in a vast swarm near Panagsama Beach.

Photograph by Beth Watson

2. Moalboal
Best for: seeing a sardine 'bait ball'

Freedivers, snorkellers and divers can experience the legendary sardine run in Moalboal, which sees up to seven million fish gather in a vast swarm (known as a 'bait ball') near Panagsama Beach. The waters off Moalboal offer diverse sites for divers, with huge schools of fish swimming against a backdrop of seawalls, canyons and caves. Nearby Pescador Island, meanwhile, is renowned for its theatrical seawall carpeted with soft corals that teem with deep reef fish and, on the west side, a cathedral cavern where octopus, moray eels and snake eels reside. Fans of even bigger sea creatures should make the two-hour journey to Oslob to swim with whale sharks.

Tubbataha's staggering biodiversity takes in some 600 species of fish and almost 400 species of coral.

Photograph by Getty Images

3. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park
Best for: marine diversity

From miniscule technicolour nudibranchs to gentle-giant whale sharks, the biodiversity of this dive site in Palawan is staggering. The area is home to some 600 species of fish and almost 400 species of coral, plus whale sharks, nesting hawksbill and green sea turtles, dolphins, manta rays and enormous schools of barracuda. Don’t miss Amos Rock, often cited as Tubbataha’s top spot, where colourful soft corals form a backdrop to muscular reef sharks. Tubbataha also has the benefit of warm water and excellent visibility, making it a must-visit for all wildlife lovers.

Once a harbour for Japanese ships in the Second World War, Coron’s deep waters are now home to the ghostly remains of 11 vessels sunk during an air attack in September 1944.

Photograph by Getty Images

4. Coron
Best for: wreck-diving

For a spectacular combination of natural seascapes and wreck dives, look no further than Coron Bay in Palawan, with its limestone cliffs and crystal-clear lagoons a backdrop to the Philippines’ best wreck dives. Once a harbour for Japanese ships in the Second World War, Coron’s deep waters are now home to the ghostly remains of 11 vessels sunk during an air attack in September 1944. The thriving reef system supports a community of scorpionfish, nudibranchs, octopuses, reef shark and stingrays. You don’t have to be an experienced diver to enjoy these sites: Coron’s largest wreck, Okikawa Maru, a 525ft craft whose tip sits just 32ft below the surface, is beginner-friendly.

With superb visibility and a long list of resident small-scale sea life, Anilao is a popular muck diving spot for underwater photographers looking to explore a macro world.

Photograph by Getty Images

5. Anilao
Best for: underwater photography

The closest dive spot to Manila, this peninsula is backed by mountains that shelter shingle coves, where pristine waters are home to rich marine diversity. It's a rewarding spot for short breaks and fun diving. With superb visibility and a long list of resident small-scale sea life, including nudibranchs, frogfish, seahorses, cuttlefish and pipefish, it’s also a popular muck diving spot for underwater photographers looking to explore a macro world. Anilao also offers plenty for the wide-angle lens — turtles and huge schools of jacks and jellyfish, plus the occasional reef shark, await.

There are numerous offshore dives from Alona Beach, and from the islands of Panglao, Balicasag and Pamilacan.

Photograph by Getty Images

6. Bohol
Best for: endless choice

Famed for its steep walls and fabulous coral, this is an island and region that offers a wealth of dive sites. Don’t miss the offshore dives from Alona Beach, and from the islands of Panglao, Balicasag and Pamilacan. Bohol is a gateway to some of the country’s most remote sites, as well as open currents where experienced divers can explore coral gardens, walls and drift dives. Around Anda, meanwhile there are 10 miles of ivory white-sand coastline to explore. The shores here offer something for all types of diver, including an abundance of macro species in sandy muck dive sites — a particular boon for keen photographers.

Mindoro has generous stretches of sandy beaches, and an array of contrasting dive sites just a short boat ride away.

Photograph by Getty Images

7. Mindoro
Best for: big reefs

Home to the second-largest contiguous coral reef in the world, Mindoro has a tropical climate for year-round diving. There’s something for all abilities here: easy shore dives, deep drifts and wrecks. Puerto Galera has buzzing restaurants and bars all within walking distance, plus generous stretches of sandy beaches and an array of contrasting dive sites just a short boat ride away. Here, wide-angle photographers will be delighted by both soft and hard coral habitats, beginners will enjoy protected bays and shallow reef dives, and more advanced divers will be wowed by the large pelagic species riding the strong currents around Verde Island.

Essentials

While for now we cannot travel, click here for more aspirational information on the Philippines as a whole, as well as tips on how to organise a diving trip when travel resumes.

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