Home to over 7000 islands (7,107 to be exact), the Philippines is a dream destination for avid divers. Apart from having notoriously picture perfect beaches, the Philippine seas is also part of the Coral Triangle, which is more or less the center of marine biodiversity. The Coral Triangle spans out to other countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and more. To prove its diversity, this area is home to 76% of all known coral species in the world. Apart from these incredible figures, it all boils down to a simple fact. In the Philippines, the waters are warm, the marine diversity is incredible, and the people are some of the nicest in the world. While I could go on and on about the how great diving in the Philippines is, instead, let me give you a walk through of some of the best dive sites in the Philippines and what makes each one so special but first off, let’s talk about the general diving conditions.
Diving Conditions in the Philippines
Visibility: Generally speaking, you can get pretty amazing dive conditions in the Philippines if you are there during the correct time and season. Visibility can range from anything between 5-45 meters (15-150 feet) with the water temperature being warm all year round.
Season: While you can dive all year round, December through March is the northeast monsoon that can bring strong winds. February through June is usually dry with warm days and little wind and is a good time to go for those who want only sunshine and clear skies. July through November is the southwest monsoon, bringing you a little bit of rain.
How to Travel Around: Generally speaking, as the Philippines is composed of many islands, flying is the best option for those crunched on time. However, for avid divers, to make the most out of your experience, joining a liveaboard while in the Philippines is definitely the way to see it. Through the Philippine liveaboards, you’re able to see and discover the best dive sites within the area. So whether you’re there to enjoy a few fun dives or are there to purely explore the best of the underwater world, diving in the Philippines boast of some of the best in the world and is worth checking out.
Top Dive Sites and Destinations in the Philippines
Given the number of islands, as you can imagine, the variety of dive sites are as plentiful. The diving in the Philippines is as diverse as you can get. You have amazing wreck dives where you can swim through incredible WWII shipwrecks, colorful reefs, millions of sardines, and whale shark encounters. While choosing the best dive sites is an incredibly difficult feat, here are our top picks to help you plan your next diving adventure. While most dive sites are easily accessible, the best way to make the most out of your trip is by going on a Philippines Liveaboard where you can easily travel from one site to the next.
Location: Southeast of Palawan, Sulu Sea
Tubbataha is arguably the best dive site in the Philippines as it is incredibly well preserved due to its remoteness. Divers from all around the world flock to this 97,030 hectare Marine Protected Area in Palawan which is made up of two huge coral atolls, the North and South Atoll as well as the Jessie Beazley Reef around 20 km away. Home to about 90% of all the coral species in the Philippines, a trip to Tubbataha is indeed a once in a lifetime experience. The Tubbataha Reefs can only be explored through liveaboard boats so unlike most popular dive sites, you will have most of the reef and ocean to explore without running into other divers. Apart from being secluded, you will see walls covered in whip coral and gorgonian sea fans.
Highlights: When diving in Tubbataha, you can see eleven different species of sharks, over 479 species of fish, and large pelagics such as jacks, manta ray, tuna, and whale sharks. It also has the highest population density for white tip reef sharks so a shark sighting is pretty common while you’re here!
Best Dive Sites in Tubbataha Reef: While choosing between all the dive sites are hard, a few of the best sites in Tubbataha are Amos Rock (Southwest Rock), Shark Airport, and Washing Machine. In Amos Rock, prepare to marvel at the stunning whip and gorgonian corals as you drift in the dive site as you spot gray reef and whitetip sharks, large groupers, and mackerels. Shark Airport is a wide plateau like shelf is home to hawksbill and green sea turtles as well as white tip sharks who cruise along the drop-off edges. Lastly, the Washing Machine who as you can tell from the name has incredibly strong currents that shift often. Naturally, where there are currents, there are also large pelagics and animals drifting close by. The currents are all pretty strong in Tubbataha so a good level of skill and expertise is encouraged.
Editor’s Note: Traveling the country? Check out our suggestions on the Best Places to Stay in the Philippines
Location: Cebu City, Negros
Experience diving with one of the most fascinating creatures ever, the elusive thresher sharks who are frequent visitors in the Malapascua area. In fact, it is probably the only place in the world where you can see a thresher shark daily. Home to over 20 dive sites, Malapascua is a dream for divers as it boasts of warm tropical water conditions, unbelievable diversity, and stunning landscapes.
Highlights: Seeing the graceful thresher shark swim across the water. Close encounters with these creatures are also very common as they don’t tend to be very shy.
Best Dive Sites in Malapascua: The Monad Shoal is a submerged island with a steep 200m drop off home to threshers, manta rays, devil rays, and over varieties of sharks. The cave or “the tunnel” is another site which shouldn’t be missed. Home to a 30m tunnel which has loads of fish and more importantly, white tip shark who circle near the exit. This site is recommended for more experienced divers. Kimod Shoal is another site which features a sunken island who attracts schools of about 200 hammerhead sharks which are regularly seen between December and May.
Read: Where to Stay in Cebu
Location: Cebu City, Negros
Memorable to me because this is the place where I first began discovering the beauty of the underwater world, Moalboal is a beautiful place with stunning house reefs and playful turtles. However, what makes this place so exciting is the large school of sardines which call this place home. Often, large pelagics attracted by the food grace the diver’s presence as you get to watch an unbelievable show of cat and mouse as the sardines move and change shapes. Right by the shore of Panagsama Beach in Moal Boal town, you can find a school of around one million sardines who you can choose to either dive or snorkel with. While snorkeling can be loads of fun, from down below, you can sit quietly and watch the school of sardines transform into various shapes.
Highlights: Apart from the incredible experience of swimming with the sardines, the other house reefs in Moal Boal are equally as stunning with lots of jacks, sharks, and playful turtles.
Best Dive Sites in Moal Boal: Take a 15-minute boat ride and soon, you will find yourself in by Pescador Island, which is famous for its cathedral cave. This spectacular swim through starts at around 30 meters deep, and has various exits at around 18 meters. There is also an artificial plane wreck that you can visit while you’re diving in the area.
Location: Occidental Mindoro
Considered as the second largest atoll reef in the Philippines, Apo Reef is a must for avid divers. While most of the reefs are submerged, the reefs are marked by three islands namely Apo Island, Apo Menor and Cayos del Bajo. This 34-kilometer reef has a narrow channel running East to West which divides the reef into two lagoon systems (north and south). Liveaboard journeys have all opened up to this area, making it even more accessible and convenient to explore.
Highlights: Apart from the stunning beaches, you are also bound to see large schools of pelagic fish like barracuda and groupers. You will also see a varied species of sharks and manta rays.
Best Dive Sites in Apo Reef: Shark Ridge is popular for its black and white tip reef sharks as well as the many shallow caves where you can find eels, lobsters, and large groupers. Apart from this, Apo 29 is also a popular site known for its swift currents where you can possibly site thresher sharks, hammerheads, and other large reef sharks.
Home to many stunning reefs and wreck dives, Palawan is one of my favorite places on earth. Between the WWII shipwreck swim-throughs, and crystal clear waters and lagoons, not only is Palawan beautiful, it also has a diverse and abundant marine life. As Palawan encompasses a large area, dive sites are spread all over El Nido and Coron. Here, expect to see a number of shipwrecks, some of which you can only fully explore after two full dives. With each wreck promising you fantastic swim throughs inside large engine rooms as you swim alongside turtles and large groupers. When I was last there, one dive boat was lucky enough to see a whale shark simply hanging around one of the wrecks.
Highlights: Apart from the wreck dives, the visibility is pretty fantastic and the amount of fish and corals are great. In some areas, you can also see some dugongs or sea manatees.
Best Dive Sites in Palawan: Although Barracuda Lake is not visually striking due to the lack of marine life, if you’re looking for an out of the world experience, dive in Coron’s famous barracuda lake. Swim through large caves and cathedral as you dive through an almost alien like world full of underwater rock formations. Other sites that are great for exploring are Destacado Reef, The Dilumacad Underwater Tunnel, and North Rock.
Other Popular Diving Destinations in the Philippines
If you enjoy swimming with turtles, head on over to Apo Island, home to some spectacular hard corals and turtles who endlessly graze and swim around. At present, the island is home to over 650 documented species of fish and around 400 species of corals. Most of the Philippines’ 450 species of coral can be found here. This spot was also included in one of the top 100 dive sites in the world.
Located on the northwest side of Boracay Island is the popular dive site Yapak 2 where you can find sharks rays, barracudas, tuna, and other large schools of fish. Lucky divers can also chance upon whale sharks while in the area. Apart from the vibrant marine life, the site has a deep wall which starts at 30 metres/100 feet which plunges straight down. Currents can be very strong so only experienced divers are encouraged. When in the area, you will be rewarded by seeing large marine life such as gray and whitetip reef sharks, snappers, and triggerfish.
Popular for the two sunken Volkswagen which sprung into a fabulous artificial reef and also a great spot for macro and muck diving.
One of the very first established diving destinations in the Philippines which is frequented by many. Due to its location, diving here is very rarely affected by weather conditions and has many dive spots worth exploring.
Home to a marine protected area, you will be treated to beautiful coral gardens, turtles, and large schools of reef fish.
Known to have the most number or wreck dive sites all within minutes away from all the dive centers. While not known for large pelagics or great visibility, a lot of people go here to explore the wrecks and to do some technical diving.Around 10 years ago, the Philippines went through a terrible crisis, unable to control illegal fishing and other overfishing in the country. While marine restrictions have already been placed, there are areas whose corals are still recovering. However, with that being said, most of the dive sites named above all have generally healthy reefs with plenty to see. So whether you’re there to enjoy a few fun dives or are there to purely explore the best of the underwater world, diving in the Philippines boast of some of the best in the world and is worth checking out.
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