Explore the rich marine life of the Philippines. Find out the best diving spots in the country and the unique marine creatures and sights that you can see there.
The Philippines is home to more than 7,000 stunning islands and even more beautiful beaches, with some of it considered as the best in the world. But there's more to this Southeast Asian country underneath its paradise-like islands and beaches.
The Philippines is part of The Coral Triangle, a marine area in the Pacific Ocean that is considered the Amazon of the Sea due to the rich marine biodiversity.
Diving in the Philippines will treat you to incredible sights and experiences like swimming with thresher sharks in Cebu, exploring World War II shipwrecks in Palawan, and discovering a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Puerto Princesa.
Choosing which diving spots in the Philippines that are worth traveling to can be difficult, that's why we created this list for you.
Anilao in Batangas, known as the Nudibranch Capital of the Philippines, is the closest underwater haven from Metro Manila. It usually takes 2.5 to 3 hours by car from Manila to get among the various entry points in Anilao. It features a cove so huge that it almost has 60 (48 are known to most) dive sites for anyone to play in.
Technically, Anilao represents two barangays or towns (Anilao Proper and Anilao East) in the municipality of Mabini, Batangas. Since Anilao is where the seaport was located and the only available entry point for scuba diving 40 years ago, it became the famous term to represent all dive sites found in Mabini, Tingloy, and Bauan.
Today, the coastline has been populated by different resorts that you can relax in or be your home base for diving trips.
There are three major things that you could look into when joining an Anilao diving tour: discover the tiny exotic creatures it hides, immerse yourself in its flourishing biodiversity, or blackwater diving.
Anilao is best known for nudibranchs, the tiny exotic creatures it hides in its waters. Of over 800 identified nudibranchs around the world, there are 600 that can be found in Anilao.
Muck diving is another interesting way to find nudibranchs, specifically in places like Anilao Pier, Basura, and Secret Bay, may it be in the morning or by night time. Train your eyes from the way these creatures display their camouflage.
Aside from nudibranch, you can also find various kinds of frogfish, sea moths, gurnards, wasp fishes, stonefishes, stargazers, flounders, worms, stingrays, shrimps, seahorses (specifically the pygmy seahorse), pipefish, and shrimpfish, among many others.
Wallow among schools of jacks in either Dive and Trek or Twin Rocks. Almost everywhere you can find butterflyfishes, angelfishes, spadefishes, surgeonfishes, rabbitfishes, scats, Moorish idols, damselfishes, snappers, barracudas, mackerels, needlefishes, groupers, hawkfishes, sweetlips, puffers, cardinalfishes, and more.
Get to amaze yourself among schools of fusiliers and anthias as if they were colored rain underwater in places behind.
Most dive resorts in Anilao are well versed to lead guests on a blackwater dive. Boats usually set a 33-meter line with strong lights 10 meters apart complemented with expert dive guides to give you a glimpse of creatures you probably already know, however, at their larval state.
Malapascua in Cebu is most famous for the pelagic thresher sharks. Thresher sharks are typically deep-sea sharks and spend most of their time deep underwater. Take note, however, that only in Malapascua do they go shallow enough among recreational diving depths on almost a guaranteed basis for divers to see.
Off the south-eastern side of Malapascua Island is a sunken plateau called Monad Shoal where there is an abundance of cleaner wrasse fishes. Thresher sharks can get free cleaning services from these fish to remove parasites and dead tissues from their bodies. This is one of the biggest reasons why we believe these sharks are here.
The highest chance to see the sharks is at the break of dawn. Thus, it's customary to get on the boat before sunrise, usually at 4:30 AM. As the sun rises, you'll get to see other boats coming from different directions, as if it is a race to the best buoys around Monad Shoal. It eventually leads to a race among the best front row seats underwater.
Here are some important things you have to think about this special dive:
The use of strobes and video lights for either photography or videography are not allowed. While it has not been proven that lights may harm the sharks' eyes, lights could possibly scare them away.
The longer you stay underwater, the better your chances to see them. Thus, the use of Nitrox is highly recommended, if you are Nitrox certified.
Around the cleaning stations underwater, where the clusters of cleaning wrasses are concentrated, you can find pre-installed ropes that indicate boundaries. You are highly encouraged to kneel, hover low, or do a fin pivot outside of these boundaries. Each dive guide from every boat will be watching all of the guests underwater to make sure these rules are well abided.
Other than the pelagic thresher celebrity sharks, there are also sightings of white tip and grey reef sharks including pelagic mantas and devil rays. These are believed to be taking advantage of the wrasse cleaning stations’ services as well.
Off the northwestern part of Malapascua Island are the enchanting Gato Island, a sea snake, and fish sanctuary. It features a huge cave on the southwestern side of the island around 12 meters deep with a length of approximately 20 to 25 meters.
Please bring a torch on this dive because there is a short section in the middle where you wouldn't see external light. If you're lucky enough, white tip sharks will be accompanying you out by the exit.
Around the island will be sea kraits, sea horses, nudibranchs, cuttlefish, mantis shrimps, frogfish, crabs, squids, cardinalfish, and rock formations where different soft corals had healthily grown.
Aside from diving, have an enjoyable walk along Bounty Beach where you’ll find various restaurants and shops. If you love watching sunsets, the Logon Beach would give you the best scenery.
Every time I think about Coron, I think of a gallery of museums, specifically of historical interest, that transports me to World War II. At 9 AM on the 24th of September in 1944, a US Navy strike force of fighters and dive bombers arrived within the airspace of Coron and Busuanga and attacked a Japanese supply fleet of up to 24 ships.
It has always been a debate among historians whether the ships were detected from the air as moving islets or whether their radio transmissions were intercepted, which eventually led to a surprise aerial attack by the US Navy. The heavy air strike lasted less than an hour, leaving a carnage of burning and sinking ships.
The vicinity of Sangat Island in Coron has the largest concentration of sunken ships; 11 of them are within recreational scuba diving depths of 25 to 40 meters. The shipwrecks are in great condition and highly recommended among Advanced scuba divers to penetrate.
Among the many shipwrecks included in the popular tourist spots in Coron, most are supply ships. There is one warship, Akitsushima Maru, a 118-meter long warship where a seaplane used to be deployed. It’s quite popular for wreck divers given the variety of marine life that calls it home.
Things to look out for include a three-barrelled anti-aircraft gun by the sandy area near the base of the huge crane and the crane’s intact machinery and gears. It also has a huge rip at the stern which divers can use to penetrate it.
Other interesting armaments would include gun placements pointing to the bottom near the mast, swivel mounts for bigger guns, and an artillery shell jammed inside its mechanism. Make your way from stem to stern among endless labyrinths until you make it to the engine room where you will find its four engines.
Each shipwreck has its secret to share. Kogyo Maru, a Navy Auxiliary Cargo Supply Ship of the Imperial Japanese Navy, reveals an encrusted tractor with its recognizable metal wheels and air compressor.
Irako Maru, a Refrigeration/Provision Store ship show special access to its galley (kitchen). Morozan Maru features her huge boilers and almost endless corridors. The rest of the shipwrecks have their own story to tell.
Around 400 meters off the eastern corner of San Agapito is Verde Island Passage, also known as San Agapito dive site. It is accessible both from Puerto Galera and Anilao, Batangas, by a motorized boat.
The San Agapito dive site looks like a seamount that has three peaks with one always peeking out of the water approximately 2 meters high from the surface depending on the tides. The third pinnacle lies 18 meters deep. The island itself sits at the heart of the famous Verde Island Passage, a strait around 1.14 million hectares.
The strait lies between Luzon and Mindoro and has been known as the "Center of the Center of Marine Biodiversity." It connects South China Sea with the Tayabas Bay and Sibuyan Sea.
The usual flow of current in this part of the Verde Island Passage is extremely strong. Thus, only seasoned advanced scuba divers can dive here. The direction of its current would determine whether you could dive either the sea mount's east or west side.
As most would say, San Agapito diving is somewhat a small fraction of how Tubbataha Reefs National Park in Palawan would look like without the sharks and the rays. Its wall stretches 70 meters deep. As you go down, you will find huge coral fans. There are juvenile sea turtles that simply do their round of eating, breaching, swimming, and sleeping on a periodical basis.
You will also find a school of jacks and mackerels just like in normal scuba diving tours, including families of big tunas and groupers lurking around.
The best spectacle I always look forward to seeing on this dive is the massive display of swimming red-orange colored anthias. It's as if it was raining fish all over you! The visibility can be farther than 30 meters at times so be careful when you plan your ascent to your safety stop.
It may be so clear that you think you are within your 4 meters safety stop, when you are actually still 10 meters away from the surface. When the current flows are strong, it is recommended that you spend your safety stop near the closest peak and plan your ascent in the blue.
Make sure you have your long safety balloon with you because you are within one of the busiest sea lanes in the country.
On the southeastern part of Negros Oriental near Dumaguete is a small coastal town called Dauin. It is accessible via Sibulan Airport, also called Dumaguete Airport. Along its shores are 18 popular dive sites that are known for muck diving. Some of the critters found there are rare to find.
If you are not familiar with muck diving, it simply means that most of the area happens to be mostly sandy. However, you have to be clever enough to find these hiding critters under your nose because they exhibit amazing camouflage techniques specific to this environment. The best ones happen to be very tiny and so much harder to see.
Make sure you have the best muck diving experience by having a local dive spotter expert with you. Macro photography makes time go faster than what you think, so please do check your air periodically.
The dive sites generally range from the shore sloping down to as deep as 30 meters. There are car wrecks, artificial reefs made out of vehicle tires, sea grass, sandy patches, and rock formations where different species reside.
You can find pipefishes, razorfish, frogfishes, sea horses, cuttlefish, wasp fishes, seahorses, snake eels, sea moths, dragonettes, flounders, snappers, crabs, turtles, groupers, tall garden eels, shrimps, mimic octopi, various anemone fish, white tip sharks, dog tooth tuna, nudibranchs, and flasher wrasses.
Dauin is usually the jump-off area to get to Apo Island best known for diver friendly sea turtles and a huge school of jacks. After your diving experience, make sure to add other Dumaguete tours to your itinerary as well.
Joining a Balicasag Island tour is fun as it's found southwest off of Panglao Island in Bohol. You will have to arrange boats from Panglao Island to get you to Balicasag Island whether you want to simply visit its beach or go scuba diving.
Balicasag Island, a marine sanctuary, is approximately 600 meters in diameter. There are five beautiful dive sites around it, including the Balicasag Marine Sanctuary that highlights a 200-meter drop-off.
The huge wall is teeming with marine life together with resident tiny critters that macro photographers will enjoy. Along that wall is a huge school of jacks; I remember seeing the school arranged as if it were a vertical vortex extending 30 meters long.
There is also the school of barracudas. It truly is a great place to experience, especially when you get to see its visibility that could go 20 to 30 meters far depending on the season. The Black Forest, the most popular dive site, got its name from having the abundance of amazing black corals.
It is 40 meters deep and has its share of a school of jacks and barracudas. Make sure to see the beautiful islands of Bohol with dolphin watching if you can!
Turtle Point, as the name suggests, has the most number of friendly resident sea turtles you can go diving with. Do not go rushing towards one.
Always make that slow approach to show that you mean no harm and remember never to touch any of them including any marine life. The place also has caves as deep as 60 to 75 meters deep meant for technical divers to penetrate.
The other three dive sites include The Royal Garden (with an average depth of 18 meters), Diver's Haven, and the Cathedral wall, all of which share an extensive wealth of beautiful soft and hard corals, sea turtles, and many different species of fish.
At the southwestern part of Puerto Princesa in Palawan, where the heart of The Coral Triangle sits, is the Philippines’ crown jewel, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. The word “Tubbataha” is a Samal term that means “long reef exposed at low tide.”
It is composed of two huge coral atolls called the North and South Atolls plus a smaller coral structure called the Jessie Beazley Reef, found northeast of the North Atoll.
Its location automatically renders itself isolated and has become its best protection against human exploitation. Most dive liveaboard operations, if not all, begin its sail from Puerto Princesa’s wharf by evening and arrive at Tubbataha by sunrise.
Tubbataha is the Philippines’ first national marine park and has garnered milestones through the help of passionate conservationists, scientists, and scuba divers over the past decades.
It is the largest Marine Protected Area in the country, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is part of the Ramsar list of Wetlands of International Importance.
You'll be able to see 360 species of corals, half of what the world carries today, and 23 known shark and ray species, including whale sharks, tiger sharks, white tip, silver tip, blacktip, hammerhead, nurse sharks, manta rays, devil rays, and eagle rays.
Photo from the Philippine Department of Tourism
Feast your eyes among the 600 species of fish and 13 species of dolphins and whales in Tubbataha. There are only two islets in the area where 100 species of birds reside and are known to be one of the remaining safe breeding habitats for seabirds in southeast Asia.
No one is allowed to step on either islets in Tubbataha nor are you allowed to use a drone unless you have clearance from the Tubbataha Management Office.
There are strict rules which guests should adhere to; using gloves, reef hooks, and pointing rods, for example, are prohibited while diving. Chasing, collecting, and feeding marine life, as well as polluting, littering, and fishing are not allowed.
Every liveaboard sets its travel to Tubbataha on a weekly basis from mid-April to mid-July, when its waters are glass flat. Beyond these months, there are no diving trips to Tubbataha.
There is no access to any phone signal once you’re there, so don’t miss to inform your colleagues and loved ones about your trip. Some liveaboards will have communications access via satellite phones only.
Start planning your diving trip to the underwater treasures of the Philippines? Explore Philippine diving tours that you can book and add to your itinerary!