Have you wanted to visit a diving destination with over 7,000 dive sites? Well, that’s the Philippines! This archipelago hosts over 7,100 islands where a dive site can literally be found in each island. Here, you can expect to see marine life like tropical reef fish, small and big pelagic fish, corals and other marine invertebrates abound.Discover Philippines Liveaboard Trips
If you tried to explore all 7,000 dive sites in the Philippines by diving twice a day, it would take you 9.5 years to tick off this scuba diving bucket list. No wonder the Philippines has been beckoning divers for decades! In this guide, we’ll reveal the ten best scuba dive sites in the Philippines.
The best scuba dive sites in the Philippines: Quick answer
- Verde Island Passage
- Apo Reef
- Manta Bowl
- Tubbataha Reefs
- Monad Shoal
- Pescador Island
- Apo Island
- Sunken Cemetery
Location: Mabini, Batangas (125 km / 77 mi south of Metro Manila)
Level: All levels of certification
Being one of the nearest dive sites in Metro Manila doesn’t have to mean that quality is compromised. In fact, Anilao is one of the best dive site in the Philippines as it is known for muck diving.
Though Anilao has over 50 dive sites that are mostly concentrated on the southern coast, there are a few sites that stand out when it comes to marine biodiversity, like the Cathedral. Landmarked by a cross in between two rocky protrusions and deployed by a former President of Philippines, Cathedral is a paradise for novice divers. Enjoy the shallow depth and a reef flat filled with massive corals and barrel sponges. You will be surprised to see how the reef fish (like butterflyfish, angelfish, surgeonfish and damselfish) are so acquainted with our presence that they come close to us. Try to focus your sight on the seabed and you will be further amazed with the healthy population of sea slugs as several species of nudibranch can be found in this small patch of Anilao.
In case you brought the wrong camera lens, don’t worry. There is a site for wide-angle photography in Anilao. Beatrice Rocks is a series of rocky protrusions filled with soft corals that is being dominated by an orange colored damselfish: the Anthias. On top of this, you can cover a large area in Beatrice Rocks without putting too much effort in finning as the site is known for drift diving where you can swim along with the moderate to strong current.
VERDE ISLAND PASSAGE
Location: Puerto Galera (140 km / 87 mi south of Metro Manila)
Verde Island Passage is described as the center of the Center of Marine Biodiversity. This means that Verde Island has the most types of fish, corals, and other marine inhabitants per square meter in the world!
Since this dive site is located in an oceanic passage known for strong currents, only divers with advanced certification are recommended to explore take the plunge. To give you a glimpse of how strong the water current is, there is popular dive site called the Washing Machine. You can go drift diving following strong water current with speed reaching 4 knots at its peak–with the ebbing tide being especially strong. Just in case you want to explore washing machine without the nasty current, then plan to dive on a slack tide where current is milder.
A similar drift dive setting in Verde Island is the popular Pinnacle which is a rocky protrusion that comes out of the seafloor at 20 m (60 ft) and rises all the way up almost to the surface. It is encrusted with hard and soft corals.
If you plan to explore the Washing Machine or the Pinnacle, we highly suggest you equip yourself with a surface marker buoy and a reef hook for safety.
Location: Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro (224 km / 139 mi south of Metro Manila)
Level: All levels of certification
Considered as the second largest coral reef system in the world, Apo Reef covers an area of 34 sq km (13 sq mi ) and has been declared a natural park. It has a unique topography where it is generally triangular in shape with two lagoons and narrow reef platforms. Most of the dive sites are located on the northern coast, where you can explore a vertical limestone wall.
Apo Out is one of the popular sites in Apo Reef made from limestone ledge filled with sea fans and barrel sponges. Marine reptile interactions are popular in Apo Out, as spotting a sea turtle is nearly guaranteed.
Also called Binangaan Island, Apo Menor is another amazing site in Apo Reef. Your underwater adventures in Apo Menor involves exploring a unique topography where you will start diving in a slope that leads to a reef plateau and ends up in a vertical drop off. The reef plateau is the highlight of this dive where it is fondly called Shark Airfield as whitetip reef sharks abound.
Location: Ticao Pass, Masbate (57 km / 35 mi from Donsol to Legaspi City)
Another popular drift diving site will take you to an offshore reef in between the mainland of Sorsogon and Ticao Island in Masbate. You can swim with the largest member of the Ray family, the Manta Rays. Diving in Manta Bowl is intentionally done during the ebbing and flooding of tides where visibility is excellent reaching over 30 m (100 ft), as compared during a slack tide where the waters are more turbid.
The moment you enter the water, you need to do a negative entry and swim directly towards the reef. Manta rays are often spotted swimming against the current where they open their mouth to do passive feeding of small organisms such as plankton–fast food Philippines style!
The manta rays here in Manta Bowl are relatively large where yours truly was able to record a gigantic manta ray with a wingspan measuring 6 m (20 ft)! And what is really amazing during the interaction of this gigantic specimen is that we were both on mid-water and the manta ray displayed its full grace and gentleness by gracefully flapping its wings right in front of us.
Note: despite Manta Bowl being located in Masbate, your jump-off point usually starts at Donsol, Sorsogon where most of the dive shops and infrastructure are located. With this, we highly suggest you go snorkeling with the whale sharks of Donsol. But unlike the way they do it in Oslob Cebu, whale sharks in Donsol are not fed and the whale sharks that you will be interacting are totally wild in the deep and usually gigantic in size. Of course, you will never miss to see the Mayon Volcano in Legazpi where its towering majesty is visible almost throughout the Bicol region.
Location: Palawan (177 km / 110 mi southeast of Puerto Princesa City)
Level: All levels of certification
This 97,030 hectares (239,766 acres) UNESCO World Heritage Site in Palawan is the prime spot for scuba diving in the Philippines. Protected since 1993, the marine life in Tubbataha Reef was able to flourish where you can currently see can see hundreds of species of corals, over 500 types of fish, and over 10 types of whales and dolphins.
Tubbataha Reef has over 15 dive sites scattered across three atolls. Most noted among them all is the Amos Rock. Located in the southern end of the north atoll, Amos Rock is popular for wall diving where you can swim following a vertical limestone ledge encrusted with soft and hard corals. Amos Rock has a high reef fish density where you’re likely to spot large groupers, mackerels, snappers and the giant napoleon wrasse. There is also a site in Tubbataha Reef dominated by a small yet aggressive reef resident. Located at the southern end of south atoll, Triggerfish City is a massive facade of staghorn corals where the spaces in between have become the nesting site for triggerfish.
Location: Palawan (393 km / 244 mi north of Puerto Princesa City
Level: All levels of certification
If the US Navy wasn’t able to spot, attack and destroy the Japanese Imperial Navy taking refuge at a secluded bay in Northern Palawan during the Second World War, then Coron would not have been the wreck diving capital of the Philippines. However, the Americans did spot them and all the Japanese military ships in that area were sunk. Now, you can explore 12 Japanese shipwreck resting at various depths. This makes it one of the best places in the world for wreck diving.
The shallowest yet the largest of all the shipwrecks in Coron is the Japanese civilian oil tanker Okikawa Maru. Measuring 168 m (551 ft) in length and lying in an upright position, newbie divers can explore its upper and main deck which is only 10 – 16 m (30 – 52 ft) deep.
For experienced wreck divers, the Japanese refrigeration ship Irako Maru is a favorite spot among many as it is pretty deep. The hull rests at 45 m (148 ft) deep while the upper and main decks are at 34 m (112 ft). All of the Japanese shipwreck in Coron are already encrusted with corals, sponges and barnacles where their metal structure has become the refuge for several tropical reef fish like fusiliers, snappers, angelfish, groupers and a lot more.
Location: Malapascua, Cebu (116 km / 72 miles north of Cebu City)
Sharks for breakfast? Of course not. Or should I say diving with sharks early in the morning? Yes, that’s the fad here in Malapascua as you need to wake up early and be in the water before the sun rises and interact with thresher sharks. Your boat will usually leave at 5 a.m. in Malapascua Island for a 30 minute ride going to Monad Shoal. Yeah, it’s early but trust us–it’s worth it.
Located 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) southeast of Malapascua Island, Monad Shoal is an offshore coral mound that is known for thresher sharks. Early morning, sharks from the deep rises up to the tip of this coral mound at 20 meters (60 feet) where they line up for a quick clean courtesy from the symbiotic works of the cleaner wrasse. Other attractions in Monad Shoal involves observing the graceful dance of giant manta rays as they often pass by near the reef ledge.
Location: Moalboal, Cebu (88 km / 55 mi southwest of Cebu City)
Level: All levels of certification
Although this rocky island just off the coast of Moalboal is uninhabited by humans, it is a totally different scenario when it comes to its underwater environment. Declared as a fish sanctuary, marine life is flourishing in Pescador Island where it is surrounded with a healthy reef system and a thriving population of tropical reef fish. In fact, due to its round the clock protection, it had attracted small pelagic fish where it has started to take permanent refuge. This small pelagic attraction has become one of the many highlights in Pescador Island where both snorkelers and divers can see and observe the famous Sardine Run.
Location: Dumaguete, Negros Oriental (30 km / 19 mi south of Dumaguete City)
It seems that the word “Apo” is so popular in the Philippines, there are two of the top ten Philippine dive sites that are named Apo, namely Apo Reef in Mindoro which was previously mentioned and the Apo Island of Dumaguete. Do not confuse the two Apo dive sites as each of them are a unique ecosystem and are situated at a far distance from each other.
The 74 hectare (183 acres) landmass of Apo Island was once home to infamous dynamite fishermen. But with the realization of the massive destruction dynamite fishing has brought to the reefs, locals stopped the illegal practice and converted the damaged zone into a conservation area.
Today, Apo Island is a marine sanctuary and its coral reefs were able to bounce back to its pristine state where you can now see over 400 species of corals and 650 types of fish. Jacks, also called as trevally, is the signature fish species in Apo Island where they thrive here in a massive school. Located at the northwestern coast, Coconut Point is the perfect site to spot the thick school of jacks. Mamsa Point at the eastern coast is another site to interact with jacks. Both sites requires you drift dive along mild to moderate current. The reef ledge is often the spot where you can see the thick school of jacks where they swim in one direction usually against the current.
Location: Camiguin Island, Northern Mindanao
Level: All levels of certification
Public cemeteries in the Philippines are usually located in the coastal area. Unfortunately for Camiguin, the sea claimed back a part of its coastal land as a result of the eruption of a nearby volcano. Shore diving is the usual fad when exploring the Sunken Cemetery. There is a large cemented cross landmark out in the sea to mark the original spot of the cemetery. As you explore its underwater environment, you will no longer see graveyards or tombstones. Instead, the entire cemetery is overgrown with soft and hard corals. In fact, there is a large colony of table top corals that has become the favorite subject for underwater photographers. Meter-long giant clams can also be found near the old graveyard.
Planning your Philippines Dive Trip
A scuba diving paradise, there are literally thousands of incredible dive sites in the Philippines. Imagine having access to over 7,000 dive sites scattered across 7,100 islands. No matter if you want to dive with sharks, manta rays, macro life, or among wrecks, you can find it in the Philippines.
The best time to go scuba diving in the Philippines
This giant archipelago is a year-round diving destination. However, the best time to go scuba diving in the Philippines is from October to May, which is outside of the wet season. During this time, you’re more likely to have clear skies and good visibility. However, because it’s the tropics, storms can happen suddenly and without notice.
Here are the ways to access some of the best dive sites in the Philippines.
The best airports to fly into to go scuba diving in the Philippines
Scuba divers visiting the Philippines will likely fly into one of two major international airports:
- Luzon via Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Manila)
- Mactan-Cebu International Airport (Cebu)
Both airports have transportation links that will take you to not only the most famous dive regions but also the major tourist destinations in the Philippines.
The best dive sites from Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA)
If you land in Manila, we recommend going to Anilao, Batangas (125 km / 77 mi south of Metro Manila) which is the scuba diving capital of Luzon.
Anilao has over 50 dive sites famous with underwater photographers. Both macro-photography and wide-angle photography can be done here in Anilao courtesy from the nudibranch enriched reef floor and the unique underwater limestone topography. You have to take note that Anilao is just the start of your diving adventures here in the main island of Luzon where you can choose to proceed to other diving destinations via passenger ferry on the Batangas Seaport (21 km / 13 mi west of Anilao).
From Batangas Port, you will cross the sea to Mindoro and explore 2 world renowned dive sites. Usually your first stop is in Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro where you can go drift diving in the strong currents of Verde Island. Recommended only for advanced divers, Washing Machine and the Pinnacle are two of the most popular dive sites in Verde Island where your dive profile involves cruising along 4 knots (2 meters / second) of water current while hovering over pristine reefs that is considered as the center of the world’s marine biodiversity.
On the opposite side of Puerto Galera is Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro where you can visit the second largest reef system in world, Apo Reef. This natural park with an area of 34 sq km (13 sq mi) is famous for marine reptile interaction where you are always guaranteed to spot sea turtles gently gliding along the reefs limestone ledge.
From Mactan-Cebu International Airport
Cebu is a wonderful hub for multiple scuba diving regions like islands of Negros and Bohol.
The nearest dive site after you disembark your plane in Cebu is just 15 minutes away where you can go cave and deep diving in Marigondon Cave or muck diving in Kon Tiki House Reef and have a pose with the superstar of the reef, a giant yellow frogfish. Metro Cebu is centrally located in this elongated provincial landmass and its extreme coast is home to some of the best dive sites in the Philippines.
Venture to the northern part of the province to an island called Malapascua. Then, you can go diving with thresher sharks in Monad Shoal. The southern end of the province has its fair share of diving where 2 distinct sites will surely give you the diving satisfaction you need. On the southwestern coast is Pescador Island in Moalboal where it is popular for the sardine run and wall diving in a limestone ledge filled with sea fans and barrel sponges. On the southeastern coast of Cebu is a new tourist magnate where you can either choose to go snorkeling or diving with whalesharks in Oslob.
The seaport of Cebu is a tourism hub with regular trips to neighboring islands that features world class diving sites and a well established diving industry. Bohol is the nearest island from Cebu where it only takes 2 hours going to Tagbilaran City via jet-powered catamaran. Panglao is the epicenter for diving in Bohol and your gateway to explore the hammerhead territory of Cabilao Island or the black coral laden reefs of Balicasag Island. The good thing with Bohol is that its ecotourism sites are well established and organized that you can opt for a day tour in the unique geological thousand protrusions of Chocolate Hills or a tongue-tied sanctuary exploration to observe a large-eye endangered primate – the Philippine Tarsier.
Another island destination from Cebu Seaport is Negros where a 3- to 6-hour boat ride will take you to Dumaguete City. You can explore the nearby Apo Island and be bewildered on how this site was able to recover from extensive dynamite fishing to a marine sanctuary that currently houses 400 species of corals and 650 types of fish. There’s a popular sidetrip if you are in Dumaguete City where you can do marine mammal interaction. Just 47 kilometers (29 miles) north of Dumaguete is Bais City where you can sign-up for a guided boat tour and go dolphin and whale watching in Tanon Strait. On a regular day, you’ll see pods of spinner dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and spotted dolphins either leaping out of the water from afar or swimming close to the side of your boat. If it is your lucky day, then expect to see the breaching of humpback whales where they create a massive splash.
Dive destinations accessible from Cebu and Manila
Regardless if your are in Cebu or Manila, your diving adventures in the Philippines will take you further to far flung areas where you can choose your mode of transportation (plane, ferry, bus, and car).
Through a 12-hour bus ride from Metro Manila or a 1 hour flight from Ninoy Aquino International Airport or Mactan-Cebu International Airport is Legazpi City in Albay where it is your gateway to Donsol in Sorsogon and go drift diving in an offshore mound with giant manta rays in Manta Bowl. The good thing with diving in Manta Bowl is that you will never miss to experience swimming with wild whalesharks in Donsol or see the picturesque perfect-cone Mayon Volcano.
Palawan is an hour flight or a 24-hour passenger ferry ride from Manila or Cebu. The northern waters of Palawan has a graveyard of 12 Japanese shipwrecks located in Coron where it is considered as the Wreck Diving Capital of the Philippines. Or perhaps, you may consider signing-up for a week-long liveaboard cruise to Tubbataha Reefs. Exploring this 97,030 hectares (239,766 acres) UNESCO World Heritage Site is the climax of your Philippine diving vacation where you can experience it all: deep diving, wall diving, drift diving, night diving and wreck diving while being pampered in a floating luxury hotel.
Scuba diving in Philippines FAQs
Each dive resort is different, but it costs around 800-1,600 pesos per scuba dive ($20-40 USD). Many dive centers offer package deals. Liveaboard trips in the Philippines cost around $250-400 USD per day and include up to five dives.
The best time to go scuba diving in the Philippines is from October to May, though it is possible to dive year-round depending on the destination.
Ready to discover the best dive sites in the Philippines? Leave any questions you have below!