Have you ever visited a diving destination that has over 7,000 dive sites? Yes, that’s the Philippines which is an archipelago in the Asia Pacific region consisting of over 7,100 islands where a dive site can literally be found in each island. And this are not just ordinary dive sites since this Southeast Asian country is located at the center of marine biodiversity. With this, you can expect to see a high density of marine life where tropical reef fish, small and big pelagic fish, corals and other marine invertebrates abound.

If you will try to explore all the 7,000 dive sites in the Philippines and on the assumption that you are allowed to do 2 dives in a day, then it would take you nine and a half years to complete this Philippine bucket list. Maybe this is the reason why expats who are in to diving have been living in this island paradise for decades. But for you who is just visiting the Philippines maybe for a week or two, we will present the Top 10 Philippine Dive Sites where this list alone would make you say: WOW!

The best dive sites in the Philippines: Quick answer

  1. Anilao
  2. Verde Island Passage
  3. Apo Reef
  4. Manta Bowl
  5. Tubbataha Reefs
  6. Coron
  7. Monad Shoal
  8. Pescador Island
  9. Apo Island
  10. Sunken Cemetery

ANILAO

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.

Nudibranch in the Philippines, picture by Kris Michael Krister

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)
Level: Advanced

If there is one description that perfectly fits this world famous Puerto Galera Dive site that is supported by scientific data, then Verde Island Passage is described as the Center of the Center of Marine Biodiversity. This simply means that Verde Island has the most types of fish, corals, and other marine inhabitants per square meter in the world.

Since it is located in an oceanic passage known for strong currents, only divers with advanced certification are recommended to explore the site. 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 (2 meters/second) at its peak. This is felt especially during the ebbing of tide. Just in case you want to explore washing machine without the nasty current, then plan to dive on a slack tide where current is virtually non-existent or at its least.

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 completely 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.


APO REEF

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 sponge. 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.


MANTA BOWL

Location: Ticao Pass, Masbate (57 km / 35 mi from Donsol to Legaspi City)
Level: Advanced

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 turbid.

The moment you enter the water, you need to do a negative entry and swim directly towards the reef. A reef hook may come in handy to control and secure your position in the reef without getting carried away by the current. Manta rays are often spotted swimming against the current where they open their terminal mouth to do passive feeding of small organisms such as plankton.

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.  


TUBBATAHA REEFS

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.

Read: The Ultimate Dive Guide to Palawan

Tubbataha reefs has over 15 dive sites scattered in 3 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 that is completely encrusted with soft and hard corals. Amos Rock has a high reef fish density where you can easily spot large groupers, mackerels, snappers and the giant napoleon wrasse. There is also a site in Tubbataha reef that is 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 has become the nesting site for triggerfish.


CORON

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.

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.


MONAD SHOAL

Location: Malapascua, Cebu (116 km / 72 miles north of Cebu City)
Level: Advanced

Sharks for breakfast? Of course NO. 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.

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.


PESCADOR ISLAND

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.

Read: The Ultimate Dive Guide to Cebu


APO ISLAND

Location: Dumaguete, Negros Oriental (30 km / 19 mi south of Dumaguete City)
Level: Advanced

Overview of Apo Island in the Philippines

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 the infamous dynamite fishermen of Negros. 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 to go drift diving 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.      


SUNKEN CEMETERY

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 tombstone. But 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.  


WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

WOW! Wow Philippines! Those are the words that you will utter after exploring the top ten best dive sites of the Philippines. And whenever you interact with the locals, you will realize that IT’S MORE FUN IN THE PHILIPPINES!

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