Philippines is an archipelago consisting of nearly 7,500 islands containing a staggering 9% of the world’s coral reef ecosystems. It’s also home to some of the most incredible diving and diverse and abundant marine life in the world! The Philippines is a diving destination that has everything to make any diver’s dream come true. There are dives to suit every level including vibrant coral gardens, walls that plummet to staggering depths, drift dives and wrecks from World War II.
Philippines is also an excellent diving destination to catch a glimpse of some of the rarer species such as the endangered dugong, or sea cow which is a gentle giant that can be found in Northern Palawan. There are also sites where you can encounter the majestic whale shark which can reach up to 12 metres in length all year round in the Philippines, however, due to this many sites have become circuses, full of divers trying to touch and grab these magnificent creatures. In our guide to the best diving spots we will show you the most ethical places to encounter these gentle giants away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds.
In our guide we will tell you everything you need to know about diving in the Philippines including ethical diving operators, hidden gems and when and where to go to make the most out of one of the world’s ultimate bucket list destinations!
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How to get to the Philippines
Philippines is a fantastic travel destination in Asia and has two main transport hubs for international arrivals, Manila and Cebu airports. For diving adventures, it is best to head to Cebu Airport and avoid the chaos of Manila. From Cebu, there are a lot of low—cost carriers such as Cebu Pacific, PAL Express and Air Asia which makes island hopping comfortable and affordable.
The only downside of travelling to some of the best diving spots in the Philippines are the distances and remoteness of the locations, island hopping requires a lot of travel time and you may need to catch flights to local airports and then get to dive sites via a combination of bus or boat. For example, to reach the spectacular sites of Mindoro, you will need to fly to San Jose Airport and then catch a ferry from Sablayan Port and take a boat to Pandan Island.
Certain dive sites may require long bus journeys of up to six hours if you want to get to those remote off-the-beaten-track places. Plan your trip with plenty of time and flexibility to take into account changes, delays or even changing weather conditions.
Best time to dive the Philippines
The Philippines has a vast expanse of islands each with varying weather conditions, therefore planning a trip is not as easy as it first appears! The Philippines is divided into four different zones with different climates. The most unpredictable issue for planning your diving trip are the typhoons which are usually more frequent during the months of June to December. Some flexibility should be taken into consideration during your travels to avoid coming into the path of an oncoming typhoon. To keep up to date with typhoons you can always check out their dedicated weather site PAGASA.
In general, due to the Philippines’ location close to the equator, the country is relatively tropical and warm and humid year around. There may also be sudden rain showers all year around and it’s advisable to bring a light jacket or waterproof clothing in anticipation of any storms.
The best time to visit Philippines in general for diving is during the summertime, between March and May. Though we will break it down into areas and the best time to visit each place:
November to May/June – visit Anilao, Apo Reef, Coron, Puerto Galera.
Mid-March to early June – this limited window is the best time to dive Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park by liveaboard.
March to September – Southern Leyte
Where can I experience a close encounter with whale sharks in the Philippines
One of the paramount experiences for tourists during their holidays in the Philippines is the opportunity to swim, dive and snorkel with the majestic and endangered whale shark all year round. Philippines was one of the first countries to establish a law in 1998 to prohibit poaching and sale of products from whale sharks. Later on, in 2011 Philippines established its whale shark tourism where locals could make money from tourism by feeding them instead of finning them.
Due to the popularity and accessibility of whale shark tourism in the Philippines, places like Oslob have become incredibly rich through tourism with over 2,000 visitors swimming daily with the whale sharks! Sadly, a lot of the money generated from this type of tourism does not go back into conservation and many operators care little about the welfare of these gentle giants, encouraging tourists to touch, prod and poke these creatures.
Aside from this harassment, hand feeding whale sharks alters the natural pattern of behavior and has negative outcomes.
For more ecologically conscious whale shark encounters avoid Donsol and Oslob with its mass tourism industry and head to Southern Leyte, here you can get away from the crowds and you may encounter one of these whale sharks, but sightings are not 100% guaranteed, which is normal in natural circumstances. The best time to visit is during November to May and the most ethical dive operations usually employ local spotters in wooden canoes to spot whale sharks to encourage sustainable tourism.
Best diving spots in the Philippines
Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park
This national park is Philippines most far-flung diving destination and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This park is situated out in the midst of the Sulu Sea and only accessed via liveaboard during the narrow window of the summer months between March and June. It takes approximately 12 hours of sailing from Palawan’s Puerto Princesa but the long journey is well worth it!
It is home to a staggering amount of marine life including over 600 different fish species, 11 different types of shark and 13 different kinds of dolphins and whales. Diving around Amos Rock takes you on a journey through soft corals and giant fish schools and the chance to see some reef sharks cruising past. Amos Rock is an intermediate level dive site and is suitable for most levels of diver.
Some stunning reefs include North and South Reef and Jessie Beazley and there are plenty of opportunities to see some large pelagics.
The best liveaboards to dive Tubbataha are the gorgeous Philippine Siren which is the peak of luxury and five-star diving. The Siren Fleet are built in Sulawesi, in Indonesia and are made of teak and ironwood, in the elegant Phinisi style. It caters only 16 divers on board in 8 air-conditioned cabins. It also has a library, entertainment room and communal lounge. The deck offers plenty of sunbathing opportunities and there are even massage services on board. Prices start from €3,827 for an 11 day diving excursion.
On the opposite end of the scale you can enjoy the fantastic budget liveaboard on MY Discovery Palawan which offers a more basic liveaboard service but still offering comfort and fantastic diving on a seven day trip to Tubbataha. Price for a seven-day liveaboard starts at around €1,719 per person.
Visit the dive site of Monad Shoal where you are almost guaranteed an encounter the majestic thresher shark with its long trailing tail fin. This dive site is a deep seamount (30 metre) site suitable for more experienced divers and can be subject to challenging currents around the site which bring in huge shoals of glittering fish and attract large predators such as the iconic thresher sharks. For the best chance to see one of these sharks or even a manta ray head there at the crack of dawn!
Malapascua has several excellent dive operators including Thresher Shark Divers that also offers liveaboards, all-inclusive dive and stay packages and diving courses. Dive Society Malapascua also offers high-quality dive courses for beginner divers as well as free nitrox.
Apo Island is situated near Dauin and has fantastic diving sites ranking among the top 100 in the world. It is also one of the best preserved marine sanctuaries in the Philippines as well as the best-documented. An interesting advanced dive is “Coconut”, also known as “the washing machine”, just by its name you can tell that this site will not be for everyone!
Braving the dizzying washing machine-like motion of the currents will you will be rewarded with sightings of many pelagic fish, sea turtles and sea snakes. Dauin also has sites that are suitable for beginner and intermediate divers and is renowned for some world-class muck diving and a perfect place to spot the curious-looking frogfish.
Not to be mistaken for Apo Island, this national park is situated between two prime diving locations: Mindoro and Coron. It was also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its pristine dive sites and stunning marine life. The best way to experience Apo Reef is by liveaboard, but bear in mind that is an advanced site and operators will check that a minimum of 100 logged dives have been completed before taking you out to this site as it is prone to strong currents and some sites are very deep.
Apo 29 is one of the best sites to dive at Apo Reef. This 25 m deep seamount is subject to strong currents which bring in schooling fish which in turn draw in larger predators such as thresher sharks, hammerhead sharks, reef sharks. The plankton-rich waters are a paradise for manta rays. Definitely a site to get your adrenaline going!
Liveaboard operators travel to Apo Reef between November and May. The best budget liveaboard is DiveUnda, which offers 4 day/3 night liveaboards to Apo Reef that accommodates 12 – 14 divers and also offers vegan options in their menu. The cabins are equipped with bunk beds and there are also double bunks in the middle cabin. A four day liveaboard with equipment included will only set you back €626 per person.
Puerto Galera is situated near the island of Mindoro and offers budget friendly diving and diverse marine life with over 800 individual species of nudibranch which have been identified here in the last two decades! Its name supposedly originates from the Spanish galleon wreck discovered in the 90s, however, nowadays there are no galleons to explore.
The true treasures can be found underwater: it’s great for muck diving and the highlight of this destination is the Canyons, where you drift along the current through an impressive canyon which is covered in beautiful soft corals, here you can see schooling barracudas, trevally and snappers and it is also an excellent night dive site. Due to the strong currents it is recommended for advanced divers.
Action Divers is an excellent diving school to explore Puerta Galera, they also offer diving and accommodation packages to make the most of your stay.
Coron Bay has a number of incredible diving sites including world-class wreck diving or even a close encounter with the endangered Dugong or Sea Cow. Coron has plenty to offer beginner and less experienced divers. Don’t miss the nearby dive site at Dimakya Island, a bank of seagrass which is frequented by dugongs and large green turtles that come to chomp on the seagrass stems. For Dugong watching check out Dugong Dive Centre which is an excellent eco-friendly diving school that runs dugong spotting trips as well as trips to visit the nearby wrecks.
For passionate wreck divers you can dive Coron Bay and immerse yourself into another era, when 24 US bombers sunk 11 Japanese warships during the second world war at the northern point of Palawan Island in 1944 plunging into the crystal clear waters. The wrecks are now home to incredible macro life such as seahorses, nudibranch and other little critters.
Known as the “Poor Man’s Chuuk Lagoon,” Coron Bay is a fascinating journey into the wartime history of the Philippines.
Of the 11 Japanese warships that met their end in Palawan, one of the highlights to explore is the Okikawa Maru, a huge tanker which sits at only 10m below the surface, a perfect introduction for beginner wreck divers. Other fantastic wrecks to explore include the Teiei Maru and Kogyu Maru.
Barrakuda lake is also another great dive site where you can find huge barracuda and teeming schools of fish.
Boracay is famed for its beautiful long stretches of white sand beaches, but there is plenty more to explore under the water. This wall dive is the place to hunt for sharks and large tuna in the distance or to discover the fascinating diversity of macro life hiding in the corals and sponges that line the wall.
If you’re lucky you might even see an almost imperceptible pygmy seahorse the size of your smallest fingernail or see the dark shape of the prehistoric Mola Mola rising up from the blue. There are plenty of dive sites within easy reach by boat from Boracay which makes it the ideal diving destination for less experienced divers and resort divers who want to combine diving with a beach holiday.
For a five star Boracay experience head to Calypso Beach and Dive Resort which offers fun dives and diving courses to suit all levels and experience.
Anilao is the name for Calumpang Peninsula, 13 km of islands to the north of Verde Island and is easily reached from Manila, being only a few hours away by car. Due to its proximity to Manila it has become a tourist hub and has become very developed in the last few decades making it an easily accessible resort destination. It still offers fantastic diving and you can explore everything from muck diving sites to coral gardens and shipwrecks and seamounts.
Anilao is also a prime destination for night dives and muck dives, head to Manit Muck to find some interesting and rare critters such as the ghost pipefish, wonderpus, ambon scorpionfish, frogfish and more. The majority of the marine life can be found at the easy depths of 3 to 21 metres making this the ideal place for beginner and less experienced divers.
For an eco-friendly dive experience head to Blue Ribbon Divers in Anilao which has completely banned plastic straws and bottles and provides every customer with an aluminium water bottle during their stay.
Donsol has become one of the most touristy sites to visit due to it being directly in one of the migratory routes for manta rays and whale sharks. The site called Manta Bowl sits in the plankton rich waters between the Burias and Ticao Passes and is a popular cleaning and feeding station for manta rays. The best time to experience a close encounter with these magnificent pelagics is between December and May.
There are also plenty of opportunities to spot whale sharks here. The site is best suited to intermediate and advanced divers due to the strong nutrient rich currents that circle the site. You may even be able to spot hammerheads or tiger sharks cruising the deep waters around Manta Bowl.
So what are you waiting for? Book your diving holiday to one of the top bucket list diving destinations in the world and experience the beauty of the underwater world of the Philippines for yourself!
Recommended dive tours in the Philippines
- Open Water Course (SSI)
- WaterColors – Open Water Diver Certification in Boracay
- WaterColors – Discover Scuba Diving in Boracay
- WaterColors – PADI Scuba Diver Certification in Boracay
- Discover Scuba Diving in Puerto Galera
- Try and Discover scuba diving
- Scuba Diver Course (SSI)
- Whale Shark Swimming Experience and Aguinid Falls from Cebu
- Full Day Whale Shark Experience with Kawasan Falls from Cebu
- Thresher Shark Dive from Malapascua Island
- Exclusive or Private From Panglao, Bohol to Oslob Cebu Whale Shark Experience
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