Negros was the 3rd step of my island hopping tour in the Visayas in the Philippines. Surprisingly, I found out on the ferry between Tagbilaran in Bohol and Dumaguete in Negros that most travellers were stopping on Siquijor, the ‘island of the witches’, and not visiting Negros. Let me assure you that even if you are not a scuba diver, Negros is really worthy of discovery with high mountains and even a volcano covered with jungles, lakes and waterfalls hidden in the heights, small villages surrounded by sugar cane and corn fields, and quiet, black sandy beaches.
Negros, the volcanic island off the beaten track
Located East of Cebu, Negros is the 4th largest island of the Philippines. It is divided into 2 provinces, Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental by the highest point of the Visayas, the volcano Kanla-on at 2435m of altitude. This volcano is still within the most active volcanoes of the Philippines and provides Negros with very fertile land, geothermal activity turned into electricity and black sandy beaches attracting scuba divers from all around the world for its amazing marine fauna.
Dumaguete, the regional capital of Negros Oriental, is an ideal place to start discovering this authentic island. With its really beautiful promenade along the sea, its huge market where you can find absolutely everything and the Silliman American University bringing students from all over the country, Dumaguete has a relaxing and easy-going atmosphere. From the nearby village of Valencia, you can also go exploring the mountains, lakes and waterfalls of the heights of Negros Oriental.
Just 20 minutes drive in the direction of the south with a tricycle or an easyride (the other name of the jeepneys in Negros), is hidden the scuba diving gem of Dauin and its fantastic muck diving. Apart from a couple of luxurious dive resorts, off the main road and hidden between the cornfields and the palm trees, it is not very obvious that Dauin is a touristic destination. So if you decide, like me, to only use the dive resorts to go diving and find accommodation by your own means, then you can experience Negros from a local perspective easily while diving there. I was staying in the village of Bacong, ideally located between Dumaguete and Dauin. I loved going to the fish market there every day 5 pm where I could find the freshest and tastiest tuna I ever tried, ideal to prepare with the family hosting me, a delicious kinilaw (the Filipino version of the Peruvian ceviche).
What is muck diving?
Muck designates mud with a rich substrate. Do not worry, it is not as disgusting as it might sound. In quite unusual locations, such as deserted sandy slopes with old tyres used as a reef, substrate from the volcanic sediments, dead coral and even parts from waste create an ecosystem for a unique marine fauna and a nursery for juvenile sea animals.
If you only love coral reef diving, then it is better to go directly to Apo Island from Dauin. Yet, you should at least give one try to muck diving, you might be surprised like me at how much you love it. One of the greatest ways to enjoy muck diving is of course by doing underwater photography. It was no surprise that I saw almost every diver with a semi professional underwater camera.
Muck dives are usually very shallow, rarely deeper than 15 m, so it is really easy, even for beginners. The only point is to master your buoyancy as much as possible to avoid creating any cloud of sediments. A good Divemaster with experienced eyes will also make a difference. As muck diving is usually shore diving you can also go diving independently but even if you can spot yourself some species, it won’t be as awesome as with a guide who has dived his whole life in Dauin.
So many staggering species in the sand
Thanks to all the sanctuaries along Dauin coast, where fishing is forbidden, volcanic sandy slopes have become the nursery of local underwater fauna. My favourite was the Masaplod sanctuary, 1 km south of the village of Dauin. This is where I spotted the greatest number of species.
There is so much action on the black volcanic sand of Dauin, just the time to do the camera settings and to take a couple of shots of each subject and here you reach 50 bars or you are running out of battery (my fully recharged battery couldn’t make it until the end of the 3rd dive of the day). Every dive of 70 minutes felt like it lasted only 10 minutes! Dauin makes it to my list of the best diving in Asia-Pacific.
The best time of the year to go diving in Dauin is from November to June. The water temperature can be up to 31°C, but at the end of December, the water was 28°C. I still recommend a full 5mm suit as you stay quite immobile when you are doing muck diving.
With our divemaster Rocky of Liquid Dive Resort and Simon, an underwater photographer, we could spot a couple of baby frogfish including a hairy frogfish, 2 baby mantis shrimps, a small cuttlefish, seahorses, many ghost pipefish, a candy crab and all sorts of nudibranchs and shrimps. On the previous day, Simon could also spot bobtail squid, flamboyant cuttlefish and blue ring octopus. With some luck, it is also possible to observe pigmy seahorse, mandarin fish and mimic octopus. You should check his amazing macro pictures.
The other top muck diving sites in the World
- Lembeh Strait, Indonesia: Tulamben is the place where I started underwater photography thank to an unlimited dive package. I can’t wait to go back to Indonesia and explore Sulawesi.
- Mabul Island, Malaysia: A good friend of mine recommended this place while he was heading to Sipadan.
- Nuweiba, Egypt: my first encounter with a frogfish and the wonderful world of tiny critters while I was backpacking around South Sinai.
- Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea: the birthplace of muck diving.
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