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It’s no secret that I long to return to Asia. Since the beginning of the year, we have been getting, month after month, some good news from Thailand, Indonesia and, more recently, the Philippines! I’m waiting for the entry conditions to ease in the same way as in Latin America, where I am currently travelling. Hopefully, 2023 will finally be the year I return to diving in South East Asia. From my first dive trip in the Visayas, around Cebu City, I discovered a country filled with affordable, world-class diving spots, easily reachable with a bus or ferry ride (or a combination of both). If like me, you are looking for ways to fly less, the Philippines is a great option to do so.
It’s never too early to start planning, right? For my second trip to the Philippines, I feel it would make sense to start in Manila to explore the best dive sites in the northern provinces. I couldn’t think of a better person to ask for some recommendations to plan such an adventure: Ara is a Filipino dive blogger based in Manila! On her blog, Diver Bliss, she covers extensively the best dive sites of her home country. She hasn’t been diving everywhere in the Philippines, but it’s on her list. So, we (virtually) sat down and discussed the 5 best dive spots I could explore from Manila without flying beyond my international flight. She shared some invaluable pointers on what I should expect.
Diving in Anilao from Manila
Who would think that you could find a world-class diving spot only a bit over 100 km away from the most densely populated metropolis in the world? Often acclaimed as one of the best dive sites in the Philippines, Anilao is an excellent place for all levels of divers and offers a bit of everything for freshly open water certified divers like experienced underwater photography enthusiasts.
“What’s great about Anilao is the diversity of not just the marine life but also the type of dive sites you can find here. From sloping reefs to walls, colourful coral reefs to muck sites, and wrecks to deep caverns, there’s a little bit of everything in Anilao.” – Ara
By checking Rome2rio, my go-to online tool to find alternatives to flying, I found two possible itineraries, a cheap one and a fast one:
- By bus, it takes about 3 hours from the Jam bus terminal to reach Batangas Pier, and it costs between 190 and 220 PHP (about 3-4€). The buses leave every 30 minutes. There is still a last leg to do by taxi to reach Anilao, less than 20 km away, for a maximum of 400 PHP (about 6-7€).
- By taxi, yes directly from Manila, for the reasonable cost of 1800-2200 PHP (30 to 40€), you can reach Anilao directly in about 2 hours.
Diving in Puerto Galera from Manila
Just a little bit further after Anilao, Puerto Galera is another incredible dive site in the northern Philippines. Located on the north side of Mindoro Island, you have to cross the Isla Verde passage on a ferry to reach it. That narrow strait might be why Puerto Galera is known for its currents and hence some pretty epic drift dives, but the strong tidal currents only happen during certain phases of the moon. Still, the underwater photographers come in numbers for the staggering biodiversity in its sheltered inner bays. Blue ring octopus or pygmy seahorse, anyone?
By checking Rome2rio, I found the best itineraries from Manila but also from Anilao since it makes sense to do the two together:
- From Manila, it takes about 3 hours from the Jam bus terminal to reach Batangas Pier, and it costs between 190 and 220 PHP (about 3-4€). The buses leave every 30 minutes. Then you need to take a 1-hour ferry ride to Puerto Galera for about 300 PHP (about 6€)
- From Anilao, you need to return to Batangas Pier by taxi, so about 400 PHP (about 6-7€). Then you take the same ferry to Puerto Galera.
Diving in Donsol from Manila
Maybe you heard about whale shark tours in the Philippines in a not-so-positive way. Like you, I listened to worrying stories during my island-hopping tour of the Visayas Islands. However, not all places are the same in the Philippines, and apparently, Donsol is the spot where you can expect to swim with whale sharks in a more ethical way. But not only Donsol is a whale shark hotspot, but you can also go scuba diving with manta rays at a dive site called Manta Bowl.
Donsol is not so close to Manila, but you can reach it without taking a ferry. Here is the itinerary Rome2rio suggested to me:
- First, you take a direct bus from Manila to Pilar. The journey with Philtranco is about 12 hours. It costs between 800 and 1200 PHP (about 14 to 20€). My special tip: for such a long bus ride, travel at night and save one night of accommodation.
- Then, you’ll need one last taxi ride to reach Donsol. It’s about 11km away and costs up to 550 PHP (about 10€).
Diving in Apo Reef from Manila
Apo Reef is a marine protected area of the Philippines well known for scuba divers. With fishing made illegal within the Natural Park (ARNP) limits, the abundance of parrotfish, groupers, wrasses, snappers, barracudas, tunas, fusiliers, trevally and jackfish can apparently surprise even the most experienced divers. Be careful to differentiate Apo Reef from Apo Island in the Visayas. These are two different places, even if they are both fantastic dive sites.
“Whitetip sharks and sea turtles are so common that you’ll end up ignoring them at one point. If you’re into underwater photography, this would be the perfect place to take out your wide-angle lenses!” – Ara
Located 40 km off the west coast of Mindoro Island, Apo Reef is much further than Anilao or Puerto Galera but still faster to reach than Donsol. Rome2rio says from Puerto Galera, I need to take a taxi for 4 to 5 hours to Sablayan Pier. However, I see a direct ferry route between Manila to Sablayan Pier by looking at Google Maps. Maybe the pandemic has disrupted some of the lines, but it would be interesting to double-check the situation again nearer to my trip.
Diving in Romblon from Manila
Romblon is the place to come if you own an underwater camera and a macro lens. It could be one of the Philippines’ best-kept secrets. I only see it rarely on scuba diving blogs. Underwater photographers travel from all over the world to hope to catch the perfect shot of a butterfly nudibranch or a sashimi shrimp in hopes of winning their next photography competition.
“Romblon takes macro diving to a whole new level. Not a lot of divers go there, and that’s part of the charm.” – Ara
Thanks to Rome2rio, I learnt that despite being the furthest place on the list in the absolute distance, it is easy to reach Romblon thanks to a ferry that you can board at Batangas Pier. It rides twice a week, so some advance planning will be necessary. After that, it’s an 8-hour ride at night. It costs between 700 and 1700 PHP (from 12 to 31€) depending on the comfort class you take.
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Photo credits: underwater photography in Anilao, Apo Reef and Romblon by Ara Juan.