The numbers are simply astounding. The Philippines include more than 7,100 islands, more than 1,000 species of marine life, hundreds of World War II (WWII) wrecks, dozens of sites that feature such unique encounters as dugongs and thresher sharks, and one Coral Triangle. It's the Coral Triangle that you want to pay attention to because being within this region of the world means that the Philippines are in the middle of the most bio-diverse underwater realm on the planet. Like most top destinations, the Philippines throws you the entire kitchen sink to experience, and provides places to return to over and over again. Places like the legendary Tubbataha reef system in the Sulu Sea, which is live-aboard access only and the boats fill up as much as two years in advance to dive this remote region. Names to know are Cebu, Puerto Galera, Bohol, Dumaguete and Palawan. Each are not simply dive destinations, they're dive universes with wrecks, reefs, macro and sharks. And, if the notable underwater experiences aren't overwhelming enough, the dive regions in the Philippines are devastatingly beautiful with a tropical tableau that will have you dreaming while still awake.
When to go:
The main season runs from November through to June, however there is great year round diving in the Philippines.
Marine Life Seasons:
Hammerhead sharks January through May; whale sharks November-May.
When to Get the Best Deals:
July to October is a great time for deals.
What to Pack:
3/2 mm wetsuit or rash guard in summer; 5 mm wetsuit in winter, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, comfortable shoes that can get wet for hiking, DAN card, long sleeved lightweight shirts, long trousers for cool nights, a light jacket for cool evenings, a rain-jacket from June to August, small medical kit.
Seasonal averages: 23°C/73°F in winter and 30°C/86°F in summer.
Seasonal averages: 26°C/78°F in winter and 30°C/86°F in summer.
Philippine Peso (PHP); Credit cards are widely accepted.
Valid passport; check with local immigration office for visa requirements.
Included in your airfare.
None required, but antimalarial drugs are recommended. Check with the CDC recommendations.
What to Eat:
Your food choices in the Philippines are as vast as the spread of islands. Look for regional specialties, such as the lechon (roast pig) in Cebu or tamilok (worm-like mollusk) in Palawan. Rice comes with most meals and seafood features prominently. Enjoy the fresh fruits and vegetables that are available throughout the islands.
What to Drink:
Fresh tropical fruit juice and coconut milk mixed in various ways with ice are very popular in the Philippines' warm climate. Try sago't gulaman, a shaved ice drink with sago (tapioca) pearls and sliced gelatin flavored with banana extract. Juices also mix well into the cocktails you'll find at many resorts. San Miguel and Asia Brewery make many local beers found throughout the country.
Hike the forests; there are ziplines; sea kayaking, mountain biking and other activities, but the main focus, especially in the southern Philippines is beach, sand, sun and fun.
Customs and Culture:
The Philippines have a mix of ancient, superstition and folklore based culture, with religion and culture from the Spanish colonists thrown in the froth. Many pre-colonization tribes still live in the southern Philippines. Dance and music are a big part of the cultural expression.
Sinlog Festival, January, Cebu; Flores de Mayo, a floral procession and celebrations that last the entire month of May all over the country; Maradjao-Karadjao Festival, Surigao City cultural dancing.
Electricity and Internet:
220V/60Hz; Internet common in hotels and tourist areas
Drink the water?
Bottled water is recommended.
Filipino; English is widely spoken.
Amazing Marine Life
This giant shark (up to 6 meters/20 feet) sports a long, extended top lobe of its tail, which it uses to herd fish. Found off Malapascua.
Green sea turtles can be found swimming in leisurely fashion or napping under ledges on most reefs.
Mottled in scaly patterns of reds and browns, the scorpionfish can blend easily with polyp-encrusted rocks, but its venomous dorsal spines render this beauty a danger.
Similar to a West Indian Manatee, these sea cows are especially prevalent off Dimakya Island.
Distinctive bands of white and orange mark these fish, which are often found sheltering among the tentacles of an anemone.
Also known as the Maori wrasse, this enormous and vividly colored fish can grow to lengths of up to two meters/six feet.
From rare Coleman's and boxer shrimp to harlequin shrimp, almost every niche has someone from this family of marine life.
Break out the magnifying glass for these tiny seahorses, and enlist a good guide to help you find them. Also, pipefish and ghost pipefish are common.
This highly decorative anglerfish can be found in a variety of vivid shades, from oranges to pinks, and boast frilly bait-like appendages with which to lure prey.
Squid, Cuttlefish and Octopus:
From bobtail squid to flamboyant cuttlefish, you'll find an endless parade of cephalopods on these reefs.
Top Dive Spots
This underwater sanctuary is the Philippines' first national marine park and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The combination of great underwater visibility (sometimes 30 meters/100 feet or more), and healthy populations of tropical fish, sea turtles, sharks, tuna, barracuda, napoleon wrasse, bumphead parrotfish, giant jacks, eagle rays, hawksbill turtles, manta rays, seahorses, pipefish, and other species make this a favorite among photographers. Eleven sharks species can be found here, including hammerheads, leopard sharks, guitar sharks, black-tip reef sharks, nurse sharks, and occasional whale sharks.
Apo Reef, Mindoro:
The second-largest contiguous coral reef in the world, this natural park is a renowned diving area, boasting more than 400 species of coral and 500 species of fish. Look for table corals, staghorn corals, brain corals, fire corals, soft corals, hammerhead sharks, manta and stingrays along this wall.
The Pinnacle, Verde Island, Puerto Galera:
Also known as the Drop-Off, this reef rises in a column from a depth of 36 meters/120 feet, narrowing near the surface. The pinnacle hosts corals, gorgonian fans, and sea snakes, as well as visiting schools of pelagic fish. Be cautious of the current.
Taiei Maru, Coron:
This 167-meter/550-foot oil tanker rests in 27 meters/90 feet of water, with its upper decks 9 meters/30 feet from the surface. Strong currents serve to attract marine life, including schools of huge batfish, fusiliers, snappers, surgeonfish, blue-finned jacks, mackerel, and the occasional eagle ray or turtle. The decks are covered in hard and soft corals, sheltering scorpionfish, lionfish and nudibranchs. Experienced divers can penetrate the interior through the relatively narrow propeller shaft, swimming from there into the remains of the engine room, and proceeding through the various holds and tanks all the way through to the twisted bow.
Crocodile Island, Boracay:
With depths ranging from 5 to 21 meters/15 to 70 feet, this site shelters soft and hard corals, schools of reef fish, nudibranch, lionfish, scorpion moray eels, cuttlefish, sea snakes, gorgonian, and fan corals. Underwater photographers will enjoy the macro life, including many species of nudibranchs and anemones.
Balicasag Island, Bohol:
North of Bohol lies the only double barrier reef in the Philippines. Dive the vertical walls and swim through its black coral forests, looking for hard corals, sponges and gorgonians as well as jacks, mackerel, barracudas, sea fans, lionfish, scorpionfish, clownfish, turtles, cushion stars and feather stars.
Pescador Island, Cebu:
The wall surrounding this island drops steeply to 45 meters/150 feet in most places (extending to 180 meters/600 feet in one area). Look for an abundance of colorful gorgonions, lionfish, scorpionfish, anemones with their attendant clownfish, trumpetfish, huge groupers, tuna, schools of big-eye trevally, and great barracuda, as well as the occasional white-tip reef shark or hammerhead shark.
Monad Shoal, Malapascua:
This sunken island at 18 meters/60 feet is renowned for its cleaning station for thresher sharks. These rare and graceful creatures can grow up to six meters/20 feet in length, and use the elongated lobe of their dorsal fins to herd and stun fish. They are best seen here during the early morning hours.
Sabang Bay, Puerto Galera:
A favorite with underwater photographers, this shallow, well-lit site features a wide array of reef life, ranging from microscopic invertebrates to turtles swimming through the sea grass. Look for red-and-black frogfish, tiny dragonets, juvenile leaf fish, white octopus, and green turtles.
The Pier, Dauin, Dumaguete:
A favorite with macro photographers, the pilings of this pier are covered in colorful soft corals hosting small invertebrates. Look for juvenile clown frogfish, nudibranchs, flat worms, ghost pipefish, seahorses, cuttlefish, and dragonets.