Diving was the main reason why I recently chose the Philippines for a holiday.
In just February this year, I got my PADI Open Water Diving certification (that’s the beginners one) in Auckland. I loved the unique feeling of weightlessness that diving has, and raved about the few fish (and stingray) I saw on my first dive in the sea. I thought it was incredible… but holy moly, looking back, that was nothing.
Diving in the Philippines was seriously next level.
The visibility was incredible, we could see some 10-15 metres in front of us, the reefs were full of life and bright colours, beautiful tropical fish swam in schools around us, and turtles! So many turtles! And the water was warm, about 29-30 degrees, so all we needed was a thin wetsuit (much nicer than the super thick cold water wetsuits we have to wear here in NZ!)
I highly recommend a diving holiday in the Philippines – there are so many dive spots, here’s a rundown of the spots I went to…
Swimming out to the reef at #MoalBoal to get my #PADI Advanced ticket! Decided to do it here since the water is a lovely 29 degrees, visibility is great and there's so much life in this protected marine reserve! 🐢🐠🐡 And #Worldcare insured me for diving on the trip, since I've already got my open water! #CebuIsland #droneshots
El Nido is a super popular tourist spot in the Philippines, something I didn’t appreciate before I got there myself. I don’t know when all these bloggers/vlogger/travel writers who imply that it’s ‘off the beaten track’ went to El Nido, but it must’ve been years ago as tourism has certainly taken hold of the town now! Not that it’s a bad thing, but it’s nice to have the right expectations before you go somewhere.
Anyway, it’s popular for a reason – not only are all the offshore limestone islands incredibly picturesque, the diving is plentiful!
Highlights include a 34-metre tunnel (Advanced PADI required) where you need to use a torch, and in the middle of the tunnel, is an opening full of fish! In another area, there’s this huge cabbage-shaped red coral. It’s the only place I saw this coral, and it was amazing – each was as big as a swiss-ball and there would be 10-20 blossomed open all next to each other, as if in a grove. Unfortunately, we didn’t charge our camera before diving here and so only go a few photos before it died – but trust me when I say the diving here is awesome!
Where: We dove with Ranmarc Diving, who are located in central El Nido, opposite the only falafel shop in town. We did a whole day diving with them which included three dives and a delicious BBQ lunch on board the boat for 3000 pesos each (plus the 200p marine fee) – we talked this rate down from 4000 pesos each.
This was my absolute favourite diving spot of the whole holiday. Moalbloal, in general, is great as you can do day trips from here to the whale sharks in Oslob and Kawasan Falls – two of the more popular tourist attractions on Cebu Island – but Moalboal isn’t overrun with tourists (just yet). Other places like El Nido are so full of tourists that every shop sells tours and you can tell that tourism has just completely changed their town… Moalboal is not like this (yet).
Note: You can dive at Oslob with the Whale Sharks, but there are sooo many tourists snorkelling with them, that I don’t think you’d really enhance the experience if you went diving with them. The whales stay near the surface and snorkelling is cheaper.
Anyway, the diving in Moalboal is spectacular. Many of the areas around it are marine sanctuaries, so the life on the reefs is incredible. It was here that I saw the most turtles – like countless turtles.
Highlights were obviously all the turtles! Love turtles. There’s also an incredible sardine run – millions (yes millions!) of sardines swimming together in seemingly endless schools, moving in synchronised curves, as they avoid other schools of fish (or divers). I’d never seen anything like it – truly spectacular. There is also a plane wreck, which you can swim inside which is pretty cool – my first and only wreck dive! (Advanced PADI required for wreck dives).
Where: We went with Asian Belgian Resort, and had Thomas as our Divemaster. He was amazing, I HIGHLY recommend him! I ended up sitting my Advanced PADI with him, because he was so great. Diving here is also well priced, (cheaper than both El Nido and Boracay!) and you can pre-order lunch so it’s ready and waiting for you when you get back (I recommend the Tuna Melt mmmm). If you’re staying in Panagsama, you can get to Asian Belgium for about 100 pesos on a tricycle. Diving here is about 1100 pesos per dive including all gear and a dive master. Completing my PADI Advanced ticket was 13000 pesos, which included all the dives, gear, theory and the dive master ( the same course in El Nido was around 19000 pesos).
More lovely reefs full of fish – if you’re just having a holiday in Boracay 100% try and fit some diving into it! However, diving in Boracay is more expensive again, at about 1800 pesos each (including all gear + 200 peso marine fee). As Boracay is super popular too, the dive groups here tend to be a bit larger – up to 10 people, and as you can only dive as long as the person who uses their air the fastest, small groups are usually better than large ones.
Gutted I missed….
I’d hoped to go to Coron from El Nido, thinking it would just be a quick island hop away… wrong, the ‘fast boat’ from El Nido to Coron takes 4 hours and only goes once a day, and we just couldn’t quite find the time to get here. If you go to Coron best to fly there.
Why go there? Wreck dives! You’ll need your Advanced PADI for these, but there are some sunken warships which you can dive at, though I believe they take about an hour by boat to get to, and they are a whole day diving – you can’t just do a morning/afternoon dive to them. But they look seriously cool and will be top of my list if I ever head back to the Philippines.
Just a short boat trip north of Cebu Island is Malapascua Island – they place to go if you want to dive with thresher sharks. These reef sharks are harmless to humans (I’m fairly sure) and are plentiful in this area, though you’ll need your Advanced PADI ticket as they’re down deep at about 26 metres.
Before you go…
It’s important to have insurance before you start diving. Everywhere you dive you’ll have to sign an agreement that says the company you’re diving with can’t be held liable if anything goes wrong (standard really) and they ask for your insurance details. But to me, this makes having insurance even more crucial. We had insurance with Worldcare, which was great as their GoComprehensive policy covered us for diving because we were both PADI qualified before we went.
It also meant I could do my PADI Advance course there knowing I was insured.
Bonus: Travel Insurance Discount
If you’re planning a diving holiday (anywhere) take advantage of this travel insurance discount offer from Worldcare Travel Insurance – PADI qualified divers are insured under the GoComprehensive policy.
Final tip: Underwater photograpy
Yes take your GoPro with a plastic casing so you can take it underwater, but also invest in a red filter! We didn’t have one of these so most of our photos look very blue, when in real life the coral was really colourful! It’s just the natural effect of losing colour underwater, but a red filter really helps with this – worth buying!