Legend has it that when Alex Garland wrote his seminal classic, The Beach, he did it from a very special place. Tired of seeing his fellow westerners overrun Thailand, Garland decamped to the Philippines, where he discovered new inspiration, new vistas, and also a new creative spark that he harnessed in creating the famous novel.
The fact that Garland found inspiration in the Philippines isn’t surprising. With thousands upon thousands of tropical islands (7,107, to be exact) ready for exploration, this island nation has it all. From easy shore-approach dives to WWII wrecks under karst cliffs to thunderous biodiversity at some of the best liveaboard destinations in the world (shh, don’t tell anyone), the Philippines is one of the best travel values around.
So what kind of diving are you into? Whatever it is—micro, macro, tech, rec, or wreck—the Philippines has a world-class option just a flight, or three, away. And there’s a lot to do and many lifetime’s of diving on tap, so do yourself a favor and don’t try to pack everything into one trip.
The Top Regions to Dive in The Philippines
Just south of Luzon proper on the island of Mindoro can be found Puerto Galera. The town is adjacent to a large, calm bay, making it perfect for beginners looking to take an introductory course or for more-experienced divers who’d like a refresher. Further afield, Verde Island offers exploratory dives where you’ll have a better chance of sighting pelagics. Both regions offer a ton of dive sites and a whole week’s itinerary could easily be split between the two sub-regions.
Puerto Galera is reasonably close to Manila and offers a wide breadth of variety and is a great place to get started.
Also accessible via Coron, to the west of Mindoro lay the protected waters of Apo Reef. Apo is definitely under the radar, but it’s actually the second largest coral reef in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Enormous schools of tuna, entire families of white-tips, turtles, and a huge array of coral await. Go liveaboard, or don’t go at all.
The eco-adventure capital of the Philippines, Palawan, has a big footprint and there’s a lot to see and do.
Itching to explore Japanese WWII wrecks? Head straight to Coron, where you can find a large collection of ghost ships residing on the bottom of the seafloor. Also out of Coron, go diving in the geothermally heated Barracuda Lake, which offers fresh/salt-water scuba surrounded by sharp limestone.
Speaking of limestone, the whole region of Palawan is famous for its enormous karst limestone cliff formations, which rise to prominence in truly dramatic fashion in the areas around El Nido and Coron. The underwater sights aren’t far behind, however, and many playful schools and sea turtles can be found in the area. Experienced divers, be sure to check out the 115-foot-long Dilumacad Tunnel while diving in the area.
For a truly world-class liveaboard trip, hop on a boat and set your heading for Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. Nestled 93 miles southeast of Puerto Princesa in the middle of the Sulu Sea, Tubbataha holds one of the Earth’s leading collections of marine biodiversity. In 1993, the area received a UNESCO World Heritage site designation in recognition of the reef’s immense ecological value.
Tucked into the heart of the Central Visayas, Cebu holds a bounty of marine life and is highly regarded among divers for its many surrounding islands.
Pescador Island, off of Moalboal in the Southwest, holds protected status, making it another huge draw. Many unique geological features dot the area, creating caves, caverns and dive-throughs. White-tips and large schools fill the reef in large abundance.
of Cebu’s northern tip, Malapascua is renowned for its immaculate white-sand beaches and also its big-fish sightings. Thresher sharks, Whale sharks and Manta Rays all call the island home. Relatively undeveloped, Malapauscua is great island living, with heaps of good diving.
Divers generally come to Leyte because it consistently delivers the chance to see whale sharks, but even though that’s the main draw, the region also hosts a lifetime’s worth of incredible diving. That said, most of the great diving on Leyte is concentrated around the island’s southern tip.
Padre Burgos and the surrounding area lays claim to a lot of good diving. Healthy coral reefs and plentiful schools of barracuda and other species make it a good stopover.
Panoan Island and the surrounding waters are one of Leyte’s main draws because of the prime conditions for sighting whale sharks, dolphins and other large pelagics. Just to the north from Panoan, Libagon also holds a plethora of pelagic-spotting opportunities.
Limasawa Island, just off the southern tip of Leyte, holds steep wall diving and healthy fish populations. Strong currents can hit the area, so experience here is highly recommended.
Another crown jewel of the Visayas, the island of Bohol—along with a couple of its smaller satellite islands—hosts an incredible array of quality diving.
Panglao in Bohol’s southwest has a large concentration of dive sites surrounding the entirety of the island. Further southwest, Balicasag also has several amazing sites to explore.
Famous for its amazing wall dives, Cabilao Island off of Bohol’s northwest flank is a top draw. With both micro and macro opportunities, mellow currents and easy accessibility, Cabilao is a thrilling spot to experience deep wall dives at depths up to 50 meters. Visibility averages around 60-90 feet, so seeing plentiful marine life is possible year round.
Photos by Joe Platko