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    ~ It’s More Fun in the Philippines! ~

    The Philippine Islands

    The Philippines is an excellent country to do Philippine liveaboard diving. She’s an island country bordered by the South China Sea on the west, the Philippine Sea on the east and the Celebes Sea on the southwest. The Philippines shares maritime borders with Taiwan to the north, Vietnam to the west, Palau to the east and Malaysia and Indonesia to the south. The country contains over 7,000 islands in an area of around 300,000 square kilometers. It’s a big place. There are many routes and destinations for Philippine liveaboards to take. 

    The diving industry in the Philippines has been popular for many decades but environmental protections have been put in place over the past two decades making the diving better than ever before. There is a lot to explore on Philippine liveaboards and it’s important to understand where all the best diving is done. There are liveaboard boats which operate in several distinct areas depending on the time of year. By following the boat’s schedules you can generally determine which areas are best. Philippine liveaboards follow the weather. There are also hundreds of dive resorts in the Philippines, and it’s a very easy country to travel in as the English level is higher than most other Southeast Asian nations.

    A Short History

    The Philippines has a long history, and people have settled here for more than 3,000 years. These early people traded with Chinese, Indian and Arab merchantmen. When Ferdinand Magellan found his way here on the first circumnavigation of the world, local people were already suspicious of outsiders and his journey ended in bloodshed. However, some of his crew managed to complete the voyage and Spaniards returned to the islands. They named them in honor of King Philip 2. This marked the beginning of Spain’s rule of the islands which continued for more than 300 years. At the turn of the 20th Century, Spain and the United States fought over the Philippines and it ended up in US hands. Fierce battles were fought in the Philippines during World War II including the largest naval battle in history. The country became independent from the US after the war. The Philippines is a populous country and has the largest Roman Catholic population in Asia.  

    Philippine Liveaboards & The Environment

    Environmental protections have been put in place over the past 20 years which has greatly improved diving tourism to the country with local people benefiting financially from increased diving tourism. The government recognizes that tourism dollars will only flow into the country if they protect their environment. NGOs and government have been able to work with local people on various islands to help them to understand that protection is important, both for the tourism economy but also to improve fish stocks.

    Regions of the Philippines

    The Philippines are divided into three regions:

    Luzon (Metro Manila, Cordillera Administrative Region, Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Mimaropa, Bicol). It is the northernmost island group, center of government, history and economy and home to the capital.

    Visayas (Western Visayas, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas). The central island group, heart of the country’s antiquity, nature and biodiversity and the best beaches in the Philippines.

    Mindanao (Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, Davao Region, Soccsksargen, Caraga Region, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao). The southernmost island group, which showcases the Philippines’ indigenous cultures.

    Getting There and Staying There

    The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) is the main port of entry into the country and busy so please allow enough time on the ground to negotiate the four terminals. Other international flights go straight to Cebu-Mactan (CEB) Airport from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore among others. This may be more convenient depending on from which port your dive boat departs. Philippines liveaboard boats usually leave from Puerto Princesa on Palawan or Cebu (CEB). Many airlines serve the domestic flight market and flights are on time and inexpensive.

    Philippines Currency

    The Philippine peso is the currency used in the islands. Other currencies are not accepted and must be exchanged. ATMs dispense pesos. There are hotels all over the country, and they are usually quite affordable. As with any populous country with a healthy tourism industry, prices vary from the very very cheap to the very very expensive. There is something for everyone in the Philippines.

    Entry Requirements

    Most nationalities may enter the Philippines as a tourist for up to 30 days. You may also get a tourist visa from a Philippine Embassy before you travel, which will allow an initial 59-day stay. You usually must produce a ticket for your onward journey when checking into any flight to the Philippines. There may be a departure tax even at domestic airports but it’s not very much. Check when you arrive at the airport.

    The Best Time to Visit

    You may dive in the Philippines year-round. There is always a place to go diving no matter what time of year. The Philippines do have typhoons and large storms so it’s best to get advice before you book a trip. Some areas like Tubbataha and Apo Reef have limited windows for weather as they are quite exposed. These limits are clearly part of the various liveaboard schedules–if it’s not on a schedule that usually means that you should not visit at that time. The most consistent weather and “high season” is from January to June.

    The Scuba Diving

    The Philippine Islands have something for every type of diver under the sun and Philippine liveaboard operators know where to take you. Some areas offer experiences with larger marine megafauna like whale sharks, dugongs and manta rays. Some areas offer interesting critter and macro diving. Some have a little bit of both. Wreck diving is excellent around the island of Busuanga. Thresher shark sightings are almost guaranteed at Malapascua. It’s more fun in the Philippines! 

    Philippine Islands Liveaboards

    BOATS

    Popular Philippines Dive Sites

    About the Author

     

    John Williams has written, co-authored, or contributed to four diving guides on Thailand, the Mergui Archipelago, and the Andaman Islands. These are the award-winning Lonely Planet Diving & Snorkeling series, Periplus Editions Diving Southeast Asia, Asian Diver Scuba Guides and Singapore’s Times Edition Diving Thailand. He has lived in Phuket and dived in Thailand’s waters since 1987.

    Tubbataha is the most famous of reef systems in the Philippines and has been a popular scuba diving destination since the 1980s. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and is considered part of the Coral Triangle recognized as a center of marine biodiversity containing 75% of the described coral species and 40% of the world’s reef fish. She covers 375 square miles smack dab in the middle of the Sulu Sea. Two of the atolls are nesting sites for birds as well as hawksbill and green sea turtles. She is located about 90 nautical miles southwest of Puerto Princesa on Palawan. This is the port where most of the liveaboards depart and return. The diving season at Tubbataha is short because of weather. The reef is only open from the middle of March until the middle of June each year. Trips get filled up far in advance so it’s wise to book early.

    Cebu is the starting point for liveaboard boats for most of the year as most of the diving areas around Cebu, Bohol, Moalboal and Dumaguete have protection from the large open ocean swells. The diving around this area is characterized as wall and reef diving. There are lovely beaches all throughout the huge area. Macro or critter diving is popular both from boats and even from some of the black sand beaches that litter the area. Apo Island, as opposed to Apo Reef is one of the popular places in this area and famous for turtles. As is Moalboal and relatively easy to get to as distances are vast in this area. Moalboal is famous for its “Sardine Run” with huge schools of bait fish darting to and fro.

    Malapascua is famous for one thing and one thing only, thresher sharks. Years ago dive shops discovered that pelagic thresher sharks, who normally inhabit deep open ocean, will rise to the surface just as the sun is rising to be cleaned at Monad Shoal, then disappear back to the depths. Divers are able to rise very early, get in the water before dawn and follow a line down to about 75 feet (22.86 m). Here on a lucky day you may see two or more sharks slowing swim over the reef. The sharks get up to just over two meters or six feet in length and most of their body is made up of tail which they use as a whip when hunting. When they are cleaning they are quiet and calm. Getting pictures and video is pretty easy but no lights are allowed.

    Busuanga is an island just north of the long island of Palawan in the western Philippines. Coron is the capital and is made up of limestone islands with towering cliffs. The Japanese navy thought this was a good place to hide the remains of her fleet in 1944 and as soon as they were discovered they were attacked and most of the 24 ships were sunk. “Between The Battle of the Philippine Sea, June 19th and 20th 1944, and The Battle of Leyte Gulf, October 23rd to 26th 1944, the Japanese attempted to reinforce their forces occupying the Philippines.”   Today southern Busuanga is a popular place for wreck diving. The wrecks all lie within the recreational limits of scuba diving so most divers may enjoy the diving here without special certification or equipment. Some wrecks offer easy and safe penetration to their interiors.   Northern Busuanga has less limestone with mangrove and seagrass areas inshore and lower rise islands with wonderful white sand beaches offshore. The sea grass in this area supports a large dugong population which divers see consistently. There are two wrecks in the area, a ship and a plane. The water is deep blue and clear. The reefs are healthy and fishy.   Busuanga is the jumping off point for Apo Reef not to be confused with Apo Island near Cebu. This is the sister reef of the much larger Tubbataha only 13 square miles in size. But it matches Tubbataha in every way except size with beautiful healthy corals and spectacular walls.

    Manila

    Busuanga Coron

    Cebu Mactan Airport

    Malapascua Island

    Malapascua is famous for one thing and one thing only, thresher sharks. Years ago dive shops discovered that pelagic thresher sharks, who normally inhabit deep open ocean, will rise to the surface just as the sun is rising to be cleaned at Monad Shoal, then disappear back to the depths. Divers are able to rise very early, get in the water before dawn and follow a line down to about 75 feet (22.86 m). Here on a lucky day you may see two or more sharks slowing swim over the reef. The sharks get up to just over two meters or six feet in length and most of their body is made up of tail which they use as a whip when hunting. When they are cleaning they are quiet and calm. Getting pictures and video is pretty easy but no lights are allowed.

    Bohol Island

    Cebu is the starting point for liveaboard boats for most of the year as most of the diving areas around Cebu, Bohol, Moalboal and Dumaguete have protection from the large open ocean swells. The diving around this area is characterized as wall and reef diving. There are lovely beaches all throughout the huge area. Macro or critter diving is popular both from boats and even from some of the black sand beaches that litter the area. Apo Island, as opposed to Apo Reef is one of the popular places in this area and famous for turtles. As is Moalboal and relatively easy to get to as distances are vast in this area. Moalboal is famous for its “Sardine Run” with huge schools of bait fish darting to and fro.

    Tubbataha Reef

    Tubbataha is the most famous of reef systems in the Philippines and has been a popular scuba diving destination since the 1980s. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and is considered part of the Coral Triangle recognized as a center of marine biodiversity containing 75% of the described coral species and 40% of the world’s reef fish. She covers 375 square miles smack dab in the middle of the Sulu Sea. Two of the atolls are nesting sites for birds as well as hawksbill and green sea turtles.

    She is located about 90 nautical miles southwest of Puerto Princesa on Palawan. This is the port where most of the liveaboards depart and return. The diving season at Tubbataha is short because of weather. The reef is only open from the middle of March until the middle of June each year. Trips get filled up far in advance so it’s wise to book early.

    Apo Reef

    Apo Island, Dauin

    Puerto Princessa Airport

    Anilao, Iloilo

    Puerto Gallera

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    Stripped Eel Catfish

    Tubbataha Jacks

    Malapascua Thresher Sharks

    Tubbataha Reef Overview

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