Diving in the Philippines

By | Category: Travel destinations
coral seabed

What I hoped to see diving – and did!

The seas around the Philippines are renowned amongst divers as providing some of the best conditions in the world.

I was going diving in Batangas province in the south of Luzon to check how good it was. Basing myself at the Buceo Anilao Beach & Dive Resort meant a boat journey as there is no road access. At Anileo, there would be three dives in the daytime and one at night.

the small resort is perched on a hill side

The resort nestles on a steep lush green hillside to the south of the town of Mabini, approximately 120 kilometres from Manila. The resort offers ten deluxe and four superior fully air-conditioned rooms plus three standard rooms for low budget guests. My deluxe room was spacious with a great panoramic view of the sea and the surrounding landscapes.

It is fully equipped with all the necessary diving gear and offers a variety of PADI courses and diving packages for beginners, intermediate and advanced divers. The experienced divers, who know the area very well and are familiar with the underwater landscapes, walls and wrecks, control your dive to ensure the safety during the dive. Before each dive you are shown a map of the underwater panoramas you will encounter.

on the first dive with my guides

There are two small pools at the middle of the resort, which are predominantly used for the basic dive training but can also be used for swimming by the guests.

I joined the team to do my first dive. Because of the heat I chose not to wear a wet suit. It was good for my buoyancy and I didn’t have to add too much to my weight belt, but it is advisable to put on the wet suit to protect the body from any cuts that you might collect from the sharper corals and rocks.  There were four divers, two guides and the dive captain. The first diving site was called Bubble’s Point, formerly named Spring Bubbles. It took only five minutes to reach the site. At a depth of five metres the water temperature was very pleasant and the visibility, excellent. All kinds of colourful fish swam past me. My instructor did some safety checks and signalled to me to go down deeper.

down on the coral bed, spot the fish

Bubble’s Point is known as a coral reef dive. Divers expect to see a lot of corals, sea fans and nudibranchs.  At a depth of almost twelve metres I could see bubbles flowing up from the bottom of the sea. The bubbles arise from volcanically hot springs beneath the seabed and the water is definitely warmer here than just a few metres away.

Leaving the “warmth”, I swam around the wall and viewed many more hard corals, frog and anemone fishes, nudibranchs and shrimps. The highlight was following a big turtle to the peak of the wall where we parted company. It went deeper and I slowly ascended to the shallow area. I couldn’t believe that forty minutes had passed since I began my dive!

any varieties of fish made the coral their homes

On day two we started earlier in the day when it was cooler but instead of Anileo, we headed towards Maricaban Island at the south of Calumpan Peninsula.  It took about twenty minutes by boat to get to the diving site which is surrounded by the creamy sand beaches of the island all surrounded by a backdrop of pine trees.

Daryl Laut is a coral reef site famous because a floating casino sank there almost fifty years ago. The wreck can be found at a depth of between five and twelve metres and is covered in soft and hard corals. It no longer looks like a ship, more than a frame for some architectural edifice that was never completed.

the remains of the casino

Divers could go inside and swim under the beams, so they could watch schools of reef fish swimming but divers are advised to watch their heads under the beams for obvious reasons and, more importantly, warned to keep an eye on equipment as it is possible to snag your kit on the corals twisted around the beams.

The formations of corals around the casino creates colourful picture as there are many things to see. I saw plenty of bright lionfish, nudibranchs, frogfish, flatworms, scorpionfish, spadefish and cardinal fish. The lucky ones of our party had glimpses of electric calm and the Anilao sea dragons. I only dived to eighteen metres because, once again, my time was up.  I am sure time never passes this quickly on land!

setting up for photographs

My second dive of the day was to a site near the resort called Heidi’s, named after a diving guide who lived just opposite the site. At a depth of twelve metres the views I had were very similar to those I saw at Bubble’s Point earlier in the day. Once again, the visibility was good and I had an effortless dive. I was concentrating on seeing as much as possible whereas some of the other divers had once again brought sophisticated camera equipment and lighting to concentrate on muck and macro photography. (Muck diving refers to the sea bed and creatures that lay in the sandy area at the bottom of dive sites.)

All too soon I was signalled to return to their surface and to take a break before we headed to Mainit Corner, which is known for its wall formations and pinnacles. Mainit means hot because on the nearby shore there are hot springs.

I was lucky enough to see turtles on a few dives

Diving, I only had to reach a depth of five metres before I reached a wall of hard corals covered by soft ones and where I glimpsed a group of small red Anthias fish moving effortlessly together in the current. Ahead of me were corals of salmon coloured tubastreas  (sun corals) with yellow polyps and a fairly incongruous sight as  a large barrel sponge rose from the corals like an elaborate vase.

Diving deeper (fifteen metres) I could see a big rock covered by sea fans and a variety of nudibranchs I came across jack fish, tuna, stonefish and even a large turtle. The varieties of fish, the colours of the corals and the effect of the light seeping through the sea made this one of my most magical dives which ended all too quickly when I was summoned to the surface again.

the locally made boats used for diving

My afternoon dive was an adventure as I was introduced to the world of muck diving, a new experience for me. We headed to Secret Bay which is only a four minute boat ride from our resort. This spot is on a sandy slope and thus ideal for spotting the smallest of creatures and perfect for muck diving. Oddly enough, the visibility I had diving through the first few metres was not great but, at five metres, viewing improved. At this level there were some rocks with broccoli soft corals making them ideal hiding place for small animals. At ten metres I could see ghost pipefish, frogfish and sea horses and at fifteen,  yet more nudibranchs. If you are lucky (I wasn’t) you might also see whale sharks, mantas and any variety of shrimps and crabs.

On my last day in Anilao I was anxious to make the best of the last dives. I returned to Daryl Laut diving site to dive around the wreck of the casino again. This time the visibility was even better and I passed happy minutes watching a colourful gallery of very photogenic sea life.

Back in the boat after a 45 minute dive, the plan was to stay in the area and have our second dive around the small, nearby island of Sombrero. The small island, which looks like a hat, is not inhabited and only serves as a crossing point and side trip for tourists, largely divers. Batoc, a coral dive, is the diving site that had been chosen. I only had to descend to about five metres before we reached a flat area covered with corals and barrel sponges.

i couldn’t resist this – a view from my room as the sun sets

At eight metres I could see why the other name for this place is coral garden. The visibility was great and I could see more barrel sponges, cup corals, anthias and a range of tropical fish such as damsel, butterfly, unicorn and emperor fish.

My last dive was there in Batoc but I thought I could manage one more. No, I was told. I shouldn’t dive for health reasons because my flight was in 24 hours and I needed to rid my lungs of the nitrogen that I had absorbed. Instead I stayed around the resort enjoying the scenery and the landscapes of Anilao. The white sandy beaches of the island gave the impression that they were shiny necklaces around its neck.

I spent that time exploring the small village of Sitio Balanoy next to the resort and it is here that the narrow boats are built with an outrigger and which are especially designed for the purpose of diving tours.

Just as the dives seemed so short, so did my stay. I relished the warm weather, landscapes, the water temperature, smooth dives, the underwater explosion of colour and the scenery in Anilao. It is without doubt a diving paradise.

For more images of Anilao, click here or go to http://www.amirinia.com/anilao-batangas/

Images and story © Mohammed Reza Amirinia

For more about the Philippines, click here.

 

 

 

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