There’s nothing quite like scuba diving in the Philippines, which is why the recent recognition given to our country for being the world’s leading dive destination is no surprise. The Philippines is a hotbed of marine biodiversity and our seas and diving spots host some of the highest concentrations of coral reef life in the world.
Our reefs, shipwrecks, and seamounts are some of the most stunning on this side of the Pacific, making the Philippines the best diving country in the world. But in the best diving country, where are the best diving spots to go to? We’ve listed the five best places to go scuba diving in the Philippines.
1. Apo Reef Natural Park, Occidental Mindoro
Apo Reef Natural Park is the second largest coral reef in the world, and the largest in the Philippines, even greater than the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. Located in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro, the entire reef system is protected by government mandate. It’s currently waiting to be recognized as an official UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The reefs’ diverse set of flora and fauna attract divers from around the world. Some species you can spot in the Apo Reef are manta rays, giant napoleons, cushion stars, reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, and thresher sharks.
Apo Reef is one of the more advanced dive sites in the country. The best diving spots are far from the three islands in the protected area, so you’ll need to dive from a liveaboard. The area is defined by a giant seamount (underwater mountain) that covers a vast expanse of the ocean floor. Diving here sort of feels like you’re flying over the underwater Himalayas.
Dive here if you want to see: underwater caves and sharks
2. Moalboal, Cebu
Moalboal might be the most dramatic dive spot on this list. Located in Cebu, Moalboal’s various islands and beaches are home to some of the most popular diving locations down south. Pescador Island is the center of diving in the area for its stunning underwater cave called “The Cathedral.”
Aside from its caverns and caves, Moalboal is most known for its epic giant sardine bait ball. Millions of sardines flock to the area in a spherical formation, and you can watch the entire thing unfold from the center of the ball like you’re living a scene from Finding Nemo.
Moalboal also sees many ocean visitors in the form of giant whale sharks, dolphins, and thresher sharks. The shallow drop-offs of the diving locations also make it friendly to beginner divers or for anyone who just wants to snorkel or freedive.
Dive here if you want to see: a giant sardine bait ball
3. Monad Shoal, Malapascua, Cebu
Also located in Cebu, Monad Shoal is a shark hub for fearless divers. There aren’t many coral reefs down in Monad Shoal, but there are a number of thresher sharks that frequent that seamount of Monad Shoal. The sharks usually go to the shoal in the early morning to get cleaned by the small cleaning fish that inhabit the seamount. Aside from being the shark metropolis of the ocean, Monad Shoal is also one of the best places for macrophotography due to its array of seahorses and scorpion fish.
Hammerhead sharks and manta rays have also been said to frequent the area. For obvious reasons, Monad Shoal is an advanced diving site best suited only for those with experience scuba diving in the Philippines.
Dive here if you want to see: lots and lots of sharks
4. Manta Bowl, Bicol
Like its name suggests, Manta Bowl is renowned for being a manta ray hub. It’s the ideal cleaning and feeding ground for the biggest creatures in the Philippine seas, namely manta rays, whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, and thresher sharks. There’s even an area nearby where whitetip sharks and tiger sharks are said to frequent.
While it’s known for its manta rays, its occasional dangerous visitors make this spot best suited for more skilled divers. Divers have to swim to the bottom of the underwater valley and anchor themselves to the ocean floor using metal hooks as the area is known for its strong currents, which is why the manta rays love it.
Dive here if you want to see: manta rays
5. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Palawan
Tubbataha is best known for its almost 1,000 species of fish, corals, and marine mammals. You can spend days in Tubbataha and still not see everything it has to offer. Aside from its big whale and whitetip sharks, you can also spot dolphins, whales, and turtles in the natural park.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a protected area in the heart of the Sulu Sea. It houses approximately 40 percent of the entire world’s reef fish. It’s perhaps the greatest natural wonder of the Philippines.
Tubbataha can only be accessed using a liveaboard, and there are specific diving windows throughout the year as the currents can get challenging, not to mention the danger of being exposed in the open ocean.
Dive here if you want to see: massive schools of fish and coral reefs
Bonus: Dimakya Island, Palawan
If you want to swim with a mermaid, try Dimakya Island. Northern Palawan is one of the more successful spots to catch a site of the elusive dugong. These endangered creatures are incredibly gentle and shy, but if you’re lucky, you might just encounter one when scuba diving in the Philippines.
* This story originally appeared on Esquiremag.ph. Minor edits have been made by the Preview.ph editors.