Pink anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion) at Apo Reef. NOAA Photo Library / Creative Commons
As a buffet is to a hungry diner, so is the Philippines to the eager diver: a surfeit of remarkable options. Blessed with a thriving marine ecosystem flourishing in the midst of 7,107 islands, the country’s dive sites are touted as the best in the region.
Apo Reef and Tubbataha Reef, the two most popular, attract divers of all levels.
Located 33 kilometers from Sablayan, Mindoro Occidental, Apo Reef is an atoll measuring 34 square kilometers, the second-largest contiguous coral reef in the world.
Marked by many sheer drops ranging from 30 to 80 meters deep, the dive spots within the reef offer an abundance of underwater landscapes and sea creatures to marvel at, many of which are large pelagics — sea turtles, manta rays, and hammerhead sharks, among others. A handful of uninhabited islands serve as outposts and camping sites for diving safaris lasting two to five days, which tourists can sign up for at Sablayan’s town proper.
The country’s most-favored dive site, Tubbataha Reef, sits about 150 kilometers southeast of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan. A protected marine and bird sanctuary, Tubbataha Reef and its smattering of islands span 97,030 hectares, home to no less than 600 fish species, 360 coral species, 11 shark species, 13 dolphin and whale species, and 100 bird species, according to research conducted in the ‘80s. The reef was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993.
Tourists have plenty of diving operators to choose from at Puerto Princesa. Travel to the reef takes about 10 to 12 hours by boat.
Diver around Tubbataha Reef. Image courtesy of the Philippines Department of Tourism.
Similar Southeast Asia Experiences
Divers in Southeast Asia won’t know where to start, with the overflow of diving spots they’ll find across the region. Other key diving destinations include the waters off Brunei; Indonesia’s part of the Coral Triangle; Koh Rong in Cambodia; Sipadan in Malaysia; and Phuket in Thailand.