15 reasons to put the Philippines
on your SCUBA Diver’s bucket-list

WSE Travel - SCUBA Diving in the Philippines - Justin Carmack scuba diving
Justin Carmack scuba diving

I am a full-time scuba blogger, so it is my job to travel the globe and show my readers the best scuba diving the world has to offer. I’ve been diving in incredible places from Egypt to Malta, Mozambique, Maldives and many many more, with the hopes that my love for the underwater world will be contagious to my readers.

But although I have tried out many of the best dive locations the world has to offer, scuba diving in the Philippines is what really captured my heart. I’ve now based myself in the Philippines so that I could more easily explore this incredible country from below. Every time I back-roll into that water, I am completely blown away again.

Although there are many different great locations in the Philippines, all with different things to offer, some of my favourites are Malapascua, Dauin, Anilao and Moalboal. Any one of these would blow your hair back, and if you combine them into one trip, it will be one of the most memorable dive experiences you can have.

It’s hard to put into words how incredible the diving is here, so I will just list 15 of the coolest things I have seen while diving in the Philippines.

15 Reasons to I love SCUBA in the Philippines

1 – Huge variety of nudibranch

If you are a nudibranch and sea slug lover like me, just do yourself a favour and head to the Philippines. On every dive, no matter where it is, I see so many nudi species that I even get tired of them, almost. One thing I love about these colourful and flamboyant critters is that they are so photogenic! They are one of the rare species that doesn’t run and hide when I approach with a camera, they don’t seem to notice me at all.

WSE Travel - SCUBA Diving in the Philippines - exotic nudi branch
Exotic nudibranch
WSE Travel - SCUBA Diving in the Philippines - nudi branch sea slugs
WSE Travel – SCUBA Diving in the Philippines – nudibranch sea slugs

2 – Lots of Moray eel species

I love morays, and one of the reasons is the same as nudibranchs: They don’t hide from my camera and I get great shots! No matter if you are looking for eels or not, you are sure to run into honeycomb, snowflake, grey and many more species on a regular basis. I particularly like to do an evening dive where they can be seen swimming free of their holes and doing some hunting.

3 – Turtles galore

If you are a turtle lover, this is the place to go. Apo Island is known for having too many to count and indeed that has always been my experience there. Keep in mind, I’ve also seen them at nearly every location I go. One time in Moalboal I was up to 27 before I lost count, and they seemed to be fighting over who got to be on camera!

4 – Healthy coral reefs

If you want to see the premier example of what a healthy reef system should look like, head to Apo Island, Malapascua, Leyte, Palawan and more. You are going to be blown away by the colours and variety of hard and soft corals, and the sheer number of critters all calling it home. Get out that wide lens, and experience some purples and greens and pinks that you won’t see in many other places around the world.

WSE Travel - SCUBA Diving in the Philippines - vibrant colours of coral reef
Vibrant colours of coral reef
WSE Travel - SCUBA Diving in the Philippines - Colourful coral reef
Healthy coral reef

5 – Thresher sharks

Malapascua gets a spot on this list on its own for this one. Malapascua is the only place that I know of in the world where you can dive with thresher sharks regularly. They are practically guaranteed here, and I’ve seen up to 5 per dive. Threshers are so funny and unique looking, that this experience alone will be worth any amount of jet lag and sand in your shorts.

WSE Travel - SCUBA Diving in the Philippines - malapascua Thresher Shark
Malapascua Thresher Shark

6 – Many frogfish species

I am a huge frogfish fan, so the Philippines is definitely where I belong. They are seen at most of the popular locations around the country, and not just one species either. I dove with a frogfish biologist in Dauin, where we could go out and find 3-5 different species on a single dive. If you’ve never seen one, you are in for a treat.

WSE Travel - SCUBA Diving in the Philippines - unique fish species
Unique fish species

7 – Coleman shrimp and crabs riding fire urchins

This scene is another sought-after shot for SCUBA photographers, and in places like Anilao, it’s easy to do. On one dive site, there was just a field of red and orange fire urchins, many with crabs or shrimps riding on their backs. It was like an Easter egg hunt!

WSE Travel - SCUBA Diving in the Philippines - Camouflage crabs
Camouflaged sea crabs

8 – Tons of WWII wrecks

There is a ton of World War 2 history in the Philippines! In places like Coron and Subic Bay, you can dive on more wrecks than anywhere in the world. In Coron for example, an entire Japanese fleet was sunk in one area, along with a few American fighter jets; you can spend weeks diving them all. It’s the same in Subic, so if you are after a lot of wreck diving or history, then this is the place to go.

9 – Huge schools of fish

There are plenty of big schools of fish around the Philippines that are fun to swim with. They dance and dodge and move as one huge entity, sometimes blotting out the sun for divers below. The biggest ones I’ve seen are in El Nido, as well as the famous Sardine Run in Moalboal. These are a wide-angle delight for SCUBA photographers, and something to not miss.

10 – Flamboyant cuttlefish

The Holy Grail of all cuttlefish, the tiny, toxic flamboyant, should on its own be on every divers critter bucket list. It was definitely on mine until I finally found them in the Philippines in multiple locations. I’ve seen the most in Dauin during cephalopod season, but I’ve also run into them in Malapascua, Anilao and Palawan sites. You definitely need to make a point of seeing one of these dudes. They are something you will never see in Europe or the Americas.

11 – Wunderpus, mimic, blue ring and other octopi

While we are talking about cephalopods, we definitely have to mention one of the hot spots for octopi as well. All of the most sought-after 8 legged critters can be seen in the Philippines, such as matoti, coconut, blue ring, wunderpus, mimic, and more. I never thought I would get tired of octopus, but after a while, in Dauin I was shooing them away to get shots of other stuff! If you want your octopus fix, this is your spot.

WSE Travel - SCUBA Diving in the Philippines - puerto galera octopus
Puerto Galera octopus
WSE Travel - SCUBA Diving in the Philippines - colourful octopus
Colourful octopus

12 – Ornate and robust ghost pipe fish

One of my favourite critters, even though relatively common, is the various pipefish you can find. My favourite of course is the ornate ghost pipefish in the many colours and texture they come in. If you are lucky you will find a juvenile that hasn’t found a home yet, so it is completely clear coloured. Or you can watch robust ghost pipes who always seem to stay in pairs and try their best to imitate the seagrass around them.

WSE Travel - SCUBA Diving in the Philippines - velvet robust ornate ghost pipefish
Velvet robust ornate ghost pipefish

13 – Electric clams

If you’ve never seen an electric clam, put this on your bucket list immediately, as it is the coolest and most unique clam you will ever see. As you can see from the photo above, it is a file clam, that gives off luminescent pulses that looks like electricity. I love filming these guys, and we even call it the scuba diver’s disco.

14 – Paddle flap and weedy rhinopias

Rhiopias are a weird critter that I had to put on my list once I saw them in a species guidebook. They are something between a scorpionfish and a frogfish and a leaf fish, and I had never seen one before. With this new goal in mind, I headed to Anilao and told them what I wanted to see, and sure enough, they put me on two right away! Now I have a new favourite and would love to search for different colours and species, many of which can be found in the Philippines.

15 – World class beaches

I know beaches aren’t a cute critter or curious turtle, but they need a mention anyway. You are going to be doing a whole lot of surface intervals on some of the best beaches in the world, around some of the most amazing islands you will ever see. I have travelled to 89 countries now, and have yet to find beaches as beautiful as in the Philippines. So just chalk this up to one more highlight of an already legendary dive trip!

WSE Travel - SCUBA Diving in the Philippines - anemone and clown fish
Anemone and clownfish

There are just too many things to list. Even if I dive in the same exact spot 10 times in a row, I see something different every time. It’s a dream spot if you are an underwater photographer or videographer – just be sure to bring extra batteries!

Safety – Possible risks

SCUBA Diving requires you to be a strong and aware swimmer. You should definitely take a certified course and always go with a dive shop that has a good reputation. Accidents can, and do, happen – so it’s best to be as prepared for them as possible when they do!

Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim to those who try to play off those unfamiliar with their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed.

Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.

Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).

Responsible Travel – Best Practices

Practice sustainable SCUBA diving

Reefs all over the world, as well as the well-being of our oceans, are constantly under attack by the world’s most invasive species – humans. I encourage all SCUBA divers to explore the underwater world with as little to no impact as possible. This means maintaining good buoyancy and NEVER touching or manipulating any species of fish or coral for any reason. All divers should remember, “take only photos, leave only bubbles.”

Reality Check – Be Aware

SCUBA diving is a very physical activity and should be practiced by experienced swimmers. If you can’t swim, you might want to get the hang of that before going 10+ meters below the surface, as it does take some comfort being in the water. Always go with a trusted SCUBA provider such as PADI, SDI or SSI. SCUBA Diving is incredibly fun, but does have its risks too – be prepared and have a great time diving!

Where is your favourite place to go diving? Share your top scuba destinations in the comments below!

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