Part of Palawan’s exquisite Calamianes group of islands, Coron has stolen many a diver’s heart with its explosive sunsets and endless underwater excursions. Coron is regularly listed as one of the world’s top sites for wreck divers: 11 gun boats, cargo and supply vessels were sunk in a single fateful day of WWII. For experienced divers, the Taiei Maru is unforgettable penetration dive, made more beautiful by schools of batfish and snappers, and even the occasional eagle ray.
A skip and a hop, or a bus and a boat ride, from the international airport in Cebu, you’ll find Malapascua Island. Small and with hardly any development, it’s an idyllic place for a beach holiday, but it gets even better under the water. Monad Shoal is a sunken island and cleaning station for the graceful thresher sharks. Divers come to Malapascua specifically to watch the sharks’ daily appearance in the cleaning stations, and to see them herd and hunt their prey. While the threshers are the stars of the show, you’ll encounter a strong supporting cast of tunas, lionfish, nudibranchs and pygmy seahorses as well.
Possibly the Philippines’ best island for nature lovers, Bohol is blessed with brilliant beaches, lush countryside and more than a few compelling dive sites. Dive boats leave from Alona Beach on Panglao, heading for the coral-covered slopes and dramatic reefs surrounding Balicasag. To get away from the groups, try a day of diving off Pamilacan Island, where dolphins and whales are often spotted, and bumphead parrotfish, turtles, and wrasses are regulars. Equally enjoyable diving can also be found on Cabilao Island, on the quiet western side of Bohol.
The Negros Island in the Visayas region is still one of the Philippines’ less-visited destinations. But those who do come usually come for the diving. Only 20 minutes from Dumaguete City, Dauin lures underwater photographers with its rare critters. About 20 dive sites and marine sanctuaries are within easy access just off the shore of Dauin. Apo Island, with its green turtles, schools of trevally and stunning hard coral fields, is a short boat ride away.
There’s something for everyone among Puerto Galera’s 40-plus dive sites. Sabang in Puerto Galera is the jump-off point. Here the serious divers converge to explore the area’s treasures, including the Canyons, a favorite drift dive site that takes you past three breathtaking canyons covered in sponges and soft corals. Large schools of fish and occasional shark sightings add to the beauty of the scene.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is the holy grail of dive sites in the Philippines. Situated smack in the middle of the Sulu Sea and the Coral Triangle, this national marine park sprawls over more than 1,300 square kilometers, including two jaw-dropping coral atolls and vast lagoons. Nearly half of all coral species found on the planet can be found in Tubbataha. But what divers really come for are the big, big fish: black-tip and white-tip reef sharks, hammerheads, tiger sharks and whale sharks, among others. The only way to dive Tubbataha is on a liveaboard boat between the months of March and June. One for the bucket list, certainly.