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The 9 best dive sites in the Philippines: biomass, pelagics and macro

The below article is dedicated to what are widely recognized as the best dive sites throughout the Philippines. These are the dive sites that offer the most to serious divers, free divers and snorkellers. 

You can also check out the video below:

The Philippines is one of the most popular dive destinations in the world, and so much of their tourism economy revolves around diving and divers. The internet is awash in blog articles and videos with “top X” lists of the best places to dive, see mantas, and swim with whale sharks in the country. 

The sad reality is that the Philippines’ marine ecosystems are not doing well. A 2017 study from De La Salle University found that  “more than 90% of the Philippines’ coral reefs were rated poor (cover in the area is 0% to 25%) and fair (cover in the area is 25% to 50%).”

A lot of people visiting the Philippines’ most popular dive destinations are unaware that what they are experiencing underwater are actually ruins of what once was. 

The Philippines is, however, as is often said of it, the centre of marine biodiversity, with stunning reef, pelagic and macro diving to be done throughout the country–places that still deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as other world-class sites. 

I’ve broken this article down into what I consider to be the best nine sites in the Philippines, categorized by dive type–those divers looking for general biomass (huge schools of plankton feeders and extensive coral cover), pelagics and macro. 

They are: 


Biomass

One of my biggest pet peeves when watching diving and snorkeling videos on the web is that so much of what’s out there ultimately showcases fairly lacklustre dive sites. People are very often simply unaware that what they are capturing on camera is a sick and dying reef–overfished, macro algae-covered, lacking in its historical and natural diversity. 

I’ve chosen the below three dive sites because they represent three of the most impressive dive sites in the Philippines for overall biomass and reef-fish abundance/diversity. 

Verde Island

Considered by Conservation International to be the “centre of the centre of global shore-fish biodiversity,” Verde Island Passage is widely viewed as one of the most biodiverse stretches of ocean in the entire world and is described by Philippino biologists like Dr Wilfredo Licuanan as a potential “genetic storehouse” that could one day help repopulate other parts of the Philippines’ highly damaged and over-fished reefs. 

Trying to decide on snorkeling or diving gear for an upcoming trip? Check out my dive computer guide and my BCD guide.

Tubbataha

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 1993) in the Sulu Sea.

a diver swimming over a large field of healthy coral at Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park

It was designated a world heritage site by the United Nations due to its outstanding universal value as a marine protected area.

A hawksbill sea turtle looking for food admist healthy hard and soft coral at Tubbataha Reef
@blue_ocean_art

The Tubbataha Reefs are known for their high biodiversity and pristine coral reefs, making them a critical habitat for a wide variety of marine species.

A giant napoleon wrasse alongside some blue-finned trevallies scouring the reef for food
@tubbatahareefs

The park is also recognized for its importance in the conservation of endangered marine species, including sea turtles and various species of sharks.

A reef shark hiding under some coral during the day at Tubbataha
@izenkai

The UNESCO designation aims to protect and preserve this unique and ecologically significant marine ecosystem.

Apo Reef

Apo Reef is one of the premier coral reefs in the Philippines and is widely considered one of the best reef dives in the country. Apo Reef is located in the Sulu Sea, off the coast of the island of Mindoro. It is part of the Apo Reef Natural Park, a protected area that covers about 27,469 hectares.

Apo Reef is known for its stunning coral formations and diverse marine life, making it a popular destination for divers and snorkelers. The reef system is composed of two main reefs, Apo Reef North and Apo Reef South, as well as a smaller “Bastos Reef” situated between the two.


Pelagics

A giant whale shark feeding on plankton at the surface
@shoestring_traveller

The Philippines offers world-class pelagic diving, from thresher sharks in Malapascua to

whale sharks in Donsol, showcasing its status as a top destination for pelagic encounters. 

With manta rays, large schools of jacks, barracudas, tuna and Moalboal’s world-famous sardine run, the country provides diverse pelagic encounter opportunities for underwater enthusiasts. 

Pangnasama Beach Sardine Run in Moalboal

A school of sardines swimming past the reef at Moalboal
@msroshel

The Pangnasama Beach sardine run in Moalboal is renowned for hosting one of the most impressive near-shore aggregations of sardines globally. These schools of sardines number in the millions, forming massive and densely packed formations that gracefully manoeuvre through the clear waters of the Philippines.

A diver observing a large ball of sardines in the Philippibes
@jonelmatimatico

Witnessing the sheer scale of this natural phenomenon is a truly immersive experience for divers and snorkelers. The sardines move cohesively, creating dynamic shapes and patterns that captivate observers. The synchronized movements of such an enormous number of fish serve both as a survival strategy against predators and as a mesmerizing display of nature’s intricate choreography.

Whale sharks in Donsol

A massive whale shark emerges swims back into the depths in Donsol Philippines
@elysiabeachresort

Donsol has gained international recognition for its seasonal aggregation of whale sharks, earning it the title of the “Whale Shark Capital of the World.”

The waters around Donsol provide a feeding ground for these pelagic giants, and during the peak season, which typically runs from February to May, the chances of spotting whale sharks are particularly high.

An aerial shot of a whale shark swimming along the surface in Donsol, Philippines
@elysiabeachresort

These gentle filter feeders, despite their enormous size, are known for their docile nature, making it a unique and thrilling experience for both divers and snorkelers.

Profile shot of a very large whale shark in Donsol, Philippines
@wwffrance

Donsol’s community has embraced responsible and sustainable tourism practices to ensure the protection of these magnificent creatures. Local guidelines strictly regulate the interactions with whale sharks to minimize any potential disturbances to their natural behaviour. Visitors are typically guided by trained locals who prioritize the well-being of the whale sharks and the preservation of the marine ecosystem.

Thresher Sharks in Malapascua

Malapascua Island in the Philippines has gained a reputation as one of the premier destinations globally to dive with pelagic thresher sharks. Malapascua offers a rare opportunity for divers to witness these usually deepwater-dwelling sharks in shallower depths.

Close up of a thresher shark swimming past in Malapascua Philippines
@watercolors_photography

Monad Shoal, a seamount near Malapascua, is particularly renowned as a cleaning station for thresher sharks. Early morning dives are popular, as this is when the sharks often visit the cleaning stations to have small cleaner fish remove parasites and dead skin from their bodies. 

a pelagic thresher shark in Malapascua swimming with its mouth open
@funsundivetravel

The relatively shallow depth of Monad Shoal, combined with the chance to see thresher sharks in close proximity, is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. 

a diver filming a thresher shark in Malapascua, Philippines
@funsundivetravel

Conservation efforts are vital in preserving the thresher shark population and their habitat around Malapascua. Dive operators and local communities have taken steps to promote responsible tourism practices, including adherence to guidelines for diver behavior and habitat protection. 

The economic benefits from thresher shark tourism contribute to the local economy and incentivize the continued protection of these remarkable marine creatures.

a diver taking a close up photo of a thresher shark
@funsundivetravel

Macro 

a painted frog fish with its mouth open in Anilao
@buceoanilao

The Philippines is also home to several world-renowned macro and muck diving destinations, particularly, Anilao, Puerto Galeras and Dauin. Diverse habitats, including silt and volcanic sand flats, coral rubble and sponge beds, wrecks, tires, derelict cars, cinder blocks and the like in locations like Anilao, Puerto Galera, and Dauin make the Philippines a paradise for macro and muck diving enthusiasts. 

I’ve covered some of the most popular macro and muck diving resorts in places like Anilao in my guide to 21 Philippine dive resorts with good house reefs and wifi.

These areas are celebrated for their incredible biodiversity, hosting a myriad of small and fascinating marine creatures. From hundreds of species of nudibranchs to rare seahorses, mimic octopuses, ornately decorated scorpion and waspfish, and flamboyant cuttlefish, the macro underwater world in the Philippines is a treasure trove for photographers and naturalists alike.

Anilao

Perhaps the standout name in Philippine macro diving and photography, Anilao is a name that is sure to ignite excitement among underwater photographers and macro diving enthusiasts. 

A flamboyant cuttlefish in secret bay Anilao
@bumarshoud

Renowned for its extraordinary biodiversity and vibrant marine life, Anilao has earned its reputation as a premier destination for macro photography in the Philippines. 

A shrimp on an octopus' head in Anilao
@Natalie Bondarenko

This underwater haven showcases a dazzling array of small marine species, including rare and colorful critters like nudibranchs, seahorses, and various crustaceans.

Anilao’s diverse dive sites, ranging from coral-rich reefs to muck diving spots, provide diverse settings for photographing unique creatures such as flamboyant cuttlefish, as well as various species of pipefish and seahorse and the elusive blue-ringed octopus.

A blue-ring octopus on a night dive in Anilao
@garyip76

Anilao macro sites

  • Secret Bay: Famous for its muck diving and diverse macro life, Secret Bay is a favorite among photographers looking for critters such as seahorses, frogfish, and various nudibranch species.
  • Cathedral: This site offers a combination of wide-angle and macro opportunities. Macro enthusiasts can find nudibranchs, shrimp, and other small marine creatures amid the vibrant coral formations.
  • Basura: Known for its artificial reef, Basura is a fantastic macro site with an abundance of nudibranchs, seahorses, and various crustaceans.
  • Kirby’s Rock: A pinnacle dive site with a mix of soft and hard corals, Kirby’s Rock is home to various macro subjects, including nudibranchs, shrimp, and tiny crabs.
  • Sepoc Wall: With its steep wall covered in corals and critters, Sepoc Wall is a great spot for macro photography, offering the chance to find seahorses, pygmy seahorses, and other small marine life.
  • Sombrero Island: While primarily known for its coral-covered underwater pinnacle, Sombrero Island also provides opportunities for macro enthusiasts to spot small creatures like nudibranchs and shrimp.
  • Mainit Muck: Translated as “Hot Muck,” this site features a sandy bottom where divers can find a variety of critters, including flamboyant cuttlefish, mimic octopuses, and seahorses.
  • Daryl Laut: A popular muck diving site with a sandy slope, Daryl Laut is known for its macro life, including various species of nudibranchs, pipefish, and seahorses.

Puerto Galeras

colourful nudibranch in puerto galeras philippines
@ramyoro

Puerto Galeras is another favourite site among macro photographers.

A garden eel in puerto galeras philippines
@ramyoro

Situated in Mindoro, just a few hours’ ferry from Anilao, Puerto Galera is often the next stop on macro diving tours for divers interested in the obscure and bizarre. 

a blue ringed octopus on a piece of coral in puerto galeras
@scandidiversresort

The waters around Puerto Galera are teeming with an impressive array of small marine species, making it a paradise for those seeking unique and often elusive critters. The diverse underwater topography, which includes coral gardens, walls, and sandy bottoms, provides ample opportunities for macro photography.

Puerto Galeras macro sites

  • Sabang Wrecks: A collection of small wrecks near Sabang Beach, this site is home to various macro species, including seahorses, pipefish, and nudibranchs.
  • Alma Jane Wreck: This sunken fishing boat is known for its macro life, featuring critters such as ghost pipefish, frogfish, and various species of shrimp.
  • Monkey Beach: A shallow dive site with sandy bottoms and coral patches, Monkey Beach is ideal for spotting seahorses, nudibranchs, and occasional blue-ringed octopuses.
  • Canyons: Known for its coral-covered walls and crevices, Canyons is a versatile site offering both macro and wide-angle photography opportunities. Macro subjects include pygmy seahorses and various crustaceans.
  • Lighthouse: A popular macro site with a sloping reef, Lighthouse is frequented by underwater photographers seeking subjects like nudibranchs, seahorses, and tiny shrimp.
  • Wreck Point: This site features several small artificial reefs and is a great spot for macro enthusiasts to find frogfish, seahorses, and various crustaceans.
  • The Hill: Known for its vibrant soft corals and diverse marine life, The Hill offers both wide-angle and macro photography opportunities. Macro subjects include nudibranchs, seahorses, and shrimp.
  • Dungon Wall: A wall dive with overhangs and crevices, Dungon Wall is home to various macro life, including pygmy seahorses, nudibranchs, and small crustaceans.

Dauin

a hairy frogfish in dauin philippines
@finn.snow

Dauin has emerged as another captivating destination for macro diving enthusiasts in the Philippines.

Situated in the Dumaguete area, Dauin boasts a reputation for its extraordinary marine biodiversity and exceptional macro photography opportunities. 

emperor shrimp in dauin philippines
@magnuslundgrenphotography

The diverse underwater landscapes, including volcanic sandy slopes and coral-rich areas, create ideal habitats for a plethora of small and rare marine species.

baby frog fish in dauin philippines
@canarianscuba.marlene

Dauin also stands out as an exceptional hybrid diving destination, offering a perfect blend of general diving and macro diving experiences for both divers and snorkelers.

beautiful black and yellow nudibranch in dauin philippines
@finn.snow

The region’s diverse underwater landscapes cater to a wide range of interests, from exploring the vibrant coral reefs of places like Apo Island to delving into the intricate macro life that thrives in its waters.

Dauin macro sites

  • Dauin’s Main Highway: This sandy slope is home to various critters, including flamboyant cuttlefish, seahorses, and various species of nudibranchs.
  • Cars: An artificial reef site featuring sunken cars, this site is known for its unique macro life, including various shrimp species, ghost pipefish, and ribbon eels.
  • Pyramids: A muck diving site with artificial reef structures, Pyramids is frequented by photographers capturing images of rare nudibranchs, frogfish, and other macro subjects.
  • Mikes Point: This dive site offers a mix of general and macro diving, with opportunities to encounter seahorses, blue-ringed octopuses, and various crustaceans.
  • El Dorado: Famous for its diverse macro life, El Dorado is a great spot to find seahorses, pipefish, and various small crustaceans.
  • Poblacion: A versatile site offering both macro and general diving, Poblacion is known for its coral gardens and the chance to spot unique critters such as mimic octopuses.
  • Masaplod Sanctuary: This protected marine area is home to a variety of macro life, including colorful nudibranchs, shrimp, and juvenile fish.
  • Coconut Point: This site is known for its sloping coral reef and is a good spot for macro enthusiasts to find seahorses, frogfish, and various nudibranch species.

Wrapping up

In a country as replete with dive sites as the Philippines, of course, there are far more opportunities than I have covered on my list. But the 9 spots that I’ve provided above are 

indeed exceptional and highlight the diversity of the Philippines’ underwater landscapes at their very best.

The country’s numerous dive sites, each with its unique charm, cater to a wide range of diving preferences, from macro enthusiasts seeking tiny critters to those interested in exploring vibrant coral reefs and encountering pelagic species.

Whether it’s the thrilling experience of swimming alongside whale sharks in Donsol, witnessing the elegant dance of thresher sharks in Malapascua, or exploring the intricate macro life in Anilao, Puerto Galera, and Dauin, the Philippines truly stands out as a world-class destination for scuba diving.