Season: Year-round diving
Water Temperature: 26-28°C/79-82°F
Diving: Wrecks, critter diving, boat diving, coral gardens, walls
Decompression diving (Atlantis Resorts)
Willing to share option on liveaboards
Can be combined with Micronesia
The Philippines, with its glorious beaches and fabulous diving, is often overlooked by divers seeking to visit Asia, but for those wanting a really good value destination with lovely diving (including a truly fantastic selection of ‘macro critters’), outstanding diving service, and comfortable and friendly accommodations, it is a natural choice. This huge archipelago possesses many thousands of miles of beautiful coastline and beneath the waves lie many thousands of miles of coral reefs! From shallow reefs ideal for underwater photographers, critter-watchers or those beginning their diving career, to tall, sheer and dramatic walls with schools of ocean-loving fish, you are sure to find what you are looking for in the Philippines. Here also you will find palm-fringed beaches with the softest, silver-white sand, cascading waterfalls and seas that shades from the palest blue to the deepest sapphire.
One of the oldest Spanish settlements in the Philippines Puerto Galera is situated on the northern peninsula of the island of Mindoro, 160 kms from Manila and separated from the island of Luzon by the Verde Island passage, an area which can have strong currents bringing waters from the South China Sea and making for spectacular and exhilarating drift dives accompanied by turtles, barracudas and pelagic species riding the current with you. But around the sheltered coastline there are many bays and lagoons where one can enjoy a ‘lazy’ dive with the smallest creatures and schools of brightly coloured reef fish. The hard and soft corals are amongst the most spectacular in the world.
Every tropical diving area has its Coral Gardens and Puerto Galera is no exception. The dive starts at just 3 metres and descends to 10 metres, so bottom time is never an issue. Coral heads and brain corals rest on a background of lovely pearl-coloured sand. Almost all the commoner species of reef fish can be found here: angelfish in bright colours, tiny pipefish sneaking through the coral, dancing orange anthias and damselfish aplenty. Who can resist settling on the sand to watch waving garden eels or those tireless little shovelling shrimps and their goby partners? Check out small cavelets and shelves, for White-tipped Reef Sharks love to sleep in these nooks and crannies.
At Coral Cove a sloping patch reef leads to a wall and several coral bommies. Guides frequently find pygmy seahorses here and if you spend too long looking at them you can miss the passing reef sharks. Look out for the electric clam as it pulses fabulous bolts of blue through its ruby red lips. Sabang Point and Fantasea are great critter spots where divers of nitrox can enjoy dives of over an hour. Winged Pipehorse, Fimbriated Moray Eels, Harlequin Mantis Shrimp and Orangutan Crabs make their homes amongst as Tomato Anemonefish, False Clown Anemonefish and Clark’s Anemonefish.
The diving at Puerto Galera is relatively varied. Most of the sites taper into sloping walls and patch reefs rich with small creatures and nudibranchs galore. A dive at Canyons is a highlight. Divers can descend to around 26 metres to inspect the wall before drifting over shelves of hard corals to a gap in the wall, often packed with Diagonal Banded Sweetlips. Yellow Leaf fish lurk in cracks and Giant Trevally shoot overhead.
There are two small wrecks, collectively named the Sabang Wrecks, where the bottom is at a maximum depth of 18 metres. A school of friendly and photogenic batfish are usually waiting to watch you descend the shot line to the sandy sea bottom, where the wreck of a Vietnamese fishing boat lies swarming with damselfish and covered in marine life. Some divemasters fish feed here to encourage the batfish and surgeonfish. Look out for White-eyed and Snowflake Moray Eels, frogfish and fabulous mantis shrimps. Just a short swim away you will find the steel hull of a sailboat scuttled by a local dive shop to create a new artificial reef. Though time has not yet been sufficient to carpet the wreck in corals, this is more than made up for by the superb fish population, which includes the largest of the surgeonfish, the Yellowfin. The wrecks are also superb to dive at night, with lionfish and scorpionfish feeding, and even schools of small squid attracted to divers’ lights. The peculiar Whitemargined Stargazer also has a home here, seemingly pancake flat until it shoots out of the sand to reveal a cylindrical body, before burying itself at lightening speed several metres further along the sea floor.
A day trip to Verde Island involves a 30-40 minutes boat ride for this three-dive adventure, which includes refreshments and lunch. The Verde Island Drop-off can be taken to whatever depth you are qualified to dive, and this dramatic wall has something for all levels and usually great visibility. It is the postcard photograph of blue sea, white sand and palm trees. The rocks and pinnacles just off the island make for some fantastic diving, and quite different dives to those found back at Sabang Beach. Currents can be strong and usually a negative entry is required. Shallower levels have good staghorn coral teeming with damselfish and anthias. Parts of the wall are sponge-encrusted and provide homes for beautiful brittle stars, colourful nudibranchs that appear to be dressed in ball gowns, and furled crinoids. Larger species such as tuna and jacks appear and then make off into the deep. Technical divers can make the most of the depths. Some Trimix divers have descended to 100 metres and claim the wall just gets deeper! Most dives begin relatively gently in sheltered areas of the island, as divers slowly descend the wall from the shallows before joining the currents for some memorable drift diving. It can be easy to get caught up in balls of jacks and anthias if you let the current take you!
In 2003 the MV Almajane, a 30-metre cargo vessel, was sunk close to the resort. She now sits upright with the base of her hull resting on the sandy bottom and offers a very safe and fascinating dive with all the species common to the area found here. The superstructure is intact and is fun to circumnavigate a couple of times before penetrating the hold. Longfin Spadefish mill about the top deck, allowing divers in very close. Banded Sea Kraits are occasionally found lurking in the darker recesses of the wreck.
For those who love to search for fascinating creatures, Sabang Bay, especially in the late afternoon, is the place to find Ornate Ghost Pipefish, Robust Ghost Pipefish, seamoths, octopus, Crocodilefish, lionfish and a fabulous variety of shrimps. Underwater photographers will be spoilt for choice on this dive site. Watch as an arrow crab neatly steps over soft coral or what appears to be a strawberry walking across the reef. Frilly Ornate Ghost Pipefish hover like strands of weed. Their close relatives Robust Ghost Pipefish mimic broken-off chunks of seagrass. Settle on the sea bed and watch the endless work of the shrimps as they tirelessly dig their burrows, guarded by their goby friends. Stunning examples of marine behaviour are here for you to see: Twinspot Gobies mimic a sideways-walking crab, glassfish form ‘colonies’ that move and swirl before your eyes like action art, pretty Humbug Dasycllus dart in and out of staghorn coral and maybe you will see a Banded Sea Snake as it disappears beneath a rock in an attempt to escape from you.
COMBINATIONS: It is straightforward to combine a visit to Puerto Galera with a stay at the Atlantis Resort at Dumaguete on the island of Negros, or a visit to one of the Philippines’ other premier dive locations. Alternatively, when you are in The Philippines you are not too far from extraordinary Palau with its famous ‘Rock Islands’ and some of the most exciting diving on our planet. Yap with its famous Manta Rays and Truk with its renowned wreck-diving are not that much further. Talk to us about the possibilities.
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