The Philippines' diving accolades is endless. This archipelago of some 7,100 volcanic islands, strewn across the indigo-blue of the Pacific, boasts some of the best diving in the world. For starters, the Philippines enjoys a prime position in the Coral Triangle with some of the healthiest coral reef systems in the world. It also boasts world-class muck sites housing the ocean's rarest critters, rarely-seen thresher sharks and its very own sardine run. Many opt to bypass the Philippines' capital, Manila, in favour of the palm-fringed white sandy beaches of other islands. However, it's well worth sticking around. A Manila and Philippines holiday will give you the best of both worlds, whether you're into history, culture, food or nature - and, of course, epic diving…
It seems only right to begin your Manila and Philippines holiday in the country's capital. Upon first look, the sprawling city can be a bit overwhelming - but first impressions can be misleading. Spend a few days here and you'll discover that this bustling city has a lot to offer. For starters, Manila has some of the best museums in Asia. Visit Ayala Museum to see gold artefacts dating back to the 16th century, while the National Museum gives an insight into Filipino history, art and anthropology. The iconic walled city of Intramuros offers a glimpse into the rich heritage of the Philippines, as does strolling along the colonial cobblestone streets of Fort Santiago. For a taste of Filipino cuisine, savour local delicacies at markets like Salcedo Saturday Market or take a culinary adventure in Binondo, the oldest Chinatown in the world. Manila is also gaining salience for its thriving nightlife, with several bars being recognised as some of Asia's best - it would be rude not to have a tipple. Only you've had your fill of history and culture it's time for the diving segment of your Manila and Philippines holiday.
El Nido, Palawan
Mention The Beach, Alex Garden's cult-classic book, and most will think of Thailand (and Leonardo DiCaprio from the movie adaptation). However, contrary to popular belief, this paradisical beach was actually inspired by Palawan. To the north of Palawan Island, El Nido's landscapes are hard to beat. Here, thick rainforest opens to white sandy beaches, fringed by limestone karsts that are illuminated by the shimmering reflections from turquoise lagoons. It's paradise. And the lagoons here, all teeming with tropical reef fish, are the perfect swimming pools for learning to dive.
Coron is a small island located in northern Palawan. While often compared to El Nido for its topside beauty, beneath the waves Coron boasts some of the best wreck diving in Southeast Asia, all packed into one conveniently small bay. Coron Bay, to the north of the island, houses 12 Japanese WWII wrecks at depths between eight and 40 metres, with some extending over 170 metres in length, meaning divers of all capabilities are spoiled for choice. While the visibility can be poor (think: between five and 15 metres), these wrecks are some of the best preserved in the world. If you can only dive a couple, make sure to explore the Olympia Maru and Iraku wrecks, although we recommend staying a few days to dive them all.
Dumaguete and Dauin
Dumaguete and Dauin's main claim to diving fame comes in its incredible line-up of weird and wonderful critters. Located in the south of Negros Island in the Central Visayas, this region has some of the best muck diving (scouring the 'mucky' bare seabed for the ocean's strangest macro creatures) in the world. A few fin kicks off the shore, divers can see blue-ringed octopus, ornate ghost pipefish, flamboyant cuttlefish, wonderpus, mantis shrimp and nudibranchs… to name but a few. For those in need of a coral fix, Apo Island, a 40-minute boat ride off the coast, is a protected marine sanctuary awash with healthy hard and soft corals. As for the marine life, divers can see green and hawksbill turtles, huge schools of jacks and sea snakes.
Moalboal, located on the south-western shores of Cebu Island, has garnered worldwide fame for its sardine run, where snorkellers and divers alike can surround themselves in a million-strong sardine bait ball. However, Moalboal is far from a one-hit wonder. Draw your eyes away from the shimmering sardines and you might spot a turtle gliding past, while macro critters lay camouflaged in the mucky seabed. At nearby Pescador Island, divers can see reef sharks, turtles and huge schools of jacks. For a completely different experience, blackwater diving - diving in the open ocean at night - will allow you to see bioluminescent deep-sea aliens rising from the deep.
It's extremely rare to see a thresher shark. These elusive wide-eyed predators are notoriously skittish, and with a penchant for the deep, are rarely encountered by divers. This tiny island is the only place in the world where divers are virtually guaranteed to see thresher sharks at Monad Shoal, when thresher sharks gather around this cleaning station every morning for a daily clean. The dive requires an early rise, usually between four and six in the morning, but it's worth the early alarm to see the silhouette of the threshers signature whip-like tail emerge from the deep.
While the Philippines boasts healthy coral reefs across its archipelago, some of the best can be found in Bohol. The diving is mainly centred around Balicasag, where sites are a mix of gentle slopes and walls covered in colourful corals and flurries of fish. Cast your eyes out into the blue and you might also spot huge schools of jacks and barracuda in crystal-clear visibility. Above water, there's plenty to see and do, including visiting the 'chocolate hills' - a bizarre landscape comprising of some 12,68 cone-shaped hills - cruising up Loboc river for lunch at a floating restaurant, and seeking the tiny tarsiers, the world's smallest primate.
Inspired to take your own Manila and Philippines holiday? Our dive travel experts have travelled the Philippines extensively, all in the name of research (tough gig). Get in touch for your tailor-made Philippines holiday itinerary.