Rugby or football, Coke or Pepsi, the best James Bond (Sean Connery, obviously)… some debates are destined to rage on forever. When it comes to the battle for the best diving in Asia, the rivalry between the Philippines and Indonesia is legendary. Both countries share a prime spot in the Coral Triangle with enough big animals, macro critters and wrecks to keep you happily blowing bubbles for the foreseeable future. However, a few differences might sway your allegiance in the Philippines vs. Indonesia diving battle …
Encompassing 2.3 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean - including the Philippines and Indonesia - the Coral Triangle is the most biologically diverse marine region in the world. In the Philippines, Bohol has 38 dive sites - ranging from kaleidoscopic walls to hard and soft coral gardens - within ten minutes of the blissful Amun Ini beach resort. Or in Indonesia, head to Raja Ampat - otherwise known as the underwater Serengeti - for what many consider to be the best coral diving in the world.
The winner of the first round of the Philippines vs. Indonesia is almost impossible to call. After much deliberation, Indonesia - specifically Raja Ampat - claims victory as the crown jewel of the Coral Triangle.
If you want to go wreck diving in Indonesia, the USAT Liberty is a must. Located 30-metres offshore from Tulamben in Bali, the 120-metre long wreckage reaches a maximum depth of 28-metres, making her perfect for snorkellers and divers alike. While there are other wrecks scattered across the archipelago - notably in Sulawesi - the Philippines has some of the best wreck diving in the world in Coron Bay. Located in Palawan, Coron Bay is the graveyard of 11 Japanese warships sunk during the Second World War. Today, this ghost fleet serves as a reef system supporting all manner of marine life. The icing on the cake? There are wrecks at all depths catering to both beginner and advanced divers.
When it comes to wreck diving, the Philippines is an easy winner. Coron Bay is one of few places divers can explore multiple wrecks (in bath-warm water) in a single day. One to Indonesia, one to the Philippines.
Big Animal Diving
Located on the northern tip of Cebu in the Philippines, Malapascua is one of the only places in the world where you are virtually guaranteed to see the elusive thresher shark. Divers can witness these long-tailed, big-eyed beauties ascend to Monad Shoal for a sunrise clean before slinking away to the deep blue. In Indonesia, spot the world's largest bony fish - the Mola Mola - in Bali; see manta rays in Komodo (and across the archipelago) and huge fevers of schooling hammerheads in Serua in the Banda Sea. A further 22 species of whales and dolphins - including the elusive blue whale - can also be spotted across the Banda Sea.
Both the Philippines and Indonesia have plenty of big animal action, making it a tough choice. If we have to choose, Indonesia wins due to the 'little blue book' of species residing in the Banda Sea. Two to Indonesia, one to the Philippines.
Muck and Macro Diving
When it comes to tiny critters, you won't be disappointed in the Philippines or Indonesia. The Philippines boasts the 'Nudibranch Capital of the World' in Anilao, while Dumaguete is world-famous for its muck diving and critter life (think: blue-ringed octopus, pygmy seahorse and frogfish galore). Over in Indonesia, the Lembeh Strait in Northern Sulawesi is regularly hailed as the 'Muck Diving Capital of the World.'
Both the Philippines and Indonesia have world-class macro and muck diving, making it too close to call. This round is a tie. Three to Indonesia, two to the Philippines.
For liveaboard diving, Indonesia takes the crown for the sheer variety of routes available. Think: Raja Ampat, Komodo, Alor, the Banda Sea and the Forgotten Islands. However, that's not to say the Philippines should be written off. Located a 14-hour voyage from Puerto Princesa on Palawan Island, Tubbataha Reef National Park is a World Heritage site comprising two thriving coral atolls. Spot thresher sharks, whale sharks and hammerheads amongst blizzards of marine life.
The battle between Indonesia's liveaboard diving warrants a whole other blog post (keep your eyes peeled), but for now it gets them a point, making it four to Indonesia, two to the Philippines.
If you're contemplating where to blow your first bubbles, the short answer is both countries are excellent. See the top places to learn to dive in Indonesia, which includes the Best House Reef in the World (official title) at Wakatobi. In the Philippines, beginner divers can blow their first bubbles in Bohol, progress to the shallow wrecks of Coron before completing the diving trifecta in Moalboal, which houses a resident shoal of hundreds and thousands of sardines.
Whether you're newly certified or want to learn to dive, both the Philippines and Indonesia are superb choices - it's another tie from us. Five to Indonesia, three to the Philippines.
Are you a deep diver? Night diver? Drift diver? When it comes to advanced diving, it's a matter of personal preference. If high-energy currents are your jam, Apo Island, located off Dauin in the Philippines, is just the ticket (insider tip: don't miss the aptly named Washing Machine). Over in Indonesia, Alor is home to some ripping drift dives and spectacular marine life (especially at Clown Valley). Some of the best sites - like the thresher sharks of Monad Shoal - are located at 30-metres, so it's well worth getting your advanced certification before you go to either country.
There really is no way to compare the Philippines vs. Indonesia for advanced diving, as it depends on what type of diving you're into. Six to Indonesia, four to the Philippines.
Both the Philippines and Indonesia have so much to offer that we can't possibly pick a winner, so we'll let you decide. Better yet, see for yourself - Indonesia's dry season falls from April to October, while the Philippines is best explored from November to May, so why not dive both?