If you are planning your trip for the period between March and June, we recommend that you first consider Tubbataha Reef, the diving Mecca of the Philippines. Another awesome liveaboard trip would be to the Visayan Islands (also known as “the Visayas”), which would be from November to May. If you want sharks, check whether your itinerary includes Malapascua or not, because if not almost all Visayas trips visit this island. And if you love wrecks, go to Coron Bay.
Time to go: March to June
Tubbataha Reef is an atoll coral reef located in the Sulu Sea. The entire Tubbataha Reef consists of two atolls that each have a small islet protruding from the water. Between the two atolls, there is an 8-km/5-mi wide channel with a flourishing, diverse ecosystem.
This dive destination has become extremely popular because of the coral “walls” where you can observe the shallow coral reef abruptly giving way to great depths. Tubbataha Reef provides a wonderful habitat for unique fauna and diverse colonies of fish. About 11 species of sharks, and 479 species of fish and 350 species of corals can be spotted here. Here you can find hammerhead sharks, manta rays, giant jacks, barracudas, as well as parrotfish, Moorish idols, and moray eels in the sanctuary. The checklist of Tubbataha’s inhabitants should include the hawksbill sea turtle, which is an endangered species.
The reef has dive sites of all levels and complexity, allowing divers of any certification level to find something extraordinary here. For instance, the South Atoll with its Lighthouse has gentle dives, while the Delsan Wreck dive site is frequently called heaven for macro photographers. North Atoll is suitable for more experienced divers, and many sharks and manta rays are along for most dives. The best spot for photography at Tubbataha Reef is Malayan, with numerous crabs, shrimp, nudibranchs, and reef sharks. Due to the weather conditions in the Sulu Sea, diving at Tubbataha is strictly seasonal and lasts from March to June. The destination is only available on a liveaboard.
Some of the most well-knows dives sites for Tubbataha liveaboard diving are Wall Street, Washing Machine, Shark Airport, Delsan wreck, Triger Fish City, Black Rock, Amos Rock, Seafan Alley, and Malayan Wreck and Jessie Beazley Reef. Tiger sharks can be occasionally seen while diving on Delsan wreck, dive at Shark Airport to see hawksbill and green sea turtles or at Wall Street for Napoleon Wrasse. As you can consider from its name Washing Machine is known for strong unpredictable currents.
Visayan Islands (also called “the Visayas”)
Time to go: November to May
The Visayas are the Philippines’ central region of tropical islands. The Visayas are famous for beautiful beaches, a relaxed lifestyle, and visually striking dive sites. Marine life is extremely diverse here from macro to big pelagics. Thresher sharks, manta rays, whale sharks, various nudibranchs, bumblebee shrimp, pipefish, pygmy seahorse, flamboyant cuttlefish, mimic octopus all these creatures can be spotted.
There are six main islands, namely Panay, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, and Samar.
Panay Island is a famous wall diving spot with a depth of 3-30 m (10-98 ft).
Negros also has wall diving but is famous for dive sites with large fish on Apo Island.
Cebu’s dive sites are very different and adventurous. If you love turtles or have been dreaming of seeing them, then go to Dolphin House or Tuble Point. Another famous spot here is the Moalboal, which is a well-known home for large pelagics and schools of fish. Oslob, which is on the opposite side of Cebu, gives unique access to the spot where locals feed whale sharks! And of course, Malapascua and its thresher sharks are on the far northern point of Cebu.
Bohol Island’s main attraction is the pelagic fish and reef sharks that are frequently seen here.
Malapascua Island and thresher sharks
Time to go: December to April
Malapascua Island is one of the best scuba diving locations in all of Southeast Asia. Here divers can find wrecks, sandy muck dives for photography with models, amazing coral walls, tunnels, and lots of fauna. This dive spot is mostly known for its thresher shark dives and manta rays.
This location is the best choice for shark lovers. Tunnels near Gato Island offer unique opportunities to see numerous whitetip sharks on the sandy bottom. The cleaning station on Monad Shoal is one of the few places in the world where you can almost always find thresher sharks, and hammerhead sharks are present at Kemod Shoal (a sunken island) from December to May.
Time to go: November to May
Coron Bay is famous for being one of the best wreck diving spots in the whole world. To this point, 12 WWII Japanese ships have been discovered here. Most wrecks have remained untouched and are well preserved. A couple of them can be visited by divers with open-water certifications, while others require advanced knowledge and experience.
Local guides say that because most of the sunken ships here are huge (up to 160 m/525 ft long), it is advisable to make a couple of dives at the same site to see and discover the entire ship. Make sure to note that this spot is only for wreck lovers, because there isn’t much marine life around the ships, and the visibility in these places is pretty low (5-15 m/16-50 ft).
Time to go: December and April
Trips to Bohol usually include Moalboal, Oslob and Balicasag. Moalboal is mostly a plateau with a drop-off, where barracuda and turtles are common. Divers visit Oslob for whale sharks. Balicasag - one of the stops on the way with healthy corals and pelagic visitors. Overhangs of the dramatic multi-hundred-foot vertical walls hiding an abundance of large groupers, napoleon wrasses and snappers, turtles, whitetip and blacktip reef sharks, eagle & manta rays.
Current can be pretty challenging.
Bohol is represented by limestone rock formations, caves, and sandy beaches. Soft corals, gorgonian fans, coral gardens are waiting for you here. Look for numerous macro creatures including harlequin ghost pipefish, harlequin shrimps, mantis shrimps and an amazing diversity of nudibranchs. As for the bigger fish diving here features manta rays, whale sharks or occasionally hammerhead sharks.
How to visit the Philippines on a tight budget
Philippines' liveaboard trips are known for having prices slightly over average, but you can still get pretty good prices on the Philippines' liveaboards. There are wet and dry seasons in the Philippines, and the dry season is more pleasant for diving. But during the wet season, you can still find nice itineraries to avoid rainfall and enjoy your trip at a significantly lower price. So the tips for saving money are to choose the low season (wet season) and special boats--check our “smart choice” selection.
What can photographers expect from liveaboards in the Philippines?
The Philippines has a high density of marine life such as fish, sharks, turtles, corals and other flora and fauna, which is a perfect match for photographers. Those looking for unique shots and incredible landscapes will find something here. It doesn’t matter if you prefer photographing marine life, landscapes, the macro world, or working with a model--there is something in the way of photography for everyone in the Philippines.
All the mentioned itineraries have perfect places for those looking both for large fish and macro life. Many promotional ads are created precisely because of the picturesque landscapes and enormous numbers of sea species.
The most suitable for photography can be considered Bohol, Apo Reef, and Moalboal. This destination can be named a good option for macro photographers. Wreck ad corals are full of small fish. reef sharks and whale sharks are also one of the attractions of this area. Although it's great for divers to see all in one dive including tiny macro creatures and large whale sharks, it's quite challenging for a photographer. It could be difficult to choose a lens. So be prepared, if you have it, better bring it.
Some boats are more friendly for underwater photographers and their facilities are better equipped for those needs. Boat’ can supply with Charging stations, compressed air and separate rinse tanks, camera work areas for pre-dive checks and post-dive cleaning. Please take a look at our “photo pro” selection to find such trips