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 you 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 site 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. 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 a 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.
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. 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 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).
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.
Some boats are more friendly for underwater photographers and their facilities are better equipped for those needs. Please take a look at our “photo pro” selection to find such trips.