Tubbataha Reef Liveaboard Diving
Tubbataha Reef Liveaboard Diving in the Philippines is a World-class astonishing and remarkable underwater adventure! Remote protected sanctuary, a true paradise in terms of marine diversity and richness, offers truly amazing diving in the Coral Triangle, the richest environment in the Sulu Sea.
Tubbataha Reef - Marine Biodiversity
Best time to go: March - JuneWhy to dive at Tubbataha Reef on a Liveaboard
Reasons to goSearch for offers
- Outstanding Marine Biodiversity! Being in the center of the Coral Triangle Tubbataha Reef features almost 400 species of corals and 600 species of fish
- Big inhabitants await: 11 species of sharks and 13 species of dolphins, Manta Rays and Whale Sharks, schooling jacks, barracuda, tuna and more
- Beautiful macro dives for underwater photographers. Frogfish and pipefish, seahorse and nudibranch, just name it!
Tubbataha Low Budget
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Reviews about Tubbataha Reef Liveaboard Diving
Already happily going back... :)
As someone with a very sensitive stomach and somewhat medically restricted diet, I was very impressed with the fact that there was always several dishes served. Breakfast is the common type with eggs, bacon/sausage/hot dogs, toast/pancakes/french toast, and fruit, while lunch and dinner each had several options - with chicken, pork, beef, and fish dishes served completely separately buffet style, so everyone could pick and choose. On the side there's always rice/potatoes, as well as some veggies (think this veggie mix was the same throughout the trip). But the soups & smoothies they serve, oh those are just to die for!
The diving was good, with quite detailed briefings which I appreciated. The divers were split into French- and English-speaking groups. Someone mentioned that this added to the sense of exclusion between the groups, but honestly I think it was probably more efficient this way. I'm not sure if they'd normally do one or two briefings, two briefings worked very well logistically - neither the lounge was too crowded, nor the dive deck. I really liked the designated individual shelves and drawers for the "small stuff", and the rest of the gear you needn't worry about - it's all handled by the crew. They have two chase boats, and we were collectively impressed with skills of their drivers. There's also two showers in the back, as well as two large rinse tanks. All of our gear was rinsed for us at the end of the trip.
Speaking of the crew, they were all super nice, courteous, and helpful.
The cabins seemed new, while the bathrooms didn't quite compare... I don't know if it's simply due to different materials or something (I'm definitely no expert in this area), but they didn't seem as neat or clean as the cabins. No cause for concern, though, they're still fine, the two just somehow seem at odds with each other. Daily housekeeping was done. Oh, it said here on Divebooker that toiletries are provided, but they're not so make sure to bring your own. Towels abound, even though the ones in the cabin have not been changed during the trip. The ACs work great, and the water pressure is good, and each cabin has its own mini water heater.
The lounge area is big and comfortable, and I gotta say I totally dig the bean bags & cushions! Actually I loved the overall color scheme onboard - white/turquoise in the cabins, colorful in the lounge! There's an open sundeck with sunbeds, as well as a covered outdoor lounge area.
There's a charging station with a million (American type) sockets and non-slip mats, with some storage shelving underneath. This was also the only thing about the boat that made me cringe a little every time I brought my camera in or saw others do it... They're wet, and even though we did put down towels, the fact that we're handling wet stuff right next to chargers, cables, sockets... Maybe they could consider adding covers to sockets and a smaller shelf above them, simply so that the sockets are away & chargers at least on a physically separate surface from wet housings, neoprene covers, etc. Mind you, no problems happened at all, I'm just afraid this might be a matter of "when" rather than "if", so going with he proverbial better-safe-than-sorry.
There's a bunch of fire extinguishers on board, even if clustered together behind the bridge, with the rule to shout "fire" if something were to happen and then crew would bring them. First time I've encountered this approach, but I see the point - takes away from people panicking and either forgetting about the extinguisher or freezing/using it improperly.
There's also a lot of oxygen stored on board (I forgot how much exactly, but plenty in case something were to happen).
Oh, even though the Divebooker details say there's no tech diving, they actually do support it, and even offer a rebreather discovery, which I think was also the first time I've seen that offered on a liveaboard. The owner was onboard, and I have a feeling he usually is. Pierlo seems chill and relaxed, and the crew didn't seem uncomfortable around him, which told me they must be treated well. He is a tech diving instructor, and also does UW photography. He doesn't run the show, though, Axel does that - and was very knowledgeable about the dive sites, while also friendly and chill. Pierlo mostly dived with the tech divers we had onboard, and Axel went out with the 2nd briefing group, which ever one that was on a given day.
Overall, I had a good time and am definitely looking forward to my next trip with them in a few days! :)
Catastrophic Liveaboard to Tubbataha
It already started one week before the departing date when the manager of the boat contacted me asking me to reschedule my flight back home (departing 6 hours after the estimated arrival time back to Puerto Princessa), as due to unusually bad weather conditions the boat would probably not make it back on time. They did not seem to have much understanding that a last minute rescheduling of a 20 hours flight would probably cost over 1000 USD and rather blamed me for not having booked a later flight.
The troubles continued when on the departing day we were supposed to leave at 6pm, but ended up leaving at 2am. The delay was due to a broken engine of the speedboat and the owner kept telling us the problem would be solved within half an hour. The engine had broken down the previous day, but apparently they had only tried to repair it at the last minute. We ended up with another speed boat that was not really suited for diving and could not carry more than 5 divers.
The next morning we were informed by our divemaster that due to the delay and bad weather conditions we would only reach Tubbataha at 8pm and lose a whole day of diving. This seemed a joke to all of us, as there was hardly any wind and the sea was flat, no sight of real “bad weather”. It turned out that we were travelling at an average speed of 4 knots the entire time, which according to the crew was the maximal speed possible (according to liveabord.com the max speed of the boat is 22 knots!). This was the real reason that our journey took 20 hours instead of the usual 10-12 hours and not the weather. Most other problems on the boat were only made transparent after being pushed or questioning several crew members.
On the journey we also discovered that our two “very experienced” guides had not dived for the last two years and that one of them had never been to Tubbataha. The other one had been there once in 2009 as a guest, so I would not qualify that as experienced and they did not really act as guide during the diving, discovering the sites with us. Their lack of local knowledge showed during the briefings and the planning of the diving. They also did not really have a concrete diving plan for the next few days and we passengers ended up drafting with them in order to have the slightest idea what to expect. Tubbataha has around 20 dive sites and covers a huge area, but again due to “bad weather” (not really existing) we ended up spending two of our 4 diving days more or less at the same place (Amos Rock), while the majority of other boats seemed to be in far more interesting spots. Apparently they could be there as their engine was powerful enough not having to stay moored during the night, while we had to stay in sheltered places. Therefore we completely missed out on all the famous dive sites like “Washing Machine”, “Shark Airport” and “Black Rock”. Only after several arguments between the passenger and the crew, on our 3rd day we traveled to the South Atoll, where we encountered slight current and some waves. For every other liveaboard I took this would not have been a problem, but with the weak engine and instability of the boat diving became a risky task. Therefore, as soon as the weather conditions were not perfect the boat seemed to have problems. Given that Tubbataha is in the open sea, 100 miles away from shore and you can’t expect perfect conditions the whole time, this boat is unsuited for this trip and is a liability for every passenger.
Although the crew was friendly and wanting to help, there was a lack of overall awareness of what a good liveaboard normally provides, including a real structure as already described. I was aware that booking a low budget trip I could not expect luxury, but I had not expected this. The boat features very basic facilities and the slightest waves rock the boat quite strongly, making the walking around unsafe. There are not many places to rest and the upper sundeck was often used by the crew to sleep, as apparently their cabin was even smaller than ours. The food was very basic and did not vary much. As a vegetarian I had informed the boat about my dietary requirements a month in advance and was therefore surprised when on our first dinner they served me a fish soup and had only meat for the main course. They seemed absolutely unprepared and unaware of my requirements. Although for the rest of the trip they provided me with vegetarian alternatives and tried to do their best, I hardly got anything else than rice and the same overcooked vegetables.
In order to make it back on time to Puerto Princessa and try to have as many dives as possible on the last day, the passengers drafted a diving plan allowing enough margin for unforeseen “bad weather” and the crew agreed to it. However, there was again “unforeseen” troubles with the boat and we departed towards our last stop “Jessie Beazly” with a delay of 40 min. Bad logistics between the boat and the dive sites made us lose additional time and we ended up with only two dives instead of 4. After the second dive we were rushed back to the boat where the captain announced that due to the “bad weather” we would have a journey back of at least 24 hours and that we had to leave immediately, in the end we reached Puerto Princessa after 15 hours. It is incomprehensible to me how a supposedly experienced captain can miscalculate so many times, but at least we made it back on time and I did not miss my flight!
Before we left we had a long discussion with the tour operator and owner, Dirk, who halfheartedly apologized and told us all the problems we had were due to unexpected events, which had never occurred in the past (not true according to several negative reviews). As of the promised 18 dives we ended up only with 14, it was agreed that we would receive a reimbursement of 20%. This reimbursement did not contain compensation for missed out spots/sightings due to the lack of local knowledge of the guides/crew. Two weeks after the trip I’m still waiting for Dirk to send me the money.
In Summary, I would recommend a trip to Tubbataha, but definitely not with this boat as from my point of view it is not suitable for the open sea at all!
Questions and Answers
What you need to know about Tubbataha Reef Liveaboard Diving
Tubbataha Reef: General Information
Tubbataha Reef Liveaboard Diving is a true mecca for divers. Not only the finest destination for diving in the Philippines, Tubbataha is recognized as the most outstanding and valuable destinations in terms of marine life species in the whole World. Located far from shore in the Sulu Sea, Tubbataha is one of the richest underwater environments in the Coral Triangle. Located 150 km from shore it takes around 10 hours of navigation to reach Tubbataha on a liveaboard from Puerto Princesa. 130 ha of Marine Protected Area of Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park was declared as UNESCO World’s Heritage Site in 1993.
Tubbataha Reef: Diving
Liveaboard diving trips to Tubbataha Reef are best suited for experienced divers. Required certification level to join a liveaboard trip is Advance with number of logged dives from 30 to 50 depending on a liveaboard company. You may expect challenging currents and depths, diverse marine life and big encounters supported by clear waters and great visibility. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a beautiful composition of 2 Atolls (North and South) that form outstanding underwater scenery. Few kilometres to the North there is also a smaller coral formation called Jessie Beazley Reef, which is also visited by liveaboards most often at the end of the trip. Imagine yourself jumping into the water and observing these huge underwater mountains with vertical walls and plateaus carpeted with corals. Tubbataha reef diving sites are home to almost 400 species of corals, including impressive sea fans and soft corals, and 600 species of fish. On many sites you will be diving with large fish like napoleon wrasse and also schools of fish, to list a few there are big-eyes and giant trevally, yellowtail and great barracuda, dogtooth tuna, bumphead parrotfish and many more cruising around. This underwater paradise is no joke, the park also embraces 11 species of sharks including hammerhead and thresher sharks, tiger and nurse sharks, grey reef and white tip reef sharks, and even whale sharks. There is also a star of tropical waters of Indo-Pacific, a guitarfish which is almost an intermediate between sharks and rays that’s why they are often being called the shark rays. Another big marine megafauna representatives graciously glide around the reefs, yes, you got it right, everybody’s favorites Manta Rays are here! Shallow reefs are overflowing with brightly colored small fish, also featuring stingrays, hawksbill and green sea turtles, schools of jacks and snappers. And it’s not limited to big creatures, photographers will find the place to make their perfect shot of fascinating seahorses, ornate ghost pipefish and compelling frogfish, and of course – awesome nudibranchs!
On top of all great diving adventures, Tubbataha is also a bird sanctuary, so you will be lucky to encounter up to 100 different bird species around.
Best time to visit Tubbataha on a Liveaboard Diving trip
Tubbataha is warm water diving destination, water temperature varies from 26°C to 30°C (80 °F to 86°F) and get to its highest mark in May and June. You will be comfortable diving at 3mm wetsuit. Please note that dive gloves, reef hooks are NOT allowed in Tubbataha.
Liveaboards visiting Tubbataha Reef
Because of its remote location there is no other possibility to dive Tubbataha Reef but on a liveaboard. Thus you cannot visit Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park on a daily diving format while staying in the resort. This actually plays for the best as the destination is not overcrowded by daily boats. There are many liveaboards featuring Tubbataha Reef diving trips in their schedule. Although Tubbataha diving trips might seem pricey, there are different budget segments of operators to choose from. Common duration for liveaboard diving trip in Tubbataha is between 6 and 7 nights, the only exceptions make transition trips with longer duration. Those are usually start and end of the season when liveaboards head to Puerto Princesa for seasonal operations.
If your main focus is underwater and you are looking for a budget travel, you are most likely to consider the following liveaboards: Dolphin and Azalea.
There is a wider range of liveaboards in a middle segment, such as Infiniti Liveaboard, Seadoors Liveaboard, Resolute Liveaboard, Discovery Adventures and Discovery Palawan, Atlantis Azores. For a truly high-class experience take a look at Philippine Siren, Solitude One and Nirvana.
Many travelers are particularly interested in languages speaking on board. Of course, most likely you will have quite an international group of divers aboard, you might also find useful information about spoken languages of dive guides and instructors on board. While everybody speaks English and Filipino, just to list a few there are also German speaking team members aboard Azalea and Dolphin Liveaboards, French on Seadoors, Spanish on Solitude One, Discovery Adventure and Discovery Palawan and you might also have Chinese speaking team members aboard those two Discovery Liveaboards.
Because the Philippines is a famous destination for underwater photographers, all liveaboards feature special facilities for their needs, multiple indoor and outdoor areas to work with pictures, plenty of charging areas as well as separate tanks for rinsing cameras after dives.
Regardless of the budget level of operator you choose, you will be visiting the most famous dive sites around South and North Atolls such as Wall Street, Washing Machine, Shark Airport, Delsan wreck, Triggerfish City, Black Rock, Amos Rock, Seafan Alley and Malayan Wreck.
Because of the short diving season trips get fully booked pretty fast, so it’s essential not to leave it to the last minute. Many liveaboard trips to Tubbataha are sold out in a year prospective, so we suggest you start browsing and comparing liveaboards visiting Tubbataha in advance to have more options to choose from.
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