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Into the Deep: The Country’s Best Diving Spots, As Revealed by Divers

by Maia Marquez
April 5, 2019

Because the Philippines is home to 7,641 islands, it’s no surprise that its marine life is teeming with such colorful diversity.

Whether you’re about to test the waters through a discovery dive or you’re a water baby who also happens to be a licensed diver, diving deep into the country’s oceans will always be a treat. But because planning where to literally dive in isn’t always the easiest task, we’ve asked some seasoned divers to help you out.

Meet John Cabalde, a dive instructor who has been diving for many years both here and abroad. An active participant in many marine environmental programs, he is also a seasoned security and safety practitioner, who maintains high standards in diving—may they be during fun dives or training sessions.

Not only is Teody Alcantara a licensed open water, advanced open water, and nitrox diver, he’s also a licensed pediatrician. When he's not checking up on patients or swimming through the deep seas, you can find him sweating it out on the badminton court.

Halfway across the world is the living-on-land mermaid Naomi Riskin. Having graduated with a degree in Psychology, she currently teaches English at a public high school in Spain, while constantly dreaming about coming home for her next dive.

IMAGE: Michael Aw Young

Certified rescue diver Michael Aw Young started diving in 2015. When he’s not swimming among schools of jacks, expect to see him cooking something up in the kitchen, or sampling delicious eats paired with great drinks from the best restaurants.

IMAGE: Job Ochoa

Lastly, Environmental Science major Job Ochoa marries his two passions together: the ocean and photography. Having recently gotten his certification in open water diving, he aims to capture the beauty of the world—both under and above water—and inspire people to look after the Earth the same way it has always been looking after us.

In this DG Traveler exclusive, they share their thoughts on how you can make the most of any dive experience. Read along, and who knows, you might find a new hobby, rekindle your lost love for diving, or even gain a newfound love for the Philippines!

What sparked your interest for diving?

John: It allows me to experience the beauty and stunning landscape of marine life. With its great and natural wonders both known and unknown to man, it leaves divers like me in awe of what else is there to discover.

Teody: As I am originally from Manila, it was my transfer to Cebu that got me into diving. There are many beautiful dive sites in Cebu and in its nearby provinces like Bohol, Negros Oriental, and Leyte—all of which are easily accessible, with my city being a central hub.

Naomi: I was first exposed to diving through my mom. She would dive quite frequently and bring me back something from about 100 feet under, whether it be a shell or a cool-looking rock. That’s what got me very excited about life under water.

Michael: I learned that my kids started diving with their mom and I thought I should, too, so I can share this unique experience with them.

Job: I’ve loved the beach and the ocean for as long as I can remember. I started snorkeling when I was in kindergarten and I’ve been crazy about the sea ever since!

What is your favorite dive spot in the country and why?

IMAGE: Michael Aw Young

John: Tubbataha Reefs because of its pristine corals and abundant marine life.

Teody: Malapascua Island in Northern Cebu. While it has beautiful powdery white sand in its beachfront area, what lies underwater is truly something else: it’s the home of the world famous thresher shark, an endemic species to Malapascua.

Naomi: My favorite place is definitely the vast and grand Apo Reef, where the marine life is the largest I’ve ever seen: the water is so clear, the fishes seem to be in high definition, and the corals are so brilliantly vivid that they extend as far as the eye can see.

Every dive there is a unique experience that will always feel like a dream.

Michael: At the top of my list would be Malapascua for the thresher sharks, because it’s amazing seeing these graceful creatures up close.

Next would be Isla Verde, the so-called center of marine biodiversity that’s a 30-minute boat ride from Puerto Galera. On a day with good visibility, you can see the entire ocean floor up to 160 feet below; it’s breathtaking! Corals are aplenty here and are healthy, too. At the pinnacle, currents can be so strong they could dislodge your mask. But once you turn the corner, you would see why divers keep coming back: the strong currents bring schools of batfish, tuna, jacks, and other kinds of fish together.

Another is Ticao, where you have to take a 2-hour boat ride from the main island to get to the manta ray bowl. Don’t be discouraged by the travel time—I promise it’s worth it! I got really close to a manta ray (around 10 feet!) and it wasn’t even shy. While the currents are very strong here, you’re given hooks so you can hang on to rocks as you sit back and take in the stunning view.

Last would be Dive and Trek in Batangas. Because divers need to fuel up before a dive and recharge after, it’s important to me that the food at this dive site is really good—especially their turon for merienda. But more importantly, in its house reef, you can swim with big schools of jacks. I don’t think there’s any other house reef that gives better seats to this interactive show!

Job: My favorite group of reefs in the country is in El Nido. It’s one of the more well-preserved and accessible reefs.

You don’t even have to be a diver to appreciate the beauty of the corals.

This is also where I’ve seen the most turtles and I still get starstruck whenever I encounter one!

What is your one tip for fellow divers or those who want to try diving?

John: Love, embrace, and respect the natural beauty of marine life.

Teody: Get certified and licensed—safety and skills knowledge should be at the forefront. Dive with family and close friends, and get to meet more people as you visit as many places as you can.

Naomi: For those who want to dip their toes into diving, I would definitely recommend taking an Introductory Dive, where your dive master does all the technical work, and all you have to do is breathe and enjoy the view.

Michael: Get a good instructor: being trained by one will give you the confidence to enjoy diving. Buddy up with a good diver, because even as seasoned divers, you still have to look out for one another. Get good dive gear especially if you want to do serious diving. I’ve seen a hose break under water, and it can get quite scary! Keep fit to enjoy both easy and challenging dive sites because difficult dives might just be the most rewarding kind.

Job: Don’t be afraid to broaden your network of divers. If you’re in a dive with a big group, get to know everyone—they can give you the best diving tips, affordable diving itineraries, and even access to the most pristine and under-the-radar sites. Put yourself out there!

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About Maia
Maia’s passions in life are to travel and tell stories. Born in the States and raised in Manila while having studied in France, her ultimate goal is to travel all countries of the world. While she’s not abroad, she spends time tanning at the beach, exploring the underwater world or chilling with her 15 dogs. Follow her adventures on her Instagram @maiawillseetheworld.

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