The Visayas, Philippines – in the northern part of the Coral Triangle. This is a diving trip report about a resort based dive safari with Sea Explorers in the Visayas. Very varied diving in Dauin, Cabilao, Alona Beach and Malapasqua. Read on how Philippine diving rates compared to other more well known dive spots in South East Asia.

Trip details

Destination: The Philippines, the Visayas, Dauin (Negros), Cabilao, Alona Beach (Panglao) and Malapasqua.

Operator: Sea Explorers

When: 8 to 22 January 2011

Duration: 12 diving days

Number of dives: 30

This is the first trip that my wife and I did together – and it was a great success!

Resort meets liveaboard

Can resort based diving be as good and as varied as liveaboard diving? Well, yes. In fact it can. In my view, the diving intensity and mobility of a live aboard dive boat beats resort based diving 99 times out of 100. However, there is no doubt that it is more comfortable to live at a resort than on a boat. So how can the pros of live aboard diving be combined with the pros of resort diving? Sea Explorers in the Philippines has a concept that comes very close. They offer dive safaris where you stay at their different dive resorts in the Visayas Islands and are transported between the different resorts by diving boat – meaning that you dive during the transfer (with one exception – more about that later) so you don’t actually lose any precious dive days and are not confined to just one resort. I was very positively surprised with this set-up. During our two weeks in the Philippines, we got to see four different dive regions and had the same volume of dives that you normally have on a boat. Of the three islands we visited only Malapasqua is so far away from the others that you cannot go there by diving boat – you have to take a ferry to Cebu and go by car to the port where they pick you up. And the diving? Right up there with other top regions within the coral triangle. The muck diving in Dauin actually rivals Lembeh Strait and the wall diving in Cabilao was some of the best I have encountered. Let’s go through each place in turn.

Dauin

Sea Explorers’ Pura Vida Dive Resort is located in the village of Dauin outside the southern Negros town of Dumaguete. It is a very nicely built resort with great bungalows just by the beach. The dive center is located in the middle of the resort and operates a number of custom built outrigger dive boats. Nitrox is available. Now to the diving. Dauin is know for its excellent muck diving. Apart from the muck, there is also a healthy hard coral reef (the Dauin Sanctuary) and the wall diving of Apo Island is within reach for a day trip. So if you primarily want muck but would like to spice it up with some wall and coral diving, it’s actually a great place to spend time. I had my first encounter ever with mating Mandarin Fish at dusk at a dive site called Panabolon – a great experience! The best muck site (in our opinion) was Bonet’s Corner. During one dive there we encountered three Mototi Octopus, a Vine Octopus, Mantis Shrimp, Robust Ghost Pipe Fish, juvenile lion fish and juvenile scorpionfish. At the site Adventure (also known as People’s Reef) we saw two Frog Fish (white and brown), a Seahorse, Banded Pipefish and Harlequin Crabs. We had a great Cuttlefish (two of them) encounter at Car Wreck (yes a car wreck) where we also recorded a Devil Scorpionfish. Dauin Sanctuary (and Lucy Sanctuary) offered some bigger stuff as Green Turtles, Napoleon Wrasse and good size schools of Rainbow Runners.  

Cabilao

The transfer from Dauin to Cabilao was on board one of the outrigger dive boats. On the way, we made two dives at Balicasag (which is one of the more famous Visayas dive sites), but I will cover Balicasag later together with the Alona Beach dive sites since Alona Beach is the base for dive trips there. Now to Cabilao. Cabilao was probably our favorite place in the Philippines on this trip. The diving was awesome, we were only four guests at the resort at the time and got great attention from the staff. The resort itself is more basic than Pura Vida in Dauin and was a lot less busy. When I think back on Cabilao, I remember the dive there as some of the best wall diving I have ever done. The sites on the northern and eastern side of the small island gave us everything you expect from great wall diving except, maybe, big pelagic action. Visibility was stunning, the current was just right (not too slight and not ripping), Lots of big cuttlefish, schools of rainbow runners and sardines. Small stuff like Pygmy Seahorses and Porcelain Crabs in the gorgonians and probably the best safety stop diving ever! The safety stops were all made on grassy anemone filled reef tops filled with anemone fish. I have never enjoyed the safety stops as much as I did on Cabilao. As to big stuff, we had a great encounter with an Eagle Ray at a site called Paradise on the eastern side of the island. The top spot for us was on the northeastern tip – a place called Current View. On Cabilao we also met Joona – a great guy from Finland who had previously worked as an instructor with Sea Explorers and who also went with us to Alona Beach after Cabilao.  

Alona Beach

Alona Beach was the (by far) most developed place we visited. It is a village on the island of Panglao just off the coast of the larger Bohol. It is a classical beach village with smaller resorts along the boardwalk and lots of restaurants on the beach. Sea Explorers’ dive center is located at the Alona Vida resort. A nice clean resort. The dive operation is quite busy with lots of divers joining the boats. The main draw diving wise is the island of Balicasag which is 30 minutes away from Alona Beach. I did five dives in total at Balicasag. It really deserves its reputation with some great walls, good visibility and awesome fish life. The sites I liked the most were Black Forest and Cathedral. Green Turtles, massive schools of Rainbow Runners and Jacks. Schools of Barracuda but also lots of more macro related life such as Frog Fish, Leaf Scorpionfish and plenty of nudibranchs.

Malapasqua

Our last stop on the safari was Malapasqua which is located north of Cebu. This transfer was not possible to do with a dive boat but required taking the ferry to Cebu, going by car for a few hours north and lastly, crossing the water between the Cebu mainland and Malapasqua in a dive boat. All transfers were beautifully arranged by Sea Explorers. As far as the scenery above water goes, Malapasqua was probably the prettiest place we visited. As far as the underwater scenery went, the diving on Malapasqua did not match the other places we visited in the Visayas. The main reason to visit Malapasqua is to see Thresher Sharks at a famous dive site called Monad Shoal. I am sure that if you are lucky to see a Thresher Shark, that may well do your trip. We didn’t see one. The diving environment itself is a bit colder than the other places we visited, the visibility was consistently poorer and the coral splendor did not match the other sites. Having said that, Gato Island is ok and we saw some Blacktip Reef Sharks here. We also did a dive on the wreck Dona Marilyn (a 130 m passenger ferry) which was a good wreck dive. The highlight was probably an encounter with a Giant Octopus at Monad Shoal. But it is a very nice island to spend some time on! It has some very nice restaurants and the beaches are awesome.  

Conclusions

The diving in the Philippines is not as famous as Indonesian diving, which is not really fair. Having a lot to compare with, I rate the diversity and massive amounts of fish and coral very high. Especially the mix – doing a drift dive along an astonishing wall with huge schools of fish in perfect visibility and turning around to see frog fish and pygmy sea horses at the same dive. I also liked the set-up Sea Explorers have. It is a great value and really combines the best of resort diving with the best of being on a liveaboard. If you want to have a great smorgasbord of different types of diving – you can’t go wrong in the Visayas. If you are passionate about seeing Thresher Sharks – go to Malapasqua. Otherwise I would spend more time either in Dauin or on Cabilao. Enjoy!