Destination Fact File
The place for diverse and fun fuelled diving activities.
The Visayas area is one of three sets of islands in the Philippines along with Luzon and Mindanao. The diving areas within the Visayas that are mostly visited by divers include the island of Cebu home to Moalboal and the sardine ball towards the south west of Cebu town, Malapascua to the north of the island where you will have up close and personal encounters with thresher sharks, Bohol and Balicasag Islands with great macro and reef diving and Negros home to Dumaguete and Apo Island to the south of the Visayas region where you will find a great abundance of hard corals.
Dumaguete on Negros Island, home to the Atlantis Dumaguete and the Atmosphere Resort & Spa and a spectacular variety of dive sites is making waves among divers in the know. Here you will find amazing vertical walls, stunning coral gardens and ample fish life, much of which is accessible from the beach. Just 30 minutes from Dumaguete is Apo Island, popular with divers for its exciting marine life. Experienced divers know Dumaguete for muck diving where you can discover unusual and juvenile creatures like tiny transparent shrimps, neon nudibranchs and huge basket sponges adorned with hundreds of colourful crinoids.
The main attraction in the area is Apo Island, one of the best known diving destinations in the Philippines. Apo is a tiny marine sanctuary (the island itself covers just 72 hectares) that is teeming with fish and beautiful corals. There are ten dive sites around the island and each has something different to offer ranging from exhilarating drift dives to gentle shallow and relaxing dives. At Apo Island there is a huge variety of fish species, crustaceans and nudibranchs with schools of jacks sometimes numbering over 2,000 fish. A true blue heaven for both micro and macro lovers.
Nearer to Dauin, 15 km from Dumaguete is the incredible Masaplod Marine Sanctuary home to snappers, sweetlips, scorpion fish, batfish and lots more. For those looking for the smaller stuff then there are nudibranch, seahorses, pipefish and shrimps. All along this stretch of coast are reefs and sandy beds full of life with macro life and photographic opportunities considered to be amongst the best in Asia.
The place to have fun in the evenings is along “The Boulevard” where you can find a few bars and pubs. The most popular bars are “Y Not Bar” and the “Gimmick” where you can have a refreshing drink whilst admiring the beautiful sea views and cool breezes.
Malapascua Island is the diver’s hotspot for thresher sharks, white-tip sharks, manta and devil rays. From December to February hammerhead sharks are also known to pass by. Malapascua is one of the few places in the world that you have a good chance of regularly seeing thresher sharks at Monad Shoal just 20 minutes by boat from Malapascua. On a stretch of reef top at about 23 metres deep the sharks appear at the start of the day, sometimes just one and if you are lucky four or more. Their early appearance means an early start for the divers, often leaving the Exotic Dive & Beach Resort at 5.00am.
The dive sites at nearby Calangaman Island combine steep walls along with passing pelagics and beautiful corals surrounding big boulders. The dives here are often part of a day trip with snorkeling in the shallows.
Surrounding Malapascua and just minutes from the shore are a number of reefs that are perfect for novices and photographers. Tiny Gato Island is a sea snake sanctuary and is the home to several resting white-tip reef sharks, batfish, flutemouth, barracuda, tuna, mantis shrimp, pipefish, scorpion fish, lionfish and various moray eels just to name a few. In Malapascua there is something for every diver!
There are a few dining options in Malapascua, the food at the Malapascua Exotic Dive Resort is amazing and restaurant Angelina is a great choice if you want to venture out of the resort for some Italian food. In the evenings, the night entertainment remains at the resort’s restaurant and bar where you can enjoy a few drinks with your fellow divers.
The diving in Moalboal is extremely varied ranging from slopes and walls to small caves, canyons and coral reefs. Moalboal is home to a wealth of marine life around and you are likely to see turtles on many of the sites just a short distance from the dive centre. The deep waters mean that sometimes the unexpected visitor arrives and recently whale sharks, hammerheads and even pilot whales have been spotted.
The best known dive site in Moalboal is the marine sanctuary of Pescador Island. This is a site with big walls playing host to a huge variety of marine life including frogfish and schools of snappers and jacks. The sometimes strong currents and the depth of 35 metres mean that at times you may also see schools of barracudas as well as sightings of sharks. This is also a famous site for big balls of sardines swimming along the wall, an amazing sight.
Although not as well known as Pescador, the diving at Sunken Island is considered by many to be even better still. The best time to visit is early in the morning and at depths of around 35 and 40 metres you may get to see sharks and tuna. At shallower levels on the dive, schools of jacks and a wide range of reef inhabitants can be found.
Moalboal is really quiet in the evenings. Panagsama Beach is the busiest area in Moalaboal and here you will find some restaurants with local and western food and some night life as well. Most bars and pubs are next to the resorts in a street that runs parallel to the shoreline. Panagsama Beach is a 10 to 15 minutes car ride from the Magic Island Dive Resort.
Bohol is an island paradise famous for its Chocolate Hills, historic sites and fantastic underwater scenery, a true haven for diving enthusiasts! The island lies at the very heart of the Visayas and along its coastline there are several islets such as Panglao, Cabilao, Jao, Balicasag, Mahanay, and Lapinin all offering excellent diving experiences. The reefs right in front of the Blue Star Dive Resort and the Magic Oceans Dive Resort on the Anda coast offer great diving encounters, perfect for photo and video opportunities with numerous nudibranchs, turtles and much more.
Panglao Island is a small coral island located near the south western tip of Bohol. The north and western section of the reef is remarkable with hard and soft corals, sacrophyton and lobophyton varieties. Near the cliff there are schools of tuna, mackerel and surgeonfish and further seawards you can see schools of dolphins and pilot whales. Panglao’s steep walls will give you the opportunity to explore beautiful caves with an abundance of fish and invertebrate life.
Balicasag Island is where you will find a 400 meter marine sanctuary of healthy corals and plenty of pelagic visitors characterised by the vertical walls over deep waters with strong currents. A dive in December or January can offer you the opportunity to see hammerhead sharks and sometimes whale sharks. The island is surrounded by a sandy shell coral line which in turn is fringed by a narrow reef shelf of 10 to 55 metres wide.
The nightlife around the Anda coast remains quiet and at the resort’s restaurants and bars. Tagbilaran, the capital city of Bohol is the busiest and you will find a few bars and restaurants with a very good atmosphere but even here, you will not find the lively nightlife that you would in Manila or Cebu.
Visayas Top Dive Sites:
The Pier in Dumaguete - The topography of this dive is fascinating with the stands of the pier looming around you and covered in colourful soft corals. This dive site is a photographer’s and macro fanatics dream. As you swim in and around the pier, schools of fish swim around you and the soft corals are full of small critters, juvenile clown frogfish, nudibranchs, flatworms, ghost pipefish, and seahorses. Keep your eyes open for flamboyant cuttlefish and dragonets hiding in the sand. A fascinating dive site where you could keep diving every day.
Apo Island in Dumaguete has a few fantastic dives; amongst the best of them all is “Coconut”. This site offers excellent visibility and a fair current giving divers a good chance of seeing large schools of jacks. Turtles and sea snakes are also found here. The strong currents and the depth normally limit this site to advanced divers with experience in such conditions.
Dona Marilyn Wreck in Malapascua is a 98 metres long former ferry that sank in October 1988 during a typhoon while sailing from Manila to Cebu. Sadly, many people lost their lives during this tragedy. It is now known as the most beautiful wreck of the Visayas. The Dona Marilyn lies 33 meters deep on her starboard side with the shallowest point of the wreck at around 17 metres deep. The soft coral is really healthy and beautiful; the marine life is also very good. You will have the chance of spotting white-tip reef sharks and blue spotted stingrays resting on the sandy bottom. The wreck is inhabited by thousands of tiny glassfish as well as colourful sweetlips, scorpion fish, batfish and nudibranchs. An eagle ray may also be spotted gliding by further out into the blue.
Gato Island in Malapascua has over five dive sites with huge diversity, the top site here is without a doubt “The Cave” or more accurately, "The Tunnel". Journey underneath Gato Island and come out the other side. This 30 metres tunnel houses all the usual cave dwellers: many types of crab big and small, lobsters and cardinal fish. You may also encounter some large puffer fish and perhaps bamboo and cat sharks. Most exciting of all, the cave is home to white-tip sharks; you may see them hiding in a corner as you pass by inches from their face or see their silhouette as they circle near the exit in the midst of a huge school of smaller fish. If you are careful and move slowly, they will swim straight by your face. The sight is simply breath-taking but not for the faint of heart. This dive is for experienced divers only! At the exit of the cave are some overhangs and swim throughs where baby white-tips sleep under the rocks.
The Lighthouse in Malapascua - Dusk is a time most people rarely dive, however, it is one of the best times to observe marine life because of the increased feeding and mating activity. Here you will have the opportunity to see seahorses, scribbled and banded pipefish, juvenile sweetlips, banded sea snakes, huge crabs and sea stars, many varieties of shrimp and occasional frogfish. As day turns into night you should start to catch some interesting nudibranchs and cephalopod.
Monad Shoal in Malapascua is a world famous dive site. This sunken coral plateau at around 20 meters is a well-known cleaning station for thresher sharks. These rare and graceful creatures can grow up to 6 meters in length and can be seen during the early hours of the morning. If you are lucky you might end up seeing threshers and manta rays on the same dive. It is also a great location for underwater macro photography and for critter lovers! The conditions are generally pretty good with 15 metres visibility, however with a maximum depth of 24 metres and occasionally quite strong currents, advanced divers will fully enjoy this magnificent dive. It takes 30 minutes by boat to reach Monad Shoal from Malapascua Island and this site is best dived at dawn when you have more chances of seeing the threshers.
Pescador Island in Moalboal is situated about 2km off the coast. It is a tiny island that you can get around in one shallow dive and offers the most diverse marine life of any site in Moalboal. There are superb drop-offs and overhangs all around. In actual fact, the whole circumference of the island is a wall dive. In the shallower areas coral formations are impressive and colourful. Further down, between 20 and 30 metres, soft coral is prolific. Look out for the “Cathedral”, a funnel shaped structure at 25 metres. When the sunlight hits this area, it is spectacular! Marine life includes snappers, groupers, lionfish and scorpion fish everywhere. At deeper depths you may encounter white-tip and hammerhead sharks. Very occasionally, tiger and thresher sharks also make an appearance. The island is also a fabulous night dive and an amazing encounter with massive sardine balls.