If you are a diver (or a water enthusiast in general), living in the Philippines is a blessing.
The country, with its over 36,000 km of coastline, and white, black, and pink beaches, is indeed a haven for those who love swimming, surfing, and beachcombing.
Of course, diving and snorkeling are highly recommended, too, due to its rich marine biodiversity. The Philippines is part of the so-called “Coral Triangle”—the Malay archipelago (the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia), Papua New Guinea, and Australia—known for its abundant coral reef life.
In fact, according to a report, the Philippines is “the epicenter of marine biodiversity, with the richest concentration of marine life on the entire planet.”
Diving is one of my guilty pleasures in life, rarely done but much enjoyed. The last time I did it was in Anilao in Batangas in 2012. I haven’t had a chance to go diving again until I visited Dumaguete City recently and learned why divers loved coming back again and again to go diving in Apo Island.
Of the many dive sites in the country, Apo Island certainly ranks among the top. It is known for its community-organized marine sanctuaries. It’s not necessary to stay there to go diving; most divers stay in Dumaguete and just take a diving package to Apo.
I was a bit anxious when I went to Harold’s Dive Center in Dumaguete (they also have a hostel). I haven’t gone diving in years; in most resorts, I would be required to have a refresher course first before I can go on a fun dive. Refresher courses are generally more expensive than a regular dive.
I need not have worried though. The dive center just charged me the usual rate (P3,300 or $73 for three dives), asked me to watch the Scuba Diving Skill Demonstration videos in the office, and assigned me my own dive master who, in our first dive, had me kneel on the sea floor and demonstrate mask clearing and regulator recovery.
DM Lando Deles also told me more than once that I would be okay, and that he was there to look out for me. I really appreciated it!
We covered three dive sites that day: Chapel, Katipanan, and Largahan.
The highlights of Chapel included sightings of sea turtles, a sea snake, lots of sea cucumbers, scorpion fish, and stone fish, and a large wall with small caverns that I was too chicken to explore.
In Katipanan, I saw (among others) a frog fish and several lion fish, while Largahan had a lot of nudibranch, clown fish, and the fascinating continuous stream of sea bubbles caused by geothermal activity that makes the sand look like it was boiling.
The area is not just for divers; there were nine other people who went with us who just chose to snorkel, and they, too, saw a lot of marine life.
The sea was a bit rough though, and the life jackets on the boat were not for snorkeling and were only there for emergency purposes. It was great that all the people onboard—two Spanish, two Chileans, three Russians + other Europeans, one Fil-Am. I was the only Filipino aside from the crew—knew how to swim!
I must say I was very glad to have chosen Harold’s when I went diving in Apo Island. The package of P3,300 for three dives already included all the gear and tanks, transportation from Dumaguete to Apo and back, morning snacks, lunch, and unlimited tea and coffee. Talk about value laden!
Diving may seem dangerous to some, and yeah, I have to admit that it does have its risks, especially if you panic underwater. However, I can’t describe how it peaceful it feels to be down there, hearing nothing but your own breathing, seeing marine creatures up close, and appreciating the beauty that not everyone has the chance to see.
After diving in Apo Island, I vowed to myself that I won’t let another two years pass by before diving again. The Philippines has so much to offer, especially in marine life, and it would be a shame not to see as much of it as I can while I’m still able to!
The following video makes me wish I have an underwater camera that can take nice videos. Le sigh. Someday!
How to go to Dumaguete City and Apo Island
Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines flies to Dumaguete from Manila. You can also take the bus at the South Bus Terminal in Cebu City to Dumaguete (6 hours, P275 one way).
From Dumaguete, take the jeepneys going to Malatapay, Zamboanguita (less than an hour away) if you don’t have a tour package. Private boats to Apo Island can be rented there.
Note: Some photos courtesy of A. Cortes.