Located at the center of world marine biodiversity, the Philippines offers vast species of marine and coastal resources that provide some of the most amazing underwater landscapes in the world. Add to this its warm tropical waters, outstanding visibility and reef walls, and it becomes a paradise for freedivers.
We compiled the Top 7 Fun Freediving Spots in The Philippines you must not miss!
1. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park
Photo by Robert Suntay / Studio H2O
Declared as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park consists of 970 km2 of Marine Protected Area (MPA). It is an underwater nature reserve that boasts of thriving marine life, including dolphins, sharks, turtles and rays. Accordingly, it is considered as one of the most extraordinary underwater destinations in the world.
Located in the middle of Sulu Sea, 10-12 hours away from Puerto Princesa City, Tubbataha Reef is accessible only via a live-aboard vessel. Trips normally last 5 to 7 days and you can either book with a commercial live-aboard dive boat or charter your own private vessel. However, only accredited individuals and companies are allowed to enter the park and each visitor and vessel requires an entry permit. Due to sea conditions, diving season occurs only from mid-March until mid-June and diving trips often need to be arranged in advance.
Visitors that come to Tubbataha Reef predominantly consist of scuba divers who spend hours sight-seeing underwater. Nevertheless, there are no regulations against freediving and there are shallow reefs at 5-10 meters. However, some underwater sites and marine species are found at deeper depths and are not ideal for recreational freediving or for beginners.
Live-aboard vessels normally depart from Puerto Princesa city in Palawan and pick their guests up from the airport to the sea port, which is 15 minutes away. Direct flights to Puerto Princesa International Airport are available from major Philippine cities Manila, Cebu and Davao, as well as from secondary cities Clark and Iloilo via Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines and AirAsia. Direct chartered flights are also available from Coron (Busuanga), Cuyo, Sipalay and San Vicente via Air Juan. From outside of the Philippines, you can fly to either Manila or Cebu first and then take another flight to Puerto Princesa.
Apart from flying, you can also take a 32-hour ferry from Manila to Puerto Princesa via 2Go Travel. Boats depart from Manila port on Wednesdays and Saturdays. This may be the cheaper option if you are travelling with very heavy luggage but is not the most convenient.
Visibility. 30-45 meters of visibility.
Entrance Fee. Each individual and vessel is required to pay a park conservation fee, which is used to fund the management and preservation of the park.
- Php 5,000 per person (50% discount for repeat visitors within the season)
- Php 4,500 per entry for vessels 101-200 gross tons
- Php 3,000 per entry for vessels 100 gross tons and below
Park Rules and Regulations. To protect the reef from destruction and over-exploitation, all divers are required to follow the “Park Rules and Regulations”. All divers are also expected to observe “Diving Best Practices”.
2. Apo Reefs Natural Park
Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro
Photo by Jake Alejandre – Model: Desiree Yeaton
The second largest contiguous coral reef system in the world and the largest in the country, Apo Reefs Natural Park consists of a series of coral reefs occupying a total area of 34 km2 of protected area. The reef itself is a submerged platform with a 30-meter deep channel dividing it into two lagoon systems and is marked by three islands on the surface, namely: Apo Island (the largest, not to be confused with Apo Island Dumaguete), Apo Menor (or Binangaan Island) and Cayos del Bajo Island. In addition to its high diversity of corals, Apo Reef features lush meadows of seagrass, eerie beds of macroalgae and prominent mangrove stands. Further, it is home to extensive species of marine animals including sharks, turtles, manta rays and barracudas. Apo Reefs is sometimes referred to as “little Tubbataha”.
Apo Reef is located 33 km off Occidental Mindoro and is accessible by a 2-hour boat ride from the municipality of Sablayan. Boats are booked with the Sablayan Tourism Office with no fixed schedules and are good for at least 36 hours, although visitors normally stay for a day or overnight only. There are no housing structures in Apo Reef (Apo Island) but you can pitch your tent or stay in resorts at nearby Pandan Island or back at Sablayan.
With its diverse environment, Apo Reef attracts both divers and non-divers. Non-divers normally consist of snorkelers who enjoy observing the reef platform from the surface whilst scuba divers explore its walls and sharp drop-offs. There are no regulations against freediving but underwater currents can be strong at times.
There are quite a few ways to get to Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro, the jump-off point for Apo Reef, but all take considerable time travel and multiple transfers.
Direct flights to San Jose Airport are available only from Manila via Cebu Pacific. The flight takes 45 minutes. From San Jose Airport, take a tricycle to the bus terminal and then a bus bound for Sablayan (3hrs, Php 100). Alternatively, you can charter a van from the airport directly to Sablayan (Php 3,500).
Buses operated by Dimple Star and RoRo leave from Cubao (Quezon City), Sampaloc (Manila) and Alabang (Muntinlupa) and travel all the way to San Jose, passing by Sablayan. The trip takes 12 hours and includes a ferry service wherein the bus boards a ferryboat at Batangas Port and crosses to Abra de Ilog Port. The fare is roughly Php 800. You can inform the bus conductor beforehand to let you off at Sablayan.
Alternatively, from Batangas Port, you can take a ferry to Abra de Ilog via Montenegro Lines (2.5 hrs, Php 260 + Php 30 terminal fee) and then a bus to Sablayan via Dimple Star or RoRo (3hrs, Php 220). Ferry schedules can be found here. If possible, book a seat with Dimple Star or RoRo at Batangas Port before heading to Abra de Ilog, as buses fill quickly. On some occasions, there are also vans waiting at Abra de Ilog Port to take passengers to Sablayan (Php 250 per head).
Visibility. Very good.
Entrance Fee. Fees vary depending on activity and nationality. Freedivers may qualify as snorkelers although there are no regulations yet about this. Visitors can stay up to a maximum of 48 hours at Apo Island.
Snorkeling (and understood freediving)
- Php 390 for Filipinos
- Php 780 for Foreigners
Divers (understood scuba-divers)
- Php 2,380 for Filipinos
- Php 2,940 for Foreigners
Other Fees. Apart from entry fees, visitors also pay for rental of gears and equipment and for hire of guides. For filming/videotaping the fee is Php 3,456 per day, understood “big” cameras or professional shootings. A recreational freediver (snorkeler) with a GoPro shouldn’t pay the fee.
- Boat Fare: Php 10,000, daytrip for 10pax capacity; additional Php 2,500 for succeeding days
- Tour Guide Fee (optional): Php 1,000, max of 8pax per guide
- Snorkeling Gear Rental (optional): Php 150 per set of snorkel and mask
- Tent Rental (optional): Php 200, good for 2pax; or Php 300 good for 3-4 pax
Contact. Sablayan Tourism Office. Website: www.sablayan.net, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Barracuda Lake
Coron Island, Palawan
Named after the massive barracuda skeleton site in the depths of its waters, Barracuda Lake is an exceptional diving site with a combined salt and freshwater environment. The brackish waters result to a unique thermocline where divers experience layers of cold, warm and hot water simultaneously.
Conveniently, Barracuda Lake is just a 20-minute boat ride from Coron proper. To get to the mouth of the lake, you need to walk down around 50 wooden steps latched on a serrated limestone cliff.
While this diving spot doesn’t offer a scene of usual tropical fishes, its amazing underwater landscape definitely makes up for it. The unique rock formations are a sight you cannot get elsewhere. Next, your dive is certainly not complete without seeing the famous Barracuda. Spotting these fearsome underwater creatures will surely give you an adrenaline-packed experience. Note that the water temperature ranges around 23-28° Celsius. However, as you go deeper, the temperature can shoot up to 39° Celsius due to the thermocline and halocline which salinizes the water. If you are an advanced freediver, you can dive up to 43m.
With flights every day from Manila to Busuanga, it will take you around an hour to get to Palawan. From the airport, ride a van to Coron Town Proper for 45 minutes at Php 150.00.
If you prefer to go by sea, 2Go Travels offers trips from Manila to Coron during Tuesdays and Fridays. From Coron Town Proper, you can either join a group tour or rent a private boat to Barracuda Lake.
Coron Island is part of Calamian Group of Islands in northern Palawan. It is also one of the best 10 diving spots in the world according to the prestigious Forbe’s Traveller Magazine.
4. Napaling Point
Panglao Island, Bohol
Photo by Janmi Wong – Model: Vivian Lyu
Located at the western tip of Bohol, Panglao Island is a home for an exquisite diving spot, Napaling Point. Its western and northern sections are quite shallow and narrow. They are at 5-6m with a submarine cliff that falls deeply at 33-56m. Napaling Point boasts of its reefs which are covered by both hard and soft coral gardens. Groupers, big snappers and occasional black-tip sharks can be spotted along with occasional schools of dolphins and pilot whales. But the most famous among these are the sardines. Snapping a selfie with a school of sardines is always a good idea!
Tagbilaran Airport is the closest access to Panglao Island and serves as Bohol’s primary airport. This airport is also 2 hours away from Mactan-Cebu International Airport – Philippine’s gateway for international travelers (next to Manila airport). However, by the end 2018, Panglao Island International Airport is expected to start operations, which will make Napaling Point a whole lot easier to get to.
Napaling Dive Site is very popular to snorkelers and underwater photographers for its feather stars, black coral gardens and its sardines. It is also a home for scorpion fish, anemone and soldier fish which inhibit the caves and overhang. Visibility is usually outstanding, sometimes up until 30m.
The fastest way to Panglao island is via ferry. There are three ferry companies that offer service from Cebu to Tagbilaran. Two of which is from Pier 4 and the other is from Pier 1 in Cebu. The cost is around Php 450 per person.
Once you reach Tagbilaran, there are a few options to get to Panglao Island:
- via jeepney: available at Tagbilaran’s Dao Terminal at Php 20 dropping you off at Alona Beach (1 hour).
- via taxi: you will reach the island within 20 minutes from Tagbilaran Airport.
- Tricycle Taxi: the most practical way to Panglao Island with compartment on its back to accommodate your luggage.
5. Panagsama Beach
Photo by Martin Zapanta – Model: Martin Zapanta (no kidding 🙂 )
Located at the southwestern part of Cebu Island, Moalboal is an extended peninsula of Cebu facing Negros Oriental. Panagsama Beach’s diving spot is great for freediving with its rich marine biology and a sudden 40m drop. It is also perfect for those who want to dive without going too far from the shore.
Panagsama Beach can be easily accessed and is only 90km away from Cebu City.
Due to Panagsama’s lack of beach area, the dive site can be easily accessed from the shore. Offering great visibility at 15-30m, the dive site is glazed with a beautiful coral drop and abundance in marine life such as turtles and sardines. The comforting water temperature stays at 26°-29°C all year round with little to no current disturbance.
The easiest entry is through Cebu International Airport. From the airport, you can ride a taxi or a van directly to Moalboal (3 hours). To cut costs, you can ride a taxi to South Bus Terminal then transfer to a bus going to Moalboal with a Php 100-120 fee.
You can also enter through Dumaguete Airport at Negros Oriental. From the airport, ride a tricycle to Sibulan and take a ferry to Lilio-an Santander. From there, ride a tricycle to Bato for a bus ride going to Cebu City, passing the town of Moalboal.
Once you reach Moalboal town proper, take a tricycle or habal-habal (motorcycle-back ride) going to Panagsama.
Diving is Moalboal’s primary tourist activity and is considered top quality by local standards. Kagasangan (coral) Festival is annually held every 15th and 16th of May in honor of the town patron, St. John of Nepomuk.
6. Mantigue Island
Photo by Gert Leroy – Model: Lorraine Aplasca
Located 3.5km from the shores of the volcanic island of Camiguin, Mantigue Island is also known as Magsaysay Island. A 9.9 acre of green scenery fringed with gleaming white beach powdered coral sand awaits you. Mantigue Island is divided into two amazing nature gifts. One side of the island offers white sand beach with beautiful coals on shore and the other gives a drop off ideal for diving and snorkeling. Mantigue Island is a marine sanctuary and a paradise to diving enthusiasts.
From Barangay San Roque, Mahinog, Mantigue Island can be accessed via light water craft within 30 minutes.
An astonishing, world-class marine sanctuary, the small island of Mantigue will leave you speechless with its rich marine biodiversity. This diving spot offers a clear visibility up to 20m or even deeper if you’re an advanced freediver. It is recommended to be extra mindful due to sudden changes in the current.
Regular flights from Manila to Cagayan De Oro’s Lumbia Airport are available. From there, ride a jeepney to Agora Bus Terminal and hop on a bus to Balingoan, the town of entry to Camiguin. A ferry also caters the Bohol to Camiguin route daily. The trips go from 8:00 am from Camiguin and 1:00 pm from Bohol. The route docks at Balbagon Wharf and Jagna, Bohol respectively. There are variety of public and private transports available to help you travel around the island easier.
Thirty minutes away from the capital town of Mambajao, you can rent a boat at Barangay San Roque for Php 600 good for 6 people to Mantigue Island. Snorkeling/diving fee is 40 pesos. You must leave the island before 4 pm and there is only one place to eat, they sell pork for Php 400/kilo, chicken and fish for about the same price, which can be cooked at no extra charge. There is ice cold soda and bottled water. It’s free to cook your own meal within the island premises as long as you leave no trace behind.
7. Balicasag Island
Panglao Island, Bohol
Balicasag Island is a 600m in diameter island known as a sanctuary for diverse marine life and its white sand beach. It only takes about an hour to wander around the whole Balicasag Island, leaving tourists in awe with its beautiful corals both on its shallow and deep crystal-clear waters.
From Bohol, you can access Balicasag Island via Tagbilaran City to Panglao Island.
Balicasag has numerous stunning dive sites. The turquoise waters around Panglao Island offer perfect conditions – not only for training with the freediving rope but also for snorkeling along tropical reefs. You can spot turtles and enjoy looking at the different species of fish and various corals in different depths. A water temperature of 29°C almost all year round and stunning visibility makes it one of the world’s top locations for freediving.
- THE ROYAL GARDEN: With a shallower average depth of 18 meters, the Royal Garden is one of the favorite dive spots in Balicasag. This underwater plateau features vibrant varieties of marine life all in one spot. You will find turtles, different species and schools of fish, corals, and plants in different sizes, shapes, and colors.
- TURTLES POINT: They say if you haven’t been to Turtles Point, you haven’t been to Balicasag. The excellent visibility allows you to spot turtles from a distance, and from the surface. The animals seem not to be bothered by your presence, you can perfectly come close by. Just make sure not to touch them. This spot offers rather shallow depths, and thus makes a perfect match for beginners!
If you are from Manila, regular flights to Tagbilaran are available.
If you are from Cebu City or Dumaguete City, you can ride a ferry directly to Tagbilaran.
Once you reach Tagbilaran, you can ride a tricycle or taxi to drop you off at Alona Beach, Panglao. From there, you can rent a motorboat for Php 1,600 for a round trip.
This article was written in collaboration with freedivers who live or dive in the area. If you have any feedback, suggestions, corrections or adjustments to make, please leave a comment down below or contact us. Your feedback is highly appreciated!
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