Head to the Philippines. This archipelago of over 7,000 islands with about 40,000 sq.km. of coral reefs is home to vaulting underwater cathedrals with a kaleidoscope of sea life exploding in color. The convergence of the Pacific Ocean, the South China, Sulu and Celebes Seas provides some unique and magnificent marine sanctuaries and parks for both novice and advanced divers to explore. For the highly adventurous divers, there are some whirlpools to traverse and some of the deepest drop offs to feed your abyss frenzy. For history buffs, the islands' shores are scattered with World War II wrecks. In addition, the usual internationally recognized certification courses and refreshers are available in many resorts as well as equipment rentals and dive packages. The islands are not far from each other and are mostly accessible from Manila, Cebu and other major cities. You can practically dive your way through from the north of the country to the south. Or take a dive safari and visit only the top sites. From March to October would be your best bet on weather. Here are some of the hot diving spots you must try:
Palawan. This is Japan's pick as the best diving spot in Asia. Several airlines service this island with daily flights to and from Manila. You can also charter your own flight or ask your hotel to pick you up from the airport and arrange all your transfers. Take a ferry from Manila and see how local folks travel... and you will meet the entire boat as Filipinos have to be the world's friendliest people! Palawan has a stunning collection of World War II wrecks including the Akitsushima, a 148 meter aircraft carrier, the Kyokuzan Maru, a 152 meter freighter lying in a sheltered bay. In its cargo hold still sits a Toyota with its tires intact. There is the Taie Maru, a World War II Japanese oil tanker sunk on October 9, 1944. Add to these, the other Japanese warships that were sunk in the attack on Coron Bay (September 24, 1944) and you have enough to mull on between your dives. And mull in comfort, too. There are several great hotels like Club Paradise and its sister hotel, El Rio Y Mar with diving centers and services that meet international standards and staff including guides who speak very good English.
Mindoro. This is Palawan's neighbor and so shares many of the same diving spots. Its jewel, Puerto Galera with its white powdery beaches and vibrant live coral reefs is one of the finest tourist destinations in the country. Its coral gardens offer one of the safest places to learn how to dive. If you are a scuba nut, this place will offer you the variety and ease of studying a very complex ecostructure from micro-organisms to the big fellas.
For the advanced divers, Apo Island off the west coast of Mindoro is the place to go. Other than the rangers, the island is empty so you dive from your dive vessels, which are easily arranged for at the many dive centers located in Mindoro or Palawan. Apo was declared a national park in 1996, and has since recovered from the effects of illegal fishing and now offers a spread of reefs over 155,000 hectares with some of the most spectacular drop offs and walls.
Cebu. This is the oldest city in the Philippines and is fast developing, offering visitors both the calm of history and the roar of the fast life. It has some of the best diving spots in the country including Malapascua, Sumilon Island, Pescador Island, Moalboal, Santander, Tubbataha, Liloan and Looc. Tubbataha was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. It is at the center of what is called The Coral Triangle, a global marine diversity park of over 10,000 hectares of coral reef. Pescador Island is also a marine sanctuary with a very steep wall that falls down to a cathedral like cave. There is also the underwater plateau called the Sunken Island that starts at 24m and slopes down to 40m. For those interested in World War II, lying about 42 meters deep in the waters close to Malapascua is the wreck of a Japanese warship sunk in 1944. Go for a night dive in Gato island, another marine sanctuary. It is truly spectacular. And look out for the whitetip, reef and bamboo sharks sleeping in the boulders around the island. For shark lovers, Shark Point is the place to go to watch threshers. Seasonally, you will also see here manta and eagle rays. Tanon Strait in Moalboal is also home to a newly discovered species called Homo Delphinus, about 6 feet and 200 pounds.
Camiguin. A small volcanic island north of Mindanao which can easily be reached by a short boat from Cagayan de Oro City or by small propeller aircrafts from Cebu, offers one of the most unique underwater landscapes anywhere, strewn with hardened lava and gigantic boulders from one of its 7 volcanoes. For advanced divers, the Kantaan Dive Site will reward you with high speed drifts and fields of Acropora and Lettuce Coral as well as stingrays and white tips sleeping underneath table corals. The Cabuan Point has fields of hard corals, green tree corals, dendronepthya corals, and gorgonians with sweetlips, wrasses, purple and orange anthias, fusiliers, red coral groupers, and the whole gang of reef fish that make the underwater life a joy. The Burias shoal with its swift current will be exciting for advanced divers, and here you swim with the long nose emperors, bonitos and midnight snappers as well as shoals of jacks. The Jigdup Wall and Slopes, home of maroon and dendronephtya corals goes down to 150 ft. For novice divers, the Mantigue Island Sanctuary offers a crack in the formation of black coral trees teeming with all kinds of ocean wild life.
Other islands in the archipelago such as Panay, Negros, Bohol, and Leyte also offer diving, so wherever you are in the country you can always find spots to dive or snorkel. With the government effort to establish marine sanctuaries and protect marine life as well as the awareness campaigns of many non-government groups in the country, the Philippines will continue to be one of the hottest and most accessible diving spots in the world.