...Highlights: great macro life/ marine diversity, schooling fish & big pelagics...
...Batangas' diving environment: drift diving, beginner and advanced divers...
Batangas is a province to the south of Manila on the island of Luzon. Not only is it the port gateway for travellers to visit the popular tourist destination of Puerto Galera, it is also the home of 2 famous dive destinations - Anilao and Verde Island.
It takes about 3 hours to drive south from Manila to Batangas. This makes it one of the easier-to-get-to destinations for international arrivals to this nation of islands. Anilao is located at the southern end of the Calumpang Peninisula, looking out towards Maribacan Island. Verde Island is just a little further south, in the Verde Island Passage between the south of Luzon and the north of Mindoro.
Both places can independently be dived as daytrips:: People diving at Anilao tend to stay in that area. Daytrips from Puerto Galera to Verde Island are quite common. However, they are also frequently dived in combination by divers on a Phillipines liveaboard cruise.
Anilao is considered the birth place of scuba diving in the Philippines. For many years it was overlooked by international scuba divers while remaining a favourite among locals, many of whom could pop down from the capital for a couple of days' exploring underwater. These days its reputation as a muck diving paradise is well established among divers worldwide, particularly among photographers. Every year there are worldwide competitions and workshops for those seeking to perfect their macro techniques. From your dive boat on the sea, the appearance of Anilao is of numerous cute little oceanfront resorts nestled in the jungle of the steeply rising coastline.
Anilao and its extraordinary diversity is now safeguarded as a marine protected area. The diversity really is among the best in the world, with more than 90% of all the coral species on earth. It is also considered a mecca for nudibranchs with over 560 species identified in the area, and locals have claimed it as "The Nudiranch Capital of the World". The list of critters in Anilao is almost endless. In addition to an unbelievable number of shrimps and crabs, you will see rhinopias, blue-ringed octopus, mimic octopus and wonderpus, lacy and weedy scorpionfish, stargazers, pygmy seahorses, Bobbit worms and frogfish. As with any place where muck diving is excellent, the night dives can be phenomenal. Anilao is no exception.
There is regular reef diving too, and larger creatures such as sharks, turtles and pelagics, but really the majority of your time spent in Anilao should be enjoying its unique macro wonders. There are up to 55 dive sites with many of them being dotted along the relatively shallow waters near the shoreline. Typically they are shallow coral gardens, some gently sloping, or little walls.
This is a shallow little wall with a fantastic array of small critters to keep you entertained throughout the long dive. On the shallower side of the rock the wall bottoms out at 16m. Here you can spot moray eels and anemonefish, among others. The deeper side of the wall slopes to 30m and then into the depths. At the deep section there is a large submerged boulder bedecked in sea fans, crinoids and soft corals. It is also covered with innumerable little yellow see cucumbers (Colochirus robustus). They are everywhere. You may also spot golden pygmy seahorses clinging to branches of gorgonians. On the sand look out for blue-lined dart and purple fire gobies. In sheltered zones there may be twin-spot lionfish or a little huddle of harlequin sweetlips. Frogfish may be present here too, squatting near sponges of a similar hue.
This is a favourite Anilao site that goes as deep as 40m although it is normally only explored at depths up to about 18m, since that is where most of the fun is. This is a gentle slope just off the shore and is home to some interesting creatures such as the tiny, fantastic bobtail squid. You might also run into the hard-to-miss colour and frills of a Spanish dancer (Hexabranchus sanguineus). At all times in Anilao you should look out for life on life, such as squat lobsters in crinoids, gobies on sea whips, or shrimps on Spanish dancers. On the sandy floor, focus your lenses on the sight of a gold speckled jawfish (Opistognathus randalli) lurking furtively in its burrow. This site is known as one where large batfish will approach divers, sometimes right in your face. Jacks and barracuda are also known to be present in small to medium sized schools.
This hat shaped island is about a 30m boat ride from Anilao and when conditions are just right, is a riot of activity. There is often some current here feeding the soft corals, gorgonians and crinoids that jostle for space with the very healthy hard corals. Sombrero Island offers a lovely mix of macro life and reef fish on an undulating site of valleys and pillars that never drops deeper than 25m. The macro life includes many of the species seen in the area but is particularly good for mating green nudibranchs (Nembrotha kubaryana), as well as Chromodoris willani and Ardeadoris egretta. The reef fish are often dominated by a red blizzard of anthias. Sometimes it is hard to see past them. If you can, you may see the vivid blue of the many red-toothed triggerfish. Turtles, mantas and eagle rays regularly put in an appearance so make sure you do not always have your head buried in the reef!
At this site you will find a small concrete cross planted in the substrate at around 15m between 2 underwater pinnacles. It was planted there by former president Ramos in 1983. Since then the corals that have been seeded here have grown significantly and are now swarmed by fish. If they appear a little too friendly it is because they are expected to be fed, as they have been for many years. When the reef slopes down toward 24m you will be in a colourful spot with numerous featherstars, sea stars and barrel sponges decorating the coral patches. Among the many reef fish are pufferfish, moorish idols, triggerfish, surgeonfish and parrotfish. Also look out for hawkfish in the coral bushes, as well butterflyfish and angelfish flitting all around your head. More usual Anilao characters include pygmy seahorses, giant frogfish and octopus. Bamboo sharks have also been seen here many times.
This site is atypical of Anilao, consisting of a current-swept boulder-strewn slope. If the currents are strong some of these larger rocks provide welcome shelter, particularly for photographers. Mainit means hot, and the current rushing through the Maricaban Strait can get spicy, but it feeds a colourful and coral-heavy reef with myriad nudibranchs crawling all over it. In truth it is more of a wide-angle dive with larger species hanging in the nutrient-rich flow. You can expect giant trevally, whitetip reef sharks and dog-toothed tuna. Great barracuda are one of the key species here and the individuals seen at Mainit Point can be of impressive bulk. If you are diving in low current conditions, the site can take on a very different character. There may be fewer pelagics so you can concentrate on the reef and the cave at about 7-8m depth which may have some whitetips resting in it.
Verde Island is south of Batangas Bay in the Verde Island Passage and quite close to Puerto Galera. The island has a number of fun dive sites around its coastline. What brings the marine life here are the currents that sweep through the passage between the 2 large islands of Luzon and Mindoro. Down currents can also be a feature of the diving here, so it is generally for experienced divers.
Off the eastern coast of Verde Island is a huge reef featuring an impressive sheer drop with pelagics in the blue. 2 pinnacles rise above the waves and signal to the dive boat that you are at the drop site. Depending on conditions, a negative entry may be required to ensure you get down to where you need to go, unhindered by surface current. As you get down through the clear water and into the shelter afforded by the wall, reef fish common to the area will envelope you. Anthias, red-toothed triggerfish and butterflyfish seemingly in their hundreds swim around the lip of the wall. Giant trevally, barracuda and dog-toothed tuna all come in from the blue. Smaller delights exist here too with amazing nudibranch variety and pygmy seahorses in gorgonian fans.
On the other side of the pinnacles there is an opportunity to witness streams of volcanic bubbles emerging from the sea floor and rising up to the surface. In addition to the larger pelagics you can also see frogfish and banded sea kraits. You must pay attention to the current at Verde Island and not be alarmed if caught in a down current. Ledges in the pinnacle may afford some temporary shelter, but if the current is sustained then BCD inflation and calmly finning horizontally away from the wall (imagine a waterfall) may be needed.
The Washing Machine
This is another Verde Island site which, as the name suggests, is not for those of a nervous disposition. The term “go with the flow” could have been invented for sites like this and that really is the best approach. Topographically there is a series of 7 shallow canyons and swimthroughs at about 16m. In low current conditions it is easy to poke around and enjoy the marine life amid the soft corals, sea whips and gorgonian fans. More frequently however the current will push you this way and that, so good buoyancy and judicious use of a reef hook are the order of the day. For many Batangas divers this is as much about enjoying the washing machine effect and the changing directions of your bubbles as anything else. Massive numbers of anthias are all over this site. Also likely to be seen are lionfish, anemonefish, sea snakes and bannerfish.
There are many resorts in Batangas that offer shore based diving, however we offer liveaboard cruises because this allows divers to explore more of the Mimaropa and Bicol region – Romblon, Masbate – and even down to Malapascua and Southern Leyte in Visayas. These spectacular safaris take 7-12 nights, depending on the route chosen.
You can dive in Batangas all year round, but the best time of year to visit corresponds with the best weather – mid-November to mid-April is the dry season which experiences most sunshine. Surface conditions are calm, and visibility is 15-20m in Anilao and 30+m at Verde Island. Rainy season and typhoon season runs from May to October, when the seas can be choppy and the visibility drops to 10-15m at Anilao and 20m at Verde. The water temperature is a high of 30°C/86F in June and a low of 27°C/81F in February. The air temperature is 29°C/84F for most of the year, but climbs to 33°C/91F in April. For more details on the climate of Batangas City visit the.
Currents in Anilao range from next-to-nothing at sheltered sites, to strong at the deeper sites. Currents at Verde Island are very strong and can run vertically too, so it’s best to dive here at slack tide.
Review our map below showing the location of Batangas’ host country Philippines in the world.
Batangas lies 100 km south of Manila. Taxis and minibuses take about 1½ hours to make the journey. Our liveaboard cruises depart from Anilao on Calumpang, the peninisula that divides the bays of Batangas and Balayan. Review on information on how to get to Manila.
Depth: 5 - 40m
Visibility: 10 - 30m
Currents: Can be very strong
Surface conditions: Calm but choppy in rainy season
Water temperature: 27 - 30°C
Experience level: Beginner - advanced
Number of dive sites: ˜60
Recommended length of stay: 7 - 12 days as part of a Philippine liveaboard cruise