The Philippines is famous for its marine diversity so we weren’t going to visit without taking a dive or two! Jess and I went snorkelling with whale sharks in Oslob, diving with sardines in Moalboal, and swimming with Nemo in Bohol – so here is a round-up of how we did it.
Oslob Whale Sharks
We went with AJ’s Place which was a fantastic experience. Picked up from our hotel at 4am we were driven to the resort and treated to a traditional Filipino breakfast of mango, sticky rice and hot chocolate, before going down to see the sharks.
After a short safety lesson, we had on our mask, snorkel and life vest and were racing across the sea in a traditional fishing boat out to where the Sharks were feeding. We were in the water by 8am and for thirty minutes got to see this magnificent fish up close and personal. They are spectacular. Huge, beautiful, graceful, powerful. Incredible to be so close and to see their intricate spot markings and how they feed.
While we were diving, a boat of Korean guys pulled up beside us. They had all the real equipment including flippers so they could swim down to get a closer look. As we were being bounced around by the waves on top, we saw one of their party reach down and deliberately touch the shark. As soon as he came up for air, all hell broke loose. “You touched it, we saw you!” Shouted the guides from our boat. “We will report you.”
What was really clear throughout the morning was that the Filipinos really care about the sharks – there are severely hefty fines for touching it (you should only get as close as 5m away at all times) and whale sharks make a special appearance on the 100ps bank note. The shark noticed the poke it got too, and we watched wide-eyed as it smacked it’s huge tail against the diver’s back and dived deeper and deeper away from us.
AJ’s also included in the tour a trek to the Tumalog waterfall which was really beautiful and a quick (cold) dip to wash off any remaining salt water sorted us out. Before being driven back we had a huge lunch of noodles, fish, chicken and rice in our own beach hut – a truly memorable day.
Diving in Moalboal
Again, easy enough to get to from Cebu and the diving we did here was the best I’d ever done (albeit I’ve only ever dived in Thailand and Egypt, but it was great). We stayed at Quo Vardis dive resort which was perfect – our own private bungalow moments away from the diver centre, cafe and restaurant and still yards from the shore. The best bit was what they have on their doorstep – a huge reef teaming with tropical fish and amazingly pristine corals. Within five minutes on our first dive, we saw a green leatherback gliding through the water and doubling back to eye us up before disappearing into the open blue ocean.
The second dive was even better – a five-minute boat ride and only 10m down, you find yourself in the middle of a huge sardine ball. Thousands upon thousands of glistening silver fish moving like a murmuration of starlings and changing direction simultaneously and in an instant. It was breathtaking to watch and to feel the surface sunlight being blocked out by these constantly moving mass of individuals as they moved above you. It’s something that will really stay with me.
Of course, the other thing about dive centres is the people – we had Andy with us on the skills test and both dives and he was a top guy – calm, patient, helpful, able to ease any worries we had and a great spotter of lionfish and trumpet fish! Can’t recommend it highly enough and if we had had more time I would have loved to have done my advanced here.
Bohol, Sea Tour
On our second day in Bohol, we decided we needed to get back under the waves and booked this through our accommodation – it’s a standard tour though and you’ll find plenty of salesmen along Alona beach hawking the same product. It starts with an early rise to see dolphins – which we did see, including a full exit jump out of the water (I think he knew he had an audience!).
We then went to a great snorkelling area with my favourite – clown fish, as well as huge starfish, small blue, violet and yellow fish and sea cucumbers. Rocky outcrops of corals and kelp beds make this the perfect nursery for juvenile fish. We then paid a quick stop to the Virgin Island – named so for the Virgin Mary, this island has huge statues of Jesus and his fishermen, as well as saints and a beautifully maintained garden. The whole island was home to more pigeons than people and was quite a surreal inclusion on the tour! After another spot of snorkelling and a traditional Filipino lunch on the boat, we arrived back at around 1pm.
Heading back to Alona beach on Panglao, we walked to Hennan Hotel and bought a day pass (12 GPB) for the use of the sun beds and pool. Although that is expensive for this part of the world, once you see the pool and are lying on the cushioned shady sun loungers you know it’s worth the money! A blissfully restful afternoon to rest those swimming muscles.
So the marine life in the Philippines is exactly what we had been told but it still surpassed our expectations by a million miles. If we had had the time to do more we could have dived WW2 Japanese wrecks or seen a thresher shark ‘cleaning station’ 20m down. If you love the sea, or ever had ambitions as a 10-year-old to be a marine biologist (I really went through a loving dolphins stage), you need to put this on your bucket list.