The first time I went to the Philippines was a budget trip with my husband, Thomas. We had all our dive gear and just a few clothes crammed into our burgeoning backpacks and set out with the aim of seeing as much as we could of the Visayas region by public transport. Our journey took us around Cebu, Negros, Bohol and Panay and there was so much to see and absorb of the colourful life here another visit was definitely on the cards. But whilst it was a fun experience, 5 hours on a bone-shaking bus to Malapascua or waiting 8 hours for a ferry from Bohol to Siquijor were not some of the trip highlights of our vacation!
When we were offered a job as cruise directors with Siren Fleet we jumped at the chance to dive the Philippines a different way, and even though we were working hard we did get to some new dive sites and the travelling was far easier. We spent 8 months on board and during this time one of my favourite itineraries took us to Southern Leyte. This was a new area for us, plus being on the liveaboard we were able to explore a new diving region even further east – Hagakak Island. Here we found untouched reefs with soft corals, bommies, a wealth of critters and a few shark species. Even better there were no other divers around and the islands themselves are picturesque and easy to explore by kayak or speedboat. It was also whale shark season so we snorkeled daily with these gentle giants at Limasawa Island.
With a wealth of dive resorts for all budgets in the Visayas (Cebu / Bohol / Negros) it would hardly seem that a liveaboard could improve your diving experience, but this year I boarded the Philippine Siren as a guest for a 7- night trip to Cabilao, Balicasag, Apo, Dauin (Negros) and Pescador Islands. Diving all those areas in just 7 days would be an impossible feat if you were land-based. We also dived with whale sharks at Oslob and could be there first thing in the morning before other snorkelers and tourists were up and about. Siren Fleet also run 10-night dive safaris which include Malapascua – so you can dive the highlights of the region without having to step foot on land – or wait for the Ceres Liner bus! The other great thing about being on a liveaboard is having a group of like-minded people to share the experience with. We met up with some old friends and made a few new ones which all adds to the fun of a dive trip.
Tubbataha, a tiny atoll in the Sulu Sea, is only open for diving between February and June each year. Due to its remote location is only accessible by dive liveaboard and sadly I have not as yet managed to take a trip there. The abundance of marine life – from sharks and rays to huge fish schools and turtles, plus pristine corals, sponges and sea fans – make this area a top destination for divers. The good news is that there are now several liveaboards to suit all budgets that operate dive trips to Tubbataha each year – so the plan for 2017 is made!
Diving by liveaboard can really enhance your experience in the Philippines and there are now several quality liveaboards to choose from. I dived with Siren Fleet but other options include Atlantis Azores and Solitude 1. You can search for trips and compare prices at www.liveaboard.com/philippines