The Palawan Archipelago is consistently rated as having some of the world’s best diving. The islands are considered to be the last ecological frontier in the Philippines and are teeming with life on the ground and in the sea. The diving around Palawan is diverse. Divers can choose among 11 wreck dives and numerous reef dives. The diving in the Palawan Archipelago is dominated by two locations: El Nido and Coron.
In the north of Palawan lies El Nido. The reefs at El Nido offer some of the best variety of marine life that can be found in the Philippines. Marine biologists estimate that over 850 species of fish and 120 species of coral are found in El Nido.
Helicopter Island in El Nido’s Bacuit Bay is a top dive site that is suited for divers of all levels. This dive site has a mix of sandy areas and coral reefs. Because of the sandy bottom, divers will be able to encounter blue spotted stingrays, garden eels, pipefish and flounders. Common reef denizens that divers can meet include sea turtles, cuttlefish and eels. The mix of sandy bottom and coral reef gives divers the chance to see much of the diverse marine life found in these waters.
Another popular dive in El Nido is Twin Rocks. Twin Rocks has a maximum depth of 21 meters and has a sandy bottom that is covered by table corals and sea sponges. Mantis shrimp, reef octopus, yellow tail barracuda, sea turtles and moray eels are commonly sighted here. Lucky divers will be able to spot eagle rays, bumphead parrotfish and orante pipefish.
Divers interested in macro life will not be disappointed either. Dive sites, such as The Wall, are covered by soft coral and inhabited by plenty of nudibranch. Crabs, gobies, jawfish, worms and different species of shrimp all call El Nido home.
Night diving in El Nido is also possible and gives divers a whole new underwater world to explore. Octopus and squid can be seen hunting in open waters. Divers can also see bioluminescent creatures during the night.
Coron Island is also found in the north of the Palawan Archipelago. Coron is most famous among divers as featuring numerous wreck dives. The wrecks are the result of an ambitious American air raid in September 1944 that sunk many ships of a Japanese supply fleet. Here are the top four wreck dives in Coron.
Okikara Maru One of the best shipwrecks for divers of all abilities is the Okikara Maru. The Okikara Maru was a Japanese tanker which was sunk during World War II. What makes the Okikara Maru a suitable dive for beginners is that the deck is just located between 10 to 16 meters. The wreck has since become covered with coral, allowing divers to see a variety of marine life including schools of snappers and batfish. The Okikara Maru also has opportunities for wreck penetration for more advanced divers. Advanced divers can swim up the propeller shaft all the way up into the ship’s engine room.
Irako Coron is also home of what is widely considered the best wreck dive in the Philippines. However, due to the conditions around the Irako, this dive should only be attempted by advanced divers, preferably with specialized training on entering shipwrecks and specialty training on conducting deep dives. The Irako rests at 28 meters to 45 meters and offers the best visibility out of all the wrecks in the area. Once underwater, divers will be able to admire schools of grouper and tuna. Lionfish and scorpion fish are also common sights around this wreck. Divers who wish to enter the wreck will be able to swim through the propeller shaft to the engine room and be able to see the engines still intact! Other parts of the ship such as a kitchen and a workstation are also accessible to divers.
Akitsushima The Akitsushima is the only sunk warship that divers can access. The Akitsushima was a seaplane carrier that was armed with anti-aircraft guns and 50 caliber guns. The ship also had a crane which was used to lift its seaplanes out of the water. Due to the depth of the wreck, only advanced divers should attempt this dive. Divers are able to see two of the anti-aircraft guns and the crane. The crane has since become home to giant schools of batfish and barracuda. Divers who are trained to safely enter shipwrecks will be able to see the engine room with all four engines intact. Divers can also swim through three different levels of the deck and see live ammunition and the gears used to operate the crane.
Baracuda Lake Barracuda Lake is one of the most unique dives in Palawan. This brackish lake is situated in a volcano crater and requires divers to climb up a limestone mountain before being able to dive. However, the climb is worth it. The dive features some spectacular thermoclines: temperatures in the lake range from 30 degrees Celsius to up to 38 degrees Celsius! The temperature difference results from freshwater and saltwater meeting. Divers will be able to see the thermocline and choose to swim with their heads cold water and their bodies in warm water. For advanced divers, there is also a cave that can be explored.
Tips for Successful Palawan Diving
Because Palawan has so many dive sites, it is possible for divers of all levels to enjoy their trip to this beautiful part of the world. Dive resorts in Palawan offer both PADI and SSI courses for open water, advanced open water, deep diving, wreck diving and other specialties. Open water courses will take two to three days to complete while the advanced open water courses will just take two days, leaving divers with plenty of time to explore all the dive sites in Palawan.