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Philippines Dive Report
Yellow Sabre-Tooth Blenny, Petroscirtes fallax - copyright Ken Knezick, Island Dreams
Copyright Ken Knezick -- Island Dreams Travel

After reading this overview report, check out Ken's: El Galleon Resort Update

This Philippines Dive Report is the result of a multi-island exploratory tour accomplished in June 2008. I had not been back to the Philippines in twenty years, so this trip enabled me to ascertain the changes and current status of the diving options. As well, I was able to gain contemporary insight into the social setting in this unique country, and to learn if the lifestyle of the Filipinos had improved over those two decades. In addition to three different quick passes through the capitol city of Manila, I visited Dumaguete and Dauin on Negros Island, Bohol and its smaller island of Panglao, and Puerto Galera on Mindoro Island. I am thankful to Yasuko Jones of Explorer Cruises, Tim Gregory of Scuba World Bohol, the dream team at Bahura Resort, and Allan Nash of El Galleon Resort and Asia Divers, who all helped immensely to make my Philippines re-familiarization experience as effective, educational, and enjoyable as possible.

Table of Contents
  • Overview
  • Amazing Manila
  • Seasonality
  • Currency
  • Hyatt Regency
  • Manila Hotel
  • Domestic Air Travel
  • Bahura Resort
  • Bahura's Diving
  • Back to the Banca
  • Diving Apo Island
  • Ducom Pier
  • Bahura Dining
  • Alona Beach
  • Scuba World Bohol
  • Balicasag Island
  • Bohol Hotels
  • Hate to Pack
  • Celebrate the Sea
  • South to Batangas
  • Expedition Fleet
  • Tubbataha Reef
  • Outrigger Resort
  • El Galleon Resort
  • Friendly Staff
  • Asia Divers
  • Puerto Galera Diving
  • Quality & Variety
  • Divers' Picnic
  • Future Plans
  • Back to the USA
  • The Bottom Line
  • Philippines Photo Gallery
  • Lynn Funkhouser's Comments
  • Island Dreams' Philippines Dive Packages

  • PHILIPPINES OVERVIEW -- An archipelago nation comprised of more than 7,100 islands, the Philippines are located in the central Pacific, 13 degrees north of the Equator. The indigenous people have Australo-Melanesian and Malay roots. Today's Filipino people have a strong Catholic influence, instilled by Spanish colonialism beginning in the 16th Century. America influence followed, commencing with the Philippine- American War (1898-1913), so there is an entrenched association with the USA. The national language is Filipino, based on Tagalog (tah GA log), one of the most prominent dialects, but English is spoken widely. In my contemporary experience, the local people are industrious and friendly, with a ready smile. Their economic and social progress remains hampered, however, by well-entrenched political corruption.

    A Jeepney in Manila AMAZING MANILA Traveling from the USA or Europe, arrival into the Philippines will generally be via Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). A sprawling city of 18 million people, Manila is the capital of this intriguing country. Located on the largest island of Luzon, and home to a major international maritime port, Manila encompasses extremes of extravagant wealth flourishing immediately besides debilitating poverty. From a tourist's perspective, Manila offers a welcoming though somewhat chaotic environment. There are many excellent tourist hotels, everything from fast food to fine dining, fun shopping, interesting museums, and unique historical sites. You will become accustomed see seeing armed private security everywhere (at your hotel, the mall, even the McDonalds), sporting everything from side arms to sawed-off shotguns. You will also marvel at the unending array of customized "Jeepneys," the Philippines ubiquitous and very unique take on a taxi. When you hit the street, you must learn to say no in a friendly but very firm manner, for you will be the constant target of touts for everything from knock-off watches and fake Ray Bans, to black market currency exchange and short-term female companionship. But no worries. For the purposes of dive tourism, Manila is simply the jumping off point to a wide variety of diving destinations that may be reached with a bit of additional forward travel by air, or simply car and boat transfer.

    SEASONALITY -- The Philippines have a marine tropical climate, with abundant rain fall. As a result the islands are home to verdant rain forests and lush tropical foliage abounds everywhere. There are acknowledged to be three distinct seasons:

    Click for Manila, Philippines Forecast Topside Air Temperatures
    Sea Water Temperature Ranges I asked Allan Nash of El Galleon for his personal take on the seasonality as it impacts scuba divers. Allan wrote: "Our dive resort operates all-year-round. Sea conditions are generally moderate December through March, and even calmer during April, May, and into June. Aside from the fact that it is said to be "typhoon season," the period June through November frequently offers some of our best diving conditions. We do sometimes get rain during these months, but fortunately it often comes at night, leaving the days fine and mostly sunny with sea condition excellent. The visibility is often at its best during this part of the year. However, it is not called typhoon season without reason. There is always the risk of having a typhoon pass by, leaving behind it a day or two of rain and ocean swells. Fortunately for us, it's rare that a typhoon would pass through Puerto Galera. In recent history we had one come our way in 1996; the next two came ten years later, both in 2006, in May and December! As of this writing, none since then has affected Puerto Galera."

    CURRENCY -- Local currency is the Philippine Peso. As of this writing, the exchange rate is 44 Pesos to one U.S. Dollar. Prices, in general, are very reasonable by U.S. or European standards.

    Old-world splendor in the Manila Hotel HYATT REGENCY MANILA -- This trip I flew Continental Airlines, arriving late evening in Manila. A pre-arranged car and driver were waiting as I exited the airport and quickly whisked me off to the lovely new Hyatt Regency Manila, a superb hotel option. Service and quality here were impeccable. Upgrading to a Regency Suite will gain you complimentary evening cocktails, and a top-notch buffet breakfast, all served in a stylish, elliptically-shaped room with picture windows overlooking Manila Harbor.

    MANILA HOTEL -- Another well-established option for tourist overnights is the Manila Hotel. This historic hotel, home to the General MacArthur Suite, is a bastion of old-world style. The hotel shows its age a bit, but has fine service, beautiful public spaces, and in a nod to the 21st Century, a good internet connection. It's definitely worth a visit.

    DOMESTIC AIR TRAVEL -- Following my Manila overnight, I made the 25-minute taxi ride to the Domestic Airport for a non-stop flight to Dumaguete on the island of Negros. Local airline Cebu Pacific is a fine carrier, operating spanking-new Airbus equipment, spacious and clean. But plan to arrive plenty early at the airport, and keep in mind that the domestic baggage allowance is only 20 kilos (44 pounds) per person. I had done my best to "travel light," but as an underwater photographer carrying all my own dive gear, my check-in luggage weighed in at 50 kilos. Overweight was charged at 50 pesos per kilo, so my tab was the equivalent of an additional $35 USD, each way. Not so bad... and something we'll all have to get used to as the airline industry is forced to seek new revenue streams to overcome soaring fuel bills.

    Bahura Resort, Dumaguete, Philippines

    BAHURA RESORT, Dumaguete -- Following a pleasant one-hour flight to Dumaguete, I was met at the airport by the very gracious Ronnie Santa Ana, manager of Bahura Resort. Dumaguete's baggage claim reminded me of the "old days" of Cozumel, but eventually we had my gear loaded in the van and were off on the 30-minute drive south to the town of Dauin where most of Dumaguete's dive resorts are located. Atlantis Resort is the old diving standby here, but I came to inspect the newest dive resort offering. Bahura Resort is a fine new property, just now working its way into the international diving market. The property features large, beautifully landscaped grounds, black sand beach, and not one but two huge freshwater swimming pools. The lodging rooms are spacious, with great a/c, a large bathroom, plenty of hot water, and cable TV with HBO, ESPN, etc. There is a pleasant open-air lobby bar at poolside, and a screened-in dining room. A welcome feature is the free wireless Internet in lobby area. The connection was quite fast in the early morning; appreciably slower during the day.

    BAHURA RESORT DIVING -- Bahura's dive team is lead by master instructor Vincente "Vic" Azurin. Well known throughout the Philippines dive community, Vic was one of the first divemasters working on the Tubataha liveaboards as far back as the 1970's. Still strong, lean and thoughtful, Vic was the perfect conductor to show me the best of the reefs around Bahura. It was also a treat to get to compare notes with such an experienced Philippines diver and guide.

    Scuba World banca at Alona Beach, Bohol BACK to the BANCA -- Other than live-aboards, most diving throughout this island nation is done from a motorized version of the traditional Philippine boat, called a banca. This locally constructed vessel is basically a large wooden canoe with bamboo pole outriggers on both sides, and a bit of a deck built on top. In times past operated as sailboats, dive bancas are now powered by a single diesel engine. They handle the seas just fine, but from a diver's perspective, bancas are not the easiest boat you'll ever encounter. Depending on the placement of the outriggers, entries can be troublesome. Re-entry to the boat after a dive is via a wooden ladder, which hopefully extends at least a couple of feet down into the water. Fortunately the boat crewmen are trained to be helpful, and if need be you can always hand your BCD and tank up first. At Bahura, Vic and I boarded our dive banca from the beach, up a narrow plank gangway, and headed out for a day of diving.

    DIVING APO ISLAND -- Dumaguete's most well-known dives are off justly renowned Apo Island. In the USA, even non-divers are becoming familiar with Apo, since Chicago's famed Shedd Aquarium spent 47 million dollars designing a watery display based on Apo, called "Wild Reef." Scientists and researchers from Shedd have worked with the Apo Island fishermen since the last 1970's, eventually gaining marine sanctuary status for Apo Island's coral reefs. The result is the preservation of a relatively healthy marine environment, and some great opportunities for scuba divers. Apo Island is 25-minute boat ride from Bahura Resort, so the trip there is usually for at least two dives. Vic and I enjoyed beautiful blue water with visibility of at least 100 feet. There was a good variety of healthy hard corals, plus some sponge and a sprinkling of soft corals. A profusion of crinoids adorned the reef in a panoply of colors. Schooling fishes included jack, rainbow runners, yellow tail snapper, striped fusiliers, turtles, some fine frog fish, large barracuda, Spanish mackerel, cuttlefish, moray eels, and more. The bottom line is that Apo offers up some very enjoyable diving, and on the underwater photography front resulted in some definite keepers for me.

    Catfish and Soft Corals on Ducom Pier - copyright Ken Knezick, Island Dreams

    DUCOM PIER -- Another highlight of my stay at Bahura Resort was the chance to dive Ducom Pier. This is a large industrial dock, where freighters come to unload concrete. Advance permission must be obtained to make a visit. Diving here ranges in depth from the surface to better than 60 feet. The many stout legs of the pier are absolutely covered in soft corals, sponges, clams, and invertebrates. This in turn creates a refuge for all manner of fish, eels, and a diversity of other critters. At Ducom Pier, we spent 90 minutes slowly drifting between the pilings, and occasionally scouring the sandy bottom for pipefish and seahorses. Schools of striped catfish patrolled the sand, but I was surprised to find a pair of them up in the water column, with a negative space of red soft coral. Compose, focus, click! Ducom Pier offers underwater photo diving at its best, and I'm looking forward to going back.

    BAHURA RESORT DINING -- A great new addition to the Bahura team is the New Zealand born chef, Warren Burns, just off a long stint at Atlantis Resort. Possessed of an infectious enthusiasm and seemingly boundless energy, Warren is completely updating Bahura's food and beverage offerings, from a complete redesign of the kitchen workspaces, to a wide array of enticing new menu items. Rather than a burden, he took my own vegetarian diet as a challenge and was soon whipping up meatless gourmet dishes. Of course there were options of chicken, beef, and New Zealand lamb for the carnivorous and locally made ice cream for all. That ice cream was excellent, but nothing was sweeter than the local mangos, in season and in copious supply. Once Chef knew I enjoyed them, they were always at hand, and he even sent a cooler of them out on the boat as chilled refreshment between dives. The bottom line is that divers love to eat, and Warren Burns at Bahura Resort is on the job to keep them satisfied.

    Vincente Vic Azurin strikes a pose on his ATV at Casaroro CASARORO WATERFALL ATV TOUR -- On the day I was to depart Dumaguete, Vic and I got up early and took a car up into the hills to check out the Casaroro Waterfall ATV tour. We rented a couple of four-wheelers, and rode uphill following our guide, a quite attractive young Filipina woman. It was entertaining to see the local fellas' heads turn in unison as we passed through the small villages. (Yes ladies, men are the same everywhere!) Our path began as paved road, then dirt, and finally was reduced to a rocky track through dense jungle. Parking at the top of this ascent, we then walked back down 100+ steep steps, and then along the river's course to the base of the waterfall, where we had a look and a swim. At a cost of 1500 pesos per ATV (approximately $35 USD), it was fun way to spend a couple of hours and cool off, with no extra charge for the considerable quad burn required to hike back up the stairs to our motors.

    ON THE ROAD AGAIN -- I had a very satisfying visit at Bahura Resort, and can't say enough about the combination of professionalism, hospitality, and friendship extended to me by Bahura's manager Ronnie, dive guide Vic, and Chef Warren, but all too soon it was time for me to move on. Ronnie and Vic drove me to the port at Dumaguete, where I boarded the fast ferry heading east to the city of Tagbilaran on the island of Bohol. From there, a twenty-minute car transfer heading south to the smaller island of Panglao deposited me at the swank Alona Palm Resort.

    ALONA BEACH -- Possessed of fine white sand, Alona Beach is a popular Philippine tourism destination. Tanned visitors from a dozen different countries strolled the beach and sampled the variety of ocean front restaurants and bars. The tourists were attended to by an equal number of local vendors hawking massage, flowers, shells, necklaces, sunglasses, carvings, and the like. It's a pleasant and bucolic setting, once you learn how to pleasantly but emphatically say no. For my part, I was hustling up and down this beach carrying my plus-size underwater camera rig from hotel to dive shop. Hands full and a purposeful stride kept all but the truly clueless vendors away.

    SCUBA WORLD BOHOL -- As my mission on Alona Beach was to evaluate the diving, I was fortunate to have as my host Tim Gregory, the very affable and knowledgeable manager of Scuba World Bohol. A UK expat who had chosen a career in diving over a previous life in mainframe computer software sales, Tim was a great guide to the area, topside as well as underwater. Typical of the international appeal of the Philippines, Tim's lead divemaster is a fit young Frenchman named Manu, while the office staff is comprised of Filipina women. Scuba World's dive shop on Alona Beach is well stocked with equipment from computers to snorkel keepers, and prepared to handle dive instruction in multiple languages. They also have two large and well kitted-out dive bancas, manned by competent crews. I enjoyed diving with both Tim and Manu, and appreciated the enthusiasm they both bring to their work. It's splendid indeed when scuba diving remains a passion, as well as a profession.

    Scuba World manager Tim Gregory and friends at Balicasag Island, Philippines

    BALICASAG ISLAND -- Unquestionably, the best dives in the Alona Beach region are around Balicasag Island, a 20-minute banca ride from Alona Beach. A relatively small island, there is one simple dive lodge and a few fishermen's houses on Balicasag itself, but no fresh water supply, so the ocean around this diminutive island remains clear of runoff, and the visibility typically excellent. Selecting our entry point based on the prevailing current, we enjoyed a long leisurely drift that eventually took us half way around the island. There were plenty of fish, lounging turtles, soft corals, sea fans, and photo opportunities ranging from super macro to schooling jacks and barracuda. With so much degradation to be found on coral reefs around the world these days, it really did my heart good to swim on such a beautiful reef system as that around Balicasag. This was blue water "aquarium diving" at its best, and I loved it.

    BOHOL HOTEL OPTIONS -- As Scuba World does not have a hotel of its own on Bohol, Tim and I spent a day visiting and evaluating the lodging opportunities most conducive to hosting dive-traveling guests from the USA. Following are my impressions:

    HATE TO PACK -- Yes I admit it, travel "professional" that I am, I sure do hate to pack. But it was once again time to dismantle and stow my cameras, stuff everything, wet or dry, back into my dive bag, and hustle to catch a flight back to Manila. It was worth it though, for my overnight at the Manila Hotel fortuitously enabled me to hobnob with some of diving's most august luminaries, and a few good old friends as well.

    CELEBRATE THE SEA -- By pleasant coincidence I was able to attend the opening evening of Michael Aw's traveling Celebrate the Sea Festival, which this year did its celebrating in Manila. Celebrities on hand included Stan Waterman, Emory Kristoff, Lynn Funkhouser, and Michael Aw. David Doubileh was the headliner for the weekend, but I did not see him at the opening event. It's always a pleasure to chat with Stan Waterman, the old man of the sea himself. Another highlight for me was a chance to compare notes with Lynn Funkhauser, who is a consummate Philippines dive expert. An expert trip leader and professional underwater photographer, Lynn has made scores of Philippines diving expeditions. She was instrumental in connecting Chicago's Shedd Aquarium with the Apo Island project. At this stage of my own Philippines whirlwind tour, the chance to share my impressions and questions with Lynn was exceedingly valuable.

    While finalizing this report, Ken sent it to a select group of experienced Philippines dive professionals for fact-checking, and incorporated their valuable input and advice into this posting. Of these, none is more of a Philippines diving expert than photo pro and trip leader Lynn Funhouser, who was kind enough to reply. Lynn Funkhouser wrote:

    Hi Ken,

    I'm glad you had good experiences in the Philippines! I always worry that people won't see the great stuff I get to see. I have had the best for 32 years now.

    Adding to your report, I'd mention that the Philippines are located from 5-21 degrees north of the Equator. The entire country lies within the Coral Triangle, which means great diving.

    The Philippines is 85% Catholic, 10% Protestant & only 5% Moslem. Most people think it is mostly Moslem, but it is not. This fact makes it so much easier for a female to travel alone easily! No malaria problem in the Philippines either, contrary to what the CDC says. Malaria only occurs in one area of North Palawan, accessible only by helicopter. I've dived 250 islands here and never needed to go up diving! Because there are so many different local dialects, English is widely spoken throughout the country. In fact, the people in Manila and Cebu, the two largest cities, have to speak English to each other in order to communicate.

    Tubbataha was the first UNESCO World Heritage Marine Site, named such in 1993. There are only two even at this point, so that is another great honor for the Philippines.

    Dr. Angel Alcala, from Sillaman University in Dumaguete, was the person who instituted marine sanctuaries first at Siquihor and then at Apo Island. He is responsible for 400+ sanctuaries. He has become my personal hero. Shedd Aquarium got interested in Apo around 1993, I think. The project at Apo went on for eight years, 1995-2003, when the Shedd's own amazing Apo Island exhibit opened. Next time you get to Chicago, I'll show it to you personally.

    Best fishes, Lynn

    SOUTH to BATANGAS -- Next morning a bit more packing, and then bidding the Manila Hotel farewell, off on a two-hour drive south to Batangas and then along the coast to the port at Anilao. I still had plenty of work to do... and some great scuba diving ahead of me.

    M/V Stella Maris, Expedition Fleet Cruise, The Philippines

    EXPEDITION FLEET CRUISES -- One of the prime reasons for this trip was to better acquaint myself with the operations of Philippines-based Expedition Fleet Cruises. To this cause, I was able to inspect the entire fleet of Expedition live-aboards in their home port at Anilao Harbor. Even Big Blue Explorer was back to base from Palau for its annual maintenance. Stella Maris is the fleet's flagship, with Borneo Explorer a close second. All of the vessels are of a relatively similar vintage, design and layout. The cabins and heads are small and simple but well maintained, and the public areas sufficiently spacious. The overall feel is a good deal less luxurious than the latest Peter Hughes or Aggressor Fleet ships. Explorer Fleet crews, however, are well trained, aiming to please, and the diving is good. Considering the pricing differential, Expedition Fleet Cruises offer good diving value for the serious dive traveler. In particular, keep them in mind for a dive tour to Philippines' famed Tubbataha Reef.

    TUBBATAHA REEF -- One prime Philippine diving destination I did not get to experience on this trip is Tubbataha, a remote reef system in the middle of the Sulu Sea. Accessed via the city of Puerto Princessa on the island of Palawan, Tubbataha is strictly a live-aboard destination, with a weather window of only three months, mid-March through mid-June. These prime reefs are part of a Philippines National Marine Park, and have been named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Accompanying a diversity of hard and soft corals, Tubbataha's prime attraction is large marine life. In addition to beautiful reef fish, schooling snapper, jacks and pelagic tuna, you have the chance swim with many species of sharks, giant manta rays, and even whale sharks. If you enjoy live-aboard diving, Tubbataha should be on your short list.

    OURRIGGER RESORT, Anilao -- Following the ship inspections, I was dropped at the Outrigger Resort for a hotel inspection and a quick lunch. This is a very simple property, mostly catering to Europeans, Russians, and local divers down from Manila for a quick weekend. The macro diving around Anilao is excellent, but thus far there's not much in the way of dive resorts that would make USA-divers feel really comfortable. But if you don't mind the accommodations, the macro diving is worth a visit. After lunch, a very large transport banca pulled up in front of the Outrigger, and I was welcomed aboard for a one hour transfer south across the South China Sea to Puerto Galera.

    Gardens and Swimming Pool at El Galleon Resort, Puerto Galera EL GALLEON RESORT, Puerto Galera, Island of Mindoro -- Finding this friendly, well run, attractive and very comfortable property was a high point of my trip. El Galleon Dive Resort is located on a prime slice of Puerto Galera's beach, with the indoor/outdoor restaurant and two different bars up front. Set farther back for comfort and privacy, a cluster of lodging rooms surrounds the swimming pool, with additional rooms rising up a hillside overlooking the bay. The guest rooms are simple in design, but have cold a/c, cable television, good bathrooms, and are kept spotlessly clean throughout. El Galleon's grounds are beautifully landscaped with lush tropical gardens and many flowering plants. The restaurant offers delightful al fresco dining with a view of the ocean, the dive boats, and a pleasant parade of tourists and locals passing along the beach. There are a selection of lodgings in Puerto Galera, but El Galleon Resort is a favorite. It offers easy enough access to the shopping, bars, and nightclubs of town, while at the same time affording you much greater privacy, and peace and quiet, than do the in-town lodgings. As an added bonus, complimentary wireless internet connection is available in the pool/restaurant area. All in all, El Galleon is a great little dive resort.

    For additional details, check out Ken's: El Galleon Resort Update

    Asia Divers at El Galleon Resort, Puerto Galera THE STAFF -- Professional owner/manager Allan Nash has already been living and diving on Puerto Galera for more than 23 years. A dynamic Aussie expat who previously founded a well-known pub in Hong Kong, Nash brings a wealth of experience and skill to running a dive resort. It helps that he is also a dive instructor and, after all these years, still clearly in love with the sport of diving and the reefs of Puerto Galera. Alan has put a great team together to assist him. El Galleon's French chef Antoine took great care of me; going beyond the call of duty to be sure I was well fed and my dietary requirements met. Dive guide/instructor Pete has been at Puerto Galera for 14 years, and did his very best to show me a great dive each and every time. All of the hotel and dive shop staff were very friendly, spoke good English, and were eager to please.

    ASIA DIVERS / TECH DIVERS -- El Galleon is also home to Puerto Galera's most capable, and longest-lived, dive operations. A PADI Instructor-training facility, Asia Divers is clearly top notch. Their well thought out shop has gear lockers, ample dip tanks, open air hanging facilities for suits to dry, and a well-stocked retail facility. Going a step beyond sport diving, Asia Divers' associated facility, Tech Divers, teaches deep diving, mixed gas, cave and penetration diving, and other underwater disciplines. This level of knowledge and professionalism is certainly a welcome and valuable asset to find in such a far-flung diving destination. Nitrox was readily available, and tank fills were uniformly on the mark. In a particularly classy touch, as we re-boarded the boat after each dive, we were handed hot towels to wipe away the salt water. Clearly, this is a dive operation that is looking to the future.

    EASY DIVING in PUERTO GALERA -- One of the most welcome aspects of Puerto Galera diving has to be the short boat rides, which average only about five minutes from dock to dive site. Thus it is possible to return to the comfort of the resort between every dive, while still easily logging four boat dives per day, each at least one hour in duration. And yes, at El Galleon they board from a proper dock, not the beach. This important point makes Philippine's banca diving much more workable, as well as the fact that Asia Divers has done a better job than most of adapting their bancas for scuba diving. Water entry is via back roll, with cameras handed down immediately. A functional ladder makes it easy enough to get back on the boat, especially as they expect divers to first hand up their weight belts and BCD packs. Back on El Galleon's pier, staff members were always ready to assist with carrying dive gear and underwater camera systems. They washed and stowed my gear at the end of each day, and had my rig ready on the dive boat next morning. My only responsibility was to gauge a couple of tanks of Nitrox, put on my wet suit, and stroll to the boat on time.

    Hawkfish at Puerto Galera - copyright Ken Knezick, Island Dreams

    QUALITY and VARIETY of DIVING -- Puerto Galera has long been known for its macro life and critter diving. So the pleasant surprise for me on this trip was the quality and variety of the blue water/wide-angle type of diving that I encountered. The Canyons, a superb dive site located only five minutes from the dock, is a bracing drift dive through fields of multi-colored soft corals and rafts of orange anthias swarming around schools of snapper, sweet lips and big grouper. Similar wide-angle dive sites, including some lovely steep wall dives, continue around nearby Verde Island. You could spend a good week at Puerto Galera just doing big blue water dives. But the macro side also beckons. A variety of muck and critter sites, as well as some interesting and relatively easily accessible wreck dives, is all close at hand. This ability to easily combine diverse styles of diving and underwater photography makes Puerto Galera an inviting and well-rounded international dive destination. The well-established professionally managed El Galleon Resort is as efficient and inviting a base of operations in Puerto Galera as one could hope for.

    Luca's Italian Restaurant, Puerto Galera DIVERS' PIZZA PICNIC -- A fun activity El Galleon Resort offers to dive groups is an evening "booze cruise" and pizza picnic. After the diving day is done, a large banca is loaded up with refreshments and heads around the point to Talipanan Beach, where Luca's Itialian Restaurant (complete with authentic Italian chef Luca) is operated on a lovely stretch of beach. Your orders are phoned over in advance, so that freshly baked pizzas are hitting the table just as the party boat is reaching the beach. Dining, drinking and a friendly volleyball game are capped with a sunset cruise back to the resort. This is good fun and camaraderie at its best, with a hangover purely optional.

    FUTURE PLANS for EL GALLEON & ASIA DIVERS -- During my stay, I enjoyed a number of wide-ranging conversations with El Galleon's founder and on-site manager, Allan Nash. Not one to rest on his substantial accomplishments, Allan described plans underway to completely upgrade El Galleon's kitchen facilities. There will soon be a new walk-in cooler, freezers, spacious prep areas, and a professional pizza oven. Never losing focus on diving, the pier is about to be widened and upgraded in a major fashion. This will provide an appropriate base for the resort's new dive boat currently under construction. Modeled on Palau Aggressor's excellent dive tender, this vessel will be a giant leap forward for Philippines diving. I won't mind one bit saying goodbye to bancas! Best of all, many of these upgrades will have been completed by the time you read this report.

    See report and photos of El Galleon's new kitchen.

    See report and photos of Asia Divers' excellent new dive boat.

    BACK to the USA -- The relatively easy and cost-effective transfer between Puerto Galera and Manila is icing on the cake. No domestic flying is involved, so overweight baggage is a non-issue. The day I was to depart the Philippines I had time for a relaxing breakfast and a morning of topside touring around the island. Then it was a one-hour boat transfer back to Batangas, and a two-hour drive straight to the Manila International Airport in time for my Continental Airlines night flight back to Houston. Now, if we could just do something about my jetlag!

    THE BOTTOM LINE -- My long-overdue return to the Philippines proved to be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. As prime dive destinations in Fiji, Indonesia and the Maldives push their rates into the stratosphere, I was hoping to find some more affordable options that still offered up world-class diving. It is my feeling that some of the regions and resorts covered in this report, especially Puerto Galera, do fit that bill. Hopefully you will have found my reportage of value, and I encourage your own input. If you'd care to comment or share some Philippines dive experiences of your own, please send me an email:

    Yours in diving, Ken Knezick - Island Dreams Travel

    PHILIPPINES DIVE PACKAGES -- Specifically tailored to the requirements of serious scuba divers, Island Dreams' packages at El Galleon include round-trip transfers from Manila, lodging, taxes, all meals, and unlimited diving (up to four dives per day). Find them here: Philippines Dive Packages

    Sunset over Puerto Gallera Bay, Philippines