I recently had the opportunity to visit the beautiful Anilao, Philipines with its rich biodiversity of marine lives.
Manila sits on an archipelago just at the edge of the Asian continent, some 14° 35′ N, 121º 00 E’.
It’s 1,100 km or 2 hours flight time from Hong Kong, 2,200 km or 3:15 hours from Bangkok, 2,400 km or 3:35 hours from Singapore, 2,739 km or 3:35 hours from Malaysia, 3.000 km or 4:15
hours from Tokyo, and 2,800 km from 4:25 hours from Beijing.
Located in the island of Luzon, in the municipality of Mabini, Batangas, is loosely termed as the district (or barangay) of Anilao, the “socalled” birthplace of scuba diving in Philippines.
The town is lined with a long stretch of resorts besides the narrow hilly main road catering to divers from around the world.
Arriving at the national airport, smack in the middle of Manila, the journey by road to Anilao will take around 3 hours or 170 kilometers south of Manila depending on the ever crazy city traffic like
anywhere else in a metropolitan city.
Anilao is widely known as a heaven for underwater macro photography, diving in Anilao is a serious matter of ticking off the extensive menu with your dive guides in terms of what
you want to see.
Shrimp, crabs, nudibranchs, squid and cuttlefish, are all more plentiful than almost anywhere else I’ve dive. Frogfish, pipefish, diamond filefish, seahorse are also fairly common at some dive sites.
Hairy frogfish, wonderpus, mimic, coconut and blue ring octopus can also be found. Most species on the muck and macro diving critter list can be found in Anilao. For side dishes, we have soft corals; hard corals and everything in between too! Least that I forget, Anilao is also called the “Nudibranch Capital of the World”.
Coming from my home country where the sighting of a nudibranch is like striking the lottery, the variety of these colorful slugs that come in all sizes are possibly endless here and they are literally everywhere in the water.
Stretching from north to south, the dive sites are usually a short 15-20 minutes boat ride on the banca (traditional fishing boat converted into dive boat) depending from where the resort is. This small open boat is comfortable to sit 8 people including the crew and dive guides.
Most of the critters and corals can be found between 5-15 meters in calm waters whereas the travelling shoals of jacks, barracudas, tunas and bigger fish like the occasional whale shark and mola-mola swim through the center of straits where is current is stronger and its deeper. Visibility is usually good at about 30 meters.
Some of my favorite sites which never disappoints me include Secret Bay, Secret Garden, Sunview, Bethlehem, Caban Cove, Basura and Anilao Pier.
With a year round diving season, January and February is the coldest time to dive with temperatures dropping to 23°C compared to the average of around 26°C while the busiest time is around April and May. The occasional monsoon visits around July and August but that has never stopped me from getting into the water before! The best months are probably November, April and May. The main diving season is from October to the end of May. Even during monsoon, it never stop me from reaching the dive sites as most of the sites can be accessible using a jeepney (a converted jeep used as taxi) from the main road.
A normal dive schedule would include 2 dives in the morning, 1 after lunch and 1 in the late afternoon which doubles up as a night dive because by the time you surface from this dive, it’d be evening and just in time to head back to the resort for a hearty dinner. The night dive is a must because that’s the time when some of the weirdest critters bobtail, mototi octopus, stargazer, bobit worm and many more comes out to play.
By nightfall, once we arrive to the resort by banca the staff and guides will unload, carry and wash all our equipment for the day. Thereafter, all equipment is hung up and ready for the next days adventure. After a nice hot drink and shower, it’s time to kick back, relax and enjoy the hospitality of the hosts.
Never have I met a Philippino who doesn’t know how to have fun! Apart from the beauty of what the sea offers, Anilao is made even more special by the warm hospitality of the people. The hosts here are more than just business operators, they are friends and they are like family welcoming us into their homes and offering their backyard, the sea, for us to play in.
Each of my diving trips to Anilao has always given me a sense of homecoming. Being able to detach myself from the confines of the office to be in the great company of friends who are more family,
to savour the endless supply of delicious home-cooked food and of course, to shoot in the sea, this is where my heart lies. My journey in photography has brought me many places but the underwater world is one bounderless mystery that never ceases to amaze with its variety of life forms and seascape, and Anilao is one special place that has me kept coming back year after year.
Lastly but not least, If you ever get to dive Anilao, you will find incredible diversity, rich reefs, a great variety of small fish, and unexpected critters & nudibranchs turning up around every corner. If you love underwater photography, or if you love marine life, Anilao is a must.
WORDS and PICTURES by Ee Lin