Scuba Diving In Anilao
Disclaimer: This review is unsuitable for divers who are only interested in marine creatures bigger than A4 paper, as well as divers with relatively bad eyesight.
Anilao is 3 hours south of Manila, Philippines, which makes it one of the more accessible dive spots in the world. It is renowned for its diversity of macro critters and generally easy diving conditions. Underwater photographers, you should go fully loaded with gear and you will feel like a kid in Toys’R’Us. Even if you don’t take photos, you will be wowed by the extremely healthy reefs and what you can spot.
Dives sites are generally in close proximity, with the further sites (my experience) approximately 30 minutes away. Almost all operators use Bangka, a traditional boat made by hand and extensively used by the locals. It can fit up to 4-6 divers plus a crew of 2-3. The dive guide and boat crew are locals and they are good at what they do, be nice to them and they will naturally be more attentive to you.
Most online reviews claimed “warm water temperature” but I suspect polar bears wrote them; in February, the water temperature hovered between 25°Cto 27°C regardless how unforgiving the sun was. However, resistance to cold differs between individuals. I wore a 3mm wetsuit with a Scubapro 2.5mm hooded vest and still felt the chills. My buddy wore only 3mm wetsuit with bikini and felt perfectly fine. So, pack what works for you!
I harbour a mild suspicion that the dive guides have some sort of GPS or X-ray eyes because whatever they point out to you is surely something worth looking. One time, I genuinely thought I could save on tipping my guide when he excitedly gestured and pointed at what seemed to be a twig. He insisted that I take photos of it and… It turned out to be a skeleton shrimp carrying a ton of skeleton shrimps on its back. Moral of the story? They are good at what they do.
Some of them can be overzealous by adjusting the corals or constantly prodding the critters for your ‘money shot’ (whatever for a good tip, really). It depends on your moral compass, but I told the guide not to disturb the critter. We had an unspoken arrangement: he will locate the critter and point out to me, and once I spotted it and start taking my shots, he will leave to spot another critter. This worked well for us and I enjoyed the freedom to take my time with the critter.
According to the locals, Typhoon Nock-Ten in December 2016 impacted the diving conditions. However, we found most of the critters you can imagined and even some unimaginable ones. Shrimps, crabs, nudibranchs, squids, cuttlefish, frogfish, pipefish, pygmy seahorse, Rhinopias, mimic octopus, Bobtail squid, coconut octopus and even the disgustingly cool bobbit worm.
Contrary to my disclaimer, there are dive sites with large schools of fishes and the occasional turtles so pack your GoPro too!
If I could summarise Anilao…
Just go. Bring cameras. And join us on our next Anilao Trip.