Finding paradise in a country of 7,000- plus islands isn’t difficult, but it helps a diver to know where to go
1 MONAD SHOAL, MALAPASCUA ISLAND
Threshers, threshers and more threshers. This drop-off dive site near Malapascua Island, off the tip of Cebu Island, is the best place in the world for reliably spotting the sleek sharks with a scythe-like tail. The top of the reef is full of cleaning stations frequented by the animals, spotted here year-round.
2 THE CAGAYAN DE ORO RIVER
It’s like a topside drift dive! Depending on your experience, you can opt to raft down class one and two or class three and four rapids. With a total of 21 rapids, the beautiful river on Mindanao is considered the premier whitewater-rafting destination in the Philippines.
3 OLYMPIA MARU, CORON BAY
The Philippines’ answer to Truk Lagoon, Coron Bay in Palawan has the best wreck diving in Southeast Asia. Clouds of fish swarm the cargo hold of the Olym
pia Maru, one of over a dozen wrecks to dive in the compact lagoon. The Japanese cargo ship was sunk by U.S. aircraft in 1944 and sits upright at about 90 feet.
4 AMOS ROCK, TUBBATAHA REEF
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is considered among the world’s most pristine coral reefs. Fin alongside the gorgonian-carpeted wall at Amos Rock while watching patrolling reef sharks and thousands of reef fish flitting like tossed confetti.
5 APO 29, APO REEF
Apo Reef Natural Park is the world’s second-largest contiguous coral reef after the Great Barrier Reef. And when the current is running at Apo 29, the stellar site attracts schooling barracuda, reef sharks, manta rays and even hammerheads.
6 PUERTO PRINCESA SUBTERRANEAN RIVER
The island of Palawan is impressive in any direction you look, but there’s something fascinating about heading underground. At this national park, float through a subterranean river that flows into the South China Sea while ogling the bats and swiftlets careening through the air.
7 SECRET BAY, ANILAO
The density of bizarre critters — wonderpus octopuses, mantis shrimp, bobbit worms and ghost pipefish, to name a few — make this site a favorite with muck divers and photographers. You can see it all between depths of just 10 and 70 feet, making for long bottom times too.
8 MANTA BOWL, TICAO
Use a reef hook to stay put while watching the manta action at this killer site off Ticao. An underwater shoal loaded with cleaning and feeding stations attracts the winged beauties and sometimes, if you get lucky, whale sharks too.
9 MANILA’S CHINATOWN
Should you get waylaid in Manila on your way to your dive destination, it’s worth heading to Binondo, the city’s lively Chinatown district, for a fun foodie tour. Fill up on delicious specialties such as pork and leek dumplings, Chinese pancakes and pork floss.
10 ISLAND HOPPING
The towering karst islands surrounding El Nido on Palawan are as Instagram-worthy as landscapes get. And the best way to explore the area’s crystal-clear lagoons and small islets is on multiday sailing expeditions that stop to let you snorkel, visit lost caves, and bliss out on lonely beaches.
TERRY WARD got certified in Florida’s springs for a college course, and has since dived everywhere from Halmahera, Indonesia, to Norway’s icy Svalbard archipelago.