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Diving in Palawan

Palawan will impress the most jaded diver with its beautiful reefs, stunning World War II shipwrecks and the glory that is Tubbataha Reef.

Diving in Palawan

Quick facts

Top diving spots in Palawan include Puerto Princesa, El Nido, Coron Island, and Tubbataha Reef. All around Palawan, you can expect water temperature that ranges from 79-86˚F (26 - 30˚C) and as for visibility, it depends on where you are. Areas like Tubbataha Reef are dived via a liveaboard diving vessel while the other locations offer land-based diving. Similar to anywhere in the Philippines, diving is usually from a bangka which is a canoe or motorized boat with two outriggers. Palawan’s rainy season is during June to December with June to October being the wettest months. It is still safe to visit during rainy months although do keep an eye on the typhoon forecasts.

Puerto Princesa and El Nido are located in bays and are great for new divers. The best time to head here is from May to November as visibility is at its best at about 65ft (20m). At El Nido, you will be able to access the Bacuit Archipelago and its stunning limestone islets and world-class beaches. A highlight here is a 130ft (40m) tunnel at Dilumacad Island which will entice more experienced divers. Dives off Miniloc Island are also good.

Those with an interest in wreck diving can make a beeline for Coron Island at the northern tip of Palawan. Many Japanese ships went down in Coron Bay during World War II and the shipwrecks are quite spectacular. Some can be dived by beginners but some require experience and proper certification. Dive Coron Island during December to March where visibility should be up to 50ft (15m). In addition to the wrecks, make sure to dive at Barracuda Lake. It is a lake in a volcanic crater which has both freshwater and saltwater and there is even a deep cave that might be accessible to technical cave divers.

Last but not least is the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. The window to dive the Tubbataha Reef which is 81 miles (130km) from Palawan is only three months long from March to June. Several liveaboard diving vessels frequent these reefs which consist of two large atolls and the Jessie Beazley Reef. Diving here is world-class with drop-offs, coral gardens, channels and plenty of large marine pelagic life. Visibility can stretch up to 130ft (40m).

When to go

Rain and temperature

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Water temperature

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Where to dive

  • El Nido

    White sand, palm fringed beaches and a laid back tropical island vibe await you in El Nido. If you can make it out of your hammock the diving is equally as impressive. Highlights include diving Sou...

Tubbataha Reef – This is a major highlight of diving in Palawan and not be missed. Tubbataha Reef offers dramatic underwater terrain and awe inspiring marine biodiversity including 600 fish species, 360 coral species and 11 shark species. Look out for resident reef sharks, turtles and manta rays. Mares Rock – Located at the mouth of Puerto Princesa Bay, this sloping reef site drops down to 34 metres / 112 feet and is a must for underwater photographers and macro aficionados. Critter highlights here include octopus, crustaceans, nudibranch and interesting bottom dwellers. If you prefer ‘big fish’, tuna, turtles, barracuda and jack fish are also spotted here. Cuttlefish Shawl – This relatively shallow site has a max depth 20 metres / 66 feet and is home to sea turtles, angelfish, barracuda, and of course cuttlefish – which are often seen here in numbers. Other marine life highlights include passing reef sharks, schools of fusiliers and occasional dugongs which are spotted in the bay. Morazan Maru – Located in Coron, in Palawan’s north, this passenger cargo vessel was built in 1907 and later commandeered for WWI by the British. She was later captured by the Japanese who utilised her in WWII. At just under 100 metres / 330 feet, the cargo holds are empty but the steel boilers in the engine room are still intact. The large cargo holds and engine room make this a suitable wreck for newly certified or experienced PADI Wreck Divers. Dilumacad Tunnel – Located in El Nido, in Palawan’s north, this 35 metre / 115 foot long tunnel was discovered in the early 1990’s. Starting at 12 metres / 40 feet, with a memorial plate at the entrance, the tunnel has a sandy bottom and several ceiling holes. The tunnel gradually narrows towards the exit. It’s a stunning dive for experienced divers.

What to see

Around Puerto Princesa, El Nido and Coron Island, expect healthy coral reef awash with the different colors of reef fish like angelfish, parrotfish, surgeonfish, pufferfish, groupers and schools of lunar fusilier and yellowtail snapper. Sandy bottoms often reveal bluespotted ribbontail rays and blacktip sharks patrol the reefs. Green sea turtles are also frequent visitors and lookout for other critters like eels, nudibranch and crabs.

Out at Tubbataha Reef, be astounded by the rich marine biodiversity of the area. Whale sharks are often seen cruising by the reef and manta rays come to visit cleaning stations. The stronger the currents, the more large creatures you are likely to see. Sharks like grey reef sharks and whitetip sharks are common and if you are very lucky, you might see a tiger shark or a hammerhead shark. Otherwise, keep your eyes to the blue for the likes of eagle rays and game fish like mackerel, trevally and tuna. From the surface, whales and dolphins have been spotted.

Calendar

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Area

The islands of Palawan form a long sliver that lies in-between the Sulu Sea and the South China Sea. The largest province in the Philippines by area of jurisdiction, Palawan consists of the main island of Palawan and almost 2,000 islands and islets surrounding it. The hub of Palawan is the city of Puerto Princesa which is known as the cleanest and most beautiful city in the Philippines.

Palawan has a colorful history that has resulted in a melting pot of cultures on the islands and some 50 languages. In the 12th century, Malay immigrants arrived to the islands and were followed by Indonesians in the 13th century. Islam was then introduced to the south of Palawan via Borneo and Palawan became a trading hub with Chinese, Arabs, Japanese and Hindus frequenting the ports. The 19th century saw Palawan controlled by the Spanish, which eventually lost to the Americans, which were overcome by the Japanese in World War II. The islands were liberated in 1945 just after the war.

Palawan is unique compared to the rest of the Philippines and its flora and fauna shares more similarities with Borneo. The island has many endemic species of bird and plants and more than half of Palawan is covered in forest. There are also extensive areas of grasslands, mangrove forests and 6,835 square miles (11,000 square km) of coral reef.

Other attractions

Relax on white sand beaches or explore the town of Puerto Princesa. There many boat trips into the limestone islands and islets and there are also multi-day trips. A highlight around Puerto Princesa is a boat tour into the subterranean river. You can also go hiking into the jungles or to see places like Ugong Rock or Mount Tundalara and also visit hot springs.

Getting there

Fly to Puerto Princesa International Airport from Cebu, Manila, and Iloilo on airlines like Cebu Pacific or AirAsia Zest. There are also direct flights from Taipei, Taiwan via Philippine Airlines.

UTC+08:00

Time zone

PHP

Currency

+63

Calling code

220 V

Electric volt

A, 

B

Plug type

PPS

Main airport
Note - Travel to any destination may be adversely affected by conditions including (but not limited) to security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate. Regardless of your destination, check your local travel advisory board or department for travel advice about that location when planning your trip and again shortly before you leave.