The island nation of Indonesia straddles the equator between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and lies at the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’ - the epicentre of the world’s marine biodiversity. Nowhere on earth can visitors experience such a range of spectacular diving - from encounters with huge whale sharks and oceanic manta rays, to muck dives with beautiful Rhinopias and the exceedingly rare psychedelic frogfish.
With its fantastic marine biodiversity, healthy reefs and exotic marine life, Anilao is regarded as one of the best dive destinations in SE Asia, particularly for macro-lovers and muck diving enthusiasts. With it’s easy access from Manila, divers can head down for a long-weekend or book an extended stay to fully appreciate the incredible critters that have made this destination so famous.
- Home to some of the diving world’s most sought after critters
- Highlights include Rhinopias, hairy frogfish, hairy shrimp, blue-ringed and Wonderpus octopus
- Ideal for underwater photographers, with many resorts set up specifically to cater to photographer’s needs
- Just a 3 hour drive from Manila, the capital of the Philippines
Over the last few decades, Anilao has developed a well-deserved reputation for the quality of its muck diving - and for being a destination where guests can see pretty much every critter in the wish list! Rare species of shrimps, crabs, frogfish, scorpionfish, pipefish, seahorse, and octopus are all seen regularly, and the dive guides have become expert at leading guests to the right spot at the right time for each one. On top of all the muck sites to choose from there are also some very healthy reefs with an abundance of hard and soft corals - perfect for gorgeous wide angle photography. To add a bit of variety, day trips to nearby Verde Island are also possible, but most people stay focused on macro and critter spotting.
Like much of the rest of the Philippines, diving in Anilao is from local open boats, called bangkas. These boats can be hired by visiting groups along with freelance guides with the knowledge and experience to find the rare species. By doing this, guests are given the best possible chances to find all the critters on their wishlist and dive in small groups with the perfect guest-to-guide ratio. The normal schedule is two dives in the morning, followed by two in the afternoon and a night dive later on in the day. In many other locations, night dives are often regarded as optional but in Anilao they are almost seen as compulsory – in the darkness, Anilao comes to life with the unexpected and unique always a possibility.
Dive time limits are less stringent and often extend beyond 60 minutes, as everyone ascends into the shallows hunting for hairy shrimp and boxer crabs amongst the sea grass and rubble. The long dives and slow pace means divers can often start to feel the cold, so we would recommend using a 5mm suit as a minimum to keep you warm.
With a rocky coastline stretching around the majority of the Mabini peninsula, it is best to snorkel straight off the dive boats. Conditions can be tricky with strong currents sometimes, so it is best to ask the boat captain to ensure you are dropped in the best locations for good coral reefs and lots of fish. With such a focus on scuba diving, Anilao is probably not the best location for snorkelers, but the nearby Verde Island and Puerto Galera offer more favorable conditions, along with better beaches and nightlife.
Anilao is located on the small peninsula of Mabini in the province of Batangas, roughly 3 hours by car from Manila. Its proximity to the capital meant it was the first scuba diving destination to be developed in the Philippines back in the 1960s. The generic tourist name Anilao comes from the two barangays or villages, of Anilao Proper and Anilao East in the municipality of Mabini, but is now used to refer to the 13km stretch of coastline to the south of the villages. Whilst Anilao continues to develop as a major diving destination, the rugged jungle-clad shoreline and string of small resorts that hug the coast still retain a peaceful atmosphere - making Anilao the perfect destination for divers looking for some fantastic diving and a wonderful holiday experience.
After flying into Ninoy Aquino Airport in Manila, it’s a straightforward 3-hour drive south to the stretch of resorts in Anilao. ZuBlu can help arrange a transfer from the airport with an air-conditioned minivan starting from around USD60 each way.
For the budget-minded traveler, buses to Batangas leave from the Buendia Bus Terminal. After getting off at Mabini, the resorts can be reached by jeepney in just 20 minutes.
Anilao has plenty of different options but because of the rugged coastline in the area, most resorts are pretty small and low key. There are also lots of homestays, Airbnb rooms and private villas that can be booked. Many divers travel to Anilao and book their own bangka and guide for a weekend, staying in private rented accommodation and eating out. However, we would recommend checking into a resort that offers in-house diving services - it is easier than trying to track down a freelance guide. Photographers are also particularly well-catered for in Anilao and there are now a number of dive centres that have been set up to cater for these divers in particular.
The main diving season is from October to May, with the best months typically during the ‘shoulder months’ of November and May. However Anilao’s location in Luzon means it lies within the typhoon belt and can experience strong monsoon conditions in July and August. Anilao can also be susceptible to poor visibility due to run-off from the mountains during rainy periods and whilst these changing conditions can make the diving a little variable, the marine life is resilient!
It is worth noting that if you arrive just after a typhoon has passed through, a lot of the critters may have retreated into the deep to avoid the turbulent shallow water conditions. As ever underwater, you’ll see what you see – but at Anilao you should see more than most.
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Best time to visit: November to April
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