With 7,107 unique islands, the Philippines has a wealth of natural wonders to explore – from rolling hills to pristine beaches, jagged peaks to an underwater world of unparalleled beauty. Teeming with rich coral reefs, the lesser-visited Apo Island is one of the best marine-protected regions in the Philippines, with many world-class dive sites. Getting there is straightforward enough – fly into the city of Dumaguete in Negros Oriental from Manila, then take an easy and scenic 30-minute boat ride from the city to the island.
Where to stay?
It’s very important for divers to rest between each day’s diving adventures, and Dumaguete’s Pura Vida Beach & Dive Resort provides a perfect place to relax in comfort before you don your wetsuit and hit the seas.
With just 27 comfortable rooms surrounded by lush tropical gardens, the resort is intimate and peaceful, with all of the rooms just a few steps away from the beach. After a full day of diving, there’s nothing quite like a delicious ice-cold mango shake as the sun sets before sauntering to the beach for a well-deserved meal of freshly-grilled seafood.
Who to dive with?
The Sea Explorers PADI Five-Star CDC Dive Centre is conveniently located inside the Pura Vida, meaning less time searching for a dive school and more time beneath the waves. With a small retail shop, air-conditioned classrooms and three storerooms for guests to stash their gear, Sea Explorers offer courses that are suitable for divers at all levels. Open daily, from 8am to 7pm, the crew all speak very good English, which is also very helpful. They also take safety seriously, with all dive boats equipped with emergency communication equipment, a first aid box and repair tools.
What to expect?
Although I had previously tried snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef some years previously, I had never considered scuba diving. Without really knowing what to expect, I was a little nervous prior to my first dive. Before being allowed out into the open seas, we carried out some basic dive training in the school’s swimming pool where we learned exactly how to use the diving equipment correctly, plus all the relevant safety drills.
Training complete, we were transferred to Apo Island to put our learning into practice! Jumping off the boat with my masks and fins on, I found breathing unexpectedly easy and the salty seawater kept my body buoyant, resulting in a sensation more like flying than swimming. Once I was submerged below the surface of the water, I soon forgot the water above me.
As we descended, my ears began hurting but my attentive instructor was quick to see my reaction, signalling for me to equalise my ears, which left me feeling much more comfortable. Relaxed and comfortable, I started to look around me and was amazed by the natural beauty of the reef. I saw lots of colourful coral, sea urchin and shoals of tiny fish including “Nemo”, the distinctive orange-and-white clown fish from the Pixar film! But what really caught my attention were the graceful sea turtles gliding along, as well as the whale sharks darting through the water with surprising agility.
Time flies in the underwater world and my hour-long dive seemed to be over in five minutes. Ascending from the depths, we reluctantly clambered on board the dive boat where we were served hot drinks and snacks as we headed back to the dive resort. It’s fair to say that I well and truly caught the diving bug, and over the next four days, I went on to complete my PADI Open Water dive certification. Guess I’ll be packing fins and mask for my next holiday!
By Nick Ma