Written by: Jaii Fredregill
Destination: Anilao, Philippines
Visited: May 2019
Anilao is a hot spot for muck diving in the Philippines located just a few hours south of Manila, but many divers come here for the reef diving as well. Scuba divers from near and far travel here year-round with their cameras looking for the small and the strange. Flamboyant cuttlefish, blue ringed octopus, mimic octopus, tiger shrimp and ambon scorpionfish thrive in these waters. The house reef at Buceo Anilao Beach & Dive Resort is particularly thick with life, and the dive resort is known for being a top-notch diver’s paradise.
Ornate ghost pipefish
Scuba diving is not limited to what lives in the muck. The coral reefs are healthy and filled with life, including nudibranchs and frogfish of all colors and species. If all of this is not enough, you can also wreck dive, cave dive, or see what comes out at night on a black water dive.
Mantis shrimp with eggs
Anilao is a macro photographer’s utopia and there were certainly dives when there were so many critters around us that we weren’t sure what to look at first. We were hard-pressed at times just deciding what to photograph. What do you do when you’re photographing a coconut octopus that has stuffed himself into a glass bottle and rainbow sea urchin shuffles pass with a tiny cuttlefish hovering close behind? It’s not an easy decision to make but it is a great problem to have.
Bottled coconut octopus
The parade of creatures continued during our night dive in the Buceo Anilao house reef; one of our all-time favorite muck diving experiences. With so much to see during the day, we couldn't wait to see how crazy things would get after dark. Saying that night diving in Anilao exceeded our expectations is an understatement. As soon as our torches were on we could see that we were surrounded by life.
Coleman's Urchin shrimp riding a rainbow urchin (Asthenosoma Varium)
Healthy aquatic flora attracts the vast number of species who call Anilao home. Marine conservation efforts in the area began around 1991, resulting in the preservation and diversity of hard and soft corals that continue to flourish today. Education to maintain and improve sustainability are ongoing.
Sombrero Island is the most memorable of the reef dives we did. A gorgonian sea fan where several pigmy seahorses have taken up residence is a popular stop on this dive. The coral is only about a half meter wide, but there were six seahorses attached to it.
Bargibant's pygmy seahorse
Next, we made a gradual ascent along a beautiful coral wall; spotting four frogfish, several nudibranchs, a variety of eels and too many yellow sea cucumbers to count. There is plenty of life to be found in the coral. Turtle sightings are not uncommon, nor are sea snakes, scorpion fish, emperor angelfish, or triggerfish.
Janolus savinkini nudibranch
The diving at Sombrero Island is idea for divers who like a mix of coral and sandy bottom diving, and those new to macro photography will find plenty of slow-moving nudibranchs to photograph.
Larval fish hiding in a Salp (a jelly-textured planktonic tunicate).
The ocean is a busy place when the sun goes down. Animals hidden during the day come out to hunt, reefs come alive with hungry coral, and curious scuba divers slip into the water hoping to see it all.
Zebra urchin crab clutching its eggs on a rainbow urchin (Astropyga radiata)
Black water diving does not take place anywhere near a reef. A boat takes divers miles from shore to hover above the ocean’s depths, waiting for planktonic animals and their predators to come closer to the surface.
On our dive, the boat came to a stop, and a line with lights at 10, 15 and 20 meters was attached to a buoy that was released into the water. We sat on the boat drifting beside the buoy for about 20-minutes, in the hope of attracting some weird stuff before entering the water.
During the dive we moved with the buoy, circling it as we shined our torches out into the darkness which, in this case, attracted mainly larval fish and some strange looking jellyfish. I am not sure that black water diving is something that will appeal to all divers, but I would certainly like to do more of it.
Arriving to Buceo Anilao by boat. A tropical paradise worth every minute of travel.
We were referred to Buceo Anilao from a talented macro photographer from Switzerland named Daniel, whom we dove with in Indonesia. I am grateful to Daniel for the recommendation and we hope to return to Buceo Anilao in the near future.
Paddle Flap Scorpionfish / Rhinopias eschmeyeri
The rooms are spacious and comfortable, even down to little details like the retractable clotheslines in the shower and housekeeping bringing jugs of fresh water to the room daily. Dive equipment and boats are perfectly maintained, and the entire resort operates with the convenience of divers in mind. Divers walk directly from the boat to the shop, where there are plenty of outdoor showers and equipment can easily be rinsed and stored. There is even a camera room for charging and safekeeping.
An unusually easy to spot frogfish.
The swimming pool is ideal for lounging between dives, and at the end of the day we chatted up other divers at the bar over frozen mojitos and Don Papa, a fine local rum. This is a relaxing and reasonably priced resort with every amenity needed for a perfect dive holiday.
Buceo Anilao at sunset
The resort is located about 2-3 hours from the Manila airport. You can arrange an airport transfer with Buceo Anilao. A driver will meet you at the airport and drive you to a boat that takes just 5-minutes to reach the resort. If you prefer to drive yourself, park in the Buceo Anilao parking area, and arrange for Buceo Anilao to send a boat to take you across to the resort. Transfers can also be arranged from the Batangas City public bus terminal, or your hotel in Batangas.