The Philippines is a great travel and scuba diving destination
After going to the Philippines for the 3rd time in my life, where I personally experienced some of the best times of my life as well one of the most dramatic ones, I realise again that this country has a special place in my heart. I will write more about why I love this country so much in one of my travel blog updates, but one of the reasons is the amazing scuba diving found all around the Philippines. In this post, I take you scuba diving to Apo Island with the eco-conscious scuba diving centre called ´Harolds Dive Center´.
Apo Island: scuba diving from Negros Island on the Philippines
From the most famous diving in the Philippines, like the almost guaranteed thresher shark on Malapascua Island, sardine runs in Cebu, and ship- and plane wrecks in Coron, there are also some must-visit scuba diving places in between. Like Apo Island on Negros Island! In 2012, I already went to all the famous dive sites of the Philippines, and this time I returned to do some more scuba diving on a few islands. In this article, I will write about scuba diving on Negros Island, where I go on a triple tank dive trip to Apo Island with Harolds Diving Centre in Dumaguete.
Traditional ´Filipino-style´ experience during your scuba diving trip to Apo Island in the Philippines
It´s early morning when we are getting ready for our ´triple tank´ scuba diving trip to Apo Island. The staff of Harold Dive Centre in Dumaguete is all fresh awake and busy organising everything perfectly for our diving- and snorkelling excursion. There is a lot of staff, and although it´s only 06.45 am in the morning and I still feel a bit sleepy, the people at work all have a big smile, while they are helping us with getting our diving equipment packed for the day.
Transport to the scuba diving boat: a typical jeepney from the Philippines
After the paperwork is done and the equipment is packed, we board the back of a typical Filipino ´Jeepney´: a truck with two benches on the back for people to sit on. It´s a nice way to get to know each other and I chat with my fellow divers of the day. I talk with my ´Filipina dive buddy´, who I met a couple of days before when we went shore diving in Dauin. There couldn´t be a more typical Philippines feeling than to be driven to the dive boat on the jeepney.
Typical ´Banca boat´ of the Philippines will bring us to our scuba diving sites around Apo Island
After waking up during our ´jeepney-ride´, we arrive at the beach in Dauin to board our, again typical Filipino, Banca or Bangka boat. This traditional boat in the Philippines is characterized by the double outriggers for stability. While the staff is loading the ´Bangka´, also called ´pump-boat´, we are not even allowed to help them.
Typical breakfast from the Philippines whilst listening to our scuba diving safety briefing for Apo Island
As soon as we are on board, we can enjoy a simple but nice breakfast, again in Filippino style. There is coffee, tea, bananas and bread with homemade banana jam. You can eat as much as you can, which is almost dangerous because it tastes very good! At the same time, we listen to our boat safety briefing which is very clearly given.
Ready to go diving: dive site Chapel on Apo Island
As soon as we arrive at the waters around Apo Island we gear up for our first scuba dive of the day. After entering the water by a giant stride we already spot a turtle on the surface. Nice start! Also, I am impressed by the amount of staff and the service provided, not only on the boat but also during the dive! We are a small group of only four divers with one instructor leading the dive and two divemasters in the back. For me, this is a really nice experience.
Many staff during scuba diving in the Philippines: relax!
As an instructor myself, I would like to take some photos but also knowing that my buddy does not have much experience yet, I feel responsible to keep an eye on her, more than on my camera. However, I realise very soon that the divemaster is every time right beside her as soon as she experiences a small problem, so I can completely relax and feel comfortable enough to also take photos.
Healthy corals around Apo Islands in the Philippines
Even though I worked in Dumaguete for a few days in the years 2012 and 2013, I had completely forgotten how beautiful the corals are in this part of the Philippines. Before travelling to the Philippines this time, I was doing some island hopping around the Andaman Sea and visited the Maldives again. But none of these places beat the corals you find around Apo Island in the Philippines.
Challenge during the first scuba dive on Apo Island: photograph the Juvenile Harlequin Sweetlips!
We first stay above a plateau at a depth of about 10 metres, before descending further down where we continue our dive next to a wall at about 20 metres. Things we spot include clownfish, nudibranch, groupers, common reef fish and lionfish. Very elegant, but quickly moving and disappearing once again, I do manage to take some photos of the Juvenile Harlequin Sweetlips, I think he was playing hideaway with me!
The second diving site of Apo Island: Cogon Point
Our second dive is a very relaxing drift dive. There is a little current which carries us comfortably along while a sea snake is following us in the current. He looks curious or maybe he is just simply enjoying our company. There is an amazingly big group of jackfish, we can enter the school of fish, swim between them and get lost in it, and they don´t even move away from us.
The Pajama Cardinalfish is playing the same game with me as the Juvenile Harlequin Sweetlips!
The divemaster shows a Pajama Cardinalfish, but like the Juvenile Sweetlips, he moves so quickly. Before I can catch him on a photo, he already disappears in the hard corals. This happens a few times, and I decide I should be satisfied with the photo of the Harlequin Sweetlips. A turtle is laying patiently on the reef waiting and posing for us when he gets photographed. We also spot a huge potato grouper (Epinephelus Tukula), also called Lapo Lapo in the Philippines. Overall, this dive site contains coral blocks, sandy paths and a wall on our side. The whole area is covered by beautiful purple and pinkish coral.
Harold Dive Centre is an environmental conscious diving centre: no plastic waste during our scuba dives on Apo Island!
Even though my visit to the Philippines this time is right in the rain season, and it was a little rainy in the morning, after the second dive the sun is shining brightly. All clouds have disappeared and they don´t return for the rest of the day. So it is nice to enjoy our lunch in the sunshine! Our ´Pancit´, a typical Filipino dish consisting of vegetarian fried noodles with a boiled egg on the side, is served in a reusable hard plastic container.
No use of throw-away plastic at all and food supplies from local people of the Philippines
I am told that the plastic boxes get washed at the end of the day and will be reused again, the same they do with the hard plastic cups for drinking water and coffee or tea. There are only huge water bottles on the boat to refill your cup or your own bottle. Small water bottles are not available, so there is zero plastic waste created during the scuba diving day. The food supplies for the lunch, bought from local people in Dumaguete, are also collected in the hard-plastic containers to avoid any plastic throw-away waste.
Our third dive on Apo Island for this diving excursion on the Philippines: Rock Point
Rock Point is another impressive scuba diving site! First of all the amount, and variety of species, of nudibranchs, are remarkable at this dive site. They are all to be found among the amazingly colourful and healthy soft corals. There are also hard corals and sponges to be found all over the place. We spot frogfish, among a turtle, triggerfish, and more common reef fish. The current has picked up this afternoon so we enjoy another drift dive.
Fulfilment of my second mission of the diving day on Apo Island: a photo of the Pajama Cardinalfish
We end our dive at a protected spot, which is quieter and a bit away from the current, before going up to do our safety stop. And the divemaster (he must have an X-ray-vision!) shows me, once again, the Pajama Cardinalfish. This little fish is so quick, and again I feel like he is playing hideaway with me! Every time I get my camera ready, he quickly disappears in the hard corals. But at some point, I get him twice on camera. My mission is fulfilled! No better ending to finish this third dive of the day!
The local boat crew & scuba dive team from the Philippines create a great vibe during our Apo Island diving excursion!
I really like to mention our great local dive guide & instructor, who is leading all scuba diving during the day and has a great eye for even the smallest macro life. Without him, I would have missed a lot of interesting sea life! Also, the divemasters are incredibly helpful, keeping an eye constantly and attending to all divers in the group. The whole day, we have so much fun with all the staff of Harolds Dive Center, even on our way back to Dauin. They are chatting with us all the time, are in for many jokes and making us laugh. They definitely are a factor in creating a great vibe on the dive boat.
Harold´s Dive Center is environmentally conscious and serves in marine conservation on Apo Island and in the Philippines
Besides of not creating any plastic, the dive centre is also involved with coral replanting projects, removal of the crown-of-thorns starfish and cooperating with the regular ocean- and beach clean-ups. The scuba diving centre helps in building an artificial reef too. Not to forget that they always use local and fresh products for food on the dive boat, as well for the food provided in Harolds Mansion, always buy the supplies in their own big containers and refuse to take throw away plastic from their suppliers.
Harold, the local owner of the scuba diving centre, is involved with ocean conservation and marine biology projects in the Philippines
At the end of the day, Harold tells me that he volunteers on a regular base. He has done volunteering for ´Green Peace´, ´Save Philippines Seas´, a project involved with marine conservation on the Philippines, Project Seahorse, and Zero Waste Negros. He also works together sometimes with students or projects from the marine biology faculty of the university in Dumaguete, with things as reef fixing projects, fish restoration, laboraty work, monitoring and much more.
Harolds Dive Center is under Filipino management and supports the local population of the Philippines
All of this, together with the big amount of Filipino staff working at the diving centre and their positive attitude, I can see that this scuba dive centre helps not only the environment. The dive centre is extremely sustainable and helps in ocean conservation, protects the environment, supports the local population of the Philippines and provides a great guest experience for their divers, snorkellers and travellers.
Dolphins & different whale species are seen during scuba diving on Apo Island
Harold also tells me a bit more about the scuba diving in general. “Sometimes bigger stuff pass by here”, says Harold Biglete, owner of Harold´s Divecenter, “Because there is a channel between Negros and Siquijor Island, everything is possible.” He tells me that sometimes dolphins, blue whales and pilot whales pass through the channel. Also, the whale shark has been seen scuba diving here. He continues to tell me that Apo Island is more famous for reef fish, the huge schools of jackfish, reef dwellers and macro life but that they also have seen the thresher shark and manta rays.
More information about this scuba diving centre in Dumaguete on the Philippines
Harolds Dive Center is a SSI scuba dive centre but courses from PADI and SDI & TDI (scuba diving international) are available too. The diving centre offers guided diving and courses from the above organisations. The dive centre has 15 years of experience, is probably the most affordable diving centre in the area and has well-maintained scuba equipment available for rent. They are opened all year round and next to scuba diving, they offer snorkel tours and other excursions around Negros Island. The dive centre is a sister company of ´Harolds Mansion´, offering you affordable and eco-friendly accommodation during your scuba diving holiday. Click on this link for more information about Harolds Dive Center.
Harolds Dive Center is completely in line with the Splashpacker ethics
As an independent Splashpacker, but at the same time being a friend of the owner of this dive centre, I can say that I always provide my honest opinion. I honestly think that this scuba dive centre is completely in line with the Splashpacker ethics, looking at the following points:
- environmental friendly and consciously reduce plastic waste
- positively attitude to keep the oceans healthy and marine conservation
- use of local products and support of the local population
- creating an excellent guest experience
- sustainable & eco-conscious scuba dive accommodation for your diving holiday
How to get to Dumaguete on Negros Island in order to do scuba diving on Apo Island?
There are a few options to reach Dumaguete on Negros Island in the Visayas region in the Philippines. From Cebu, the most affordable way is to buy a combination ticket for the bus and boat, you can also take a ferry from Cebu or book a national flight from Cebu to Dumaguete. From Manilla, the easiest way is to book a flight to Dumaguete Airport. No matter if you´re looking for your international flight ticket to the Philippines, your national tavels to Dumaguete, or a combination of both, you can always scan the best deal for your transport on 12go.asia
Looking for a room in the budget accommodation of Harolds Mansion in Dumaguete?
I can recommend staying in Harolds Mansion during your stay in Dumaguete. You are at the right place to book your scuba diving to Apo Island and to do other excursion or travel on. The place is located at walking distance from Dumaguete port and is also a nice place to meet other scuba divers. There´s a full vegetarian menu available on the rooftop restaurant and the place is extremely affordable. I will soon write a full article abou this eco-friendly accommodation, but for the moment you can find more information or book the place by clicking on this link.
What more to expect about the Philippines, on Splashpacker?
As always, I am excited when I find eco-friendly and sustainable projects, serving nature and the local population. Therefore, I am already planning of writing another article about my stay in Harolds Mansion and about my experience going shore diving in Dauin. Also, I have visited a friend and colleague diving instructor in Anda on Bohol Island. In 2012, I travelled all around the Philippines, you can read more about that in my book Safety Stop. When I find more time I will definitely write a general article about diving & travelling the Philippines. The country has a special place in my heart!
Happy bubbles, safe travels and keep on smiling!