Archive for the ‘Shops & Resorts’ Category

For the Love of Cephalopods at Atlantis Dive Resorts

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

Perhaps because of their sci-fi appearance, cephalopods tend to intrigue many divers. They’re highly intelligent, able to problem-solve, and have innate camouflage abilities that can be hypnotic, not to mention that they can be highly charismatic video or photo subjects. That is if they’re not being altogether elusive.

Sightings are rare at most dive locations, and often limited to very specific spots or night dives. We can hunt for an entire dive, turning over rocks and pulling out shells in search of a tentacle, only to be disappointed time and again.

One place this won’t happen is the Philippines, especially in the Dumaguete and Puerto Galera areas. While staying at the Atlantis Dive Resort near Dumaguete, we were treated to not only sightings but also to extended interactions with several cephalopod species, including a couple we had never seen before, two of which are deadly. It would have seemed that with each dive and subsequent octopus, squid, or cuttlefish interaction that our excitement would wane, but that never happened. Even the Atlantis dive guides, who get to see these critters nearly every single day, still seemed excited to find them. The untrained eye can struggle to spot these masters of disguise, but since the Atlantis guides do see them so often, they’re pros at picking them out quickly from their blended backgrounds.

We saw wunderpus, coconut octopus, blue-ringed octopus, ocellated (mototi) octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish, crinoid cuttlefish and pharaoh cuttlefish most often during the day dives. At night, the bobtail squid would show their cute little faces while algae and coconut octopuses continued to steal the show. Though we didn’t see any while we were there, mimic octopuses are known to hang out in the area, along with hairy octopus, starry night octopus, two-toned pygmy squid, and bigfin reef squid. Although we would have loved to see a nautilus, we didn’t have any luck. However, sightings have been reported near the Atlantis resorts.

While there’s lots of unique marine life to be found in the Dumaguete area, if you’re looking for some cephalopod interactions for photo, video, or just for personal interest, we highly recommend heading to the Philippines. Bring some patience and good buoyancy control, and have a big “thank you” ready for the Atlantis Dive Resorts dive guides.

By Kenzo Kiren

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An Atmosphere of Giving in the Philippines

Saturday, February 27th, 2016

The owners of Atmosphere Resorts, Matt and Gabby Holder, saw an opportunity to give back to the community that they now call home. But far from just giving handouts, the couple opted to offer knowledge and opportunity to help locals help themselves. What followed is a testament to the intelligent philanthropy of a conscientious couple, as well as the determination and desire of the community around them to work hard to improve their own situations. The couple made it very clear that they didn’t feel like Atmosphere Resorts did much at all, but merely served as a catalyst, a spark that lit the way for the local Filipinos to follow, if they chose to do so.

Soup kitchen

Seeing a need in the community, the Holders hired an expert at establishing successful soup kitchens in impoverished areas. They engaged the parents of local children to volunteer in the kitchen so they had ownership and responsibility in the success of the endeavor. The kitchen has grown to serve 80 children a day, providing a balanced, nutritious lunch five days a week throughout the year.


Located about 30 minutes away from the resort, the kitchen is fully funded by Atmosphere with the occasional contributions given by guests who’ve toured the kitchen on one of the resort’s twice-weekly visits.

In order to encourage education, every day that a child attends the local community school they receive a ticket for a free meal at the kitchen, and nearly all of them participate. The kitchen weighs the kids to make sure their weight is healthy, as well as providing toothbrushes, floss and school supplies. All of the food is sourced locally, further contributing to the betterment of the community.


Crafts from recyclables

Even the local dump sparked an idea in the minds of the Holders. They noticed that some locals were rummaging through the dump, looking for anything of value. With some assistance from outside resources, they taught many of the local women how to make jewelry from recyclables such as aluminum cans, magazines, leather and cotton. They’ve turned a dump into a source of beauty, fashion, and most importantly – income.


For the parents of the children in the community school, the jewelry they make has become the sole means by which they support their families. This endeavor has become a thriving business, Lumago. The women of the group create new designs and continue to improve upon the quality of their products. All of their items – bracelets, necklaces, keychains, purses and bags are for sale in the Atmosphere Boutique.

To expand upon this initiative, Atmosphere Resorts is providing a platform for a sewing co-op so that new members can increase their skillset and tap into additional markets for income.


Piggy Project

One of the latest ventures for the community is what Atmosphere has called the Piggy Project. The resort gives local families piglets to care for and raise to adulthood. The families provide the food and care for the pig and, when it’s fully grown, they sell it at the market for a considerable profit. The families are able to pay Atmosphere back for the cost of the piglet (no profit for Atmosphere), take some profit for themselves, and then invest in purchasing another piglet.


After having children of his own, Matt felt as though the local schools were lacking, and that the better educational facilities were too far away and far too expensive. Beginning with just three students in their own living room, the Holders started a private school on Atmosphere Resorts property. That living room has grown into a Philippine Accredited school with 30 students, which is also a member of the Council of British International Schools. The school has a significant tuition cost, but it’s far less than the cost of any of the private schools in Manila. It’s a non-profit school, funded by Atmosphere and the tuition costs.   Having a quality school nearby allows expats with children the opportunity to live and work in the area, as well as giving locals another option to the more expensive Manila schools. Right now, the school serves children up to 10 years old, but they are aiming to expand the age group, as well as increase the number of children from 30 to 60, with a maximum of 12 students per teacher. To the Holders, the best part of the curriculum is that it’s transferable to other countries, so children attending here are not behind any other country’s standards.


Credit where credit is due

The Holders feel strongly that the success of these endeavors is owed entirely to the people who benefit the most from them. They feel that it took so little effort on the resort’s part to put things in motion since the people of the community were eager to jump onto the opportunity. Matt in particular aims to speak to other resort owners across the world and share these ideas and the means by which their resort was able to see them to fruition. He hopes to put to rest to rest the misconception that this kind of philanthropy is difficult and expensive, and that resorts across the world will follow in Atmosphere’s footsteps.

Check out our video of Atmosphere Resort

Atmosphere Resorts, PhilippinesCheck out our latest video episode featuring Atmosphere Resorts in the Philippines!

Posted by Scuba Diver Life on Sunday, January 31, 2016

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Diving Anilao, Philippines: Macro Paradise

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

Diving in Anilao, Philippines is an eye-opening experience, as long as you go with the right expectations. If you’re hoping to see big stuff such as mantas, sharks, large reef fish, or anything of that sort then you will be sorely disappointed. These animals are around at certain dive sites, but there’s never any guarantee. If, on the other hand, you understand that this a macro- and muck-diving paradise with some gorgeous, massive reefs thrown in for good measure that draw the occasional pelagic, then you’ll be overjoyed. Want to work on your photography in a slow-paced, easy-going environment? This is the place to be. We spent a week at Aiyanar Beach and Dive Resort and came away amazed by the diversity of critters we found underwater there.

The ever-elusive and extremely rare Rhinopias showed up on our first dive. Don’t know what that is? Neither did I, so I had to look it up. It’s a rare type of scorpionfish, the sighting of which excited even our guides. Anemones full of various clownfish, nudis everywhere, the occasional cuttlefish, eels, shrimp and scores reef fish were just a few of the highlights. The guides know the area well and seem to take a very personal interest in helping you find whatever you want see.

The reefs in the area have an array of soft and hard corals and sponges that can make for some dramatic wide-angle shots in dazzling colors. If you take your time and look closely, you’ll see nudis of nearly every size and color making their way across corals and rocks. My favorite critter was the flamboyant cuttlefish, though. Having never seen a cuttlefish before, I was so excited to be in an area like the Philippines where they are plentiful. The guides managed to find three of them on one dive for me, one of which was of the flamboyant variety. All three of us could have watched it for the entire dive as it strutted across the ocean floor like a poster child for LSD.

Skeleton of a coral encrusted barge
Flamboyant cuttlefish putting on a show for us
A shot of one of the great food at Aiyanar
Leaf fish on a night dive
A very shy moray gliding through the coral
One of the many nudis to be found in Anilao
Scorpion fish hiding in plain sight
Star sea urchin on a night dive
There are many opportunities to get that great wall shot
Aerial view of Aiyanar Resort
Morays cuddling under a ledge
Sombrero Island in Anilao

The resort does three dives a day, plus a night dive if you’re so inclined and not too exhausted. We did two night dives while we were there, one at the pier and one on a large wall. On our first night dive we found a couple coconut octopuses, bobbit worms, decorator crabs and bobtail squid. The octopuses were the most charismatic, even a little touchy-feely as they reached out to our cameras. The squid were fast and aloof, darting out into the darkness and leaving us able to see only its eyes, glowing back at us. If you turned off your lights and waved your hand through the water, you’d see trails of phosphorescence. Mimic and blue-ring octopuses are known to frequent the area but we didn’t have any luck seeing one while we were there.

The diving can be pricey if you’re traveling solo. There’s a fixed price for taking the boat out and paying the guides, so adding another diver or two into the mix makes the price extremely reasonable. Most of the sites are within a 20-minute boat ride of the resort, but a few, such as Verde Island, are further out. These are only dived by request and must be scheduled ahead of time.

Pre-dive couldn’t be easier — you need only get yourself onto the boat since the crew handles your gear for you. Hydration is important and they carry ample water for each diver, as well as some coffee if you still feel the need for a pick-me-up after your salty plunges.

All in all, we found the diving in Anilao to be spectacular. We deemed it the hidden gem of the Philippines since we hadn’t heard much about the destination prior to arrival. The area has a lot to offer divers of all sorts — keep it shallow or head deep, stay on the reefs or muck it up. As long as you don’t expect to see great big critters, you’ll be pleased not only by the diving in Anilao, but also and specially with the Jedi-master guides of Aiyanar Resort.

For some incredible footage, check out our video here.

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An Atmosphere of Luxury in the Philippines

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

To hear owners Matt and Gabby Holder tell it, they started Atmosphere Resorts because they wanted more from a dive resort. They visited resorts around the world and found that all of them were lacking in one or more areas. The diving may have been great, but the food was sub par. Or the service. Or the hospitality. Since they couldn’t find what they were looking for in other resorts, they decided to build their own.

They chose the area south of Dumaguete on Negros Island because of the area’s premiere diving, as well as its location near the famed Apo Island. With unwavering hospitality, pristine beaches, spacious accommodations, an award-winning spa and food to die for, Atmosphere is setting a new standard for dive resorts across the world in just under eight years of operation. Oh yeah…and the diving is pretty great too.

luxury room

A Mix of Modern and Natural Accommodations

Let’s start with where you’ll rest your head after diving all day. Atmosphere offers three different room sizes, all of them spacious, clean and stylish. All of them feature eco-friendly air conditioning, large beds, flat-screen TVs, and plenty of room to unpack fully if you like. Stone floors and walls, mixed with bamboo and thatched roofs, make for a natural look and feel. The spacious bathrooms feature rainfall showers, as well as double sinks to avoid family or couple crowding. Large couches on the patio round out the room by giving you the option to relax outside.

luxury atmosphere milk bath

Sanctuary Spa

After you settle into your room, you’ve got an entire resort to enjoy — especially the resort’s Sanctuary Spa, an award-winning oasis of peace, serenity and rejuvenation. The spa offers all the services you would expect, and a few that may seem new to you: various types of massages, body scrubs, facials, body wraps, baths and the famous Watsu water treatment offered by only two other Philippine resorts.

Though the spa is smack dab in the middle of the resort, when you’re within its bamboo walls, it feels as though you’re in a different world. Serene background music blends with the sounds of the flowing waters in the pools and fountains, and each secluded massage area still feels open and spacious. Both the Watsu treatment and milk bath that I received made me want to move in to the resort permanently, not to mention causing me to forget all about my aching muscles and numerous jellyfish stings. The Watsu treatment alone was an incredible, almost spiritual experience that felt like being taken on an underwater dance. It’s something you have to experience for yourself.

Yoga with a View

If you feel the need to get bendy, yoga classes are conducted at sunrise in a cool treehouse overlooking the sandy beach. That kind of setting should make even the yoga-skeptic willing to at least give it a try. Group and private yoga sessions are available for all levels of yogis, including first timers and kids.

luxury yoga

Food to Die For

A self-described foodie and wine lover, Matt wanted the food at Atmosphere to be beyond reproach. Anyone who has eaten at their restaurant, Blue, will tell you that they succeeded, and then some. They source the food locally and the menu is full of options for nearly every palate including vegan, gluten-free, kids and healthy entrees for those counting calories. For those of us not counting the calories, their dessert menu has options that are sinfully exquisite —  I’ll be dreaming of that ménage a trois mousse for many weeks to come.

The food may be good enough for an upscale restaurant, but at Atmosphere you’re on a beachfront patio, so beach casual applies. Guests can also eat poolside, at the fully-stocked bar, at a private table for two to 10 guests in the treehouse, or in your room.  Flexibility is the name of the game here.

The resort hasn’t forgotten about oenophiles, with a wine cellar stocked with 500 bottles from wineries across the world, including boutique wineries. Last but not least, there’s a full-service coffee shop and bakery with cookies, cakes and other desserts next to their smaller pool.

Never-ending Hospitality

Okay, the rooms are great, the food is delectable, the views are inspiring and the spa makes you want to move in.  But the hospitality…wow, what can we say here other than hands-down, the hospitality at Atmosphere is the best we’ve ever encountered. Service at the restaurant and bar is prompt, friendly and casual. Water is refilled before you ask, chairs are pulled out, napkins are placed in laps, and anything you ask for is delivered promptly. This goes for all the staff in every regard — reception, the boutique, the spa, housekeeping, maintenance, the restaurant, bar and dive teams. Across the board, the staff made everything effortless and we never felt as though we were an imposition. Either the entire staff is made up of really good actors, or they all actually enjoy working the resort. I’m banking on the latter, and that in itself says a lot about how well the place is run.

With a Conscience

Behind all the luxury that Atmosphere offers is an eco-conscience. All hot-water heaters are solar, and they only launder towels left on the floor and change bedding every two days. They don’t use disposable shampoo and soap containers, opting for refillable ones instead. All of their waste is separated for recycling, and their AC units have energy-saving inverters. Their two crystal-clear pools are a mix of chlorine and salt, which greatly reduces the need for pool chemicals. Whenever they can, they use recycled and/or local materials, and they don’t provide any disposable plastic products, including water bottles. So, while you’re pampering yourself, you can still feel as though you’re doing so with an eye to aiding the environment. They don’t stop with just eco-friendliness, however; the resort is also community minded, an aspect I will cover fully in a separate article.

For a glimpse of the resort and all that it offers, check out our video here.

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An Atmosphere of Adventure in the Philippines

Monday, February 1st, 2016

Adventure at Atmosphere Resorts

Topside adventure at Atmosphere Resorts is not hard to come by. If you’re in the Philippines to dive, chances are good that you flew there, which means you’ll need a dry day before flying back from whence you came. Dry days can mean just relaxing at the resort, but they can also be an opportunity for exploration of the surrounding areas. Or perhaps you’re traveling with non-divers who want to stay entertained. Whatever the situation, Atmosphere Resorts can arrange several different dry outings for you depending on your particular interests.

Swim with Whale Sharks

Let’s start with the big one, literally. About 1 and ½ hour away from the resort you can swim with whale sharks in Oslob, well-known for the encounter. The activities here are controversial, but I’m not here to tell you how to feel about it, only provide you with the information. Local fishermen feed the whale sharks regularly, and like any animal looking for an easy meal, the whale sharks hang out here while being fed. The sharks are wild in that they are in no way confined to the area, and the locals have a lot of rules about what you can and can’t do in the water with the sharks, such as no touching, no chasing, no flash photography and no motor boats. And, they limit the amount of time per day that these activities can be performed.


I’ve gone into detail in this article, but these are the basics. For a small fee you will be paddled out to the feeding area and allowed 30 minutes to snorkel with these sharks as fishermen feed them handfuls of krill. Most of the sharks are juveniles, but even a small whale shark is pretty darn big. It’s a very easy activity and seems to be pretty well-managed. For most people, it’s a true delight to see these gentle giants so close and swim just feet away from them.

Dolphin and whale watching

About two hours away from the resort, between Negros and Cebu Islands is a waterway inhabited by several dolphin pods and whales. Atmosphere can get you there early in the morning when there’s a good chance you’ll see spotted, bottlenose, and spinner dolphins, alongside pygmy and dwarf sperm whales, melon-headed whales, pygmy killer whales and pilot whales, making for a truly exciting morning for anyone who enjoys dolphin and whale watching.


After spending so much time in the water, you might want to try flying through the air. About 30 minutes from the resort, near Valencia, is the aptly names Rush Zipline. For 600 yards you can fly through the trees with the ease of Tarzan — only a little safer, since you’ll be securely strapped to a high density cable. You do get a choice of riding styles, which in my experience is quite unusual. You can go the normal way, but you can also try the Superman or inverted, and even tandem.

Valencia Hot Springs and Pulang Bato Waterfall

While you’re in Valencia, check out the hot springs and local waterfall. Naturally hot and slightly sulfurous, the Valencia Hot Springs are manmade pools fed by a natural spring. The nearby Pulang Bato waterfall is a perfect way to cool off after a dip in the hot water.


How about a three hour tour of the mountains via an ATV? This topside activity takes guests by volcanic hot springs, through a tropical rain forest, and provides amazing views of the ocean and nearby islands of Apo and Siquijor, all with a little adrenaline rush to boot.

Casaroro Falls

This waterfall is the largest of its kind nearby, and also a little harder to get to — we paired it with the Oslob visit. At 120 feet (40 m) tall, these falls are quite impressive. The downside is that it’s a bit of a hike to get to and, more importantly, to get back from. You must trek down 300 stairs to get to the water, then boulder-hop around and over the river to get to the falls itself. It’s well worth the effort, but do keep in mind that you’ll have to go back up those 300 stairs to get back to the van, so be sure to cool yourself off well in the water at the bottom before starting the arduous journey back up.


Atmosphere can arrange any of these trips and transport you via an air-conditioned van, with a picnic lunch and a private guide. Any of these are a great way to spend a dry day, or just to see a bit more of the amazing Philippines.

For a glimpse of the resort and all that it offers, check out our video here.

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