Diving Anilao, Philippines: Macro Paradise

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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