The Philippines, home to some of the world’s best snorkeling

Thousands of potential snorkeling spots are found in the Philippines, which boasts more than 7,000 islands and nearly 10% of the world’s coral reefs.

While you can get into the water on most of the archipelago’s shallow reefs, 3 major regions stand out for their great, accessible snorkeling: the Visayas, including the islands of Cebu and Bohol; the north of the province of Palawan (including Coron and Busuanga); as well as the islands of Mindoro and Luzon, where the capital, Manila, is located.

Three colored phyllidia
The Philippines are one of the world’s best destinations for macro, especially nudibranchs. Here, a three-colored phyllidia photographed during El Nido Tour A.

Snorkeling in the Visayas (Cebu, Bohol, Panglao, Siquijor, Negros)

Located in the center of the archipelago, in the Visayas, the Cebu and Bohol areas are the Philippines’ snorkeling hotspots. Whether on the main islands or the small surrounding islands, you can snorkel many locations, offering a wide diversity of experiences.

Ocellaris clownfish
The ocellaris clownfish is easy to see in most of the Philippine reefs, like here at Tubod Marine Sanctuary.

The islands of Balicasag, Pamilacan, Cabilao and Malapascua are among the most famous for their coral reefs and their snorkeling from the beach. There are also beautiful reefs around Siquijor, including the Tubod Marine Sanctuary, the Caticugan Marine Sanctuary and the Tulapos Marine Sanctuary, famous for its giant clams and shoaling barracuda.

The Visayas are an opportunity to attend the local “sardine run”, where visitors swim among shoals of thousands of sardines. Two spots are recommended for this fantastic experience: Moalboal, the most famous, on the west coast of Cebu, and Cliff Dive, an excellent alternative spot, on Panglao Island.

Snorkeling Moalboal
Snorkeling among large schools of sardines is a fantastic experience to live in the Philippines (here, in Moalboal).

While green sea turtles are occasionally encountered on many of the area’s reefs, Apo Island off Dauin, on Negros Island, is one of the best options to be sure to spot them. At this location, turtles are found by the dozen on the shallow reef flat facing the beach.

South of Cebu, Oslob is a world-famous spot for swimming with whale sharks all year round. Note, however, that this spot is controversial since whale sharks are fed there, which changes their natural behavior. Some have given up migrating, which explains their year-round presence along the coasts.

Shimizu Island, El Nido
The coral reef edging the islands of Shimizu (right) et Paglugaban (left) is the most famous snorkeling stop during El Nido Tour A.

Snorkeling in Palawan (Palawan, Coron, Busuanga)

In the western part of the archipelago, Palawan province includes the islands of Palawan, Busuanga and Coron. This is another great snorkeling destination in the Philippines.

El Nido and the Bacuit Archipelago, with its lagoons and steep cliffs falling into turquoise water, is for many an unmissable stop when visiting the country. Here, the same standardized boat tours are offered by most local agencies.

Tour A (around the islands of Miniloc, Shimizu, and Paglugaban) and Tour C (which route passes through the islands of Matinloc and Tapiutan) are often considered the best for snorkeling in El Nido. Tour B (which visits Pinagbuyutan Island and Snake in particular) and Tour D (around Cadlao) are also worth a detour.

Coral reef at El Nido
Although crowded, the Bacuit archipelago still boasts colorful and healthy coral reefs (here, at Matinloc Island, El Nido Tour C).

Elsewhere in the region, there are many other great snorkeling spots. Whether you are looking for a resort with a house reef (Sangat Island, Flower Island), day boat tours on protected reefs (Siete Pecados, Lusong Coral Gardens), or shallow wrecks (Lusong Gunboat), you’ll find what you are looking for in Palawan.

For unique experiences, opt for Coron’s Barracuda Lake and its fabulous mineral underwater landscapes, or for Calauit, a spot known for snorkeling with dugongs.

Snorkeling with dugongs in Calauit
Calauit is one of the best locations in all of Southeast Asia to swim with dugongs.

Snorkeling in Luzon and Mindoro

The islands of Luzon and Mindoro are also home to several famous snorkeling locations. Just a two-hour drive south of Manila, Anilao is renowned for macro, especially for its variety of nudibranchs, cuttlefish, frogfish and seahorses.

Right across from Anilao, on neighboring Mindoro Island, Puerto Galera is also a great option for snorkeling from the shore, especially around San Antonio Island.

Yellowbanded sweetlips
A pair of yellowbanded sweetlips encountered at Pandan Island reef.

Located on a small island a few kilometers from the west coast of Mindoro, Pandan Island is recommended if you are looking for a hotel with a “house reef ” in the area. If not staying at the resort, you can still visit the island with tours from Sablayan.

The west coast of Mindoro is also the starting point for exploring Apo Reef, in the Mindoro Strait. This atoll of nearly 40km2, one of the largest in Asia, is home to exceptional marine biodiversity.

What you can see while snorkeling the Philippines?

With more than 400 recorded coral species, the Philippine reefs are among the most beautiful in the world. Here you can see starfish, nudibranchs, giant clams, sea krait, and nearly a thousand species of reef fish.

Sea krait in Philippines
The yellow-lipped sea krait is occasionally sighted at Philippine reefs, like here in Cabilao.

While snorkeling on the country’s reefs, you will easily see anemonefish (the ocellaris clownfish, the spinecheek anemonefish, the pink skunk clownfish…), angelfish, butterflyfish, surgeonfish, and occasionally Maori wrasse.

Green sea turtles are common in many locations, especially on shallow seagrass beds near small islands beaches. A trip to the Philippines is also an opportunity to snorkel alongside two exceptional species: the whale shark, especially in Obod, and the dugong in Calauit.

Green sea turtle in Palawan
Encounters with green sea turtles in many spots of the Philippines, like here at Flower Island, Palawan.

If you are planning a trip to the Philippines, we recommend the excellent Reef fish ID: Tropical Pacific (also available in ebook), the reference guide to ID the fish you will encounter snorkeling across the archipelago.

When to go snorkeling in the Philippines

The climate of the Philippines is warm and humid year-round. With water temperature on average from 78 to 82°F (26 to 28°C), snorkeling is possible all the time, although you need to bear in mind the rain, which can be heavy at certain times.

From May to October, during the rainy season, the temperatures are at their highest, and typhoons may occur, particularly around July to September in Luzon region.

The dry season, June to September, probably represents the best period for snorkeling in the Philippines, with low rainfall and warm temperatures.

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