The Visayan islands are an idyllic landscape of white sand beaches, turquoise water, and thriving coral reefs. This is a massive diving area, and you can’t see it all in one trip. But, a Philippines liveaboard makes it possible hit all the hotspots. Visitors here can expect a stunning underwater experience, jam-packed with the Coral Triangle’s incredible biodiversity.
Simply put, this region has it all. Whether you’re hoping to explore caves and caverns, go deep in search of sharks, or watch the world go by on some of the planet’s most impressive reefs, the Visayas will not disappoint. Just be sure to pack a camera; you’ll want it where you’re going.
The Visayas is a top destination for liveaboard diving. But, don’t worry. We promise it’s easy to escape the crowds. Read on for the top boats, itineraries, and area highlights, handpicked by The Adventure Junkies.
QUICK ANSWER – BEST PHILIPPINES LIVEABOARD TRIPS (VISAYAS)
DISCOVERY PALAWAN → For Budget
SEADOORS → For Extended Itineraries
PHILIPPINE SIREN → For Luxury
ATLANTIS AZORES → For Experienced Divers
FLYING DOLPHIN III → For Quick Trips
Photo Credit: Discovery Palawan Liveaboard
BEST FOR → BUDGET TRAVEL
The Discovery Palawan is one of the region’s biggest boats, and a top pick for liveaboard divers on a budget. If you don’t mind sharing a cabin or forgoing a few little luxuries, her flexible 7 day itineraries are the best value in the region.
You’ll get more dives than with other similarly priced vessels at the same incredible dive sites as luxury trips. This liveaboard offers voyages suitable for all skill and experience levels from Open Water through tech. Plus, a full range of courses is available onboard beginning with Discover Scuba.
Photo Credit: Seadoors Liveaboard
BEST FOR → EXTENDED ITINERARIES
Liveaboard divers with time on their hands can’t go wrong with this boat’s 10 day itineraries. No matter which part of the Visayas islands you’re hoping to spend time in, Seadoors has a trip for you.
These extended voyages focus on less visited and secret dive sites, far from the tourist crowds. Perks like spacious indoor and outdoor camera stations, tech and rebreather support, and individual gear storage, make this a top pick for experienced divers and pros. And, optional cabin upgrades will keep even the most spoiled guests comfortable during their time at sea.
Photo Credit: Philippine Siren Liveaboard
BEST FOR → LUXURY
If you’re looking for the perfect combination of luxury and world-class diving, the Philippine Siren is your best fit. This boat promises the region’s most spacious and comfortable cabins, plush common spaces, top-rated cuisine, and spa services.
Plus, this vessel offers plenty of perks for experienced divers, too. Free Nitrox and equipment rental, spacious camera facilities, and personal gear stations make this a top pick for veteran liveaboard divers. Best of all, with a variety of trips lasting between 7 and 11 days, there’s an itinerary perfect for everybody.
Photo Credit: Atlantis Azores Liveaboard
BEST FOR → EXPERIENCED DIVERS
Underwater photographers, technical and rebreather divers, and wreck fanatics flock to this boat. Her voyages last 8 to 11 days, exploring the best of the Visayas and the famous shipwrecks of Coron.
No matter which itinerary you choose, you can expect this liveaboard to focus on your underwater experience. Top rated facilities include a three-tier camera table with blow dry, individual gear stations, and support for tech and CCR equipment.
But, The Atlantis Azores offers plenty of creature comforts, too. An on-deck hot tub, luxurious staterooms and suites, and a full bar keep guests feeling pampered between dives.
FLYING DOLPHIN III
Photo Credit: Flying Dolphin III Liveaboard
BEST FOR → QUICK TRIPS
If you’re planning a quick trip or a charter with friends, the Flying Dolphin III is your best option in the region. This boat offers just one itinerary, but it’s tailor-made for experienced divers looking to make the most of a limited time frame.
You’ll visit the very best sites around Apo reef and the wrecks of Coron Bay in 5 days. This is also the region’s smallest liveaboard, holding a maximum of 8 guests. So, you can expect a friendly family-style atmosphere onboard. Keep in mind that this liveaboard’s trips cater to advanced and wreck divers with at least 50 logged dives..
CONSIDERATIONS – SCUBA DIVING IN THE VISAYAS, PHILIPPINES
Intermediate. The Visayan islands are a large and diverse liveaboard destination with sites suitable for all kinds of divers. You can expect everything from calming coral reefs to challenging technical dives and wreck penetration here. Be sure to check your itinerary’s prerequisites before booking. And, choose a trip that matches your levels of comfort, certification, and experience.
5 to 11 days. Classic trips spend 8 days cruising around the Visayas, focusing on the central archipelago. But, flexible itineraries in this region lasting anywhere between 5 and 11 days allow you to dive as much or as little as you’d like. If time and budget aren’t a concern, longer is better thanks to the size and diversity of this destination.
Liveaboards operate in the Visayas between October and June. During these months you can expect good weather and plenty of wildlife, especially from December to April. Between March and June, many boats move to nearby Tubbataha Reef. So, your options for itineraries might be limited. And, if you’re hoping to dive the wrecks of Coron Bay, the best conditions are during January and February.
No matter when you visit, the Visayas will be hot and humid with frequent downpours. Plan for ocean temperatures between 79 and 84° F (26 and 29° C). A shorty might be warm enough in this region, but most divers prefer a full 3mm suit to protect against cuts, scrapes, hydroids, and jellyfish. And, it’s a must for wreck penetration.
Visibility in this region ranges from 49 to 131 feet (15 to 40 meters) unless you are diving the wrecks of Coron or muck sites around Dauin and Dumaguete. In these areas, silty conditions can cut water clarity down to just a few feet. You should always carry a torch and maintain contact with your buddy in low viz situations.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The Visayas is a chain of islands found in the central Philippines. Located in the far north of The Coral Triangle, one of the most biodiverse places on planet earth, this is a diver’s paradise. Thousands of tropical islands surrounded by vibrant coral reef comprise the region. But, diving in the Visayas isn’t just about colorful coral. Visitors can expect plummeting walls, shipwrecks, marine megafauna like sharks and rays, and super strange macro life, too.
Because this is such a large and diverse region, you won’t be able to see it all in one trip. The Visayan islands would require months to explore fully. So, most itineraries focus on one specific diving area. Other themed trips concentrate on distinct attractions like sharks or shipwrecks. No matter which part of the Visayas your liveaboard visits, you’ll want to spend as much time as possible here.
While many boats in this region allow newly certified divers to join their itineraries, you’ll get more out of the trip if you come prepared. Many of the best underwater attractions here aren’t for beginners. So, Advanced Open Water certification and 50 logged dives are a good foundation. More experienced divers can take their trips to the next level with Nitrox, gas blending, wreck penetration, and more.
HIGHLIGHTS – PHILIPPINES LIVEABOARD TRIPS
Unfortunately, local fishermen have begun feeding the resident population of whale sharks in Oslob. This practice is unsustainable and irresponsible, as it alters the sharks’ natural behavior. Divers should avoid these forced encounters, and opt to visit areas around the Visayas where the sharks gather to feed naturally. Your best chances for a chance encounter are around Moalboal and Pescador Island.
Each spring, large numbers of whale sharks visit the Mergui Archipelago to feast on plankton. Your best chances for diving alongside these massive filter feeders are between February and May, but the sharks inhabit these waters throughout the dive season. More remote dive sites in the less visited north and west offer the best chances for a surprise encounter with these oceanic giants.
Hammerheads can be seen throughout the Visayas, especially between December and April. During these months, the sharks move closer to the surface, so your chances for an encounter are much better. If swimming alongside these graceful predators is a priority for your trip, choose an itinerary that visits Cabilao and Panglao. Shark themed trips spend multiple days at both.
Manta rays are seen all year round throughout the Visayas. But, you’re most likely to spot them between December and April. These oceanic giants are easiest to observe and photograph while visiting the region’s cleaning stations. But, keep your eyes on the reef’s edge, especially around Apo and Panglao. You never know when one will cruise by out in the blue.
The wrecks of Coron aren’t technically in the Visayas, but liveaboards from this region visit them anyway. Second, only to Chuuk lagoon, this collection of WWII era sunken ships is one of the planet’s most impressive. Underwater photographers and technical divers can make the most of their time here with “wrecks only” trips focused on the best-preserved historic vessels.
While there are plenty of big fish in the Visayas, some divers prefer to search for the small stuff. Macro life in all shapes and sizes can be found here. Nudibranchs, frogfish, ghost pipefish, and all kinds of octopi are among the most exciting species on offer. If you’re diving in this area specifically for macro, you’ll love the sites around Dauin and Dumaguete.
ITINERARIES IN THE VISAYAS
The Visayan islands are one of Asia’s top diving destinations. And, the region is easily accessible compared when compared with similar diving areas in the Philippines and beyond. If you can only get away for 5 or 6 days, a quick trip isn’t out of the question. But, with some of the world’s most biodiverse dive sites on offer, there is no such thing as too much time underwater here.
Classic routes through the archipelago lasting 7 to 8 days are an excellent introduction to the region. They visit the most impressive sites around Negros, Cebu, and Bohol, typically including 3 to 4 tanks every day. These trips are perfect for a first-time visit to the Visayas. And, with 20 or more immersions in the area, you’re sure to encounter some stunning wildlife.
QUICK TRIPS AND EXTENDED ITINERARIES
If you’re in the market for something a little different, the sky is the limit in the Visayas. Quick trips, lasting just 5 to 6 days are a good option for those who just can’t get away for long. Themed voyages, focused on rare wildlife or shipwrecks are popular with experienced divers and guests who have already seen the region’s highlights.
Extended itineraries spending up to 11 days at sea are available, too. These lengthy expeditions visit the most remote and impressive sites and allow divers more time at the very best spots. If you have the time and budget available, these longer trips are an outstanding value.
VIDEO – SCUBA DIVING IN VISAYAS, PHILIPPINES
BEST DIVE SITES AROUND THE VISAYAS: NEGROS
DAUIN AND DUMAGUETE
Dauin and Dumaguete are world-renowned for muck and macro diving. And, they earn their reputation! This region’s black sandy slopes are home to an incredible variety of critters and create the perfect dramatic backdrop for underwater photography. Favorite wildlife finds include flamboyant cuttlefish, frogfish, seahorses, ghost pipefish, and nudibranchs. But, other weird and wonderful creatures live here, too. Blue ring, mototi, mimic, and coconut octopus make for equally exciting photo subjects. And, a stunning array of crabs and shrimp are found here, too. Photographers should plan for macro and super macro. Pack plenty of lighting, and a snoot if possible.
APO AND SIQUIJOR
If you’re diving in the Visayas for healthy coral and fish-filled reefs, these islands are sure to impress. Apo is one of the best-protected marine parks in the Philippines. Nearby Siquijor is known for plunging walls covered in soft corals and fans, and shallow light-filled gardens full of macro life. Thanks to this area’s strong currents, plenty of large pelagics pass through, too. Schools of barracuda, jacks, trevallies, and manta rays cruise by in the blue. Most boats spend a day or two here, but photographers might want more time in these pristine waters.
BEST DIVE SITES AROUND THE VISAYAS: CEBU
MOALBOAL AND PESCADOR ISLAND
Divers are drawn to the sites around Moalboal and Pescador Island by healthy reefs and steep walls. But, the real attraction in this area is the sardine dive. Massive shoals of these baitfish gather here, creating an ever-shifting over the top visual experience. And, unlike other sardine runs around the world, the fish school here all day every day. Lucky divers can spot tuna, jacks, and even whale sharks feasting on these bait balls. Most liveaboards stick around to explore Pescador’s underwater tunnels, caverns, and caves. Less experienced guests can opt for reef and wall diving with colorful corals and plenty of fish.
Malapascua’s most famous dive site, the Monad Shoal, is a seamount known for close encounters with thresher sharks. Early morning immersions are best for spotting these shy predators as they visit the reef’s cleaning stations. Thanks to their large, light-sensitive eyes, they only emerge from deep water around dawn. Strobes and video lights are prohibited, so photographers should plan accordingly. Nearby Gato Island is a paradise for macro lovers. Frogfish, seahorses, and nudibranchs inhabit the healthy coral cover found in this marine reserve. But, the island is most famous for its impressive swim through, known as “The Cave”.
BEST DIVE SITES AROUND THE VISAYAS: BOHOL
Every year between December and April, Cabilao transforms into a haven for hammerhead sharks. During these months, groups of up to 100 are spotted, schooling along the island’s steep walls. Do keep in mind that this incredible dive destination isn’t for beginners. Like all places that attract big fish, you can expect strong currents suitable for drift diving here. And, the sharks congregate at depths below 100 feet (30 meters). So, advanced certification and experience diving in current is mandatory. Underwater photographers should plan for a wide-angle only safari, with large schools of sharks, jacks, barracuda, and tuna.
PANGLAO AND BALICASAG
Panglao Island is a diver’s dream thanks to its colorful coral and abundant marine life. Hammerheads and mantas are often seen here, especially during spring months. And, the island’s walls and slopes are home to an incredible variety of macro life, too. One island over, the Balicasag Marine Sanctuary is Bohol’s best diving area for schooling pelagics like jacks and trevallies. Massive tornado-like shoals are sometimes spotted just off the reef’s edge. The shallows around both of these islands are perfect for new divers and snorkelers thanks to their calm conditions and excellent visibility.
BEST DIVE SITES AROUND THE VISAYAS: WRECKS IN CORON
Often referred to as the best wreck dive in the Philippines, the Irako is certainly the most famous. She lies upright and intact, in 130 feet (40 meters) of water. This shipwreck is excellent for external exploration and features some of the best visibility in Coron Bay. You can expect to encounter massive grouper, schooling pelagics like tuna and jacks, and plenty of fish on her exterior. If you prefer penetration, several routes lead through this ship’s superstructure. The most popular of these visit the cargo bays and wheelhouse. Technical divers can opt to visit the engine and boiler rooms.
If you aren’t an experienced wreck diver but still want to experience the sunken wonders of Coron, the Olympia Maru is a great place to start. The ship’s exterior is swarming with marine life. Her hull has transformed into a colorful coral garden full of macro, and schools of pelagic fish are frequently seen circling the mast. Two large and open cargo holds are perfect for training dives and first time penetrations, making this site a top pick for those certifying as wreck divers. Other internal routes suitable for training lead to massive steel boilers and the engine room.
This is one of Coron’s largest and shallowest wrecks, with a massive main deck beginning at just 52 feet (16 meters). Thanks to her depth, the Okikawa’s exterior has become a thriving artificial reef, encrusted with coral. This shipwreck is also one of the area’s best for reef fish and macro, especially nudibranchs. If you’d rather explore the ship’s interior, there are plenty of penetration routes open to wreck and tech divers. The most famous of these leads up the propeller shaft from the ship’s hull and ends in the engine room.
A tech diver’s dream, this Japanese seaplane tender lies on her port side in just over 100 feet (30 meters) of water. Her massive crane collapsed on the sandy bottom, and impressive anti-aircraft guns make for unique photo opportunities. But, the real reasons to dive this wreck are her challenging and fun penetration routes. The engine room is among the most impressive interior attractions, thanks to its 4 massive engines and various of machinery. The crane’s giant gears and inner workings also make for a fascinating deep dive. Keep an eye out for giant groupers hiding under the bow, and down the ship’s narrow corridors.
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