If you want a truly remote yet spectacular diving experience, then Tubbataha in the Philippines should be at the top of your bucket list. Choosing the best Tubbataha liveaboard for your diving style will help you make the most out of this incredible dive spot which has thriving biodiversity and dramatic underwater landscapes.

The area was only discovered in the late 1970s but its coral reefs have quickly become a favorite among divers. The Tubbataha Reefs Natural park is a protected marine area spanning over 97,000 hectares. With over 600 species of fish and 360 species of corals, Tubbataha is a diver’s dream.

The marine park is made up of two large coral atolls, which can only be visited on a liveaboard boat. To help protect the reserve, all divers need to pay conservation fees to help prevent the park from being exploited illegally.

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QUICK ANSWER – THE BEST TUBBATAHA LIVEABOARD TRIPS

ATLANTIS AZORES  (Overall Value)

DISCOVERY PALAWAN  (Budget)

SEADOORS  (Social Travelers)

DISCOVERY ADVENTURE  (Flexible Itineraries)

SOLITUDE ONE  (Photographers)

PHILIPPINE SIREN  (Seasonal Transition)

 

 

 

COMPARISON TABLE – THE 6 BEST TUBBATAHA LIVEABOARD BOATS

 

 

 

TUBBATAHA LIVEABOARD REVIEWS

DISCOVERY PALAWAN

Photo Credit: Discovery Palawan Liveaboard

BEST FOR → BUDGET

Tubbataha Reef is not a budget liveaboard destination, but this is the region’s most affordable option. Don’t let the low price tag trick you, though. This boat is highly rated for its fantastic customer service, outstanding food, and knowledgeable local guides. Generous common areas, stylish full bar, options for shared cabins, and multiple sun decks make a perfect pick for social divers, too. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly seasonal transition trip, this is your best bet.

 

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SEADOORS

Photo Credit: Seadoors Liveaboard

BEST FOR → SOCIAL TRAVELERS

If you enjoy little perks like a camera table, on deck jacuzzi, tech and rebreather support, and individual equipment stations, this boat might be your best fit. With just 16 guests onboard, it’s one of the region’s most intimate, too. Best of all, the Atlantis Azores offers special Tubbataha Reef itineraries that are a full day and night longer than other liveaboards visiting the park, making it an excellent value for money.

 

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DISCOVERY ADVENTURE

Photo Credit: Discovery Adventure Liveaboard

BEST FOR → FLEXIBLE ITINERARIES

This highly rated smaller sister vessel to the MV Discovery Palawan is a top pick for divers in Tubbataha. And, cabins are available at multiple price points, making it an excellent choice for divers on every budget. Flexible itineraries lasting between 6 and 8 days even include a unique, shortened seasonal transition. Renovated in 2017, this is the region’s most updated option, with plenty of room to relax or stretch your legs between dives.

 

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SOLITUDE ONE

Photo Credit: Solitude One Liveaboard

BEST FOR → PHOTOGRAPHERS

This ex-merchant marine vessel is one of region’s most spacious and luxurious. Photographers will enjoy individual equipment and camera stations, a state of the art photography room, and small dive groups. Little perks like hair dryers and bathrobes, fresh towels after every dive, and massage service, help this liveaboard retain its luxury feel. And, the on-deck hot tub and multiple sun decks are perfect for relaxing between dives.

 

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ATLANTIS AZORES

Photo Credit: Atlantis Azores Liveaboard

BEST FOR → OVERALL VALUE

If you’re looking for little perks like a camera station, on deck jacuzzi, and spacious cabins, this boat might be your best bet. Just 16 guests share the spacious vessel, making it one of the region’s most uncrowded, too. Best of all, the Atlantis Azores offers special Tubbataha Reef itineraries that are a full day and night longer than other liveaboards visiting the area. Technical and CCR diving is available, but requires advanced booking.

 

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PHILIPPINE SIREN

Photo Credit: Philippine Siren Liveaboard

BEST FOR → SEASONAL TRANSITION

An oversized shaded dive deck, free Nitrox and equipment rental, and individual camera stations make this liveaboard perfect for divers looking to make the most of their time underwater. Modern and spacious cabins, well-appointed common areas, and chef-prepared meals make it easy to relax during surface intervals. And, with a whopping 14 days at sea, this boat’s seasonal transition explores all of Tubbataha Reef and the best sites en route to Cebu, all in one trip.

 

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HOW TO CHOOSE A LIVEABOARD IN TUBBATAHA, PHILIPPINES

TIME OF YEAR

The only time of year you can visit Tubbataha for diving is from mid-March until mid-June. It’s a short diving season, but the conditions are great with excellent visibility up to 150 ft (45 metres) as well as clear skies and calm seas. Water temperatures rarely drop below 80F (27℃).

 

GROUP SIZE

Tubbataha liveaboards can range from an intimate group with just over a dozen divers to larger groups of over 30 divers. If you prefer a quieter, smaller boat and more of a diving-family feel, then choose a liveaboard with around 16 maximum guests.

Some liveaboards cater for non-divers too, so in a larger group you may have a few more ‘add-ons’ such as other family members doing other activities such as kayaking or snorkeling. This is a better option if you want to bring along a spouse, friend, family member or children who don’t want to dive the whole time.

 

MARINE LIFE

Because the diving season is so short in Tubbataha there isn’t too much variation in marine life over those three months. But expect to see sharks, turtles, dolphins, whales and manta rays as well as lots of coral species among the 600 species of fish life.

 

UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY

Are you an underwater photographer who plans on shooting during your liveaboard trip? You’ll want to make sure your chosen boat has somewhere to clean your camera equipment after each dive and rinse housing off with fresh water to avoid saltwater corrosion. You may also want an area to edit photos and do work on your laptop so consider what facilities each liveaboard has that will suit you when you aren’t in the water.

 

DIVER TRAINING

You don’t have to be an advanced diver for most liveaboard options, but some sites may be for more experienced divers. Most liveaboards also offer diver training courses with either PADI or SSI if you choose to advance your diving or focus on a particular specialty, such as Nitrox diving.

 

BUDGET

You’ll also need to consider what your budget is for your trip and whether you want a luxury adventure or something more affordable. While the cost of the liveaboard may seem like a lot initially, keep in mind that it includes all your diving, accommodation and meals for the duration of your trip. Be prepared to pay at least $220 per day for the cheapest option.

 

WIFI & CHARGING STATIONS

If you plan on working remotely during your liveaboard trip, look for a boat that has internet access. Most liveaboards have some kind of charging station for cameras, phones and laptops but not all of them have internet onboard.

 

LENGTH OF TRIP

Because the diving season in Tubbataha is so short, most liveaboards which travel to this area have set durations for their trips. Some may be as short as 5 nights while others extend to 10 nights. Consider how much diving you would like to do and factor in your budget when deciding the duration of your trip.

 

 

 


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DIVING ITINERARIES AT TUBBATAHA REEF 

TRADITIONAL TUBBATAHA

Tubbataha Reef is only accessible to liveaboard divers, and the season lasts just four short months. Traditional itineraries visit both the northern and southern atolls, as well as Jessie Beazley Reef. Extended voyages within the park may repeat some sites, but the extra tanks are well worth it!

Conditions throughout the region are ideal for experienced divers and underwater photographers. You can expect bottomless walls, brightly lit shallow and fringing reefs, and plenty of muck, too. The strong currents and open ocean conditions in Tubbataha make for some of Asia’s most colorful drift dives. And, they create a perfect environment for large migratory pelagics like sharks and rays.

 

SEASONAL TRANSITION

Thanks to its remote location, most liveaboards depart Puerto Princesa at the end of the diving season. Thankfully, the need to change anchorage creates an exciting opportunity for transitional itineraries. These voyages spend anywhere between 9 and 14 nights exploring the best of Tubbataha, and the waters around Cebu, including Apo, Bohol, and the Cagayan Islands.

Where exactly your seasonal transition takes you will depend on how many days you spend at sea, the experience level of divers onboard, weather, and the trip’s price point. If you have your heart set on a specific area outside of Tubbataha, inquire with your liveaboard operator well in advance.

No matter which route you choose, the diving in this area will amaze you. The more days you can spend underwater, the better. If you are diving on a budget, consider forgoing a few creature comforts in favor of extra dive days. You won’t regret it!

 

 

 

VIDEO – SCUBA DIVING IN TUBBATAHA

 

 

 

BEST DIVE SITES IN TUBBATAHA

JESSIE BEAZLEY REEF

Every itinerary in Tubbataha includes a trip to this submerged reef in the park’s northwestern corner. These remote waters are home to some of the region’s strongest currents, and of course plenty of big fish. Hammerhead sharks are the stars of the show, but reef sharks, silky sharks, and even whale sharks visit here, too. Macro enthusiasts can also explore the shallows at this site, where nudibranchs, frogfish, and other strange invertebrates are found in abundance. The reef is quite small, but you’ll dive it more than once thanks to its stunning biodiversity and distance from the rest of the atoll.

 

THE FAR NORTH

The northern atoll’s dive sites vary in composition, but you can expect massive coral and sand plateaus, teeming with tropical reef fish. These sites are relatively shallow, making them the park’s most popular for night diving. Reef sharks, whale sharks, manta rays, and silky sharks wait their turn at the cleaning stations by day. After dark, guitar sharks, sleeping turtles, and a variety of macro life appear. The north is well loved by underwater photographers, with plenty of opportunities to shoot in both macro and wide angle.

 

CENTRAL NORTHERN ATOLL

The most famous dive sites in Tubbataha Reef are centrally located, plunging, coral encrusted walls. At Amos Rock, divers will encounter the region’s most spectacular hard and soft corals, a vibrant backdrop for underwater photography. Massive gorgonian fans and sea whips flap in the current and giant schools of tropical fish like moorish idols, angelfish, and surgeonfish gather at the reef’s edge. Reef sharks, manta rays, and napoleon wrasse visit these walls too, waiting patiently at the busy cleaning stations. Nearby sites like Wall Street are home to sheer walls, stunning coral gardens, and plenty of large pelagics passing out in the blue.

 

CENTRAL SOUTHERN ATOLL

If you’re on a mission to see big fish, these dive sites are your best bet. The steep walls in this part of Tubbataha aren’t known for their corals. Instead, divers gather at the reef’s rocky and current swept edge and wait for passing pelagics. White tip reef sharks, manta rays, and napoleon wrasse are frequent visitors. But, hammerheads and whale sharks do stop by as well. Photographers should plan for a wide-angle shootout with larger than life subjects. Many sites in this area are subject to strong currents and difficult surface conditions. But, they are well worth diving thanks to the incredible numbers of sharks and rays spotted on every dive.

 

THE FAR SOUTH

The whole of Tubbataha Reef is located within the Coral Triangle. But, when you’re diving the park’s southernmost reaches, the finest hard and soft corals in the Phillippines are on full display. Massive colonies of anemones with their resident anemonefishes, schooling anthias by the thousands, and a stunning variety of macro life lie in wait. Dive sites like the Delsan Wreck host many species of frogfish and nudibranchs. Don’t worry though; it isn’t all about the little stuff in the south. A submerged canyon, known as “the cut” is a great place to spot multiple species of sharks patrolling in the current. Excellent visibility makes the south popular for photography in both macro and wide angle.

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