Anilao in a nutshell


Anilao is macro heaven for underwater photographers, with great healthy reefs and a wide variety of the most sought-after Indo-Pacific critters in the local waters.


Intro To Anilao


Anilao is located about 3 hours drive south of Manila on the island of Luzon, in the Batangas province of the Philippines. Divers and underwater photographers are attracted to Anilao for the incredible diversity, rich reefs, variety of fish, unexpected critters and nudibranchs turning up at every corner. The beachfront resorts are nestled against the jungle and provide exotic scenery while riding to and from dive sites.

We started diving Anilao while it was still relatively unknown because of the abundant macro critter photo opportunities, and today it has a strong reputation with underwater photographers worldwide. Warm water temps, close proximity to dive sites and friendly resort staffs are also great travel perks.

Most dive sites are in the southern area, so resorts towards the south will have shorter boat rides to the dive sites. There are a couple good sites in the north, like the "Pier", but generally staying at a resort in the north means longer travel time to the sites.



Anilao Typical Dive


Diving is usually by a small open boat (bangka), which is comfortable for up to 4 divers plus a crew of 2-3. Dive sites are usually 10-25 minutes away from most resorts. The general schedule is 2 dives early in the morning, enjoying lunch and rest in the afternoon at the resort, and then 2 more dives in the late afternoon, with the last dive being a complete night dive. Frequent night dives are a must in Anilao and no visit would be complete without a muck dive at the pier! Dive time limits are less stringent than at other locations, and significant time can be spent in the shallows. Occasionally divers will encounter currents but the guides at the resorts we recommend dive according to everyone's skill and comfort levels. The guides are excellent critter-finders, which keeps photographers shooting for the entire dive.

Here is a sample of some of the critters divers may encounter in Anilao:


Overview of areas and best dive sites


"Twin Rocks" - one of the best. Prolific life at 10ft to 130ft and all depths between. Great for macro and wide-angle. Soft corals, schooling jacks, small fish, jawfish and much much more.

"Beatrice" - stronger currents, profusion of swarming anthias, great wide-angle opportunities shooting upward against corals

"Kirby's Rock" - great visibility, a beautiful wall filled with life, and a surprising number of good macro subjects

"Secret Bay" - popular muck site that sometimes has mimic octopus, wonderpus, pipefish, seahorses, frogfish and more

Muck sites - the "hot" muck sites change season to season, contact Bluewater Travel for the latest spots and critters seen.


Anilao Marine Life & Photography Subjects


Virtually every variety of juvenile fish and critter imaginable can be found in Anilao. Shrimp, crabs, nudibranchs, small squid and cuttlefish are arguably more plentiful than any other dive destination. Frogfish, pipefish and seahorses are also fairly common and we've even seen Rhinopias and Hairy Frogfish. Wonderpus, mimic and blue-ringed octopus can also be seen. Bobbit worms and many other critters await patient muck divers. Anilao has a large number of species of hard and soft corals - perhaps more than anywhere else in the world. Local guides take pride in locating even the smallest macro subjects living on the corals, oftentimes leaving photographers with a tough decision on which subject to shoot.


Larger marine life is also found in Anilao, including large schools of jacks, the occasional turtle and giant seahorses. At Mainit point, which has strong currents, we've seen up to 4 great barracuda hunting, along with giant and bluefin trevally. Reef sharks are occasionally seen down deep at dive sites with stronger currents and on very rare occasions people have seen small whale sharks.


Anilao has some unique soft coral forests, generally found at 70 - 130ft deep, which are mostly unexplored and can turn up rare critters such as seahorses and rhinopias.


Best Time To Dive Anilao


October to early June is the main diving season in Anilao. The best months are November / December and April/May, with April and May being the most crowded months at the resorts. July and August can have strong monsoons, so it's best to avoid those months. The critters and rich marine life are found year-round.

If you don't mind slightly cooler temps, then Jan - March is great too, and often has more critters underwater.


Anilao Water Temperatures


Water temp is generally 27.5C/81F but in January and February this can drop to around 25C/77F. We recommend diving in a 3mm full wetsuit with booties. Many divers choose to wear light gloves and occasionally a hood after several days of repetitive diving. Be sure to bring a light rain jacket, and ample sun protection.


Anilao Underwater Visibility


Visibility is typically 40-50ft.


Getting There


Anilao is about a 3 hour drive from the Manila International Airport (MNL), also known as Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Several major Asian airports run flights to MNL and serve as layovers for visitors from the US and Europe. Once clearing customs with checked bags, divers walk outside and take a tunnel down to the left where resort shuttle drivers are waiting with signs. The drive out of the city is exciting and you can catch glimpses of the colorful Manila city life through the window. 


Options for combination trips

Many divers combine Anilao with a trip to Puerto Galera, or Cebu / Dumaguete. Puerto Galera is just an easy hour speedboat ride away, while Cebu or Dumaguete are an hour's flight from Manila.


Non-Diving Activites


Anilao is relatively limited in terms of non-dive activities. There are no restaurants or nightclubs in the area. 4 dives a day and three meals is a full schedule, especially as an underwater photographer maintaining a camera rig. Bring a book, talk to new friends and take in the amazing sunsets on the days you're not night diving.


Reviews (5)


Anilao is one of my favorite places to dive in Asia. The marine life is incredibly diverse and abundant. Most of the life is small and best suited to macro photography, for example reef fish, sea slugs, crustaceans, cephalopods, and the like. What is so amazing about Anilao is that it is not uncommon to see very special and rare creatures, such as mimic octopi, wunderpus, coconut octopi, ghost pipefish, seahorses, stargazers, bobbit worms, and the list goes on. Some people call Anilao the "nudibranch capital of the world" and it kind of makes sense when you consider that it is possible to see 100 different species of sea slugs in a weeks' diving!

Secret Bay and Anilao Pier (best done as a night dive) are my 2 favorite sites for macro life, and Twin Rocks and Beatrice are my favorite wide-angle sites, but there are many many other great sites too and it is hard to go wrong. All the dive sites are located within a 15 minute boat ride of one another, so travel time between dive sites is limited. Conditions are usually good so the diving is easy and relaxed. Water temperatures can get chilly from November to April, with a low water temperature of around 24 degrees C, so bring a 5mm suit if you are planning to visit during those times. Typhoon season is around the middle of the year, when winds can be strong and there is a small risk of typhoons. This is low season and a great time to visit if you don't mind the winds. The water is also warmest in the middle of the year.

Topside activities are limited as each resort tends to be self-contained and self-sufficient. There are limited options for nightlife in the area it is really geared towards diving.

Visited on 05/2011 - Submitted on 08/24/2014

I was only able to dive for three days in Anilao. The resort I stayed at was good, the staff was wonderful, the food was great, and rooms and grounds were clean. I like that they had a separate camera room for camera gear. The resort I was at in Anilao was very quiet, I was not near the "town". I was just on the side of a hill with the ocean in front of me. Weather was hot and dry with minimal breeze while I was there. The one thing that is concerning is the built up of villages along the coast. There was a lot of trash near the shore in some places. If that continues the dive sites may deteriorate there which will be very sad.

The dives guides were very good finding many small creatures, such as rhino shrimp, harlequin shrimp, frog fish, and lots of nudies. I liked the Darllout, twin rocks, and the pier was good for night diving. Snorkeling was good at Bethlehem. I liked that Anilao had lots of small stuff and you could just putter around looking. There were no big critters like in Australia (e.g. sharks) which can be good or bad depending on what you are looking for. I was not looking for that so it was perfect for my needs. In many ways I thought the sea life was better than Thailand.

Diving was fairly easy and great for taking photos.

Visited on 03/2014 - Submitted on 06/14/2014

Never miss a night dive. Never. Ever. You never know what you'll find on a night dive in Anilao. The Pier, Arthur's Rock, Twin Rocks, Secret Bay - these and other sites have plenty of weird stuff out and about. Common and mimic and blue ring octopus, bobtail squid, magnificent and common cuttlefish. Spiny devilfish, stonefish, waspfish, a variety of scorpionfish including rhinopias. Stargazers and flatheads hiding under the sand. Anemones, some actively feeding, all enjoying the dark. Crabs and shrimps peeking at you from everyplace. An astonishing assortment of nudibranchs, including some mind-blowing mimics of various plants and corals. Flatworms and various mollusks out looking for love, or a meal, or both. Bobbit worms standing there with their jaws wide open, waiting for something to blunder into them.

But don't miss the daytime dives either. Most of the time, you are muck diving. No matter how bleak things may look from a distance at a particular site, sand and silt as far as you can see with only an occasional island of "life", take your time and look around slowly. There is plenty of life waiting for you to discover. Other sites may have coral rubble and nothing taller than a few inches standing above the plain. But critters are all over. Ghost pipefish, ornate and robust and hairy. Frogfish, seemingly scattered all over, some quite well camouflaged against the sand or a small outbreak of life among all that sand. Seahorses and pygmy seahorses, tiny pipefish anchored to a blade of seagrass. All types of dragonettes. Nudibranchs, some just out for a stroll, others having a meal of a sponge or some bryozoans or some coral ... or making a meal of another nudibranch. Or maybe enjoying the company (wink wink) of another nudibranch of the same species. Just look around carefully, and be astonished by what you, your dive buddies, and your divemaster find.

But then there are the lovely reefs of Anilao: Sombrero, Layag Layag, Mainit's Point, Beatrice, and many others. Corals of uncountable types as far as you can see. Clear blue water. All types of small fish flitting about. Anemonefish of nearly every type, inhabiting a stunning number of types of anemones. And still, there are small things to look for, if the beautiful reef hasn't distracted you.

The water temps when we visited in April/May were typically 82 degrees F, but some sites had upwellings of colder water at 78 F, and there's always the chance that you'll go deep enough to find some specific critter that you'll encounter a significant thermocline. Usually, there is no major current to deal with at most mucky sites, but some of the more clear water, wide angle sites could have strong currents if they are dived at the wrong time. Your topside activities will consist of whatever your resort has to entertain you, and walks through some of the little villages and small towns during your surface intervals. That's it. The Filipino people are wonderful hosts, happy to see you and glad to help you. And the Philippines are a bargain destination, when you consider the quality of diving.

If a diver is looking for lots of big fish, maybe even some pelagic life, and diving in clear blue water ... Anilao is not a suitable destination. If a diver wants to enjoy lots of shopping and nightclubs and casinos with major entertainers when not diving, Anilao will disappoint. If a diver really want to dive, and is looking for a place that has lots of critters, some really weird stuff, and is willing to look around in muck and sand and coral rubble carefully to find these strange animals .... Anilao is a destination that should be visited. And then visited again.

Visited on 04/2014 - Submitted on 05/25/2014

First of all I should say that this was dive #60-#67 for me. I was still pretty new to diving. I actually signed up for this trip not so much for the diving in Anilao, but the fact that we first went to Donsol and snorkeled with WHALE SHARKS! So, again I am a shark kinda girl. All I really cared about on this trip was seeing a whale shark. But, boy am I ever glad that this trip included diving in Anilao as part of the deal too!

NOTE: You can shore diving from some of the Anilao resorts - with very easy access and lots of critters! We did day and night dives from the shore!

I saw so many critters I had never seen before! I saw my first mantis shrimp, blue-spotted stingrays, nudibranches, ribbon eel, and PIGMY SEAHORSES, I also saw a ton of lion fish, pipefish, and stonefish that I dove with on Guam there were just so many more here. Some people on my boat saw leaf fish, regular sized seahorses, and frogfish…I did not. That's ok, it just inspired me to take many more trips to the PI (and yes, I have dove with all of those now). But, the point is all those critters are possible to find in Anilao. The only thing I didn't care for about the diving was the type of boat. It was small, cramped, and hard to get back into.

Overall, I enjoyed the diving very much! Honestly, I didn't even know what a pigmy seahorse or a nudibranch was until this trip! That was when I learned from wiser divers that some of the critters I saw are critters some divers wait their whole lives to I've with! Not gonna lie, I felt pretty awesome being able to say I dove with whale sharks and pigmy seahorses all within the same dive trip:)

Visited on 01/2010 - Submitted on 02/26/2014

I dove Anilao in April, 2009.

Conditions: all diving was done from traditional boats. The boats are comfortable, and most of the travel time was between 20-30 minutes, or less. Visibility ranged from good to great (20 ft to 43ft+), at least compared to the local conditions on the West Coast of Canada. Diving is easy, and applicable for all skill levels.

Marine Life: the diving is largely focused on small critters, and Anilao delivered during my stay. Some of the highlights include: wonderpus, peacock mantis shrimps (2) with eggs, a plethora of different nudibranch species, and frogfish galore.

Overall Value: flights are to Manila, and the transfer from Manila to Anilao is by car. Overall, the commute is relatively painless, and since the flight is to a major hub, and transportation is inexpensive, the value of Anilao is up there compared to other dive destinations in the region. Diving while I was there was some of the cheapest in the region.

I did not partake in any topside activities in Anilao, and am not really aware of any.

Visited on 04/2009 - Submitted on 02/04/2014