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.
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.
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.