The Philippines is world renowned for its kaleidoscopic coral reefs, incredible array of tropical reef fish and some of the most unusual critters in the ocean. El Nido is located at the north western tip of Palawan Island and is famous for its rugged looking limestone cliffs, aquamarine lagoons, white sand beaches and, of course, stunning dive sites.
Here are just a few of El Nido’s most revered dive sites to entice you. Don’t be surprised when you find yourself reaching for your wetsuit!
It’s almost impossible to discuss diving in El Nido without South Miniloc being mentioned. South Miniloc is easily El Nido’s most famous and talked about dive site – and for good reasons! The colourful sponges, delicate cabbage corals and intricate array of branching corals form the perfect backdrop to the schools of fish and passing pelagics which can be seen here. Wide angle underwater photographers will not be disappointed with the reef scene before them. Look out for schooling snappers and mackerels, solitary great barracuda which are often hunting, as well as menacing-looking tuna. If you can stand to tear yourself away from the action in the blue, there is a wealth of critter life to be found among the corals including frogfish, nudibranch and electric blue ribbon eels.
Nat-Nat is located off a limestone island and it’s the closest dive site to El Nido town. This combination site offers sandy patches, rubble areas and reef, and you’ll find that the marine life here is as equally diverse. Colourful nudibranch can be found on just about any surface they can find, large sea turtles like to stop here to graze, anemone fish dart in and out of their colourful hosts and more unusual species such as gurnards are often spotted on the sand along with sting rays and Spanish dancers. If you like crustaceans you’ll be spoiled for choice by the various crabs, shrimps and lobsters which can be found here – especially when making night dives, which are highly recommended!
Located near Miniloc, North Rock is a ‘must dive’ site for anyone who is hoping to see larger marine life and pelagics – North Rock is all about Big Fish! The location of the site means that it is frequently visited by deep water fish and you never know what you might see next. The site offers a swim through and a nearby cleaning station which attracts amber jacks and pompano. Other species that are often spotted here include barracuda, big eye trevally, turtles and sting rays.
…and did we mention that whale sharks are occasionally spotted here too?
Helicopter Island is the nickname given by the locals (and now visitors) to Dilumacad Island due to its unique shape. There are a number of different dive sites here which boast a bountiful backdrop of vibrant corals and impressive bommies. Sea turtles (both hawksbill and green sea turtles) are a definite highlight of diving here and during the summer season you can see numerous turtles feeding on the sea grass beds in a single dive. Helicopter Island’s dive sites are suitable for all levels of divers with generally easy conditions for beginners and a huge array of marine life for more seasoned divers to feast their eyes on. Other highlights include schooling yellow tail barracuda and fusiliers, juvenile batfish in the shallows, ribbon eels, pipefish and cuttlefish. There are excellent photography opportunities for those shooting macro.
Twin Rocks is another iconic El Nido dive site and if you are a diver who likes to explore interesting topographies, this is the site for you. From the surface the dive site looks as though it is comprised of two separate rock formations, however, venture underwater and you’ll see that the two rock pinnacles are connected. The site is home to some impressive boulder and rock formations, including a cavern and a swim through. It is also characterized by an array of table corals, sea whips and colourful sponges. Seasonally, Twin Rocks is the best dive site in El Nido to spot a variety of ghost pipefish species including the ornate (also known as the harlequin). Look out for them in their unique nose down/tail up position and remember that they are often found in pairs – so if you see one, look around for its partner!
Located in the Miniloc area, around 40 – 45 minutes from El Nido, Paglugaban is an underwater playground for scuba divers. The site is home to some of the most incredible underwater rock formations and swim throughs in El Nido. When you start looking more closely, you’ll find that the rocks and boulders are adorned with a plethora of different nudibranch species which change seasonally. The shallow water coral garden often attracts sea turtles and when the sun is overhead the corals are a captivating explosion of colour!