A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tubbataha is known as a diver’s Disneyland. Dive into the cyan sea and discover an underwater paradise populated with hard and soft coral and teaming with marine life.
Accessible only through a liveaboard, Tubbataha Reef is located 98 nautical miles from the closest major city, Puerto Princessa. This is where we would begin our adventure.
As we were on the transition journey, or the last trip of the season (Tubbataha is only accessible over the summer months of March – June), we would be aboard the Palau Sport as it made its way back to Mactan, Cebu.
Before arriving to Cebu, we would spend a few days exploring Tubbataha Reef before moving on towards Cagayancillo, Oslob and Sumilon.
Tubbataha Reef is comprised of two attols (aptly named North Atoll and South Atoll) and an emergent coral cay, the Jessie Beazley Reef.
My two favourite dive sites, Delsan Wreck and Black Rock are both located in the South Atoll. While we didn’t have enough time to visit Jessie Beazley, one dive master described it as “the more feminine” side of Tubbataha as it’s known for calmer waters, an abundance of coral and less large marine life sightings.
Highlight: Delsan Wreck
The first dive of the trip was in Delsan Wreck (spoiler alert: despite what the name suggests, there’s no wreck to be found here) and it was even better than one could imagine.
The moment you hit the water, you’re surrounded by schools of fish and on beautiful sunny days the visibility can go up to 50m. Because of this, it’s easy to quickly descend past the recreational limit of 30m, so remember to keep an eye on your dive watch! On our usual dives here, we saw a battery of barracuda, schools of jacks and many solitary reef sharks. However on our second dive, we were treated with a very special whale shark sighting.
Highlight: Black Rock
This was a special dive site for two reasons. One was that it was my first time to go diving without a wetsuit and the second (and far more important reason) was that this is where our dive master spotted an Eagle Ray.
The moment he pointed it out, I swam hard to keep up with it and to see it up close. Unfortunately, no one in our group had a camera at the time, but sometimes the best memories are ones that you can’t share.
Special mention: Washing Machine
Part of the North Atoll, Washing Machine is known for its fantastic current dives. It’s important to remember that you can’t use hooks, gloves or signalling devices in Tubbataha, so be aware of your surroundings and be comfortable with your buoyancy when diving here.
Our one and only dive in Washing Machine was turtles and sharks galore! As we descended, we quickly realised that had unexpected company with a large turtle swimming by.
Throughout the dive we spotted sharks gliding with the current (one even swam right in between my legs!), snoozing under hard coral and swimming past the wall.
At the end of the dive, a turtle came to pose for photos and stuck with our group until we completed our safety stop. I have to admit that we definitely stayed longer than the required three minutes because of this!
Special mention: Ranger’s Station
It’s not a dive site, but it was a memorable way to spend a sunset. After days on a boat, we carefully stepped onto the island that housed the Ranger’s Station to take in the sunset. I’ll admit that I had sea legs!
Rangers stay here without signal, but with limited internet access for two to three months at a time.
Divers and tourists can also pick up souvenirs here. While they were nearly sold out when we arrived (everything gets shipped back at the end of the season), we managed to get our hands on whale shark printed leggings.
Liveaboard – Palau Sport
Divemasters – DanDan and MacMac
Underwater Photography – Sef Alba Carandang