After three weeks of beaches, island hopping and diving in Palawan we only wanted more, so we extended our visa for another month. I guess we’re already addicted to the Philippines!
We were looking forward to some more diving and many travellers we met had recommended Apo, a small island south of Negros Oriental. Apo island is one of Philippines best dive sites and is frequently rated among top 10 dive sites in the country. We were convinced, so after leaving Cebu using the classic Philippino travel combo; a tricycle, a bus, a ferry and a jeepney, we arrived in Dumagueta. With no planned accommodation in the concrete jungle of Dumaguete, we sat down at wi-fi café. We found a place to stay that we wanted to take a closer look at, but as we walked out we met a German expat, that recommended Bongo Bongo Divers, a dive resort located in the small coastal town called Dauin.
We decided to trust his advice and after a 20 min bus ride we arrived at Bongo Bongo divers in Dauin. Let me just say that it was the best decision ever! Sometimes taking spontaneous decisions leads you to hidden pearls and let met tell you why Bongo Bongo falls into that category.
Traditionally designed bungalows at Bongo Bongo dive resort
Papaya tree outside our bungalow
Freshly cut fruits every morning using the kitchen facilites
We fell in love with this place from day one. It’s a small, family run dive resort (Danish/Filipino) that seems to attract a fun, relaxed crowd. It doesn’t seem to be overly advertised and relies mostly on simple word of mouth.
They have traditional bamboo huts (fan or AC) with clean and comfy beds at a very reasonable price and offer complimentary mineral water, coffee and tea facilities in the common area as well as a shared open kitchen for self use.
The laid back setting in the common area is filled with lush green plants, hammocks and relaxing music. With a self-service bar filled with cold beer, this place is ideal for mingling with other guests and fellow divers.
The very popular hammock house!
Fresh fruits from the local market in Dauin
Bongo Bongo Homie
To cool off, just take a few steps outside from the resort and you find yourself on a beautiful secluded volcanic sand beach surrounded by one of the best kept marine sanctuaries in the Philippines.
Ready for a dive
Snorkeling in the reef outside Bongo Bongo
The snorkeling here is superb and full of marine life. But like us you’re probably in the area to dive or snorkel at Apo island, am I right?
Well, we can guarantee that diving at Apo island with Bongo Bongo Divers won’t disappoint. The boat takes off the coast outside the resort and you’re in Apo 45 minutes later. On the contrary, if you’re diving with one of the companies in Dumaguete, you’ll have to wake up during unholy hours to get to the pier early enough to allow for three dives in one day. Also, if you’re looking for staying at the Apo overnight (which we did and recommend), Bongo Bongo will drop you off after the dive, saving you the trouble and cost of getting a boat yourself.
Bongo Bongo Divers at apo island
As much as we liked staying at Apo, it isn’t a place to chill for a very long time; accommodation options are limited, electricity is only available between 6-10 pm and there is no running water. Unless you’re Tom Hanks in Castaway, 1-2 days should be enough to explore most of the island and snorkel with the human friendly turtles.
Close to Apo and Dumaguete, Dauin town is ideally located. Distances are easily walkable, the atmosphere is relaxed, it has a few good restaurants, a local market and lots of bakeries. Prices are cheap compared to other places we’ve visited so far in the Philippines since it isn’t overrun by tourism yet. If you’re getting too relaxed, you can always catch a 15 min bus or jeepney to Dumaguete, and do some shopping or see a movie at Robinsons Mall.
We were so in love with the atmosphere at Bongo Bongo that we finally decided to do our PADI Advanced Open Water dive course here. We met with Magnus, the co-owner of Bongo Bongo, and our dive instructor for the course. Originally from Denmark, he moved here 7 years ago, found love and decided to open up his own dive resort. We got along very well from the beginning; obviously since sarcasm and black humor runs deep in both Icelandic and Danish blood.
Hammock relaxing, while reading Padi Advanced
How to become a PADI Advanced Open Water certified diver?
If you already have your open water license it’s fairly easy to take the next step and become advanced. It opens up a lot more fun underwater and gives you the opportunity to fine-tune your skills, making diving much more enjoyable. There is no special test or exam you need to pass, so you don’t have to worry about failing. Also, no boring video session that needs to be covered. You simply choose 5 adventure dives, of which two are required; deep diving and underwater navigation.
Dive sites around Dauin, plenty to choose from!
The other three adventure dives are up to you and your instructor. Our picks were drift diving (as Apo offers a great drift opportunity), peak performance buoyancy and fish identification. There are many other options such as wreck diving, underwater photography, enriched air nitrox, night diving, underwater naturalist, dry suit diving and many more. For the course you get a textbook from PADI that goes into every adventure dive in detail. You’ll have to finish each chapter for your specific dives and answer a quick review in the end. After that and 5 adventure dives…voilà..you’re an Advance Open Water Diver, qualified to dive down to 30 meters!
Feeling comfy at 28m!
Our Experience – Advanced Open Water with Bongo Bongo Divers
Day 1 – Peak Performance Buoyancy and Underwater Navigation
Sun is shining, the weather is sweet…it was a beautiful day in Dauin. We prepared a fruit plate from the local market and sat down with Magnus to review our questions for the dives of the day; peak performance buoyancy and underwater navigation. We quickly noticed that Magnus, despite a young age, has been doing this for a long time. He gave us a lot of extra information on each topic and emphasized that we fully understood the most important stuff.
It was time for diving. We dressed up, did the buddy check and walked a few meters to the beautiful volcanic beach in front of Dauin, it was as easy as that.
During the buoyancy dive we figured out how much weights we needed, which is a personal estimate for every diver (fat floats, muscles sink). We did a bunch of buoyancy exercises such as hovering, going through loops and different breathing techniques.
Ása practicing her buoyancy
All the exercises were done in the sandy part but after all the practical stuff we used our remaining air to explore the reef in the marine sanctuary. The corals were amazing and the place was teeming with fish, even some big ones like the marbled grouper and the titan trigger fish. We even encountered two adult and one baby cuttlefish!
After lunch we did our underwater navigation dive. At first we did some on-land exercises with the compass so everything would be crystal clear before our dive. Our exercises included measuring kick cycles to estimate distance travelled underwater, navigating back and forth (in-line) with a compass and through a square pattern. Our last ordeal was to navigate through the reef where Magnus told us to remember 5 different corals and rock formations that we had to find on our way back. At various times he also tested us by asking us where our exit point was, and in order to do so we had to use the sun’s position as well as the bottom topography to navigate. It was a lot of fun!
Day 2. – Deep Diving, Drift Diving and Fish Identification
Today we would do our three remaining adventure dives, but this time all at Apo island. We were so excited! Our spacious bangka, a traditional Philippino boat, waited for us at the beach outside the resort. The ride to Apo was about 40 minutes. Our first dive was at the Chapel, named after a church that overlooks the site.
Here we did our deep dive, where we followed the reef wall down to 30 meters. It was a bit scary to know that we were this deep, but Magnus had a close eye on us. What we noticed was the staggering change in temperature. Even though it’s just a 1-3 °C difference, it feels a lot colder when you go deep. We also brought a color board with us to notice the blocking of certain wave lengths of light at greater depths; red disappears at 5 meters, followed by orange at 10 meters and yellow at about 20 meters. Down at 30 meters green starts to disappears, so everything becomes kind of blueish.
We safely returned to about 12 meter depth, where the cliff drops, to enjoy the magnificent corals and marine biodiversity this dive site offers. Staying down at 30 meters for longer would have greatly reduced our time underwater (since you need more air pressure for breathing at greater depth) and increased our risk for nitrogen narcosis and decompression sickness.
After our first dive we did some snorkeling with the many green sea and hawkbill turtles that feed on the sea grass thats abundant in this area. The turtles are one of the main attractions at Apo. They are one of the biggest we’ve seen and they aren’t shy of the camera 🙂
Our second dive was done at Cogon which has some pretty strong currents, perfect for drift diving. From the boat we did a negative buoyancy entry together which means you jump off the boat with you’re BCD fully deflated going straight underwater without stopping at the surface.
We felt the strong current right away, so we tried to keep our buddy contact safely tight. Doing the drift dive was the most fun dive so far. It was an amazing feeling to drift with the current over the reef, almost like you’re flying. Also you safe energy and cover a lot more area to explore since you don’t have to swim back to the boat. The boat picks you up where the current takes you. Our highlight was witnessing a giant school of jacks lingering in the current. The sight of thousands of 1 m pelagic fish huddled together was simply breathtaking.
After our second dive we had lunch on the boat; delicious coconut ginger chicken with vegetables!
Our third dive was at Rock West where we did our last adventure dive: Fish Identification. We truly recommend this speciality dive as a part of adventure course. When you start realising that most tropical fish species belong to only a dozen families, everything starts to make more sense. Seeing and recognising a certain species underwater is truly rewarding and becomes almost addictive. When you encounter something you haven’t seen before you can always look it up in a book or try describing it to your scuba instructor.
Why dive with Bongo Bongo Divers?
- Awesome instructors: Magnus, Amado and Marvin make sure that you have a lot of fun in and out of the water. They are highly skilled in spotting the smallest creatures and seem to know every rock and every living thing in the area. We always felt safe in their hands.
- Their gear is top notch and finely tuned every 4 months
- The location is unbeatable. Dauin has this amazing local ambience and Bongo Bongo seems to attract real travellers, not “selfie tourists”. In your backyard you have this amazing marine sanctuary, perfect for diving or snorkeling and Apo is only a 40 min boatride away.
- Reasonable rates: Advanced Open Water Course for 13.500 pesos or three open water fun dives at Apo island for 3.700 pesos, including the boat ride, marine fees, coffee and tea.
If you want to find out more check their website at www.divebongo.com
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