We are in the small town of El Nido on the most beautiful island in the world, Palawan, Philippines. The town itself is kind of sleepy and packed with tricycles, but a few minutes by boat and you find yourself in paradise, hopping between islands in the pristine waters of Bacuit bay.
Sunset over Bacuit Bay
Las Cabanas Beach
Underwater you’ll discover another paradise of its own, full of marine biodiversity and coral gardens, so if you aren’t a complete beach bum, diving in El Nido is a must! Sheltered between the numerous limestone islands, rough winds are uncommon in the bay, providing safety for beginners and good visibility underwater.
Before arriving to the El Nido we were worried about the weather in November; many sources mentioned the possible typhoons and the close proximity to the wet season, finishing in October. However, according to the locals, El Nido has two distinct monsoon winds and during November the winds change direction, allowing for a period of calm seas.
During our two week stay in November, it was always sunny and it only rained once, despite a rainy weather forecast almost every day. The waters were also crystal clear with a comfortable temperature of 27-29°C.
A super cute clownfish family!
There are a number of dive shops to choose from in town. We finally decided to go with Palawan Divers, a five-star dive resort with over 10 years of diving expertise and one of the most established dive center in El Nido.
The dive resort is located on the eastern end of the main street of El Nido so it should be easy to find.
At the shop we met with Jerome, the owner of Palawan Divers. He is one of the many french residents in El Nido and has become quite attached to the little town as well as the island lifestyle.
Jerome made us feel welcome and comfortable as soon as we entered the shop, offering us coffee and tea upon arrival. After some great advice on what to see and do around El Nido, Jerome gave us an overview of the many diving sites in the Bacuit bay using a schematically painted map on one of the walls.
Great coffee and some awesome artwork at Palawan Divers Resort
After deciding our dive sites (5 dives in 2 days) we tried out our diving gear, saving time so everything would be ready for the following day. All the equipment met the highest standards and is finely tuned every 6 months.
Dive Day 1.
The next day we met with Jok, a local dive master who would be our guide for today. At the dive shop he briefed us on the dive sites we would visit today and what we could expect to see underwater. He also proposed a quick name calling to introduce ourselves and our nationality to the dive group. It loosened up the atmosphere and we noticed we were diving with a nice couple from Netherlands that we linked well with.
The diving boat used is a traditional Philippino Bangka, with a capacity for 18 divers, but to ensure comfortable space Palawan Divers limits the number to 8 divers per boat. Safety is one of their main concern so everyone on the crew is a rescue diver, even the captain. They keep an emergency box and O2 equipment onboard as well as a VHS radio (and cellphone) to contact the office if something goes wrong.
The morning boat ride was really refreshing and is kind of an island hopping tour of itself, just less crowded. Jok went over the safety regulations and hand signals before we suited up.
our boat – a traditional bangka
We did three dives on our first day. We began at Paradise Beach, which doesn’t have a lot of coral but the sandy bottom is a great place for beginners to control their buoyancy before heading into more delicate environments.
Ása ready for the first dive of the day
We were in good hands with Jok, our dive guide
It was so nice to get underwater again. During our first dive we were lucky to spot a few seahorses. It was our first time seeing these mystical creatures in real life. They have this cool calmness to them thats difficult to describe. We also saw a couple of clownfish that lingered in their protective anemone. They always put a smile to our faces.
The feeling of coming up from the water after a nice dive, drying up in the sun, enjoying the spectacular views of the Bacuit Bay is hard to forget. On our way to the next dive site we got some refreshments; coffee, tea and the best cookies from El Nido bakery.
Next up was the iconic Helicopter island (legend says that Bill Gates just bought the island). This is where most Open Water Courses will take you, since this magnificent reef is shallow and rich in biodiversity. Our highlights were the schools of Yellow-tale Barracudas, the massive Titan Trigger fish and the many types of anemonfish. If you’re lucky here, you might spot an Eagle Ray or the Great Barracuda.
Our friend from Netherlands doing the Giant Stride
A school of Yellow-taled Barracudas
One of the many types of anemone fish (clownfish)
Beautiful coral gardens
There are several dive spots at Helicopter island. If you have an advanced open water certification diving the Dilumacad Underwater Tunnel is a must. During the dive you’ll be swimming through a tunnel from one side of the island to the other, a total of 40 m at 12 m depth! If you want to read more about this amazing dive site click here.
After our second dive we had a lunch fiesta; grilled fish and pork along with fresh fruits and salads. It was delicious and enough for everyone! It was so reviving to get a perfectly balanced meal and getting some rest for our final dive.
We’ll let the pictures talk…
Our last dive of the day was at North Rock, which is great for pelagic sights. Pelagic fish inhabit waters that are not near the bottom or the shore. It is an ideal stop over for deep-sea fish that want to get checked by the resident cleaner wrasses. Here you can see jack fish, crocodile fish, spade fish, marbled grouper and many types of angel fish. We spotted a blue-spotted stingray as well.
The topography is amazing here. We passed by some huge rocks, massive corals and table corals. If you’re lucky you might encounter black tip reef sharks!
Our friends from Netherlands ready to make a back roll
Getting ready for the last dive of the day
Black spotted grouper
Dive Day 2.
During our second dive day we woke up before the sun was up. Today was our sunrise dive! We arrived at the dive shop at 4:30 am and met with our group. Today was a special day for Jerome, the dive shop owner. One of the biggest tv stations in France was doing a documentary on the many french residents of El Nido, and the man of the day was Jerome. So Jerome joined us for today’s dive along with the TV crew.
Jerome doing a quick brief before the dive
Sunrise Dive at Destacado Reef
Experiencing the first rays of the sun before going underwater was something special; the sea is calm and the colours are just magical. Destacado reef is at the outer edge of Bacuit bay and takes you about 1,5 hours by boat to get there. Our main highlight here was spotting the black tip reef shark, but they are shy and difficult to approach so we didn’t get a good photo to share with you. However if you want to see sharks in El Nido, this dive site is your best bet with almost 90% chance of spotting a shark.
The beauty of the bay at sunrise is indescribable
After our first dive it was time for breakfast!
It was so nice to have some bacon and eggs, and the pancakes were delicious!
Our last dive was at Paglugaban island where we saw some massive rock formations. Our highlights here were spotting the green sea turtle and the crocodile fish. You might also spot some colorful nudibranch, a kind of a sea cucumber.
A friendly green turtle passing by
Diving with Palawan divers was our definite highlight in El Nido. They were welcoming and professional from beginning to end and we always felt safe in the hands of our instructors. This was our first dive for quite a while, so doing the first dive at the sandy slopes of Paradise beach raised our confidence for the upcoming dives and kept the corals safe from beginner mistakes.
We truly recommend stopping by at their dive shop in El Nido. Have a cup of coffee and discuss what you’re looking for. They know all the best dive sites in the bay area and can easily find the perfect dive itinerary for your skill level.
Check out there website www.palawan-diver.org for more information on dive sites, packages and dive courses.
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