Cebu Diving Packages and SDR Diving Tours

Cebu is a diver’s nirvana. You can view a diverse range of corals and be blown away by the quantity of marine life in Cebu’s waters. Diving in Cebu is possible year-round, but the best time to go on diving trips would be from December thru June.

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The Best Diving Spots in the Philippines

Mactan Island, Moalboal, Malapascua Island, Gato Island, Apo Island, Hilutungan Island, Nalusuan Island, Olango Island, Balingcasag Island, and Pescador Island are arguably the country’s best diving spots. Most of these islands are close by or within a few hours by boat from Mactan Island.

You will quickly find out that each dive spot is famous for many different reasons. Whether it is an elusive thresher shark, a hawk-billed turtle, the pygmy seahorse, frogfish, giant garoupas, sleeping white-tip sharks, rare corals, sea eels, blue-ringed octopus, cetaceans, giant clams, the majestic whale shark, or simply some amazing underwater walls, there is something that makes each diving site unique.

SDR has put together some excellent dive packages that will certainly give you a wonderful glimpse of Cebu’s underwater treasures. Our dive packages take in 4 or 3 islands in a day and include a boat, instructor, refreshments, lunch, all equipment, transfers, and a coordinator. For details, see SDR Diving Tours.

For something extra special, how about a 4- or 5-day diving tour? You can go to such exotic places as the Tubbataha Reef (one of the world’s diving treasures located in Sulu Sea – not in Cebu) or Sogod Bay for an experience with the largest fish in the ocean— the whale shark.

The islands around Mactan are bursting with surprises. Just recently, buddies Lou and Akkie were diving off the Shangri-La (about 10 minutes from SDR Apartments) and were the in-house guests of a huge whale shark! That was an experience that both fondly recount (and will continue to) over many beers.

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SDR Dive Packages and Safaris

SDR is fortunate to have a number of experienced (both recreational and technical) divers living on the property. You are welcome to befriend and tap us for lots of information. SDR is also happy to arrange diving package tours (rates found at the bottom of this page) for those interested in exploring the diverse underwater paradise here in Cebu. If you are interested in learning to dive, we can also recommend value-for-money packages. For further info, please contact mark@sacreddivecharters.com.

If you’re interested in a diving safari on boat or heading off to some other sacred sites around Cebu, Bohol, etc., you can contact SDR’s very own resident divers Dale or Mark at mactan@mac.com. If you’re keen on traveling around the region, Mark or Dale are the people who can organize a trip to the best diving spots that Cebu and the surrounding provinces have to offer. Check out their environmentally aware dive safaris or road trips at Sacred Dive Charters. These tours can be organized to suit the time you have available and what you really want to see or achieve. One thing is for sure—you’ll have a trip that you will never forget! You will also be with like-minded people who will be a pleasure to hang out with.

Cebu Diving Sites

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Sumilon Island
One of the places included in our diving tours is Sumilon Island, which is believed to be the country’s first marine reserve. Located in south Cebu, this island is truly where nature reigns supreme. Amidst sapphire gin-clear waters, this romantic uninhabited island features lush vegetation, a pristine lake, a stretch of shifting white sandbar, and one of the best dive spots in the Visayas. Only five minutes away by small boat from the town of Oslob, Sumilon is breathtakingly beautiful. It is an unspoiled bed of nature’s best bounty in marine life, flora, and fauna. It is a true delight for scuba divers and snorkelers with its large coral colonies, shallow channels, and hundreds of species of colorful tropical fish.

Moalboal and Pescador Island
About a third of the way up the west coast of Cebu lies the tiny market town of Moalboal. Take the long dusty track the locals call a road, about five kilometers outside the town, and you will discover Panagsama Beach—one of the first places in the Philippines where scuba diving caught on like a plague. World-famous Pescador Island is just 15 minutes by boat from Panagsama Beach.

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The early 1980s saw Moalboal as one of the most popular Cebu diving locations, thus elevating it to the premier league of diving destinations in Asia. Dive resorts sprung up at Moalboal’s coast like mushrooms after rain.

You can dive straight off Panagsama Beach; simply swim out 10 to 15 meters and drop down onto the wall that descends to about 35 meters. Panagsama Beach is home to a wide variety of coral, anemones, sponges, hawk-billed turtles, and an artist’s palette of uniquely colored fish.

Malapascua Where Thresher Sharks Abound
Another favorite “road trip” is to Malapascua. This picturesque island with beaches comparable to Boracay has a number of diving secrets. One is the thresher shark. People travel to this tiny island from all over the world eager to catch a glimpse of these rare sharks. They are more elusive than Houdini in most parts of the world.

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Threshers feed on mackerel and small tuna by encircling schools and stunning them with whips or thrashes of their tail, hence they are named thresher. It is also common to see a thresher shoot out of the water a few meters into the air while chasing its next meal, an awesome sight that I have had the pleasure to witness on one enchanted evening.

Malapascua (apart from some other “secret” places known by Dale and Mark) is believed to be the only place on the globe where divers can reliably see thresher sharks. They are found in an area called Monad Shoal–the top of a seamount where these sharks arrive at dawn to be cleaned by a collection of wrasses.

Each morning at 5:30 am, a bunch of eager divers brave the morning chill, congregate at the various beachside dive shops, and jump aboard a series of 20- to 24-meter long Filipina outriggers. These boats zip out to Monad Shoal. Once light has broken through, one quickly follows the anchor line to a depth of about 23 meters on to a sunken island. Lying pancake flat on the bottom, you are encouraged to adopt a sophisticated underwater kamikaze act as you wait motionless for the sharks to arrive. This is part of their daily ritual to make one of their many stops at the cleaning stations located on the sunken island.

If you’re lucky, you may also find Manta rays, Mobula rays, and eagle rays gate-crashing the party too. If you’re Nitrox certified, this is a perfect dive. More bottom time translates into more chances to witness this magnificent creature.

Threshers are shy creatures, often seen during the last few minutes of a dive. When you do see them, breathe very slowly and deeply because bubbles and sharks don’t mix. The threshers are full of tricks so be sure to look in every direction and don’t be surprised if you find one passing right over your head like a stealth jet. On many occasions, during our various trips to Monad Shoal, a number of threshers literally stalked us, circling non-stop for what seemed an eternity and so close you could almost touch them. This is certainly one of those must-do dives.

Two of my favorite dive masters in Malapascua are Toto and Totong. Both firmly believe that the first and the last boats are often the ones who see the sharks because too many divers at one time can scare them away. The peak diving/holiday season in Malapascua, which is in summer, is not the best time for sharks. The rainy months are better for shark diving.

Threshers are Bigger than Big, Older than Old!
Growing to almost 4 meters in length, thresher sharks are pelagic species that thrive in tropical and cold-temperate waters. The heaviest shark recorded weighed over 375 kilos. The thresher shark, estimated to live up to 50 years, is the only shark other than the Mako that sometimes leaps from the ocean.

Diving with threshers is a heart-stopping experience, an absolute thrill. Other than the threshers, you will also marvel at Malapascua’s resident mandarin fish—surely one of the most beautiful and majestic fishes in the ocean. There is also no shortage of blacktip sharks, pygmy seahorse, and even blue-ringed octopus in Malapascua’s waters.

Gato Island
Not far from Malapascua is Gato Island, which in Spanish means “cat.” Fortunately, there are no cats but lots and lots of blacktip sharks. One of my best underwater experiences was diving the tunnel under the island. When you get to the other side, you are usually greeted by a bunch of blacktip sharks graciously swimming with a light blue backdrop—an awesome experience when you have been swimming in a dark tunnel. You will also see sleeping blacktip sharks in caves where they are close enough to touch.

Glorious Mactan Island
Mactan Island has a number of brilliant places when you want to leave the hassles of the “other” world behind. The Tambuli Fish Feeding Station is high on the agenda. The initial descent can be made in 5 to 6 meters of water. The bottom at this depth is predominantly sand and eel grass interspersed with large rocks and coral heads. The descent continues along a gradual slope until a depth of 10 meters where the terrain drops more steeply and becomes much richer in corals, sponges, anemones, and other invertebrates.

The many damsels and small reef fish that occupy most of the coral sites in Mactan are found in Tambuli. At the drop-off you will find large schools of fusiliers, unicorn fish, anthias, and small barracuda. From the drop-off down to 25 meters, there are usually schools of 15-inch-long rabbit fish, emperors, and the occasional diagram sweetlips. Other interesting animals that may appear are squid, octopus, snakes, moray eels, cornet fish, and larger barracuda. With its gradual slope, this site is suitable for novice divers. But with the richness of life available, advanced divers will also enjoy exploring Tambuli. This is also an excellent night dive location.

Kontiki/Agus is southwest along the Mactan coast from Tambuli. The more or less gentle slope becomes a 90-degree wall at Kontiki and continues as such past Agus point. The drop-off begins at depths of 7 to 10 meters and continues to as deep as 42 meters. At the drop-off, divers will find similar rich corals and invertebrates to those seen at the Tambuli Fish Feeding Station. This site may be enjoyed by novice and advanced divers alike.

You can also spot some larger pelagics such as tuna, Spanish mackerel, rainbow runners, big barracuda, and a large school of sweepers. Further along the wall are some impressive sea fans. In the nooks and crannies, expect to find colorful nudibranches, lionfish, squirrel fish, and soldier fish. From out of the shadows, at depths of 27 meters or more, 20-inch-long midnight snappers may mysteriously appear and come close to investigate the strange bubble blowers.

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Diving in Marigondon Cave
Marigondon Cave is a must-do dive. Continuing southwest along Mactan from Agus, the wall continues with more brightly colored soft corals and less shadow until reaching the 10-plus-meter-wide entrance to the Marigondon Cave at 28 meters. The cave continues inward for about 35 to 40 meters with several small branches to be explored. At a penetration of about 25 meters, the light from the opening diminishes to practically nothing, making torch use essential. Turning the light off at this point will reveal a number of flashlight fish performing an unforgettable luminescent light show that will mesmerize you. In my experience, the best time to do this dive is during a full moon.

The mouth of the cave bottoms out at 35 meters, but the dive can easily be completed with a maximum depth of 33 meters. Outside the cave along the wall, the diver might encounter midnight snappers, surgeon fish and the related unicorn fish, schools of fusiliers, silver jacks, and small pelagics. This site often has a strong current and is reserved for advanced divers with night diving experience.

Crevice is located about 250 meters south of the Marigondon Cave entrance. A small swim through at a depth of 27 meters, the mouth is large enough for 6 to 7 divers to enter. Swimming 7 meters in and ascending 4 meters in depth, it narrows allowing for a single file egress through a coral-fringed porthole-shaped exit.

The reef drop-off is at 18 meters, and above that depth is a rich coral plateau. Along the wall, the fish life is similar to that which you will find outside the Marigondon Cave with schools of small unicorn fish. Because of the depth, this dive is suitable for intermediate to advanced divers.

Southeast of Santa Rosa along the same wall is the cathedral. At a maximum depth of 35 meters, the cathedral entrance is large enough for several divers to enter. Six meters above is another hole, which serves as an exit. This interesting geological feature provides a perch for divers to relax and watch the activity of passing pelagics like tuna, jacks, and the occasional thresher shark. Due to depth and penetration considerations, this is for advanced divers.

Hilutungan Marine Sanctuary
Hilutungan Island is one of the small islands east of Mactan with a fringing reef from 5 to 22 meters. The site varies from a more gradual decline to a vertical wall and is suitable for novice and experienced divers. A frequent watch to the deep blue will often prove rewarding on this dive as tunas use this area as their own personal underwater highway.

Other Cebu Diving Sites
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Capitancillo Island
Location: 100 km north of Mactan Island, 10 km southeast of Bogo
Access: 2.5-3 hours by banca from Mactan, 1 hour from Sogod or by road to Bogo on Cebu’s east coast then 30 minutes by banca
Average Depth: 80 feet
Maximum Depth: 150 feet
Visibility: Up to 100 feet
Conditions: You would not normally make this journey in bad conditions, but even in good conditions fierce currents can be a real problem.

Diving Notes: There are shallow reef-tops at 10 meters leading to drop-offs with colorful soft corals. The main interests of the divers are the walls with their many caves and overhangs, small shoals of pelagic fish, yellow fin, and all varieties of reef fish. Shallow reef flats extend 3 km all around Capitancillo Island—the best dive site in the area.

Skill Level: Advanced divers pick spring tides in the hopes of spotting larger pelagic species, but less experienced divers should choose slack tides and be with an experienced dive master or instructor.

Talong Island
Location: 55 km north-northeast of Mactan Island, north of the northwest point of Pacijan Island, which is in the westernmost area of the Camotes Islands
Access: 1.5-2 hours by banca from Mactan Island or 1 hour by banca from Sogod
Maximum Depth: 130 feet
Visibility: Up to 130 feet
Conditions: Normally choppy waters with medium currents. The water can get really rough with fierce currents. Do not even attempt to go diving here in rough weather.

Diving Notes: The name of this island means eggplant when translated in Filipino. The island’s north and northwest sides have long slopes out and down with fields of large table and boulder corals. If you want to see pelagic species, this is a great dive spot.

Skill Level: When the currents are running, novices should stay close to their dive master.

Olango Island – Mabini Point
Location: At the northern tip of Olango Island, also known locally as Tengo or Tingo Point
Access: 15-20 minutes by banca from Mactan Island
Average Depth: 115 feet
Maximum Depth: 130 feet
Visibility: Up to 40 meters
Conditions: Strong surges and fierce unpredictable currents

Diving Notes: This is a dive where one hopes to see larger pelagic species. There is little to see in the shallower water, so get down quickly to 35 meters (115 feet) on the drop-off, settle down in some shelter and look out, anything can pass by. Thresher sharks are quite common—we know of three residents—but Hammerhead sharks and Whale Sharks are rarely seen. Up until a few years ago, before a Taiwanese fishing boat bribed the local villagers to fish scores of defenseless Hammerheads, the Hammerheads were a common sighting in this area.

Skill Level: This site is for advanced divers only.

Olango Island – Mabini Point to Baring
Location: Between the northern tip of Olango Island and the village of Baring
Access: 15-20 minutes by banca from Mactan Island
Average Depth: 115 feet
Maximum Depth: 130 feet
Visibility: Up to 30 meters
Conditions: Strong surge and fierce unpredictable currents

Diving Notes: There are several spectacular drop-offs and large caves about 30 to 35 meters down. There is too little to see in the shallow water, so once again get down quickly to 30 meters and either have a fast drift at this depth or settle down in some shelter and watch the underwater world go by.

Skill Level: Not for novice divers

Olango Island – Sta. Rosa and Poo
Location: 400 meters offshore from the villages of Santa Rosa and Poo
Access: 15-20 minutes by banca from Mactan Island
Average Depth: 100 feet
Maximum Depth: 130 feet
Visibility: Up to 100 feet over the drop-off, but it is muddy on the shallow reef-flat from the drop-off to the shore
Conditions: Normally strong currents but more predictable

Diving Notes: It is possible to snorkel on the reef-flat at 9 meters to 12 meters, but it is muddy well offshore and has strong currents so you require a banca over. For divers, the drop-off starts around 9 meters and falls to 40 meters. The area is rich in marine life with a good variety of reef fish in the shallower waters.

Skill Level: Novices should be with an experienced dive master

Mactan Island – Tambuli
Location: Off Tambuli Beach Resort
Access: 5-15 minutes by banca from whatever local resort you are staying
Average Depth: 65 feet
Maximum Depth: 115 feet
Visibility: Up to 65 feet
Conditions: Usually calm waters with some current, but it can get rough with strong currents so don’t dive here in bad weather

Diving Notes: Descend to an easy dive, sloping to a shelf at 21 meters where the reef fish are used to being hand-fed, then the slope continues off into the depths. Small reef fishes approach swimmers for handouts. This area is a good dive for macrophotography.

Skill Level: A dive mainly for novices

Mactan Island – Amboucuan Point Mactan Island – Marigondon
Location: 100 meters offshore in the Hilutungan Channel from Amboucuan Point to Marigondon
Access: 10-15 minutes by banca from most of the resorts in Mactan Island
Average Depth: 100 feet
Maximum Depth: 180 feet
Visibility: Can reach 80 feet
Conditions: Normally choppy with strong currents but can become very rough with fierce currents. On more than one occasion, I have had to hold on to the reef and crawl like a baby to return to the safety of shallower (calmer) waters.

Diving Notes: Diving possibilities between Engaño Point (Mactan’s northernmost tip) and Amboucuan Point are many but not exactly safe with the many tourist boats and Jet Ski traffic. Further south is a lot safer. Between Amboucuan Point and Marigondon, the strong currents make for good fish life. Some areas though have heavy coral damage due to dropped anchors. Those who are planning shallow dives require an experienced local guide if they are to find the best spots.

Skill Level: Only very experienced divers should attempt this dive with a dive master and plan carefully for slack water. Having said that, slack water is no guarantee that the currents will not be running!

East Side of Lassuan Islet
Location: East side of the extensive reef that extends south from Olango Island to Lassuan Islet
Access: 20-30 minutes by banca from Mactan Island
Average Depth: 60 feet
Maximum Depth: 130 feet
Conditions: Usually choppy waters with string and localized currents, can be unsafe during rough conditions.

Diving Notes: Stay at the east side of the reef in the Olango Channel as conditions can get really tricky on the west side in the Hilutungan Channel. Both channels have strong rip currents. This large expanse of reef has been over-fished but still offers good drift diving over the drop-offs. You can still see marvelous stony corals. A good local guide can help you find the best diving spots.

Kansantik
Location: Center of the Olango Channel, east of Lassuan Islet
Access: 45-50 minutes by banca depending on how long it takes to locate this underwater island
Average Depth: 100 feet
Maximum Depth: 165 feet
Visibility: Can reach 130 feet
Conditions. Open water, fierce currents, and a strong surge if you get the tide tables wrong.

Diving Notes: You would need a Global Positioning System (GPS) when diving here. A good banca operator will help you find the site and drop a shotline and anchor. These experienced guides use a heavily weighted shotline, and divers use individual lines to anchor themselves to the weight on the shotline’s bottom. An underwater mountain rises from the depths to within 30 meters of the surface. You can see stony corals, soft corals, whip corals, huge sponges, fishes, and other pelagic species when diving in this area.

Skill Level: Only for the most experienced divers, in small groups, and not for those with heavy cameras!

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Facts about Diving in Cebu and the Philippines
  • The largest fish in the world, the Whale Shark, locally known as butanding, regularly swims to the Philippine waters. It is seen often around Olango Island near Mactan Island in Cebu as our dear friends Lou and Aki can testify.
  • The dwarf pygmy goby (Pandaka Pygmaea), the world’s shortest and lightest freshwater fish, is also found in the Philippines. This colorless, nearly transparent fish thrives in streams and lakes of Luzon. Males have an average length of 8.7 millimeters and weigh 4-5 milligrams. With some insider knowledge, you may just get to see one!
  • One of the 12,000 or so species of seashells in the Philippines is the Conus Gloriamaris. Dubbed the “Glory of the Sea,” it is the rarest and most expensive seashell in the world.
  • 488 out of the 500 known coral species in the world are found in the Philippines
  • There are only eight species of marine turtles worldwide; five are reportedly found in the Philippines: the Green Turtle, Hawkbill, Leatherback, Olive Ridley, and Loggerhead
  • Of the eight known species of giant clams in the world, seven are found in the Philippines.
SDR DIVE PACKAGES

DIVE THE JEWELS OF CEBU!

SDR has well-organized whole-day boat dive packages. These tours take in the best island dives in Cebu and are perfect for divers and their non-diver friends or partners.

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ESCAPE TOUR: ISLAND BLISS FOUR-ISLAND DIVE TOUR

  • 4 different islands, 4 dives: (3) day dives in the pristine marine sanctuaries of Nalusuan Island, Hilutungan Island, and Olango Island plus (1) night dive in Mactan Island with a PADI instructor to guide you
  • Non-divers are welcome to join at US$99 per person, including lunch and snorkeling equipment
  • Lunch at one of Olango Island’s famous stilt seafood restaurant—dining literally in the water. Enjoy our selection of the best seafood dishes in a restaurant 100 meters from shore.
  • Four beautiful, distinctly different dives that showcase the best dive spots that Mactan has to offer. Experience untold serenity with our famous dives.
  • Chance to see massive garoupas, blue-spotted sting rays, tuna, jacks, large trigger fish, frog fish, sea snakes, thresher sharks; during night dive, you can see gigantic sponge crabs, helmut crabs, squid, cuttlefish, and lots more!
  • Our experienced resident divers have tailor-made these tours for those who wish to see the best Mactan diving sites. Their experience guarantees an awesome dive experience.
  • The tours include car transfers to and from the 5-star PADI Dive Center.
  • The large modern banca (boat) and crew will take you island to island in style.
  • An SDR host will accompany you on the tour from beginning to end.
  • All equipment is included in the package.
  • Schedule: Leave SDR at 8:30 am, and return to SDR at about 8:30 pm

Total Package Price, including lunch and refreshments: US$269 per person (GST inclusive)

NOTE:

  • If only one person will be diving, rate is US$299 (GST inclusive)
  • If non-divers/ partners wish to share the experience of the magnificent island scenery, lunch, swim, snorkel, or simply to relax, they are welcome to join. The additional cost is US$99 per person (GST inclusive).
  • If you desire to have the boat exclusively for your group, you can add US$50 (GST inclusive).
Cebu Tours

TREASURE TOUR: ISLAND BLISS THREE-ISLAND DIVE TOUR

  • 3 different islands, 3 dives: (3) day dives in pristine marine sanctuaries of Nalusuan Island, Hilutungan Island, and Olango Island with a PADI instructor to guide you.
  • Non-divers are welcome to join for US$99 per person, including lunch and snorkeling equipment
  • Lunch at one of Olango Island’s famous stilt seafood restaurant—dining literally in the water. Enjoy our selection of the best seafood dishes in a restaurant 100 meters from shore.
  • Three marvelous and distinctly different dives showcasing the best diving spots in Mactan
  • This is your chance to see massive garoupas, blue-spotted sting rays, tuna, jacks, large trigger fish, frog fish, sea snakes, thresher sharks, and lots more!
  • Our experienced resident divers have tailor-made these dive tours for those who wish to see the best Mactan dive spots. Their experience guarantees an awesome dive experience.
  • The tours include car transfers to and from the 5-star PADI Dive Center
  • The large modern banca and its crew will take you island to island in style
  • An SDR host will accompany you from beginning to end of the tour
  • All diving equipment is included in the package
  • Schedule: Depart from SDR at 8:30 am, and return at about 6:30 pm

Total Package Price, including lunch and refreshments: US$229 (GST inclusive)

NOTE:

  • If only one person will be diving, price is US$269 (GST inclusive)
  • Partners and friends that are non-divers are welcome to join. The additional cost is US$99 per person (GST inclusive).
  • If you desire to hire the boat exclusively for your group, you pay an additional US$50 (GST inclusive).

For your Cebu travel, stay at SDR Apartments for accommodation at par with 5-star Cebu Hotels sans the costs. Contact SDR today!

Cebu Diving Packages and SDR Diving Tours was last modified: September 22nd, 2016 by SDR Apartments