The Scuba Place visited Scandi Divers in Puerto Galera Philippines hosting a group of divers. This is their trip report from their visit in April 2023.
The question I am asked most often is of course, ‘What is your favourite dive destination?’
I have tried to be smart and answer with a number of responses encapsulating types of diving, such as wreck, big marine life, liveaboard etc, but in truth, I have never really known the actual answer. I have favourite dives of course, but not necessarily a favourite destination.
Until now that is!
So, I am going to start this trip report with a summary, and briefly outline where and why, so you don’t actually have to read the rest of my diatribe.
Scandi Divers, Puerto Galera in the Philippines. There – it is out there, I’ve said it, now here is the Why.
The beachfront location is perfect. The rooms are super comfortable. The service is impeccable – like a 5* hotel and beyond. The food is excellent, and the people are just amazing. The diving is world-class, and most importantly, in these current times, the exceptional value cannot be ignored. Honestly, it doesn’t cost much more for 9 nights, with 8 days diving, full board, flights and transfers than it does for a 7-night safari on one of the mainstream boats in the Red Sea.
Granted – The Philippines is a bit further to go, and might involve taking an extra day or two off work, but is it worth it? The details follow, and I will leave you to make your own decision.
Different airlines give a choice of route and timings, and as such, the costs are pretty competitive. We flew with Emirates from Heathrow via Dubai to Manila. Our first leg was an overnight flight and took just shy of 7 hours. The next leg to Manila is similar, and the baggage allowance was 30kgs. Emirates get it right too – great seats, excellent entertainment, and the transit in Dubai was just 2 hours.
Once you arrive in Manila, the transfer to the resort is dependent upon the time you arrive. If it is before lunch, then you can head straight to Batangas and catch the speedboat to Puerto Galera. If arriving later in the day, then it is an overnight stay in Manila as the boats aren’t able to cross after 4pm. We stayed at the Dusit Thani, but there are other similarly priced options close to the airport. We were picked up the next morning after breakfast. The trip to the Batangas marina takes 90 minutes or so, dependent upon traffic, and the speedboat is 30 minutes, arriving directly on the beach in front of Scandi Divers. We arrived at Scandi in time for lunch and an afternoon dive.
The first thing that struck us was the welcome – a huge flag with our logo on the beach made us feel special, and this is something Scandi do for all clubs arriving. Staff lined the beach, welcomed us with shell necklaces, cold facecloths and a welcome drink, and our bags were immediately taken to our rooms.
A welcome meeting in the bar upstairs by the resort and dive centre staff gave us all the resort information we needed: where to put our kit, when we wanted to dive, dining info and the like – and even a neck and shoulder massage whilst the briefing was taking place! And more gifts too; a refillable water bottle for each guest with name tags. What a welcome – we have never experienced better in all our travels.
It was then on to our rooms, and as a group, we had pretty much every room type. Across all rooms, expect good storage and good air-conditioning, together with ceiling fans and an en-suite. The poolside rooms had just been refurbished and were decorated beautifully, giving a real light and modern feel. A serious refurbishment plan has been put into place in the summer of 2023, and if the standards are the same as the previous roll-out, the rooms are going to be pretty special to say the least.
Others in the group had larger penthouse rooms right on the seafront – beautiful views from up high over the whole bay, and the brand new beachfront cottage rooms, perfect for single occupancy without a supplement, provide a neat and tidy space spitting distance (literally) from the sand. We had a good tour around the suites above reception and these are perfect for a little touch of luxury. If travelling with a family, there is a three-bedroom suite that would be perfect for four to six people and has the best views over the beach too from its own balcony.
Sadly, I didn’t lose any weight whilst staying at Scandi – it’s always a hope, and sometimes achieved, but definitely not on this trip – the food was delicious. Full board is the standard fare, and this includes a full cooked breakfast, and a choice of starters, mains and dessert at lunch and dinner. Beer or soda is included with meals, but if drinking at lunchtime, no diving in the afternoon! And happy hour before dinner was great for sharing our daily diving stories. All meals are cooked to order, and if the daily specials aren’t to your liking, then there is a huge a la carte menu that you can order from without any penalty.
And the quality? Excellent. Asian, Thai, Korean BBQ and western meals were all available – we took advantage of every flavour and had a Chinese feast one night just for variety. Seafood is as fresh as it can be, the soups offered daily are amazing, and tasty pizzas, pastas and burgers too. All our meals were absolutely delicious, and all dietary requirements are catered for.
And the diving? WOW – just WOW!
The dive centre is on the ground floor right on the beach. You touch your kit once at the beginning of the trip to unpack it, and then at the end of the trip to pack up again. In between, the exceptional staff build it, carry it to and from the boat, help you kit up and de-kit, and rinse everything for you at the end of each dive, hanging wetsuits up to dry too.
There are separate rinse tanks for suits, BCD’s, masks, boots, and of course cameras, along with a climate-controlled camera room for storage, charging and swapping batteries and cards between dives.
The dive boats – four of them – vary in size, from a 4-diver skiff through to 12-person outriggers. Each experienced all of them and can honestly say they all are comfortable, have plenty of space and offer easy access to the water. Backward rolls for entry, and then you de-kit in the water and climb a good ladder to exit. Warm facecloths are provided to each diver after the dive to rinse off the salt – such a nice touch!
Puerto Galera is said to have a greater density of biodiversity than the Caribbean Sea and the Great Barrier Reef put together, and even being aware of this prior to our arrival, we were quite simply gobsmacked by the underwater environment. Every dive brought a huge smile to our faces.
There are close to 50 dive sites within a very short boat ride, offering exceptional variety. Big drift dives are offered, where you can hook onto the reef and watch big schools of jacks and tuna hang in the blue. There are also numerous wrecks – not big wrecks with penetration opportunities, but fishing boats that have become artificial reefs – full of ornate ghost pipefish, painted and warty frogfish, cardinal fish with their mouths full of eggs, jawfish, nudis and shrimps of several different types.
The numerous reef dives offer a gentle descent over extremely healthy hard and soft corals, giant sponges, and we saw morays of several different types, turtles, catfish balls, anemones, and their inhabitants (including porcelain crabs), and so much more. Mantis shrimp scuttle across the sand, frogfish hide amongst the sponges, and we even found ghost pipefish with a full egg pouch. Nudibranchs of so many varieties crawl over the reef surfaces, seahorses hide in the weeds, and the list goes on and on.
Included in every dive package at Scandi is a day trip to the amazing Verde Island. This three-dive, lunch-on-the-beach-included day trip takes in this famous collection of dive sites where the drop-off is just extreme. The Verde Island Passage has been called ‘The Centre of the Centre of Marine Biodiversity of the World’ and yes – this day delivers the goods! Beautiful corals and sponges, and schooling fish galore, with a good current to boot made these dives very special. There were times that the drop-off was totally obscured by the marine life, and yet we still found a couple of octopus, loads of different nudis and little critters inside of the plethora of feather star and crinoids. This is a day not to be missed!
Finally, there is the muck or macro dives. Here are plenty of choices, but we found the best to be in the channel just 5 minutes away from the resort. We found pretty much everything anyone could want! We had a bucket list of course, and the only thing that didn’t turn up was a polar bear.
Flamboyant cuttlefish, squid, tiny cuttlefish, octopus – and yes, blue ringed, wonderpus AND mimic. Nudis galore, tiny frogfish the size of a thumbnail, a few small bobbitt worms, rhinopias, two Ambon scorpionfish, more cardinal fish, seahorses, pygmy seahorses, orangutang crabs, crinoid shrimp and crabs, emperor shrimp, skeleton shrimp, squat lobsters – this list really does go on and on – and then some more!
As keen photographers, this really was heaven for us, and in all of our experience to date, this has been the highest-yield destination we have been to. Here are a few of our favourites and check out our full gallery here.
On top of all of this – the quality accommodation, the food, the spectacular diving – there are two more things to really focus on when substantiating this as a firm favourite destination.
Firstly, it is the little things that the resort does to make you feel welcome – right from the very start. A bar of chocolate in your room with a personalised label, thanking you for choosing to stay there. A friendship bracelet, waiting in your room after a diving day. Your personalised water bottle, a t-shirt that is co-branded with Scandi and your own dive club logo – again the list is long.
And lastly, the thing that really made it difficult to leave is the people. They know your name from day one, know your favourite food, favourite drink, and cannot do enough for you, but it is more than that. The people are just lovely! Happy, passionate, super-friendly and they really care – really! They just love to celebrate with you too – birthdays, anniversaries, dive milestones and generally, everything that needs to be celebrated! The energy that they put into the fire dancing performance evening and the live music evening is representative of their genuine passion, and we just loved it all!
We left at the end of two weeks, and to be honest, waving goodbye was emotional.
You know what that means – we have to go back!!
In fact, we’ve already made plans and are hosting another trip in May 2024. Come Dive with Us! Check out the brochure with the full itinerary here.
- Getting there : Our flights were with Emirates flying from Heathrow to Manila via Dubai. Total flight time was 18½ hours landing in Manila the following evening. A taxi to the Dusit Thani took a little over 30 minutes and cost about £35. We’re going to try an airport hotel next time. A little sleep then breakfast in the morning before getting picked up by Scandi staff at 10am for transport to the marina. Luggage was loaded onto the speedboat and we settled in for a quick 30 minute crossing to Puerto Galera. The ramp from the speedboat was dropped right on to the beach in front of the resort where we were greeted by Scandi staff.
- Air temperature : Tropical – average daily temperature throughout the year is 24-30°C. The warmest and driest months are April and May and the wettest months are usually July and August.
- Water temperature : 26-29°C. A 1-3mm full suit or shorty will suit most.
- Visa requirement : UK passport holders are permitted to enter the Philippines without a visa for an initial period of 30 days.
- Health protocols : If you’re fully vaccinated you can enter the Philippines provided you have proof of vaccination, proof of return journey, 6 months of validity left on your passport and have registered for an e-Travel pass within 72 hours of arrival.
- Currency : Philippine peso or US Dollar are accepted in resort. Cash or credit card with a 4% fee.
- Electricity : 220V with 2 or 3-prong sockets. Our adaptor worked without issue.
- Internet and Wi-Fi : There is wifi in resort and worked well in our room which was furthest from reception. We were able to email, WhatsApp and post on social media without issue.
Price Guide: Expect from £2250 per person based on two sharing a standard room for 9 nights with 8 days diving – 3 dives per day offered, plus one night or blackwater dive and excursion to Verde Island. A one hour complimentary massage was included and was the perfect treat after a few days of travel or at the end of the holiday.
Our Advice: Go to the Philippines! It is a destination that we love and look forward to visiting time and time again. Affordable with diving fit for every level and it’s a goldmine for any underwater photographer.
Rechargeable fan(s) : If you’ve read any of our recent trip reports we recommend these over and over again. We can’t believe we travelled without them for so many years! Join the fan club and grab one off Amazon… you won’t regret it!
Insect repellent : We’ve made a habit of throwing some repellent in our dive bags every trip but with the lovely breezes we didn’t suffer the mozzies much at all!
Scandi had it all, specialty coffees whenever you need a caffeine hit and an ice cream cooler with treats if you fancy, so just know you’ll want for little while you’re there!
The Scuba Place designs and builds custom scuba diving holidays. With personal knowledge and experience diving in many of our destinations, there is no one better to help build your dream dive holiday. Come Dive with Us!
Call us at 020 3515 9955 or email at email@example.com
Find us on
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/thescubaplace
Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/the.scuba.place/
Diving into the World’s Fastest Tidal Rapids
In the mystical waters just north of Vancouver, Canada lies a narrow channel called the Skookumchuck Narrows, or simply “The Skook.” It’s a hidden gem in the Salish Sea that boasts a unique spectacle – a tumultuous dance of tides and currents that draws adventurers and spectators from far and wide.
Imagine this: a channel so narrow and shallow that a single tide can unleash an astonishing 200 billion gallons of water, creating a tumultuous display of standing waves, whirlpools, and currents surging at 16 knots (18 mph or 30 kph). Such speeds may seem mild when driving a car, but the erratic water is a different ballgame. Skookumchuck Narrows is a contender for the title of the world’s fastest tidal rapids, rivaled only by Nakwakto Rapids further up the British Columbia coast.
But there’s a twist – this aquatic battleground isn’t just for adrenaline seekers; The Skook is an oasis for life beneath the waves. April 2023 marked a rare convergence of perfect conditions: a celestial alignment allowing divers to witness The Skook in all its glory. And who better to guide this daring expedition than Porpoise Bay Charters, a family-run venture led by the seasoned Kal Helyar and Ann Beardsell?
Raging currents = an abundance of life
The allure lies not in the danger but in the vibrant marine ecosystem fueled by the relentless currents. Ocean currents act as nature’s turbochargers, transporting nutrients that transform places like Skookumchuck Narrows into underwater havens with colorful life thriving amidst the rocky terrain.
It’s important to debunk the myth that this is a reckless plunge into chaos. Diving The Skook is not about courting danger but choosing the right moment: at slack when the tide turns, the water experiences minimal movement, and the currents are a mere 4-5 knots. Picture this – a scuba diver slipping gracefully between tidal changes, maneuvering with precision as the water changes its course and gradually picks up speed. Timing is everything, and finding the rare dates when daylight piercing through the emerald-green water coincides with navigable water conditions is critical. April 2023 granted us a mere handful of these golden days of nature’s alignment for the first time in four years.
Entering the abyss
As our vessel, under the watchful eye of Captain Kal, approached the infamous Skookumchuck rapids, a tangible excitement filled the air. These cold-water adrenaline-filled dives are the scuba diving equivalent to scaling Everest. The unpredictability of The Skook, where currents can whisk you in any direction, demanded respectful caution from our experienced salty crew.
With a reassuring smile, Captain Kal dismissed the notion of a toilet bowl experience, where divers are pulled in a circular direction by the currents as if flushed down a toilet. He emphasized that they only dived during an easy drift in the current, which was hard to fathom possible in such treacherous waters. Approaching the narrowest section of the channel, where the current was fastest, Kal’s experienced eyes scanned for the telltale signs of slack tide. Tidal ripples slowed, and we entered the water in the few precious minutes within the next year when it was possible to witness Skookumchuck in all its sunny glory.
As we descended into the underwater world, a mysterious algal bloom cast a dark green haze, unveiling a breathtaking palette of colors below. Bright red and pink anemones, neon orange encrusting sponges, and deep purple ochre sea stars adorned the rocky canvas, showcasing nature’s artistic prowess.
Surrendering to the sea
Descending further, we felt the force of the tide, like a river yet to subside. Gripping onto rock holds and kicking into the current, we felt like underwater rock climbers. Adjusting our underwater camera settings and getting comfortable with the flow of the water, we marveled at the transformation of the underwater landscape. Slabs of rock, once pounded by the current, now hosted a vibrant community of marine life.
After a mesmerizing twenty minutes of relatively gentle water, the current intensified, signaling the roller coaster drop ahead. We surrendered to neutrality, letting the current guide us along the wall. Boulders and back eddies added a touch of unpredictability; with trust in our abilities and Captain Kal’s promise of a safe pickup, the thrill was exhilarating rather than menacing.
As the current ebbed, we found ourselves in a tranquil cove adorned with green sea urchins, marking the end of our underwater odyssey. The Skook had shown us its splendor: a delicate balance of chaos and life beneath the surface – leaving us with memories as vivid as the colors we witnessed.
About the Author
Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles, he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. After working as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific, Nirupam became the Editor-in-Chief of the Underwater Photography Guide and the President of Bluewater Photo – the world’s top underwater photo & video retailer. Check out more of his photography at www.photosfromthesea.com!
US-based divers: explore more close-by dive destinations with Bluewater Dive Travel here.
All photos: Nirupam Nigam
Hunting Lionfish Safely and Responsibly in Curaçao
Curaçao, a picturesque island in the southern Caribbean, is not only renowned for its stunning beaches and vibrant culture but also for its commitment to preserving its marine ecosystems. One of the key threats to these delicate ecosystems is the invasive lionfish. To combat this menace, responsible hunting practices are crucial.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore how to hunt lionfish safely and responsibly in Curaçao, including the use of pole spears (the only legal method in Curaçao). We will provide you with the top 10 safe hunting practices, including the use of a Zookeeper. We will also address what to do if you are stung by a lionfish and emphasize the importance of consulting with local experts before embarking on your lionfish hunting adventure.
Why Safe and Responsible Lionfish Hunting is Important
Lionfish (Pterois spp.) are native to the Indo-Pacific region but have become invasive predators in the Caribbean, including the waters surrounding Curaçao. Their voracious appetite for native fish species and rapid reproduction rates poses a severe threat to the delicate balance of marine ecosystems in the region. The introduction of lionfish has led to a decline in native fish populations and the degradation of coral reefs.
To counteract the lionfish invasion, responsible hunting practices are essential. Hunting lionfish can help control their population and protect the native marine life of Curaçao’s waters. However, it is imperative to follow safe and responsible hunting techniques to minimize the impact on the environment and ensure the safety of both divers and the marine ecosystem.
Understanding the Pole Spear
In Curaçao, the only legal method for hunting lionfish is using a pole spear. It’s important to note that a pole spear is distinct from other spearfishing equipment, such as a Hawaiian sling or a spear gun with a trigger mechanism. The use of Hawaiian slings or spear guns with triggers is illegal in Curaçao for lionfish hunting due to safety and conservation concerns.
A pole spear consists of a long, slender pole with a pointed tip, often made of stainless steel or fiberglass, designed for precision and accuracy. Unlike a trigger-based spear gun, a pole spear requires the diver to manually draw back on a rubber band then release towards the target, providing a more controlled and selective approach to hunting.
How to Hunt Lionfish Using a Pole Spear Responsibly
When using a pole spear to hunt lionfish, it’s crucial to do so responsibly to ensure the safety of both the diver and the marine environment. Here are some essential guidelines on how to hunt lionfish using a pole spear responsibly:
- Safety First: Always prioritize safety when diving and hunting. Ensure you have the necessary training and experience for hunting lionfish. Consider the Lionfish Scuba Dive Experience offered by Ocean Encounters. This opportunity allows participants to learn under the expert guidance of local scuba diving professionals.
- Check Regulations: Familiarize yourself with local regulations and restrictions related to lionfish hunting in Curaçao. Respect no-take zones and marine protected areas.
- Target Only Lionfish: Use your pole spear exclusively for lionfish hunting. Do not attempt to spear any other species, as this can harm the fragile ecosystem.
- Aim for Precision: Approach your target lionfish carefully and aim for a precise shot to minimize the risk of injuring other marine life or damaging the coral reef.
- Use a Zookeeper: A Zookeeper is a specialized container designed to safely store and transport lionfish after capture. It prevents the lionfish’s venomous spines from causing harm and keeps them secure during the dive.
- Respect Lionfish Anatomy: Target the head of the lionfish and stay away from its venomous spines. Aim for a clean and humane kill to minimize suffering.
- Avoid Overhunting: Do not overhunt lionfish in a single dive. Limit the number of lionfish you catch to what you can safely handle and process.
- Practice Good Buoyancy: Maintain excellent buoyancy control to avoid inadvertently damaging the reef or stirring up sediment, which can harm marine life.
- Dispose Responsibly: Once you’ve caught lionfish, carefully place them in your Zookeeper. Do not release them back into the water, as they are invasive and harmful to the ecosystem.
- Report Your Catch: If applicable, report your lionfish catch to local authorities or organizations involved in lionfish management to contribute to data collection efforts.
In the Unlikely Event of a Lionfish Sting
While lionfish stings are rare, it’s essential to know how to respond if you or someone you are diving with is stung. Lionfish have venomous spines that can cause pain, swelling, and even more severe reactions in some cases. Here’s how to respond to a lionfish sting:
- Signal for Help: Notify your diving buddy or group immediately if you are stung.
- Remove Spines: If the spines are still embedded in the skin, carefully remove them with tweezers or a clean, sterile tool. Be cautious not to break the spines, as this can release more venom.
- Clean the Wound: Rinse the affected area with warm water to help alleviate pain and reduce the risk of infection.
- Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help with pain and swelling. However, if you experience severe symptoms, seek medical attention promptly.
- Seek Medical Help: If the pain and swelling worsen or if you have an allergic reaction to the venom, seek medical assistance immediately.
Consult Local Lionfish Experts
Before embarking on a lionfish hunting adventure in Curaçao, it’s crucial to consult with local and responsible dive shops or organizations dedicated to lionfish management, such as Lionfish Caribbean.
These experts can provide valuable insights, tips, and up-to-date information on how to hunt lionfish safely and responsibly, hunting locations, safety measures, and environmental conservation efforts.
Start Planning your Next Caribbean Adventure
Knowing how to hunt lionfish safely and responsibly in Curaçao is not just an exciting underwater activity but also a crucial step in protecting the island’s marine ecosystems. By using a pole spear and adhering to the top 10 safe hunting practices, including the use of a Zookeeper, you can contribute to the control of the invasive lionfish population while preserving the delicate balance of Curaçao’s underwater world.
Remember that safety should always be your top priority when diving and hunting lionfish. In the unlikely event of a lionfish sting, knowing how to respond can make all the difference. By consulting with local experts and following ethical and legal guidelines, you can enjoy a rewarding and responsible lionfish hunting experience while safeguarding the beauty of Curaçao’s marine environment for generations to come. Please always dive safely and responsibly, and together, we can make a positive impact on Curaçao’s underwater world while learning how to hunt lionfish effectively.
Blogs2 months ago
Discover Peace and Tranquillity in Egypt’s Eastern Desert and its Amazing Red Sea
News1 month ago
Emperor Echo liveaboard sustains “irreversible damage” in lightning storm at Fury Shoals
Blogs2 months ago
A Flying Visit to Nusa Penida, Bali
Blogs2 weeks ago
My week on Scuba Scene: simply the best Red Sea liveaboard experience
News2 months ago
2023 Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition Announced
Marine Life & Conservation2 months ago
Book Review: The Lives of Octopuses and Their Relatives
Blogs1 week ago
Unveiling Indonesia’s Dive Gem: Welcome to Bunaken Oasis, Where Adventure Meets Luxury
Equipment2 months ago
Oceanic+ Now Has Freedive Mode on Apple Watch Ultra