Legendary shark experts Ron and Valerie Taylor called it “the best shark dive in the world”. In Beqa Lagoon, brave men feed up to eight different shark species just a stone’s throw from your position. While the sight of the mingling whitetip, blacktip and grey reef sharks and the bigger nurse, silvertip and lemon sharks already provides for a spectacle in itself, it’s the world’s largest bull sharks who steal the show here. That is, until the biggest predator of these waters, the tiger shark arrives on scene. Yet the thrill these ultimate shark dives provoke is not the end goal of the organizing company. It’s part of a clever strategy that provides them the means to protect the sharks.
As the sun rises over Fiji’s main island Viti Levu we are already on our way to Pacific Harbour, where the unique diving experience is being offered. Through the open windows of our rental car a cool breeze carries the scent of flowers and villagers greet us with a typical loud BULA! (hello, welcome), as we pass them. When we arrive at the dive center, the guides help us to unload our diving gear and within a half hour we are already on our way to Shark Reef. During the 25 minute passage on the Navua river and Beqa lagoon, we get a thorough briefing about the diving spot, the different shark species and the way every diver is expected to behave during the dive. The safety of both the divers and the sharks is a priority. Once on site, we jump into the water one by one and descend along a line down to The Arena, at a depth of 30 meters.
It is clear why they call this site The Arena as it really has a theater like setting. The central open space is lined by a semi-circular, 20 cm high coral rock wall. All participants are asked to sit down behind it. A large number of big bass, pacific jack mackerel and rainbow mackerel is already present, circling the bait containers. As soon as the shark feeders take their positions, the first sharks also appear. The nurse and lemon sharks are a bit of a motley crew. They rush into the arena from all sides, but soon realize they only get a fish head when they approach the feeders from the correct side. Meanwhile, two guides have placed themselves behind the spectators with long, flat-ended aluminum sticks. They gently push sharks that come in too close into the right direction.
Courageous little whitetip reef sharks boldly meander through the much larger shark species, looking for scraps. The silvertips’ behavior is entirely different. These alert and fast hunters prefer to patrol the edge of the arena until they have eye contact with one of the feeders. Then they cross the distance to their benefactor in the blink of an eye, and gobble up the offered food. After a few minutes the arena becomes increasingly crowded as ever more predators, including giant groupers and napoleon wrasse, are attracted by the food containers. Small and bigger coral fish circle ever faster in a frenzy, until they form a spiraling fish tornado. Behind it, we see the shadows of large predators appearing. The bull sharks have arrived! But they know that this is not their feeding spot, and that audacity will only be punished with a push and a tap of the aluminum push sticks. And so they patiently wait their turn.
Safety stop with superior “entertainment”
After 17 minutes, the whole group moves to a platform at 10 meters, and everyone picks a spot behind the rope. This is where the grey reef sharks are being fed. Smart and graceful as they are, they prove to know the procedure well. The platform becomes like a runway when one by one, the grey reef sharks descend, all using the same flight path to the man holding the tube with bait.
For the last couple of minutes of the dive we move once more, this time to a flat reef at 4 meters, to feed the white tip and black tip reef sharks. Extremely shy as black tips generally are, this feeding session provides a unique opportunity to admire this beautiful species from up close.
During the surface interval, a new container of bait is lowered from a separate boat down to our second dive site and our guides elaborate on their job as shark feeders. They come from Beqa Island on the opposite site of Beqa Lagoon and they tell us that they are protected by a pact their ancestors made with the sharks. “We promised to never hurt sharks and in return they don’t bite us”. During the animated conversation we indulge ourselves, snacking on the offered cookies and coconut until we’re completely full. But meanwhile, deep down in the water and attracted by the irresistible scent of fish oil and tuna heads, increasing numbers of hungry apex predators anxiously await our return….
The grand finale
The setting of the second feeding session is once again an open central space lined by a wall, but this one is only 15 meters deep. Inside and near the wall we can see a perforated steel box on the bottom, containing the fish heads for the bull sharks. The shark feeder is flanked by two bodyguards this time, to stifle the possibility of an incident. The bull sharks are colossal and it is immediately obvious that this is no child’s play but a meticulously planned procedure built with expertise and experience. At first the sharks approach the feeders cautiously and calmly. But as the dive progresses, a few of the sharks get impatient and excited and things seem to get a bit hectic. While the group of feeding bull sharks passes, there are also still other sharks in the area and at certain moments the fish tornado moves right in front of our faces. But the guides have everything perfectly under control and any shark that falls out of line is immediately and decisively corrected using the push sticks. I don’t feel unsafe for a single moment.
After a quickly passing half hour, the show suddenly falls silent. The procession of bull sharks stops and the animals move to the background. I look up at the guides, reluctantly preparing myself to go back up, but then I see the reason for the abrupt change in atmosphere appearing. Long as a small submarine and with the unmistakable wide mouth and stripes on it’s back, the king of the Fijian waters has come to claim his share. A gorgeous tiger shark glides slowly and majestically into the open space. His confident, calm moves make it clear that he is very conscious of his power and size. He clearly knows that not a single animal in these waters poses a threat to him. The feeder holds up a large tuna head and we see him opening his enormous mouth while he slowly approaches the feeder. Its large teeth shine and a protective membrane covers its eyes before his massive jaws engulf the food. “What a incredible experience this is!”
The soul of the shark circus
The organization is sometimes criticized because the set up and interaction with the sharks is not natural and the sharks are conditioned by it. The owners of Beqa Adventure Divers (B.A.D.) confirm this themselves, but the show has a much bigger purpose than sensational entertainment by itself.
In 1999, when a dive guide made his first dive at a spot where, according to old sea charts, “Shark Reef” was situated, the only thing he found was a boring slope with debris, no sharks at all and barely some fish or coral growth. It was only after weeks of leaving bait behind, that he finally saw a couple of reef sharks. He then asked the elders of the villages responsible for the reef if he could bring divers along and feed the sharks. Every diver would pay a fee to the village if, in return, the villagers would stop fishing the reef. The elders agreed because they rarely caught any fish on the reef anyway.
Over the following years more and more sharks learned that the sound of a certain boat signaled a free meal. But the activity also attracted more and more other fish and the place gradually became a complete community, a vibrant local marine ecosystem. In 2004 the shark feeding sessions became so popular they were split between two organizations. By that time experts already counted 300 different fish species on Shark Reef, which by then had not been fished upon since five years. Consequently, the fish catches in the neighboring villages were also increasing while the reef owners’ income was secured by the divers’ fees.
Win-win for everyone and especially for the sharks
Now, the proceeds of the shark dives are being used for several noble purposes and the organization has secured national protection of the reef. The Fijian government was convinced of the economic value of the thriving business, because every shark diver contributes to the economical welfare of the country through his overnight stays, his restaurant visits and transport. Moreover, the shark diving operations create jobs. This resulted in a 50 km long passage between Viti Levu and Beqa Island to be declared Fiji’s first shark sanctuary. The whole area is now an official no-take zone under the control of B.A.D. To ensure enforcement, the company trained 12 local rangers. The Swiss non-profit organization The Shark Foundation donated a patrol boat for this purpose. A portion of the proceeds is also being used to plant mangroves on various islands in the country. These function as nurseries for fish species and protect the Fijian coastlines against storm surges. Thanks to the mangrove program, BAD is now also a carbon neutral dive operation and the program has been made available for anyone to copy, to encourage other dive operations to offset their carbon footprint too.
Finally, the diving fees are also used to finance scientific research. The bull sharks’ migration route was investigated by tagging the sharks. The results showed that the sharks frequent all corners of the Fijian waters and even far beyond. With this evidence in hand, B.A.D. is now working with the government to ban shark fishing throughout the country. It is certainly necessary as longlining by foreign fisheries is allowed in Fiji’s national waters and village elders can autonomously decide whether their fishermen are allowed to target sharks (and sell the fins) or not. This despite the fact that the company has amply proved that live sharks represent a much higher value compared to the sale of shark fins.
The shark dive companies are very aware that their success or failure depends on the level of safety they can guarantee their customers. Therefore they apply very strict safety rules. It is mandatory for all guests to wear a black diving suit covering the entire body, and black gloves. There are suits available at the dive center. The guides also demand undivided attention from each diver during the briefings. Cameras can only be used with arms bent tightly against the body and the use of an extension handle on a Go-Pro is not allowed. The team of guides generally consists of five people: the shark feeder, two bodyguards to protect the shark feeder and two guides who stand guard for the guests. Moreover, each guest who has less than 30 dives on his record gets a personal guide, while the maximum number of participants on each trip is limited to 20.
Also essential to avoid incidents is of course the training of the shark feeders. Generally new employees are first introduced to other functions within the company, like steering the boat or managing the diving center. Once convinced of the character and skills of a potential feeder, they start a six-month intensive training to learn the strict procedures to follow while feeding. For example, sharks are always fed using the same hand while the other arm is folded tightly against the body and food can only be offered when the shark approaches from the correct direction. If the shark approaches from the wrong direction, then the food is hidden.
In addition, the intern-feeders are introduced into the science of shark behavior. Accompanied by established marine biologists and experienced feeders, the intern-feeder watches numerous videos of past feeding sessions, during which the sharks’ behavior is analyzed. Due to the extensive training and experience of the shark whisperers, there has never been a single bite incident in their many years of operation. The number of shark attacks in Fiji’s waters hasn’t gone up since the startup of the company either. The official explanation for the low number of incidents with sharks in Fiji, despite the large number of sharks living in their waters, is that the rich fish stocks keep the sharks well fed. “But maybe”, we wonder, “it might also have something to do with that mysterious pact the shark whisperers made with the sharks”.
The Fiji archipelago consists of 333 islands of which only one-third is inhabited. The islands lie extremely isolated in the South Pacific, 4450 km Southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii and 3430 km East of Queensland, Australia. The expansive region (including national waters) covers an area of more than 18,300 km2.
Fiji enjoys a tropical climate. It can be dived all year round. The air temperature is between 25-32°C all year round. The dry season runs from June to October. These months offer the best visibility, but occasionally brisk winds can be blowing. The water temperature drops during this period to a minimum of 22-23°C. The rainy season can be felt between December and April. It is characterized by calm days and warmer water between 26-30°C. The visibility drops slightly in this period but is still up to 20 meters. December to March is hurricane season. Some islands receive considerably more rain than others. The mountains on Viti Levu divide the island between a dry northwestern part and a much more moist southeastern part.
Korean Air operates flights from Amsterdam to Seoul, South Korea, taking 9 hours 45 minutes and then onwards after a stopover of five hours, from Seoul to Nadi, Fiji in 10,5 hours.
Other companies that offer a smooth transfer are Cathay Pacific and Qantas.
Two companies offer the ultimate shark dive at Shark Reef departing from Pacific Harbour.
Beqa Adventure Divers: The two dives take place at different sites. During the first dive, different shark species are being fed on separate levels: 30, 10 and 4 meters. For the second dive they move to a dive site at 15 meters, after which they do a safety stop on the reef. (Semi) professional photographers who join multiple trips are sometimes allowed a spot in the arena next to the feeder. Their ultimate shark dive is offered on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. www.fijisharkdive.com
Aqua-Trek: Both dives are conducted at the same dive site at 18 meters depth. There’s a wreck situated next to the arena, which is used to do the safety stops. In agreement with the guides, photographers are sometimes allowed to sit at a separate spot with better views. Their ultimate shark dive is offered on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. www.aquatrek.com
Pacific Harbour is a small coastal tourist town with a few moderate to expensive hotels.
We preferred to stay at Maui Palms (www.mauipalms-accommodation.com) at the beach of Korolevu, 35 km from Pacific Harbour. The romantic mini resort consists of 4 well cared for bungalows, which are situated just meters from the sandy beach and beautiful coral reef. At high tide baby blacktip reef sharks swim up to the waterfront and you can snorkel with them. The location is also perfect to visit the other highlights of the area.
Multiple international car rental agencies are present in Fiji, but we preferred to work with the local company Khans Rental Cars (www.khansrental.com.fj). They offer the best prices in Viti Levu. Driving the company owner to the bus stop after receipt of our rental car was all part of the adventure.
Story: Katrien Vandevelde
Pictures: Katrien Vandevelde & Jan Wouters; © BlueShark Conservation; www.blueshark.be
A Flying Visit to Nusa Penida, Bali
Once I’d organised my 6 day/5 night Jurassic Komodo trip, I knew, if I was going to travel all that way, I needed a bit more time to acclimatise and explore. With flying through Bali a popular route from the UK to Labuan Bajo, it made complete sense to spend a couple of days there before flying out. What better way to get the trip started than revisiting where my underwater photography journey started back in 2013 and diving around Nusa Penida? The opportunity came up to spend 2 nights with an amazing little dive resort on Nusa Penida Island called Pure Dive Resort, and it was the perfect start to my trip.
Pure Dive Resort was created in January 2019 after the owners sold their share in a dive resort they built on Ceningan, and has been operational since 1st May 2019. Pure Dive Resort has big plans to create a full-scale dive resort offering quality diving on Nusa Penida. Unfortunately, the Covid outbreak caused delays, and at the moment only the dive centre is operating. However, while I was there, you can see work is in full effect and the place is already looking amazing. After speaking to the owner Ark and the ambition he has for the place, it’s clear that Pure will be a sought-after resort on the island; a place focused on high service and safety standards, while concentrating on keeping it personal for each and every guest.
While the plans for the resort proceed, Pure Dive Resort are using Ring Sameton Hotel for their dive and stay packages, just a 2-minute stroll from the dive centre. Pure Dive Resort are running 2 custom built dive boats, each capable of taking up to 14 divers (including guides) onboard. I for one was very impressed with the dive boat and how spacious and comfortable it was, especially as ‘Manta Point’ is quite a ride away and it can be a little choppy; however, on this occasion the journey was a super comfortable and a fun ride out. The boats are equipped with marine radios, 2×100 4 stroke engines, emergency O2 and life jackets, keeping safety paramount. Not only is Pure Dive Resort a well-equipped dive centre, it also has a freediving school, and they use their own custom-built boat with the capacity of a maximum of 10 freedivers onboard.
While I was impressed with the professionalism and facilities of Pure Dive Resort, it was the equipment for hire and the capabilities of the centre which really stood out. As I was flying to Labuan Bajo late the next day, and I was only scheduled for 3 dives, I was reluctant to use my own dive gear for fear of drying time. I requested a wetsuit and BCD and was really impressed with the quality on offer. Almost brand new ScubaPro equipment is available, and you can see it is well looked after and kept in perfect order in a dry room at the back of the centre. So, after the formalities were over, it was time to get familiar with diving in Nusa Penida once again. Our first dive was scheduled for ‘Manta Point’, easily the most famous/popular dive site of Nusa Penida. I was really looking forward to getting back to a dive site that was the catalyst for me becoming an underwater photographer 10 years ago. The journey to ‘Manta Point’ is an adventure in itself, and just adds to the experience. The rough and ready coastline of dramatic cliffs, pounded by a lively sea, leave you in awe, as the rising sun breaks over the top of the island, creating dramatic rays of light through the spray and mist. The boat skips along the surface, with the excitement building over every swell.
After around a 45-minute journey, we arrived at ‘Manta Point’ earlier than a lot of the other boats that were heading there, thanks to Pure Dive Resort working to create the best experience for their guests and aiming to beat the crowds. Ark was my dive guide for the dive and one other diver would join us. After a thorough dive briefing, where you could tell Ark was very knowledgeable about the area, dive site and mantas, we dropped in and were soon graced by the presence of a black-morph manta ray. Honestly, it couldn’t have been much more than 2 minutes into the dive and the manta went gliding over my head. What a start! Two more manta rays were seen during the dive, but they didn’t seem to want to stay around. That’s wildlife for you; you can’t guarantee the manta rays will circle above you for the whole dive. We still got guaranteed manta rays and saw three, along with a fever of blue spotted stingrays all huddled together on the reef floor. A great start to my trip, and seeing a manta ray within 2 minutes of entering the water is pretty incredible.
Our manta fix wasn’t quite finished though. While we headed back along Nusa Penida to our next dive site, we stopped at a known manta feeding spot for juveniles. It’s an area where a lot of the snorkelling boats go to experience manta rays, and sure enough, we could see a lot of activity in the bay. Ark made the decision to take us over and see what kind of action was happening. It wasn’t long before we spotted a large black shape breaking the surface, and Ark asked if we’d like to jump in and snorkel. It was a unanimous decision and we were dropped in the path of the manta ray. More incredible manta moments were had, as it passed by circling the bay area as it fed. I managed to grab some cool shots showing the contrast of the top of the manta to the seafloor. Nusa Penida really is a unique place and great for manta ray interactions.
After a brief snorkel, we were soon back on the boat skipping across the surface to our next port of call located on the North West side of Nusa Penida. Our next dive site of choice was ‘Pura Ped’, a sloping hill reaching down from the surface creating a gradual descent broken up with stunning hard and soft coral spread throughout the site. The visibility was just amazing, and while Ark kept an eye on the depths in the hope of seeing Mola Mola, I concentrated on the reef and marvelled at the amazing coral on show. While we had no luck with Mola Mola, Titan triggerfish, huge pufferfish and three hawksbill turtles kept me entertained throughout a thoroughly peaceful dive.
Before I descended for my third dive of the day. We ventured back to the dive centre and enjoyed an incredibly tasty lunch, included with a dive day package. The Soto Ayam in the restaurant opposite the dive centre was bursting with flavour and well needed after two great dives.
My third dive was to concentrate on some macro critters that call Nusa Penida home, and Intan was highly recommended to be my guide. Intan had a big reputation with the other guides who said she was incredible at finding the small stuff. I wasn’t originally planning on doing any macro, so it was lucky that my room wasn’t far, and I rushed back to change my lens. The dive site also wasn’t far, as we made a short journey out to ‘SD Point’. I’m so glad I switched to macro and could witness and document the diversity of diving here. Intan’s reputation was well deserved, as she continually pointed out some amazing critters, with leaf scorpionfish, peacock mantis shrimp, scorpionfish, nudibranch, porcelain crab and more spotted throughout another amazing dive.
My trip to Nusa Penida with Pure Dive Resort was short and sweet, and left me wanting a lot more. A day of diving was nowhere near enough that’s for sure, with Ark confident he can find Mola Mola within a few days during the high season of August and September. I feel a trip must be planned for that time next year to explore so much more that this area has to offer. I feel I also missed out on exploring more of the island and its rugged beauty. A trip across to Kelingking Beach is a must next time (even though it is the quintessential tourist view of Bali). While I enjoyed meals at Penida Minang and Penida Colada, a week of culinary exploration is also much needed while I take in the sites. The only question I have now is – ‘Who’s joining me and Pure Dive Resort for an amazing week in Nusa Penida?’
For more information about diving in Nusa Penida:
Whatsapp: +62 811 3999 852
Sean Chinn Instagram: @greatwhitesean
Dive the Philippines : Scandi Divers Puerto Galera Trip Report
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!
WIN a c-monsta Wetsuit Hanger!!!
For this week’s competition, we’ve teamed up with c-monsta to give away one of their wetsuit hangers as a prize!...
WIN a Sharkskin Performance 40L Duffle Bag!!!
For this week’s competition, we’ve teamed up with our good friends at Liquid Sports to give away a Sharkskin Performance 40L Duffle Bag as...
Win a Vasili Lights Fish Lantern!
For this week’s competition, we’ve teamed up with Vasili Lights to give away one of their beautiful Fish Lanterns! Inspired...
WIN a Beuchat Maxlux S Mask and Spy Snorkel!!!
For this week’s competition, we’ve teamed up with our good friends at Beuchat to give away Maxlux S Mask and Spy Snorkel!...
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