Diving Anilao for Underwater Photography
If you ever get to dive Anilao, you will find incredible diversity, rich reefs, a great variety of small fish, and unexpected critters & nudibranchs turning up around every corner. If you love underwater photography, or if you love marine life, Anilao is a dream spot.
See the result of our May 2011 workshop
Anilao diving - Macro and Nudibranch diving at its best
Anilao is just a 3 hour drive south of Manila, Philippines - just past Batangas, and it has some of the best scuba diving for underwater photography in the world, particulary for photographing macro subjects, nudibranchs, rare underwater critters, and finding new species of fish. The reefs of anilao are extremely healthy, at shallow depths and at very deep depths. Reef fish are plentiful at every dive site, although larger fish and pelagics are not common. Anilao is an underwater photographer's paradise.
Anilao Marine Life
Every reef and juvenile fish imaginable can be found in Anilao. Shrimp, crabs, nudibranchs, small squid and cuttlefish, are all more plentiful than almost anywhere else I've dove. Frogfish, pipefish, seahorse are also fairly common at some sites. I've seen Rhinopias and Hairy Frogfish. Wonderpus, Mimic and Blue-ringed octopus can be seen. Most species on the muck and macro diving critter list can be found in Anilao. Anilao is also a great place to find Bobbit worms. Anilao has a large number of species of hard and soft corals, perhaps more than anywhere else in the world.
If you really try, you can even see bigger stuff an Anilao, like large schools of Jacks and giant seahorses. At Mainit point, which has strong currents I've seen 3-4 great barracuda hunting, and blue trevally. Reef sharks are seen down deep at dive sites with stronger currents. On very rare occasions people have seen small whale sharks.
Juvenile comet fish, Ligpo, Anilao
Best dive sites in Anilao
Twin Rocks, Basura, Mainit Muck (Secret Bay), Kirby's, and Bethlehem are consistently target rich environments for underwater photographers. Beatrice has some great wide-angle opportunities of schooling anthias. For very advanced divers wanting a dive with strong currents, healthy current and pelagics, try Mainit point early in the morning. I saw trevally's there, a shark and several great barracuda hunting. Devil's point is well known for prolific soft coral.
Secret Bay, Anilao - aka Mainit Muck
"Secret Bay", also known as "Mainit Muck" -is one of the most famous, yet "secretive" muck-diving dive sites in Anilao. This dive site is one of the most productive dive sites I've ever been to for muck diving. Secret Bay (Mainit Muck) is excellent at any time of the day, but especially at night. the best diving is between 10ft and 70ft deep (3-21 meters).
Marine life at Secret Bay, Mainit Muck
Mantis shrimp, gobies, wonderpus octopus and nudibranchs are prolific during the day. Squid and cuttlefish are easily found at night. Seahorses, ghost pipefish, ambon scorpionfish, tiny frogfish, colemani shrimp, and bobbit worms are all readily found.
Colemani shrimp at Mainet muck
Typical Dive Day at Anilao
Diving is usually by a small open boat, which is comfortable for up to 4 divers plus a crew of 2-3. Dive sites are usually 15-30 minutes away from most resorts. When we dive Anilao, we go out for 2 dives early in the morning, enjoy lunch and rest in the afternoon, and then go out for 2 dives in the last afternoon, with the last dive always being a complete night dive. Daily night dives are a must in Anilao! Dive times are usually not limited, and significant time can be spent in the shallows. We enjoy using Nitrox on all of our dives.
Diving other areas nearby Anilao
Verde Island is supposed to have some spectacular walls, and is doable as a long day trip from Anilao.
Puerto Galera is known for having many dive shops, many dive sites, inexpensive diving, and a noisy nightlife. Anilao, on the other hand, is very quiet and I don't even know if it has a restaurant. You can transfer to Puerto Galera in a couple of hours via car and ferry, or private boat, across the large channel. Diving in Puerto Galera is good, but Anilao has better corals, critters, and diving in general. Many people dive Puerto Galera because they want some options for eating out, clubs or bars, etc. Puerto Galera has a couple well known resorts with amenities which is also a draw.
two squid in crinoids at Bethlehem
Anilao Underwater Photography Tips
- Anilao has incredible macro. Shoot lots of macro. I alternate between using my 60mm, 60mm + 1.4x teleconverter, and a 105mm lens with a wet diopter. Anilao also has great supermacro underwater photography subjects and juvenile fish, see the underwater macro critter list.
- Many sites have very little surge, which is great for supermacro.
- Beatrice, Sombrero, Devil's point, Twin Rocks have some good wide angle ops - but Twin Rocks has even better macro and fish.
- Finish your dives shallow looking for juvenile fish, pipefish, shrimps, etc.
- Good dive guides will use a honking device when they find a great subject - ask ahead of time if they have one.
- Some subjects are only out at day, some at dusk, others only at night. Check your critter list and dive the best sites early and often.
Doing a night dive in Anilao. I highly recommend doing night dives each day during your stay in Anilao.
Best time to dive Anilao
Anilao water temps, visibility, weather
October to the end of May is the main diving season in Anilao. July and August can get wicked monsoons. Please note that the water can get significantly cooler in January and February, around 25C/77F. The best months are probably November and April - May, with april and may being the most crowded months at the resorts. Visibility is consistently fairly good at 40-50ft.
Where to Stay in Anilao, Batangas
Club Ocellaris is a dive resort, underwater photography center, and secret of many famous photographers. Situated in Anilao, Philippines, it is near some of the best macro and nudibranch diving in the world.
The friendly owner Boy Venus lives in Manilla, and can frequently be found at the resort making sure guests have an incredible time.
Club Ocellaris is known as a small resort with highly personalized service, for wonderful food, and a warm staff that knows how to take care of photographers. There's a wide range of rooms to choose from, 10 total, including some brand new rooms with air-con. All rooms have hot showers, toiletries and a great sea view. The resort is conveniently located between Basura to the north, and Twin Rocks to the south. 32% and 36% nitrox is available, and staff will easily accommodate 4 dives a day if you want. All gear is brought on and off the boats for you.
Last but not least, Club-O takes pride in it's excellent choice of dive guides for underwater photographers, who are known for being able to find the rarest of critters and nudibranchs.
Crystal Blue resort lies to the south of Anilao, in between the dive sites Twin Rocks and Mainit Point. It boats a white sand beach, full service bar, nitrox facilities, and air-conditioned rooms.
Accommodations have views of the sea and tropical gardens, and offer a private balcony with a coffee table and seating for two. Bathrooms have hot and cold showers and plush towels complete with toiletries. Choices include a Family Villa, Queen suite, and Superior/Deluxe rooms. Contact them
Many Anilao places charge "per room" and "per boat", because their target market is groups of divers coming down from Manila on the weekends. Club Ocellaris and Crystal Blue will give a daily rate including all food, lodging, and guided dives.
Having a good dive guide in Anilao will really make your experience more enjoyable, especially for macro photography.
I suggest you don't stay too far north of Twin Rocks so you are not too far from the best dive sites. I wouldn't want to be much further north than Club ocellaris.
Getting to Anilao
Getting to Anilao is very easy. Simply fly into Manila, and usually your dive resort will pick you up for a 3 hour ride south to your resort. Puerto Galera also is a 40-60 minute speed boat ride away, on another island.
Underwater Photos from Anilao
schooling jacks at Twin Rocks
More schooling jacks
Pipefish carrying eggs, Basura
Phyllodesmium rudmani, Xenia mimic nudibranch. Mimics Xenia coral, almost to perfection. Photo from Sombrero
Tiny juvenile frogfish, Mainet muck
Dueling gobies on wire coral, Ligpo
Hairy squat lobster, Bethlehem. 60mm lens + 1.4x tele
Giant seahorse, underwater in Anilao, philippines, taken with tokina 10-17mm fisheye
Healthy underwater reef in anilao, philippines. backside of Sombrero island.