Anilao: One of the Best Underwater Photography Spots in the World!

May 2016

Over a year ago, I started looking at where to go to meet our son Brennan (stationed in Seoul, South Korea) for a dive trip. We hadn't been to the  South Pacific in over 8 years and it was calling my name.  As always, I visited the forums at Scubaboard and Wetpixel.  Finally, I contacted Tim Yeo at BlueWater Dive Travel and with his help we picked Anilao and Puerta Galera.

Entry: May 2 - 9, 2016

BloggersCorby and Maurie James.

This trip was booked through Blue Water Dive Travel.

Getting There

Multi colored Macaroons at the Manila Marriott.

Multi colored Macaroons at the Manila Marriott.

 Maurie and I always try to use points on big trips like this so we can fly up front.  We ended up flying Delta for this trip.  Our trip took us through Norita Airport in Tokyo.  I've never seen a cleaner, better organized airport.  Customs and baggage in Manila was well run and our first night we stayed at the Marriott which is right next to the airport.  Our first small shock was that our taxi was checked by a bomb sniffing dog at the hotel and our luggage was scanned prior to letting it into the hotel.  They even held my dive bag because I had a dive knife in it.  The Manila Marriott was very nice and they took great care of us.

The next day, we were picked up for the drive to Anilao.  Our first glimpse of Manila revealed a mix of modern opulence and shanty towns literally back to back.  We cruised right along until we got to the cutoff to Mabini, then things slowed down quite a bit.  The total travel time was around three hours.

Accommodations

We stayed at Aiyanar Beach and Dive Resort and we LOVED it.  It is small, intimate, and very well run.  The rooms were fairly basic, but always clean and with good A/C.

A vew of the rooms at Aiyanar.

A vew of the rooms at Aiyanar.

They have a nice zero edge pool that is deep enough to do scuba classes in and perfect for lounging and having a beer after a long day of diving.  There are also lounging pavilions next to the pool area for those looking to get out of the sun.

The view from the pool.

The view from the pool.

Oh yeah, and the view of the sunset is nothing short of fantastic.

A few other considerations...they have internet but it is pretty slow and sketchy, so don't plan on streaming Netflix.  They have a bar area that is just off the dive shop.  No drinking and diving is allowed. 

Stay at this place if these conditions apply:

  • You are a diver.  See the Diving Section.  Anilao is one of the best dive spots in the world.
  • You are an underwater photographer.  See above.  It is an epic spot for muck diving and macro photography.
  • You want to be on the water and close to the dive spots.
  • You like quiet, more exclusive properties.
  • You are OK with being away from the night life or making your own.
  • You want to experience more of the local culture and food.
  • You do need to be OK with a long flight from the States and a bit of a car ride to get there.

Diving

The diving at Anilao lived up 110% to the hype.  I walked in with this critter list:

  • Bumblebee shrimp
  • Blue ring octopus
  • Ribbon eel
  • Peacock mantis shrimp
  • Harlequin shrimp
  • Hairy frogfish
  • Pygmy seahorse
  • Bobtail squid
  • And so on...

I hoped for some of these on the trip, but you never know what to expect.  I was blown away.  Not only did I get almost everything on the list but we got critters that I hadn't even heard of before.

Anilao is definitely a muck dive.  Much of what you see is situated on a dark, volcanic sandy bottom.  There are reef structures to be seen of course, but don't expect Caribbean visibility and reefs.  Visibility was usually 40-60 feet, hitting 80-100 at Beatrize Rock.

Most of the sites had light to moderate current if any with the exception of Beatrize and Sombrero Island where we had a pretty decent ocean wind blowing.

Click dive site map for full size view

Click dive site map for full size view

We dove the following spots:

  • Anilao Pier - THE night dive to make in Anilao.  It is famous for being a critter fest site.  Maximum depth is around 20 feet so you are in the water for 70-80 minutes and there was no current.  We found bobtail squid, lots of octopi, cuttlefish, sea snakes, nudibranchs, and more.  There was a lot plankton / small swimmers that came to our lights to the point where they got in the way of some shots.  We loved this dive.  It is a must do site.
  • Beatrize Rock - 
  • Sombrero Island
  • Basura
  • Dead Palm
  • Secret Bay
  • Helecopter
  • Grotto
  • Cathedral
  • Aurthur's Rock
  • And more that I can't remember.

Our guide Edwin Acuna was AMAZING.  After getting our list, he went to work.  Not surprisingly, he knew exactly where to find the critters and how to help get me a good shot.

The dive shop is a PADI training center, so you can get training if you need it.  Our son, Brennan did his Nitrox certification with them.  There is plenty of gear storage and the staff at the shop was very attentive and helpful when gearing up or storing for the night.  We dove nitrox the entire time.

Dining Out

Given the location of Ayinar, we ate at the resort for every meal.  Breakfast was usually made to order eggs, breakfast meats, and fruit.  Lunch and dinner were local fair.  The staff was always pleasant and attentive.

Other Activities

It's fricking Anilao.  You go there to dive not zip line.