Balicasag island is located a short boat ride away from Alona Beach on Panglao Island in the Philippines. As a world class diving location, it’s a must do when visiting the Philippines.
I spent three days diving in Panglao as a weekend away during a work trip to Manila. I selected Panglao for a number of reasons:
- It was an easy 1.5 hour flight from Manila with several flights per day
- The diving, specifically at nearby Balicasag, is world class
- The island is fairly protected so it doesn’t get as impacted by bad weather (i.e. typhoons) as some other Philippine islands. I was visiting in July, so right in the middle of the wet season.
- The are plenty of accommodation options at a variety of price points, though my last minute (two days out) booking limited my options immensely!
With water temperatures around 27 degrees, plenty of dive operators to choose from and white sandy beaches, Panglao ticks all the boxes for a fabulous weekend away! Of course if you’re in the area on a longer trip (lucky you!), Panglao and Balicasag are well worth the trip.
Diving in Panglao
I went diving in Panglao with two different companies – Genesis Diving and Valm Diving. Alona Beach is teaming with dive companies, including a growing number that cater specifically to the growing number of Chinese tourists. My advice is to pop in and have a chat with a few dive companies.
Each will be visiting different dive spots on the days you want to dive. They will also differ in terms of the number of divers and the experience of those divers. This includes those getting specific diving experience related to their dive courses, including the super newbies on their first few open water dives. Having 70+ dives, I try not to dive with freshly minted open water divers that tend to suck air, shorten the dives and limit the depth we can go.
Checking the condition of the equipment is also worth doing before signing up with a company. This includes the dive boat used on the day that I’ve seen can vary considerably between dive companies!
Diving with Genesis Diving
On my arrival day, I stopped into Genesis Diving as I’d seen their website online prior to arriving. I asked if they were going out that afternoon (it was about 12 noon when I stopped in). They were heading for a dive off Alona Beach in 45 minutes so I was in luck. That was a single dive that took us along the drop off about 50m off Alona Beach.
The company’s equipment was well maintained and the staff were really friendly and helpful. The dive itself was in a small tin boat, with the boat ride about 5 minutes. The dive itself was ok. I was looking for a practice dive since it had been over a year since my previous dive. The visibility was ok and not as good as it was earlier in the day.
We saw lots of fish and the easy dive gave me my diving confidence back. I asked them if they were going to Balicasag the following day and they didn’t have the permits to go. Funny though. The next day when I was there with Valm Divers, I saw a Genesis Diving boat …
Diving with Valm Divers
Knowing Genesis didn’t have a spot for Balicasag the next day, the dive instructor introduced me to the instructor at Valm Divers. They had one permit remaining and I’d be diving with only two other divers the next day. Sometimes things just work out!
I had to pay a deposit in cash and completed all the paperwork. All I would need to do is show up the next morning at 8am and try on some gear.
I really enjoyed this dive company including the communication before and after the dives, the equipment and the staff on the huge boat we had just for the three of us divers. The dive shop is managed by a friendly British expat who was happy to have a chat with this solo traveller. I would definitely dive with them again in the future.
Diving at Balicasag
This dive needs its own section because it was my main purpose for visiting Panglao.
Balicasag is known for its school of Jack Fish off the island. They swim in a huge tornado formation and are truly a sight to behold. The surrounding area is a declared a marine sanctuary and features drop offs up to 50m deep. The corals include both soft and hard corals and are very colourful in parts and in good condition. Besides the Jack Fish, you’re also likely to see several turtles and all the other warm weather fish you would expect – including parrot, trigger and angel fish, eels, barracudas, mackerel and even the odd whale shark. Unfortunately I didn’t see any whale sharks during my dives. To make sure I didn’t miss one if it was there, I kept an eye out for them! They are more likely to be passing by the area in December and January.
During my two dives with Valm Diving, we visited Black Forest (where we saw the Jacks) and Cathedral Wall. The latter is a dive along a slope just off the shore with a variety of coral. Black Forest was an epic dive with 30m+ of visibility. It would have been hard to top that on the best of days and Cathedral Wall was a bit of a let down. Though on its own, it would have been a pretty decent dive.
If you’d like more information on diving in Panglao and specifically at Balicasag, check out this website for more information. It was helpful to me with my planning. (website)
Have you dived in the Philippines or more specifically at Panglao? Leave me a message below. I’d love to hear from you!