Bacuit Bay, Palawan, Philippines
El Nido, ‘The Nest’’ in Spanish is situated in the North East of Palawan, Philippines. It was named after its main resource (until tourism arrived) - the edible nest of the swift, which for hundreds of years has been much sought after by Chinese traders as the key ingredient of birds' nest soup. In 1954 the town’s name was changed from Bacuit to its present name title.
El Nido is one of the gems of Palawan. A small Philippine town which is slowly becoming popular with tourist.
The beach is where you will find most of the dive centres, and this is where most of the ‘island hopping’ tours start. They offer various tours of the glorious islands of Bacuit Bay.
Corong Corong is the next beach along with lots of places to stay and fantastic ‘sunset’ bars. Get there for a beer or cocktail and watch the sun go down - you won’t be disappointed. Next is Las Cabanas – definitely the beach to choose for your ‘day off from diving’ - great little beach cafes, good sand and clean water (swimming in El Nido beach is not recommended).
The dive sites are mostly situated within Bacuit Bay’s many islands.
On a normal day diving you will board a traditional 'banca' (local Philippine style boat) and set off around 8.30am and head out into the bay, first dive then coffee and biscuits, then the second dive, lunch on the boat, third dive and home at around 4 /4.30. A long day but great fun to see and explore under the water of these multiple different islands.
The time of year affects visibility, temperature and the life you will see. The ‘busy’ period of El Nido is between December and February. This time of year the water temperature is around 25 degrees and can get as low as 23, perhaps not cold for some, but after 45 minutes you feel it! This is plankton season so visibility can be low, but the plankton brings the occasional whaleshark, manta ray and even Brydes whales. Macro at this time of year is fantastic which seahorses, ghost pipefish, frogfish, flamboyant cuttlefish (if your lucky) and much more.
When the water starts to get warmer (around March) and the visibility better you can appreciate the beauty and health of these reefs a little more. Some of the highlight dive sites are as follows.:
South Miniloc A must-visit dive site, a large field of cabbage coral with schools of yellow snapper, barracuda, the occasional school of bonito flying past and large starry pufferfish hovering over the reef like guardians. The reef forms a triangle which dips down into a channel between two islands, occasionally big characters like eagle rays and mantas can be spotted.
North Rock A single rock which can be circumnavigated if the currents are right. Even if you dive a smaller section of the reef and turn back you will still see pristine fan corals, batfish, and a massive school of jacks hanging above a beautiful, glass fish covered pinnacle. Enjoy a small swim through which brings you out into a mini-ravine packed with hard and soft corals. If you venture deeper you may have a chance of spotting a black tipped reef shark as they tend to be between North Rock and its neighbouring island (which is protected and not diveable) ’Tres Marias’.
Paglugaban Yet another stunning, limestone stone cliff island begging you to explore. Starting with a flat reef with the occasional octopus, you make your way along and different hard coral formations start coming up out of the ground. Keep an eye out for friendly turtles and a family of Bumphead Parrotfish, two huge impressive specimens followed by 5 or 6 smaller ones. Then comes the highlight section, impressive rock formations covered in soft coral with space to swim through many different ways. Take your time, you may find frogfish on the walls, crocodile fish on the floor and cuttlefish waiting for you around the corners. Paglugaban is on the edge of the island group so one side is the open ocean, so don’t forget to look into the blue every so often, you never know what might be swimming past.
South to West Entalula Both ‘South’ and ‘West’ are dive sites in their own right. South Entalula is some of the most stunning coral formations and gardens that El Nido has to offer, with many fish living in this thriving reef section. West Entalula is a wall dive which goes down to about 32m in places, on the wall you have the chance to see electric clams, frogfish, scorpionfish, turtles and schools of fish swimming by. If the conditions are correct, try and do a drift dive between the two (from South to West).
Dilumacad Nicknamed Helicopter Island as the island looks like, you guessed it, a helicopter when approaching from El Nido. Multiple options on this island as there are 4 -5 different healthy reef sections separated by sandy areas, also an L-shaped tunnel dive is an option for the more advanced.
These five sites are only a handful of the many different dive sites to be explored and enjoyed. Snorkelling is available at most sites for the non-divers.
The central location of El Nido is useful for diving holidays - it's a six-hour ferry ride to the wrecks of Coron, you are not far too the dugongs of North Busuanga and access to Apo Reef is also easy. You can fly directly from Manilla to El Nido, but be aware of the luggage allowance on the small planes, book extra weight before flying.
El Nido is slowly becoming a ‘must visit’ spot in the Philippines. If good diving, stunning scenery and a unique and charming town is what you are looking for, then El Nido is for you. If you are a diver be aware of the different conditions throughout the year. please watch the video below to see some highlights of Bacuit Bay, El Nido.
* Simon is a founder of Fisheye Underwater Productions which offer both underwater photographic services and courses for underwater photography and video. They are based in El Nido - to discover more click here