Scuba diving guide Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park: Best liveaboards, dive sites and recommendations

A hammerhead shark in the blue waters of Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park

Considered as the first national marine park in the Philippines, the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park is also a World Heritage Site, declared by UNESCO in December of 1993. This diving area has one of the highest concentrations of marine life around the world, which includes 600 fish species, 360 coral species, and 13 species of dolphin and whales, and 11 shark species. The Tubbataha reefs natural park was also nominated as one of the new 7 Wonders of Nature back in 2008 and was declared as the 35th ASEAN Heritage Park by the Centre for Biodiversity of ASEAN.

To preserve the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park, the area remain uninhabited and 12 park rangers roam the site each day to protect it from illegal fishing activities and marine life collection. This is one of the reasons why the reef park is still in its pristine state and is considered one of the best dive sites in the Philippines and around the world.

The Tubbataha Reef is one of every marine life aficionado’s bucket list and a diver’s ultimate destination. It offers the best scuba diving in the Philippines for many good reasons. The large expanse of this national park is only accessible by liveaboard for three exclusive months — from late March to mid-June when the sea and weather conditions are calm and the dive sites are teeming with marine life. For the rest of the year, Tubbataha Reef is inaccessible due to rough weather conditions.

Experiencing the vast and incredible marine life of Tubbataha reef, for your every dive, you can discover the wide array of wall dives dropping down to the deep blue where the different species of sharks like a grey reef, nurse, white tip reef; and if you’re lucky, even whale, tiger or hammerhead sharks, can be encountered and the place where attractive and stunning hard and soft corals lied. As you approach the shallow part of the waters, you can find the endless reef fish species, lobsters, stingrays, mantas, and turtles.

If you want to experience the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park diving, here is an ultimate guide to help you on your visit to this wonderful Philippine dive destination.

Recommendations for diving at Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park

If you are planning to visit this magnificent place make sure that you pack everything well in advance. The place is situated right in the middle of the Sulu sea and the only way to reach this wonderful dive-site is to go on a liveaboard dive trip. But remember that the Tubbataha Reef Natural Pak is a protected dive site and, therefore, has strict guidelines. If you are a diver planning to cast a visit to this world heritage site, these are the few things that you should remember beforehand:

  1. Acquire a Permit to Operate from the Tubbataha Management office at least two months before the first entry to the Park. Dive and boat operators can secure you with the permit through this online registration.
  2. There should be an Entry Permit for private boats and commercial trips before their scheduled trips.
  3. If you want to research the park, you must first secure a Research/Monitoring Permit. Along with the filming/taking photos for commercial purposes must have a special permit from the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB).
  4. You may book as early as a year in advance if you plan to visit Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. The cost may vary depending on the dive boat and number of diving days but usually, it ranges from $1000 to over $4000 per liveaboard trip.
  5. Make sure you are qualified to dive into Tubbataha. Research and prepare for the dive conditions. Tubbataha liveaboard diving requires 50 logged dives. If it has been a while since your last dive, consider taking a refresher course.

Best liveaboard Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park

If you decided to go diving at Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, we recommend booking a liveaboard with Discovery Palawan, an awesome vessel with luxury accommodations for a very reasonable price. Please note that there are no diving centers located at Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park.

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Tubbataha Reef Dive Centers

There are no diving centers located at Tubbataha Reef. The closest ones are located in Palawan. As Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park can only be reached by a Liveaboard trip, we recommend to book with one of the Liveaboards as outlined above or mentioned in the Liveaboard section below.

Best Tubbataha Reef Liveaboards

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is an isolated and protected marine park that can only be accessible by liveaboard. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park diving trip mostly comes in liveaboard packages where accommodation, trip guide (experienced local divers), and dive rates are included. Below, we have outlined the best Tubbataha Reef liveaboards:

Liveaboard 1: The Philippine Siren

If you are looking for a cruise that will provide you superior ease and comfort, the S/Y Philippine Siren is an excellent choice. The liveaboard has lavish accommodation and a large shaded diving deck that provides individual stations and storage lockers. Guests are also provided with equipment such as an aluminum tank, BCD, regulator, 3mm wetsuit, weights, mask, and fins.

Price: Starting from USD 3,910 for a 7 days/6 nights trip and USD 7,120 for a 14 days/13 nights trip.

Liveaboard 2: Discovery Palawan

An excellent liveaboard choice for a spectacular diving experience in Tubbataha Reef. With its spacious dive platform and experienced guides, your vacation will be a memorable one. They also offer a modern look, fresh, spacious relaxation areas, and tastefully decorated cabins.

Price: Starting from USD 2,450 – USD 4,360/ person for 7 days/6 nights trip.

Liveaboard 3: Solitude One

Solitude One is a former merchant vessel that has taken a full makeover solely designed for dive liveaboards. It provides you the home comfort you are looking for Tubbataha diving experience; from the cozy and beautifully-designed cabins to the food and relaxation stations. Groups are kept small and the experienced and professional dive guides are always on hand to assist with any issues.

Price: Starting from $ 2,820/ person for 7 days/6 nights trip.

Liveaboard 4: Sea Doors

Sea Doors’ primary goal is to ensure the comfortability of their guest while exploring the underwater world. It offers eight (8) air-conditioned cabins which each have a queen size bed and a single bed, equipped with accommodating bathrooms and can house a maximum of 16 guests.

Experience the fascinating sceneries while lying on their comfy sunbeds in their spacious sundecks; Enjoy the panoramic view in the dining area while savoring the taste of local and French cuisines; and be entertained with the different leisure activities in their spacious lounges and marine library.

Price: Starting from USD 2,240/ person for 7 days/6 nights trip.

Best Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park dive sites

A Tubbataha Reef Natural Park dive may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get up-close with thousands of fish and coral species. Below, we have outlined the best Tubbataha Reef diving spots for you.

Dive site 1: Del San Wreck

The Delsan Wreck dive site originated from the tiny ship that lies not so deep enough to dive. This site is renowned for the large open gap called “The Cut” which homes bountiful marine life,  large pelagic fish, and various types of shark. Expect strong currents on the wreck and the visibility is normally very good and can reach the maximum depth of 30 meters in a drift dive with a plateau at around 10 to 15 meters.

Hovering around the wreck, you can witness a great number of macro life as various colored nudibranchs, young reef fish, shrimps, crabs, and many other crustaceans. You can commonly meet frogfish, sweetlips, and snappers on the wreck. It’s guaranteed that the wreck protects the marine life found in it.

Usually, if you are exploring the Cut, you can face a group of grey reef sharks in or around the gap of the reef; tiger sharks patrolling the area; schools of trevally at the edge of the reef, and white tip reef shark circling the reef. The bottom is sandy and somehow overlooked but it may also contain marble ray hiding in it.

Dive site 2: The Black Rock

This dive site garnered its popularity to divers due to its unique topography and a high number of marine species.

The Black Rock is composed of perpendicular walls built up with coral reefs, two coral atolls, and quite huge lagoons. The plateau of reef slopes can be found from around 15 meters to 25 meters. The best time to dive into the said site is during the dry season where the visibility may go further than 50 meters depth. Due to the strong current in this site, we recommend to dive only when you have experience with currents.

At the beginning of the dive, you can encounter two titan triggerfish roving at the top of different soft and hard corals then moving towards the seabed, you can commonly find grey reef sharks, nurse sharks, and white tip reef sharks comfortably resting. Normally, divers can spot guitar sharks, leopard sharks, and hammerhead sharks out in the open. Moreover, there are also large schools of barracudas, jacks, rainbow runners, surgeonfish, sweetlips, and tunas; and manta rays usually show up during full or new moon. The dive site is frequently visited by eagle rays and turtles; and it’s also a great spot to see lobsters.

Dive site 3: The Washing Machine

Washing Machine is a good site for a fast pace dive because of its strong currents that throw divers in many different directions. The Washing Machine is a shallow drift dive over seven gullies. During slack tides and minimal currents, this dive spot is also a good opportunity for underwater photography.

The dive site has a maximum of 24 meters in depth. At around 15 meters deep, several swim-throughs and canyons are connected. Due to the rapid current, the divers are taken in different directions and expect to see the sea fans and sea whips waving back and forth in any directions too. Nudibranchs, seahorses, and shrimps can also be spotted during the slack tide; and divers can spot Spanish dancers in abundance during night dives (if allowed). The good thing about the environment of this dive site is the current itself that allows tuna, giant trevally, barracuda, mating jacks, triggerfish, butterflyfish, anthias, Sergeant majors, bannerfish, and sweetlips to stay productively and freely.

Divers should have appropriate training and experience to dive the Washing Machine. In addition, you can also bring reef hooks and dive gloves to hold onto the reefs and to resist the strong currents. However, we recommend to not use any dive gloves and reef hooks in order to protect the reefs. There is also a possibility that local law restricts the use of dive gloves/reef hooks.

Tip to avoid the Washing Machine: To avoid the Washing Machine, you can dive next to the gullies or dive at another depth.

Dive site 4: The Shark Airport

From the name given to it, the Shark Airport is where various types of sharks are found because of its white sand sea bottom. This dive site is a wall reef that has a depth starting from 5 meters to 100 meters. Since various species are roaming around the area, many of the divers would like to complete their diver training course for them not to miss out on this experience.

The walls are covered with good-sized sea whips and large gorgonian fans where angelfish, gobies, and hawkfish love to stay. There are also anthias, cleaner wrasse, and damselfish waiting to help the larger pelagic fish.

Commonly, divers can see marble rays, big-eyed jacks, large schools of trevally, turtles, and even whale sharks. Against the current, many schooling snappers and triggerfish go along with it. Sleeping and patrolling white tip reef sharks along with their juvenile are well manifested in this dive site.

Dive site 5: Amos Rock

Amos Rock is located at the southern side of Tubbataha and the depth has gone down from 5 meters to 70 meters. At 40 meters deep, the visibility is still very good. The large wall is covered with whip corals and Gorgonian fans. The strong current allows the huge variety of bulky fish, but without the current, the site is a great spot diving for coral, both soft and hard.

This diving site offers a fantastic night diving experience and it also has great conditions for good photography opportunities. During night dives, there are various nudibranchs and other macro life appeared in the area; crabs, lionfish, and lobsters are also visible. There is a great chance for divers to encounter Moorish idols, angelfish surgeonfish, fusiliers, snappers, and mackerels. Larger pelagics like manta rays, eagle rays, grey reef sharks, and white tip reef sharks are well-encountered.

Dive site 6: Malayan Wreck

The Malayan shipwreck is covered by a variety of beautiful corals showcasing a rich and diverse marine life. The average temperature in this area is about 26-28°C/85-92°F and a depth of 35 meters.

Expect strong current, but eventually underwater you can manifest the astonishing views of life vary in sizes hovering the corals like eels, moray, angelfishes, lobsters, starfish, and flatworms, nudibranchs, seahorses, and white tip reef sharks. Advanced divers and wreck divers will enjoy this spot. Depending on the direction of the current, you can find shelter behind the wreck.

Dive site 7: Jessie Beazly Reef

The Jessie Beazley Reef is another significant and prominent diving spot. Located near the lighthouse (about 20km north-west of North Tubbataha), a small reef with only 500 meters in diameter and 33 meters of maximum depth. Regardless of its size, it’s trendy because of its clear water visibility that is perfect for marine life photography.

This area is not considered or recognized as a marine park. Expect that some of the locals are fishing near the reef. Corals like Porites and Acropora are the usual reef that covers the area and serves as a home for different marine creatures like sharks (white tip and blacktip shark, hammerhead shark), tunas, groupers, mackerel, and barracuda. Manta and eagle rays, with other pelagics, are also  making regular appearances in the southern part of the reef.

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