Where three bodies of water converge, expect off-the-charts biodiversity — in this 7,000- island archipelago that forms the northern end of the Coral Triangle, the Pacific Ocean, South China Sea and Celebes Sea meet to support 2,000 marine species.
The islands of the Philippines offer the chance to dive some of the most varied waters on Earth, including wall dives, historic wrecks and beautiful coral gardens. To make sense of this vast country, know that the islands are grouped into three regions: Luzon is the largest landmass and name of the northernmost grouping, the Visayas chain claims the middle, and to the south is Mindanao.
Highlights of the Luzon area include Anilao, Puerto Galera and Mindoro. These spots boast pinnacles, muck diving, wrecks and extremely lush soft-coral gardens.
In the Visayas, find manta-ray cleaning stations, the World War II wrecks of Coron Bay, plus oddities such as the mimic octopus, cockatoo waspfish and ghost pipefish.
Head to Mindanao for walls, black-coral forests and WWII wrecks divable from shore.
Iconic for a reason, the Chocolate Hills in the Bohol Province are surreal in conical shape and number. Hit lookout spot Sagbayan Peak for killer photos. This preserve is also home to tarsier monkeys, which strongly resemble E.T.: This critter is ugly-cute with saucer-like eyes and spindly fingers. Support its conservation with a visit to the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary.
Luzon and Mindanao are much more developed, whereas in the Visayas you’re more likely to fulfill escapist beach fantasies. Throughout the country, there are idyllic rice terraces, whale sharks in Donsol, volcano climbing on Camiguin Island and — on every island — friendly, hospitable people. Because the nation is so vast, for a first visit consider a live-aboard.