Arriving in Manila we were greeted by exactly what we expected to see, the friendly smiles that were lacking upon our arrival in Thailand. After working more than six years on board cruise ships with a largely Filipino crew, we felt more like we had arrived as a friend. Everyone was extremely friendly and helpful and genuinely happy to meet us.
Our first stop was a small boutique dive resort on the main island of Luzon. Our pick up from the airport was at night which didn’t allow us to see the drive but did allow us to miss the city traffic and we arrived at the tip of Luzon island within two hours of departing from the airport.
This area is known to scuba divers as Anilao but we came to find out Anilao is simply the name of a town in the area. Our dive resort, Acacia, was outside of the small town of Mabini, a short hop from the industrial port of Batangas City and south of the town of Anilao.
The resort is not known to Americans currently but our hope is to help the young Filipino owner, Oliver Ang, to spread the word of the diving in the area and of his resort in particular. The small resort has just ten rooms which are clean and basic. All rooms have air conditioning, plenty of hot water, comfy beds and a quiet atmosphere, everything you need and nothing you don’t.
The resort gets it’s name from the monstrous Acacia tree that umbrellas over the resort. Oliver’s prediction is that the tree is about seventy years old. After a 17 hour travel day and arriving at 11:30pm, we were happy to find a quiet bed and immediately drop our heads for a full 8 hour rest.
In the morning we were treated to made to order breakfast with choices ranging from full American to full Filipino, both of which were excellent. Charlie, Oliver’s happy schnauzer, will give you his best puppy dog eyes or if the seat next to you is available he will happily occupy it in hopes of a snack.
The coastal area of Mabini is lined with small resorts that cater mainly to Koreans though we saw very other few people around and just a few other dive boats. Apparently there are over 70 registered dive resorts but we did not feel crowded in any way. In fact, on our arrival day, we were the only guests at Acacia though more would arrive later in the afternoon.
As the resort is small and run by the owners, Oliver spent a great deal of time with us explaining his dream to grow his dive clientele with underwater photographers looking to catch the rare critters that hide in the muck and the reef offshore. In fact, Oliver decided to dive with us that day. Along with our fabulous dive master we made for a small elite group in search of the rare and the wonderful.
Most of the dive boats in the area are traditional wooden boats called bankas which have large bamboo outriggers on each side of the boat lending it great stability. You board by a steep skinny plank up on the bow and luckily there is always a boatman to lend a hand in case you didn’t grow up a gymnastics star. The boats were easy to dive from, simply backroll off but take care of the outrigger when you surface. All boats have easy ladders for reentry after the dive.
There are not long stretches of sandy beach here and in fact the beach was pebbly and flip flops were a good idea under your feet. It didn’t seem to be a beach you would spend time sunbathing on or frolicking in the water. The hotel has a very nice pool, kept exceptionally clean given that it is under the acacia tree. There are lounge chairs to laze in by the pool and watch the sunset and an on site bar. The bar was lacking in wine (my drink of choice) so I was glad I had brought a bottle from duty free in the airport. However, town is not far and I’m sure it would not have been a problem for them to get some, though wine is not a popular drink in Asia.
We felt very comfortable at Acacia and well cared for. The staff were ever present, gracious and accommodating.
The diving in the area is mostly known for its macro life. We only had one day to dive here so Oliver took us to his favorite macro sites. Visibility in this area is just okay and during our visit the water had that green tint we don’t like but the critters did not disappoint! In fact, at Oliver’s site called Secret Bay, our dive master found THREE separate mimic octopi and a hairy frog fish just to name a few things.
Oliver told us that nearby there were also some good reef dives, more wide angle opportunities but we didn’t have time in our short stay to see them. Oliver has invited us back at the end of our trip around the Philippines to dive some of these sites.
One of the agreements that’s been made in the areas is that the dive resorts employ the local fisherman as boat operators. This seemed like a great win/win situation giving the fisherman an alternative to fishing out the reef while providing a means of making a living. However, what is happening at this point is that the prices the fishermen are charging is going up and up and some of the dive resorts are beginning to rethink having their own boats. We did notice that the price of diving was higher than we had expected as we had to rent the boat, driver and also pay a dive master. Our agreement with the resort was that we would come and check it out and have our accommodations and meals taken care of but we would pay for the diving. I think it might have worked out cheaper to do it the other way around.
Oliver raved about the night diving in the area. As most of you know, night diving is not Mantagirl’s favorite, but he gave it such rave reviews I decided to go along. One great thing about diving with Acacia and with Oliver is that there is no limit to our bottom time except our own air consumption and NDL limits. We had decided to put a 60 minute limit on our night dive in order to not keep the staff late for dinner and because, well frankly, the water temperature was a chilly 78 and we thought that would be plenty of time. Oliver, however had a different idea. 60 minutes??? Absurd! He decided we should do 90 and then surface and negotiate if we wanted to do more. THAT is the way we like to run a dive! However, in the end it was Sharkman and I who aborted the dive after 75 minutes due to the icicles growing on our wetsuits.
I will admit it was one of the finest night dives we’ve even done. We dropped into the sandy, grassy bay in just 15 feet of water and from the first minute we never stopped seeing things we had never seen before. Cuddle fish and octopus species too numerous to count, an evil looking bobbit worm, inimucus, nudibranches and flatworms, an eel I still can’t identify and on and on. If the water had been 84, we would still be in there.
We had agreed to stay two nights with one day of diving and now wished we had booked a few more. Our second day we were scheduled to hop on the local ferry for the one hour ride to Puerto Galera. As it turns out, Oliver had invited a group of friends down and had hired a large boat to take them all to dive in Puerto Galera. The timing was perfect and Oliver invited us along to dive and then they dropped us off in PG to continue our exploration of the Philippines.
Our experience at Acacia Dive Resort was very positive, great diving, great staff, a lovely quiet resort with solid three star accommodations. We can definitely recommend a few days to a week here to explore the diving and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere under the Acacia tree.
Sharkman will post a few underwater photos in the days to come and we’ll post more scouting reports from the south of the Philippines when we get there! See you underwater soon!