If you’re island hopping around the Philippines and looking for a lively dive site, don’t skip Balicasag Island off of Panglao, From Cebu City, take the two hour ferry to Tagbilaran, and take a tricycle to Alona Beach, where the action is at. There are plenty of diving companies to choose from along the beach or partnered with resorts. I went with Island Adventure Diving and got a really good vibe from them. Each dive costs 1,000 Philippino Pesos and includes all equipment and the 150 peso environment fee for Balicasag Island. I chose to do two dives, and had three other divers join me with our dive master. They did a fitting to make sure my equipment was organized and ready to go the next morning.
We met at the dive shop at 8:45am, and boarded the boat at 9am, shared with another dive company. All of our equipment was laid out, organized and ready to go with our name tags so there was no confusion. We went out to Balicasag Island which didn’t take too long, so we suited up, ready for our first dive. After checking the equipment, we descended to our first dive site, Black Forrest. Well, everyone descended, but I was stuck at the surface for some reason, even though I had let out all of the air in my BC. I was wasting air from stressing from embarrassment and sighting strange jellyfish all around me. My dive master finally came up to me and placed an extra weight in my BC pocket, and solved the buoyancy issue. This was my first time diving with a wetsuit, so I forgot that an extra weight on my belt was probably necessary. Now I could relax and take in the underwater scenery.
The reef wall was stunning, full of marine life and brilliant colors. The variety of corals and fish species were fascinating to gaze at. We swam slowly along the wall and spotted a bunch of sea turtles. We caught sight of two Morray eels together hiding behind some coral. One slithered along through the coral so I could get an idea of how long the creature actually was. I was mesmerized by the small, fluorescent, purple schools of fish in contrast to the reef behind it. They really caught my eye! I saw some clown fish hiding in their pink sea anemone, and I thought to myself that I found Nemo! Our eagle eyed dive master pointed out a rare frog fish, blending in with the coral. We moved along to a more shallow area above the reef’s cliff.
I notified the dive master at 100 and 50 bars for air and had to ascend earlier than the other three. They continued to look around at the bottom as I was accompanied by the dive master at the surface. He did a great job keeping an eye on the boys below, while making sure I was safe up above. They took their time to come up safely and we waited for out boat to retrieve us. I ended up with a forty minute dive because of my struggle to descend at first. My mask didn’t fit well, or had been readjusted underwater wrong, because it kept filling up with water and I wasn’t airing it out well with rusty technique. I got back on board hoping the next dive would go smoother.
As we drove around the island to the next dive site, Marine Sanctuary, we snacked on fresh mango and bananas, energized with coffee and rehydrated with water supplied by the boat. During the break, all of the divers recapped on what we saw and got to know each other better. When it was time for my second dive, I grabbed a new mask and jumped it. This dive went so much smoother! I had no buoyancy issues and never once had to adjust my mask. We all had a solid sixty minutes exploring underwater, the longest dive I’ve ever done.
Here, I saw so many more turtles, and I was able to swim right behind one, capturing it’s grace close up on my GoPro. There was a hollow coral housing a few boxer shrimp that were easily visible. We saw more species of larger fish on this dive, including a great barracuda lurking below us. Feeling more comfortable on this dive, I was able to concentrate and study the reef more carefully, searching for wildlife in the cracks and crevices. Plus, I think I was able to capture better quality photos and videos with better focus and attention to detail. The visibility was about fifteen meters on both dives, which was fantastic. We ascended together, with a three meter, three minute stop, and came up happy and satisfied with our final dive of the day.
On the ride home, a group of us decided to have lunch and a beer when we got back to shore. We had great conversation over our meals about the dives and traveling in general. It was a great day under the sea, an experience I will not forget, as I had some firsts for animal sightings while diving. I would highly recommend taking time to visit multiple dive sights around Balicasag Island and nearby.