Jeepney, Manila 2012

What travel costs 3: Scuba diving in the Philippines 2

In Travel, Philippines by tonyLeave a Comment

ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony  30 June 2015

I started my series of travel writing with a bee in my bonnet about what things cost. In once sense it is a nice snapshot in time of how much the type of long leisurely travel we tended to do did cost. It made me learn the subtle art of forensic accounting —I’m just not well-organised.

However, the titles may have put some people off; whereas the type of travel described in these articles is much more about the places and our approach than merely the cost.

The series comprises articles on: 1 Alice Springs: glam camping on the Larapinta trail and a camping tour to Uluru and Kings canyon. 2 Scuba Diving in the Philippines 1: Cebu City, Apo Island and scary wreck diving off Coron. 3 Scuba Diving in the Philippines 2: Scuba Diving in the Sulu Sea, Puerta Princessa, Donsol for Whale Sharks and Manila. 4 Eight months in Europe: Paris, Hamburg, House-sitting in Niedersachsen Germany for two months, Croatia for two weeks, house-sitting and travel in the UK for two months, Ireland for two weeks, Florence for six weeks and Paris for two weeks at the end. 5 Germany: Hamburg, Großenkneten (Niedersachsen), Luhmühlen Horse Trials, Belsen, Berlin, Hanover. 6 Dubrovnik, Croatia: Tour to the Elaphite Islands, Dubrovnik, Mostar Bridge and Montenegro, a tourist holiday. 7 Chiang Mai, Thailand: an overview as part of many trips. (I’ve written eight articles on Food in Chiang Mai from 2015-2023. Although dated Chiang Mai doesn’t change that much and they are an excellent reference to what’s on offer. The link is to the first one which connects to all the others.)

Trip to the Philippines, 14 to 29 April 2012

Ranger Station, North Atoll, Tubbatha Reefs NP, Sulu Sea

Ranger Station, North Atoll, Tubbataha Reefs NP, Sulu Sea

   The first trip to the Philippines was so good we planned another one a year later to dive the Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park in the middle of the Sulu Sea. We booked with the Expedition Fleet for 4 days diving.

Elysia Beach

Elysia Beach, Donsol


The Expedition Fleet boat Sulu Sea

The Expedition Fleet boat
Sulu Sea

This time there were Paul, Nic and myself on a boys’ trip. We drank but moderately, as I only remember one hangover. Nic was interested in dining at special restaurants when possible. The hotels were much the same but slightly better quality. The resort we stayed at in Donsol was excellent. And, unlike the first trip we each had separate rooms, which doubled the accommodation cost. We also did some tourism around Manila.

At the dock, Peurto Princessa

At the dock, Peurto Princessa

We flew to Puerta Princessa in Palawan and boarded the Apo Explorer in the afternoon. We were taken around town to buy things we might need and to be kitted out for diving. We left port in the evening and arrived at our first dive site next morning.

We did 17 dives in four days (Max depth 28m). There was a diverse group of people on board all very pleasant. The dive instructors were a mix of Filipinos and westerners and all of high standard.

Sulu Sea Photo: Mr Kim

Sulu Sea
Photo: Mr Kim

The diving was fantastic because the area is protected and relatively pristine. We saw endless reef fish, sharks, (mostly white-tipped reef sharks), eels, manta rays, eagle rays and turtles. We also saw any magnificent coral gardens and coral reefs. In a few places in my log book, I noted swimming along the sides of stunning walls going down to 60m, very zen-like and the big blue. I remember huge shoals of large fish spiraling around you.

On the night we arrived back, we went with the crew to a really good night spot the Tiki Resto Bar and listened to an excellent Manila band called the Winegums until the wee hours. Filipinos are very musical even the amateurs who got up to sing from
the audience were quite talented. We stayed on the boat that night and moved to our accommodation the next day. The one hangover. We met the band that night and went one other night. Nic and Paul kept in touch with the lead singer Ivory.

Team Korea North Atoll

Team Korea
North Atoll

We had three whole days in Peurto Princesa. The town was pleasant. One night we went to the best restaurant in town approached by a long pier and built out over the mangroves. The other international tourists had gobbled up the lobster, so we had swordfish steaks. The best swordfish I’ve eaten by a long way. On one of the days we managed to get tickets from our hotel for the trip to the underground river the major tourist attraction and really special. Despite the bureaucracy involved at every stage, because the local mayor thought he was being dudded out of his fair share, the trip was magnificent and well-worth doing.

Palawan is a backward province with beautiful natural environments. A boat trip, with snorkeling and island hopping for days or weeks would be well-worth doing. You could go all the way to Busuanga Island.

There are also hidden resorts all over the place. We saw several flying in to Busuanga on the last trip.

The three amigos Photo: Mr Kim

The three amigos
Photo: Mr Kim

We flew back to Manila stayed one night and flew to Legazpi City in Albay Province. As you fly in you circle this huge and wonderful cone volcano called Bulkang Mayon, which towers over the airport. You can walk up it from Tobaco City and the whole area around is good for tourism. Legazpi City seemed to have nothing to recommend it, but then we only drove through quickly. We caught a taxi from the airport for the 47 km 45-min to 1h drive to Donsol. The price was very reasonable and we organized for the driver to pick up again for the trip back.

Volcano_Legazpi City

Volcano Legazpi City

We stayed at the Elysia Beach Resort in Donsol for 3 nights, which was fantastic. The main reason to go to Donsol is to swim with whale sharks. We went out four times on the boats but didn’t see any whale sharks, which was disappointing. We were a week late or they had left early. Maybe, next time. Paul and I took an expensive outrigger diving trip, three hours each way from memory, to the Manta Bowl. The visibility wasn’t great and the current was very strong, but we did see a manta ray close up and for about ten minutes on the second dive, which made it all worthwhile.

We flew back to Manila for one night and then back to Australia. It is not really possible to describe what a great trip it was. Nic said that trip was one of the best in my life. Great diving, excellent food, good company and magic places!

Travel expenses

Philippines Travel Expenses
Airfare (Sydney Manila return)$1004
Worldcare Travel Insurance$73
General Expenses Total$1077
Domestic Airfares (4 flights)$178
Accommodation (10 nights)$628
Tubbataha Expedition Fleet$1550
(6days/5nights: accommodation, food & diving)
Diving at Manta Bowl$125
(Included food, drink, transport)
Philippines Expenses Total$3356
Total Cost (USD about the same)$4433
Philippines Expenses
(not including international flight & insurance)
Time spent (15 nights: 5 spent on board ship)15 nights
Total cost per day all up for 1 person$242
Total cost per day 1 person (not including live-aboard)$174
Accommodation cost per person (10 nights)$628
Accommodation cost per day per person$63



1 Breakfast normally came as part of the accommodation.

Jeepney Manila

Jeepney Manila


Elysia Beach Resort, Donsol

Elysia Beach Resort, Donsol

This was also a fantastic trip and it was not only Nic who thought of it as one of the best trips of a lifetime. The luxury and striving for better restaurants were important as were the company both on the live-aboard and on the whole holiday.

One can travel much more cheaply in the Philippines, but live-aboard diving is like going on an up-market tour, moderately more expensive, but worth every penny.


Photos and Slides

Tony’s photos

Nic’s Fantastic Holiday Photos

For slides with captions go to Galleries and follow instructions or go directly to Tony’s photos above and pilot yourself (3 vertical dots first category for slideshow.Click on any photo & scroll for caption).


Paul made a video on his iphone of Ivory & The Wine Gums.

Key words: travel costs, scuba diving, Philippines, Tubbataha Reefs National Park, Sulu Sea, Peurto Princesa, Donsol, Manila, Expedition Fleet, Elysia Beach Resort


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