5 must-see sea creatures

5 must-see sea creatures

Marine biologist Miguel Azcuna curates of underwater species in the Philippines you should see at least once in your life.

The Philippines is an archipelago. This means it’s made up of groups of islands surrounded by a vast expanse of water, ergo, a rich diversity of marine life. Diving is the best way to see the beauty that our water holds.

We spoke to a marine biologist, Dr. Miguel Azcuna from Batangas State University, to know which marine species in the Philippines you should see at least once in your life.

Nudibranchs

Photo by Lisbeth Jensen

Where to find them: Anilao, Batangas

The name rolls off the tongue, right? These are the cute, colorful, shell-less mollusks (scallops, clams, snails, cuttlefish) you see in those island hopping package pamphlets that offer snorkeling. They love seawater and some have been referred to as sea slugs.

Thresher sharks

Thresher
A thresher shark at Monad Shoal near Malapascua Island. Photo by Klaus Stiefel

Where to find them: Malapascua Island, Cebu

“Thresher sharks are unique in that they use their unusually long tails to catch their prey,” says Dr. Azcuna. This particular species have found a home in the waters off of Malapascua Island in Cebu, known for its magnificent and quiet beaches. They are often found in Monad Shoal and pose no threat to humans. Be at the site early, like around 4am to 5am, for better chances of sighting.

Orcas

Where to find them: Tañon Strait, between the islands of Cebu and Negros

Dr. Azcuna says they rarely pass by the Philippines but they do swim from time to time. “These apex predators prefer cooler tropical waters and can (in very rare cases) be seen in Tañon Strait between June and October.” The last time orcas were seen in Philippines waters, it was 2018.

Sea Turtles

Photo from Inaladelan Island

Where to find them: Apo Island, Negros Oriental

Yes, there’s more than one place to find the humble pawikan. They can usually be found nesting in the waters of Palawan (for instance, just offshore of Club Paradise), but for a better chance of spotting one, Dr. Azcuna recommends Apo Island. You’ll usually see them grazing on seagrass.

Freshwater Jellyfish

Where to find them: Sohoton Cove, Siargao

You may be asking yourself this: “Why would you recommend seeing jellyfish as a once-in-a-lifetime activity?” Well, these jellyfish are ones you can actually swim with and not be extremely worried. Dr. Azcuna says the jellyfish that swim in Sohoton’s jellyfish pond are stingless “because they have no need for stings in freshwater.” Go early in the day to avoid the crowd.

Who is Dr. Miguel Azcuna?

Miguel Azcuna is a marine biologist who specializes in Bioprospecting for New Medicine, particularly from marine sponges. He holds a Ph.D. in Marine Science from the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, where he majored in Marine Biotechnology.

He was a part of the team from UP MSI’s Bolinao Marine Laboratory that donated giant clams to Camiguin’s Giant Clam Sanctuary.

He is currently an associate professor at the Batangas State University – ARASOF Nasugbu Campus and a member of the research staff at the Verde Island Passage Center for Oceanographic Research and Aquatic Life Sciences (VIP CORALS).

5 scenic motorbike rides in the South

5 scenic motorbike rides in the South

Riding a motorbike is one of life’s greatest joys (or, at least, it should be), and here’s where you should do it.

Since it’s not as wet in the South as it is here in the North, and since motorbiking is life, giving you an adulterated freedom to see and experience sights at your own pace, cheating city and inner town traffic, here are five destinations you can fly to and enjoy the sights of, after renting a motorbike. Bloggers Kara Santos and Louie Pacardo curate.

Siquijor

Islands like Siquijor are often best explored on two wheels. Photo by Kara Santos

The island province of Siquijor is a scenic island worth exploring on a day motorbike tour. Often associated with stories of witchcraft and mysticism, Siquijor offers enchanting beaches, beautiful waterfalls, and other architectural gems. The most interesting spots are scattered around the island—a bit difficult to access by public transportation but best if via a motorbike.

Glan, Sarangani Province

Sarangani is about as far south as some people would like. These open roads give you a view of Sarangani Bay, as shown here by Louie Pacardo. Photo by Louie Pacardo

The road going to the beach town of Glan is already a destination.  The coastal road along the edges of Sarangani Bay offers scenic views of the mangrove-rich and white sand beach strips. Glan is best known for its white sand beaches and heritage sites. Biker-friendly resorts include Kamari Resort and Hotel which offers a spacious and guarded parking area.

Glan is about one hour’s ride away from General Santos City in Mindanao

Alamada, North Cotabato

Head for Alamada in North Cotabato if you’re looking for something that’s definitively off the beaten path. Photo by Louie Pacardo

Alamada is among the lesser known riding destinations in Mindanao with unique landscapes and roadside views.  The 120-meter wide Asik-asik Falls is the top destination going to this silent town in North Cotabato. Another emerging must-stopover is Daday Falls, a tall drop settled in a Jurassic period-like landscape sandwiched by steep gorges in Barangay Dado.

Alamada is about three and a half hours’ ride away from Davao City

Lebak, Sultan Kudarat

This is the view that awaits any avid rider after taking on the hundred motorcycle bankings. Photo by Louie Pacardo

This coastal town facing the Celebes Sea in southwest Mindanao is best known among riders because of its twisting roads. You’ll do about a hundred motorcycle bankings going in and out of this sleepy town in Maguindanao Province. Lebak is best known for its tasty crabs and seafoods and its many waterfalls like Tres Andanas Falls.

Precaution: Mindanao is generally peaceful. However, just like when traveling in any part of the country or even the world, it is still best to check the present security situation in particular areas with previous peace and order issues.

Siargao

What better way to explore the country’s top surfing destination than on two wheels? Photo by Daniel Soriano

For beach-lovers and surfers, the island of Siargao is one of the best places where to ride. Aside from the main surfing area of Gen. Luna, the island conceals beautiful uncrowded spots like Malinao, Magpupungko Tidal Pools, and Pacifico, that you can easily ride to. There’s a variety of motorbikes for rent, including ones outfitted with surf racks—well, for packing your surfboard—and gorgeous bespoke bikes handcrafted by 3B Customs, a bike builder from Surigao City.

Words: Ferdz Decena

5 destinations that look like they’re not in the Philippines

5 destinations that look like they’re not in the Philippines

We tell you: You can go overseas without having to leave the country. Read how.

The Philippines may be a tiny archipelago but it’s so beautiful and blessed—thanks to its 7,000++ islands making it almost have a bit of or something similar to what another country has to offer.

Here are five places in the Philippines that transport you to places outside the Philippines.

The rolling hills of “New Zealand” (Batanes)

By Ferdz Decena

This one’s no secret. Every time we see someone post about one of the ultimate #travelgoals, it almost always involves a sense of awe.

The northernmost province of the country, Batanes, is home to rolling green hills dotted with livestock that resembles the home of the Kiwis. You may not see fluffy flocks of sheep, but you will see herds of cattle and/or cows grazing among all that beauty, a rare combination in the country. There’s also the clear skies that add to the whole “this shouldn’t be in the Philippines” vibe.

There’s a particularly good spot that will make you say “Am I REALLY in the Philippines?”: Rakuh-a-Payaman in Mahatao.

“African safari” (Calauit Safari Park in Palawan)

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Blending in. 🦓

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It’s safe to say you’re not really going to find wild zebras and giraffes running around in open fields ANYWHERE in the country; they’re usually seen in enclosures inside zoos. Not that we’re complaining, but we’d like to see them in their element, similar to their brothers and sisters in Africa.

Luckily, there is a place just like the African safari that’s within 35 minutes of Metro Manila: the Calauit Safari Park. It’s home to reticulated giraffes and Grévy’s zebra that get to run around and play alongside local species, some of which are endemic to the Calamianes Islands where the park resides.

Experience the rolling hills of Batanes by booking #DashHolidays!
Tel: +63917 840 6853, +639917 627 6179
Solar Century Tower, 100 Tordesillas cor. HV Dela Costa Streets, Salcedo Village, Makati City

Time travel to “old Spain” (Vigan, Ilocos Sur)

Vigan itself looks like an old Spanish colonial town, but this street is what transports you to Spain. Photo by Ray in Manila

UNESCO calls it the “best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia,” and it’s not hard to see why.

Vigan, Ilocos Sur is a remarkably well-preserved Spanish colonial town thanks in large part to the people taking pride in their heritage. One street, in particular, gives this city that true “old Spanish town” feel: Calle Crisologo. This cobblestone street is at the heart of Vigan’s very best when it comes to preserving old Spanish architecture. That, coupled with local laws that prevent extensive modifications to heritage houses, make this sight unique to Vigan.

“Japanese Bamboo” Forest (Man-made forest in Bilar, Bohol)

It’s not bamboo, but it is just as quiet and as peaceful. Photo by R294

This is not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, but the way the Bilar Man-Made Forest looks really gives you that feeling of being inside the Sagano Bamboo Forest in Kyoto, Japan.

You won’t see a single bamboo tree standing here (nor will mahogany make the same soothing sound when they get hit by a breeze), but you have to admit that the tree tunnel it creates is eerily similar. It’s like going through a wormhole that will transport you to somewhere completely different.

Going “Dutch” with flowers (Sirao Flower Farm, Cebu)

You can’t grow tulips in the Philippines without a truckload of struggle. Does this mean Amsterdam’s flower gardens are a far-fetched dream reserved for those lucky enough to get a Schengen visa? No.

A trip to Cebu is all you need to see sights similar to those in Amsterdam. The Sirao Flower Farm started making rounds in social media before the 10,000 Roses Cafe was even a thing. It looks spectacularly like the flower gardens in Amsterdam even without the tulips thanks to a more Philippine-friendly flower that’s just as colorful: the celiosa flower or cock’s comb.

Do you know of other destinations that you feel are similar to those overseas? Let us know and we’ll do a second set!

4 days in wreck wonderland

4 days in wreck wonderland

Explore sunken ships—the ugly beautiful allure of Coron, Palawan.

Coron, Palawan, the wreck diving capital of the Philippines, is known for its 13 World War II Japanese shipwrecks all lying within depth enough for them to be explorable by underwater addicts—the divers— from the Teru Kaze at a minimum depth of 4m, to the Irako with a maximum depth of 42m.

These wrecks offer great views from the outside and excellent routes on the inside for experienced divers and those with the right certification levels. Most of Coron’s dive operators in town, including our own Reggae Dive Center, typically offers three daily dives.

If you only have a few days in town, try this itinerary.

Day 1

Swimming in Barracuda Lake.
Photo by Catalin-Mihai Craciun of Freediving Coron

Start your diving holiday with some shallower check out dive in Barracuda Lake, known for its thermoclines and temperatures reaching 39 degrees Celcius—a perfect warm-up for a stunning dive on the Morazan Maru, which offers great diving both for experienced and entry-level divers.

Morazan Maru was originally built in 1905 in England but was sunk in September 1944 along with the other wrecks. She has since turned into a home of an abundance of species like lionfish and giant trevallies—and sometimes even turtles.

The beginner-friendly (and eerie) Teru Kaze.
Photo by Catalin-Mihai Craciun of Freediving Coron

Cap off your day with a shallow dive at Teru Kaze located a stone’s throw away from the Morazan Maru, for some reef and wreck diving. This wreck is good for snorkeling as the shallowest part is only 4m below the surface. On most days, Teru Kaze will offer good views from below as well as from above the surface.

You’ll be back in Coron later in the afternoon with ample time to climb Mount Tapyas for a view of beautiful sunsets and of Coron Island. Enjoy a refreshing fruit shake or a cold beer at the newly opened Tapas Lounge before you continue further down the hill and out into town.

End your day by stopping at Coron’s many bars and restaurants. You can have the bistek and menudo at Lolo Nonoy’s or vegan pesto pasta and veggie sticks at Le Voyage. For something off-track, walk off the main street and venture into Coron’s side streets with its eateries and restaurants catering to all tastes.

Day 2

Experienced and certified divers can upgrade their depth limits with dives to the Akitsushima.

The Akatsushima.
Photo by Catalin-Mihai Craciun of Freediving Coron

This wreck’s location between 23 and 35 meters under the sea makes it not suitable for entry level divers but it remains to be one of the most popular dives in the area as it’s the only wreck left with its guns mostly intact. The guns are dislodged from the gun turrets and are currently standing upright on the seabed next to the wreck, with three barrels raised toward to surface.

It’s a just-barely-doable for entry-level divers: the Okikawa Maru.
Photo by Catalin-Mihai Craciun of Freediving Coron

After spending some time on the surface, have your second dive at the Okikawa Maru, an oil tanker that holds the distinction as Coron’s longest and widest shipwreck at 160 meters in length and a 20-meter span across the beam. Her shallower part lies above the depth limit for entry level divers.

This wreck is located in a passage that from time to time creates strong currents. Due to the relatively shallow depth and the current, the Okikawa Maru teems with marine life—groupers, snappers, crocodile fish, triggerfish, and more. Those with keen eyes will find this wreck good for macro diving.

Cap your day’s dive series at Lusong Gunboat, one of the last unidentified wrecks in Coron. The Gunboat took direct hits and had its wreckage spread over a wide area, though the hull is generally intact. As with the Teru Kaze, this gunboat was also sunk in very shallow water—so shallow in fact that this wreck pokes out of the water at low tide.

The Lusong Gunboat is perfect for all levels of divers—from those getting into scuba diving, experienced divers who want to chill a bit after some great dives, and macro enthusiasts.

End your day with a dip at Maquinit Hot Springs with its natural saltwater springs, or a full Italian meal at Altrove.

Day 3

This day will be your last diving day in Coron since divers are advised not to fly within 18 hours of going underwater. Finish off in style at the Irako, Coron’s deepest and darkest shipwreck.

The beauty of the Irako outweighs the risks for experienced divers.
Photo by Catalin-Mihai Craciun of Freediving Coron

Irako was a refrigerator ship in the Japanese Navy. She has tight compartments and storage rooms, and her starting depth of 30 meters means only the most experienced of divers dare to take her on. Currents can change in a heartbeat and visibility ranges from a few meters on a bad day to magnificent ideal months. Her upright position with masts still poised makes it easy to see why she has become part of many divers coming to Coron’s bucket lists.

The eerie compartments of the Kogyo Maru makes for one daring dive.
Photo by Catalin-Mihai Craciun of Freediving Coron

Another deep dive is on the cards for your last dive day: the Kogyo Maru, an auxiliary construction supply ship, which went down with her load. One can still see the toppled construction machines in her cargo holds, with belt tracks and hundreds upon hundreds of bags of cement. Like the Morazan Maru, this wreck is widely covered in corals and marine life, from schools of seabreams to circling big-eye trevallies, to huge numbers of scads and fusiliers.

Make a final dive in one of Coron’s reefs or one of the shallower wrecks to make this trip one for the books.

Head back town for some tasty ramen and a cold beverage at Buzz. You can also visit Tita Esh for a more low-key vibe and some filling pansit canton or a heart-warming bowl of mami.

Day 4

It’s island hopping day! Make sure not to leave Coron without taking a trip to Coron Island. Rent a private boat with a tour guide or book a tour through an operator.

Kayangan Lake, but not from the usual viewpoint. Photo by Daniel Soriano

Coron Island offers a lot of white sand beaches and clear waters, with lunch that’s served in one of the small huts they have set up for the same purpose on the beaches. Do not miss out on Kayangan Lake or Twin Lagoon; go snorkeling in Siete Pecados or Twin Peaks.

A stand-up (or in this case, sit-down) paddle boat is a good way of exploring Coron’s neighboring islands. Photo by Daniel Soriano

Rent a kayak or a standup paddleboard in town if you’re feeling edgy before leaving and explore the island as you paddle along. This is a great opportunity to experience the beauty of the island in a very eco-friendly way.

Relax and enjoy the evening with a good view and a cold gin and tonic from either the View Deck or Suites 4:13 before heading out for dinner and summoning a good night sleep.

Who is Lisbeth Jensen?
Lisbeth is an instructor at Reggae Dive Center in Coron for over four years now. She is passionate about the environment and has used her work to participate in conservation efforts in Busuanga.

The Basics
Get there. Skyjet Airlines flies from Manila to Coron three times daily. Flyskyjetair.com

Dive tours. Reggae Dive Center offers fun dives to Coron’s many shipwrecks as well as PADI dive courses.
Mobile: +63928 835 5657, +63906 316 1454
Reggaedivecenter.com

Head to Freediving Coron if you want to enjoy these same dive spots without the need for heavy scuba gear.
Mobile: + 63915 172 6809
Freediving-coron.com

Words: Lisbeth Jensen; Photos: Catalin Craciun & Daniel Soriano
Featured photo by Catalin Craciun

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