However, Southern Leyte’s biggest draw is November to May when you can swim with whale sharks.
If you like your dive destinations off the beaten track, and to be the only boat at a dive site, Southern Leyte is the place for you.
Still largely unheard of, a trip to Southern Leyte provides divers and underwater photographers with a special experience. The journey in itself is an adventure, but when you dive the marine protected waters, the rewards are worth it.
Feet Do Travel take you to one of the best word-of-mouth destinations we have discovered, and show you the fantastic diving at Sogod Bay, Southern Leyte; an undiscovered paradise.
Region: Visayas (Eastern)
Municiaplity/Town: Padre Burgos
The Philippines is split into three main island groups, Luzon (for Manila), Mindanao (for the Philippines highest peak, plus the Guinness World Record’s largest clam and eagle) and the Visayas, which is where Leyte is located.
Leyte is a long, thin island much like it’s neighbour Cebu and for diving, you will head to Southern Leyte and the area around Sogod Bay. There is hardly any road traffic and palm trees line the coast rising high onto hilltops all around.
If you have heard of Leyte, you may know you can have an ethical swim with whale shark experience here. Whale Shark Season runs November until May, January/February is when Leyte receives the most rain (I can vouch for that!).
What you can expect diving in Southern Leyte
There are 22 dive sites around Sogod Bay offering divers a bit of everything. Huge pristine coral walls and stunning coral formations, large schools of reef fish, world-class muck diving, super macro, and more nudibranch than you can shake a stick at. At times there can strong currents, sometimes waves, other days the water is as flat as a pancake.
Sogod Bay is a natural place to view whale sharks. They migrate through this area between the months of November until May using the plankton rich waters of the Coral Triangle as a feeding station. Viewing them here is 100% sustainable and ethical which means no feeding. Local law only allows you to snorkel with whale sharks, however if you are diving at a nearby site, you may be lucky to see them as they migrate through the waters
Conservation in Sogod Bay
There are a total of 12 Marine Protected Areas around Sogod Bay which require a sanctuary fee per person per dive. The marine park fees for specific dive sites are set by the Local Government, and the money goes directly to each respective village as a sustainable way of protecting the reef and its fish.
Napantao was the first Marine Protected Area to be introduced in 2002 by UK conservation specialist Coral Cay Conservation as an attempt to stop the destructive fishing practices of cyanide fishing and coral harvesting. It was so successful that surrounding villages followed suit, with the help of the few dive resorts located in the area.
In places such as the Philippines where the minimum wage is 350PHP per day, arguments for preserving the richness of the marine life/coral versus putting food on your family’s table always crop up.
100 - Medicare (North and South)
100 - Max Climax
100 - Jetty (for night dive)
100 – Limasawa
150 - Malitbog Lembeh
200 - Napantao (North and South)
Never forget that as a diver, you are a visitor to the underwater world. BE A CONSIDERATE DIVER TO OTHERS, AND TO MARINE LIFE.
- Do not harass marine life by chasing them or move critters for a better photograph
- Do not take lots of photographs with flash/strobes, you don’t like it when a torch is flashed in your eyes and marine life are the same. Save the critters retinas.
- Maintain excellent buoyancy when diving/photographing – if you are taking a photo of a 5mm frogfish and lay your fins in the sand, you could be resting them on another small critter
- Don’t hold onto coral to take your photo – buoyancy remember!!
- Back away from coral carefully – learn to back fin if you want to do it properly and professionally
- Learn how to frog kick – flutter kicking is not good for macro photograph
- There’s no need to touch a sea fan or rush to photograph a pygmy seahorse, it’s not going anywhere!
- Do not push in front of other photographers, wait your turn and give them space. Similarly, don’t photograph a subject for too long when others are waiting, take it in turns
All diving was carried out with Peter’s Dive Resort. All travel times by boat are from Padre Burgos. A detailed review of Peter’s Dive Resort, is at the bottom of this post.
All photographs taken with an Olympus TG5 with Olympus PT-058 Underwater Housing. A popular choice amongst divers - easy to use, and you can buy additional parts such as stropes etc as you progress.
Sanctuary Fee for Max Climax: 100PHP per person per dive
Buluarte, Max Climax and Voltairs Rock are three overlapping dive sites which stretch for nearly a kilometre right outside Peter’s Dive Resort.
A gentle sloping reef with plenty of healthy coral; gorgonian fans, hard and soft corals and beautiful coral bommies in amongst sandy areas – the perfect environment for every size marine life. We weren’t fortunate to see big reef fish on this particular dive, but we saw small schools of rainbow runners and yellowtail fusiliers, small reef groupers (peacock groupers, and black tip groupers). There were plenty of colourful reef fish; Angel fish, Butterflyfish, Box fish, Damselfish, Cardinal fish plus Candy crabs, Guard crabs and cuttlefish.
Dive site: Buluarte
Dive Site: Max Climax
Drive time by boat/car: 30 minutes
Sanctuary Fee: 150PHP per person per dive
The name of this dive site means “Little Lembeh” in other words, it is similar to the famous Lembeh in Indonesia, the muck diving capital of the world. Does it deserve its name? Yes, in a way it does. It has brown-black sand similar to its Indonesian namesake, some trash which is good as this is where the weird and wonderful hide, and we did get to see some cool critters.
There are two small wrecks/steel-hulled cargo boats which were sunk at the end of the last century. They aren’t big by any stretch of the imagination, and not recognisable as a wreck, however they are covered with coral, gorgonian fans and a plethora of reef fish. I just sat back and watched as a small school of reef fish darted around me; I enjoyed that very much! We did our longest dives at this site, but Sy is a huge super macro and muck diving fan.
Another reef slopping down at an angle of 45 degrees. It’s filled with pristine hard and soft corals which means plenty of reef fish in the shallows dashing around. We had a medium current so when we weren’t hanging out looking at marine life it was a cruisy drift dive.
Drive Time: 30 – 45 minutes by boat
Sanctuary Fee: 200PHP per person per dive
Across the bay from Padre Burgos is arguably the best dive site in Southern Leyte (apart from a night dive at the Jetty). It’s a huge sloping coral wall so deep and wide, its split into two dive sites.
The coral is pristine and stunning, on par with any we have seen in Komodo or Raja Ampat in Indonesia. Such a diverse range of gorgonian fans, green branch coral, tube sponges, table coral seriously the formations were beautiful to look at in their own right without taking into consideration the plethora of reef fish all around.
Yellow, green and purple anthias, orange damselfish all dash in and out of hard and soft coral interspersed with hunting Giant Trevally, Midnight Snapper, Longfin Bannerfish, Peacock Grouper, Angelfish, Butterflyfish, Indo-Pacific Sergeant Majors ... the list goes on. Schools of rainbow runners, two-spot snappers and fusiliers swam in a long line up from the deep all the way to the surface. I was transfixed. I was in heaven.
After passing through the thick layer of thousands of reef fish, we were on a macro finding mission. The coral wall was filled with enough nudibranch to please any muck diver on a mission.
Nudibranch on North and South Napantao
Night Dive – Padre Burgos Jetty/Pier
Monday, Wednesday and Friday only
Sanctuary Fee: 100PHP per person
I have an instructor friend who said this was the best dive she has done – ever! Many agree that this is the best night dive site in the whole of the Philippines, if not all of South East Asia. That’s a VERY bold statement.
It’s a working pier with a lot of boat traffic during the day, and local fishing at night. Divers and fishing lines don’t mix very well, so a local agreement has been made that divers can come here on three nights of the week only, and the remaining four nights are for fishermen.
As with all excellent muck diving sites, there is trash, but these man-made wonderlands are where you will see the special stuff. Don’t forget to look inside shoes, tyres, bottles and see every single piece of trash as a home for something special.
In the sandy bottom, look out for eyes peering back at you – there are plenty of Stargazer’s to be found and they are fascinating. I swear most creatures you see on a night dive are actually aliens.
The Philippines are a tropical archipelago of 7,641 islands so the weather varies depending on where you are. Generally there are two seasons, the wettest months are November to April, drier months are May to October, however there isn’t a lot of difference in rainfall between “wet” and “dry”. Typhoons tend to come in September/October. In truth, a tropical climate means it can rain at any time, any day of the year for any length of time and the weather doesn’t adhere to “seasons”.
Choosing your dive centre and accommodation
You will get a better diving experience if you research your dive centre and accommodation. We learnt this the hard way in the past and have not always had the best time!
There are many resorts to choose from, we opted to dive and stay with Peter’s Dive Resort. If you are on a budget, they are the cheapest in the area so you can spend your hard-earned cash on more dives.
Peter’s Dive Resort have been in Southern Leyte since 2001, are well established and have an excellent reputation. They have a range of rooms to suit all types of travellers and their budget.
Location: Padre Burgos, Southern Leyte. Around 3 hours by car from the airport, 90-120 minutes from the port of Hilongos and 45 minutes from the port of Massin.
Dive Guides: There are a few guides, all are very friendly and personable. A small briefing is given before the dive and they do their best to adhere to “wish list” requests (sadly we didn’t get to see a blue ring octopus riding a whale shark).
Dive Boat: Two big, comfortable, spacious dive boats in good condition. Fresh water bucket for cameras, tea/coffee/water/snack provided. Tank racks at the front which not all dive boats have. Our personal opinion is this is important to diver safety and equipment protection, but we know others will disagree. Fresh towels supplied each day for the dive.
For families, friends and couples: There are a range of ocean-facing rooms with balcony. Air con, fan, private bathroom and TV. Towels provided.
Food: Their menu has a wide range of local and western dishes at reasonable prices. Suitable for vegetarians. Beer is P60.
Customer Service: Excellent. Pre-communication via email was fast and efficient. At the resort, any minor issues were resolved quickly.
How to get to Padre Burgos, Southern Leyte
By Air to Tacloban (Daniel Z. Romualdez airport)
The two main ports of entry into the Philippines are Manilla and Cebu. Daily domestic flights are available to Tacloban, north Leyte with Cebu Pacific and Philippines Airlines. A private transfer can be arranged to take you to Peter’s Dive Resort, the journey time is approx. 3-4 hours.
By Boat from Cebu:
General list of Ferry Schedules - www.schedule.ph
RoRo = Roll on roll off which means you can take a scooter or other vehicle
There are 8 different companies leaving from 6 wharfs from Cebu to Leyte, this equates to over 80 options, so I will only list the best choices. As with all boat trips, departure times and journey times can change, boats may even be cancelled due to bad weather. It is best to check the company websites ahead of travel.
A terminal fee of P25 per person is payable from Cebu City, and the ticket office closes approx. 36 minutes before the boat is due to leave (they say 30 minutes, but take their time from a clock which is wrong and refuse to sell you a ticket once they have closed the bookings).
Cebu to Massin – From Pier 1
This is your quickest option. If the fast ferry is running it takes around 3 hours, the regular ferry takes 6 hours. Peter’s Dive Resort is around 45 minutes away from Massin.
Fast Ferry - Weesam Express – Daily at 6am
Cost: Economy P600; Tourist Class P700; First Class P800
Regular Ferry - Cokaliong – Every Sunday, Monday and Wednesday at 12noon and 7pm
Cost: Economy P400; Tourist Class P600; Business Class P900
Transfer to Peter’s: A private van can be arranged for P1,000 per van (not per person).
Cebu to Hilongos – From Pier 3
This is your next best option. The semi-fast ferry takes 3.5 hours, the regular ferry takes 5-6 hours. Peter’s Dive Resort is around 1.5 – 2 hours from Hilongos.
Semi-Fast Ferry - Gloria G-1 – Daily at 2pm
Cost: Economy P320; Tourist C P380; Tourist B P450; Tourist A P480 (see photos below)
Fast Ferry – Roble Shipping – Daily at 6am
Cost: Economy P550; Tourist with Aircon P650
Regular Ferry - Roble Shipping – Daily at 12noon
Cost: Economy B P265; Economy A P275; Deluxe – P310 & P330; Tourist P370; Cabin P585
Budget: You can book your seat on a shuttle bus to Padre Burgos when on board your ferry. Pay for your ticket on the bus and tell them you want Peter’s Dive Resort, they drop you at the door.
Cost: P110 per person
Comfort: Ask Peter’s to arrange a private transfer if you are arriving/leaving early/late
Cost: P1,800 per van (not per person)
Philippines Travel and Visa information
- Language – English is widely spoken to an excellent standard.
- Currency – Philippine Peso, £1 = P70 (or PHP)
- Plugs & Electricity – 2-pin plugs (same as US/Canada/China/Japan, flat parallel, also known as Type A). Some places are also Type B (same as UK) and Type C (known as the “Euro” plug) Standard voltage is 220 V and the standard frequency is 60 Hz.
- Wi-Fi – Available mainly in the restaurant
- ATM’s – There is no ATM in the area, but Peter’s Dive Resort accept VISA and Mastercard at no extra charge.
- Driving – Right hand drive
- Visa - A 29 day free visa is given at the time of arrival. You can easily extend at a local immigration office for another 29 days, the nearest is in Cebu City.
- Airport – Tacloban is the nearest domestic airport in Leyte. Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines fly here. The nearest International Airport is Cebu City. NB. A Terminal tax is payable when you check in/before boarding on some International flights out of the Philippines. From Cebu the cost is P850.
- Religion – 80% Catholic
Have you heard of Leyte as a dive destination in the Philippines? Have you been? Is it somewhere you would go after reading this post? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below.
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