The Philippines is among the world’s top scuba diving havens because of its location within the Coral Triangle— a triangular marine area that covers the waters of the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and Solomon Islands. It’s also the most diverse concentration of the planet’s marine life.
And for the longest time, Anilao has been synonymous to scuba diving, being that it’s the birthplace of this underwater recreational sport. Its proximity to Manila and plethora of dive centers have made it the mecca for local and foreign divers alike.
But first, a Geography 101 lesson: Anilao is actually just a small coastal barangay in Mabini town in Batangas which serves as the entry point to Balayan Bay. Divers liberally use “Anilao” to refer to the vast body of water embracing the adjacent villages of Mabini, the towns of Bauan and San Luis, and the island municipality of Tingloy.
With 48 validated dive sites around the Anilao area, it is home to the archipelago’s rarest soft coral, and boasts of a wide diversity of corals, reef fish, bottom fish and pelagic fishes, rare critters, and a variety of nudibranchs which are a visual delight. Most of the dive spots consist of coral slopes or small drop-offs and shallow coral gardens ideal for entry-level and expert diving skills.
Acclaimed as the planet’s second top macro diving destination, Anilao has been declared by the Department of Tourism the home of the annual Underwater Photo Competition Festival which draws the world’s celebrated underwater photographers. Held every last week of November, the four-day event lures over a hundred participants from around 15 countries, including local celebrities.
To preserve its natural wonder, Anilao has also been chosen as a marine conservation laboratory for Metro Pacific’s Shore It Up program, consisting of coral restoration, laying of mooring buoys (floating devices where boats are moored or tied; mooring buoys replace anchors which may damage corals), and underwater and coastal cleanup, among others.
But worry not if you’re not into diving. There’s a wide array of the activities you can do for a consummate getaway.
Snorkeling or Free Diving
This is the closest thing to scuba diving you can do to appreciate the amazing coral life and aquatic creatures in the shallow waters just a few meters from the shore. Among the best snorkeling sites and fish-feeding are the reefs fronting the dive centers in Barangay Bagalangit and at Dive and Trek Resort in Bauan.
This is another aquasport which had its beginnings in this waterworld and has bred champions for the Philippine Windsurfing Association who carry the Philippine flag in international tourneys. Balayan Bay is best for windsurfing with its ideal wind strength and wave action in nearly all beaches. The amihan or northeast monsoon breeze is predictable and moderate to strong, which neophytes can easily play with.
Contact your resort for boat charter and visit the islands and coves at the fringes of Balayan Bay. Maricaban Island, also known as Sepoc Beach Center of Eagle Point Beach and Dive Resort, is a popular spot that boasts of the longest sandy shores in Tingloy. A few minutes away is Sombrero Island, whose centerpiece is a hat-shaped rock formation and has powdery sand and gin-clear water.
Perhaps the easiest watersport to learn, you can paddle across the tranquil waters aboard this plastic boat patterned after the virtually unsinkable Eskimo vessel. Single and tandem kayaks can be rented at affordable hourly rates in various resorts in the area. The Boat Camp at Anilao, operated by pioneer paddler couple Val and Didi Camara, offers longer kayak tours around the coves and outlying islands.
Glass bottom boat cruising
If you want to admire the lush life of the marine world but don’t want to plunge into the water, the glass bottom boat is for you. The Boat Camp operates fiberglass speedboats for island or beach hopping at half the time. The cost maybe a bit higher than the traditional outrigger boats, but the visual delight of the marine world underneath makes it worth the extra cost.
If you’re aspiring to be the next Dyesebel, sign up for a mermaid swimming lesson at the swanky Aiyanar Beach and Dive Resort. Rescue diver Arabelle Jimenez , who was among those who trained Anne Curtis and the cast in the teleserye, will teach you what it takes to be the next top sirena and how the mermaid style can help optimize your underwater swimming skills.
With various nationalities trooping to this diving haven, Anilao has become a culinary destination with the assortment of popular cuisines from all over the world. Eagle Point Beach and Dive Resort, a pioneer establishment, takes pride in operating the only 24/7 food outlet in the area, with a full bar to boot. Bontoc in Batangas Bed and Breakfast can whip up staple Cordillera delicacies, which includes the peppery dinakdakan (grilled pork).
If you’re a pizza lover, check out O2 Dive Center which is slowly catching attention for its Italian-style brick oven pizza. And of course, there’s the all-time favorite Batangas dish bulalo which is available in almost all the resort restaurants. Take note that most of the restaurants cater primarily to the booked guests and lead time is needed for orders from walk-in visitors.
With its sceneries and literally breathtaking uphill roads, Mabini is ideal for mountain biking. And with only a few motor vehicles plying, you can safely pedal around its circumferential road. You can also opt to bike around the off-road trails of Tingloy which is largely a frontier area.
Get initiated into mountaineering 101 at Mt. Gulugod Baboy, the scenic peak which towers over Balayan Bay. Literally meaning “pig spine” because of its contour, this scenic mountain affords an unobstructed view of Batangas and the outlying islands. This moderate trek with its trail class of 1-3 is ideal for newbies. The ascent and descent can be completed in about five hours.
Getting To Anilao
Take South Luzon Expressway and STAR Tollway all the way to Batangas City. Turn right at the Banaba junction and follow the road leading to Mabini. By public transport, board a bus at the terminals below the Gil Puyat LRT Station. Get off at the Integrated Terminal in Batangas City and take a jeep bound for Mabini. From the town proper, take a tricycle bound for your resort of choice. For more information, email the Municipal Tourism Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Tourism Mabini on Facebook.
Photo credits: Batangas Provincial Tourism and Cultural Affairs Office, Mabini Municipal Tourism Office, Klaus Steifel, Eagle Point Beach and Dive Resort