TWENTY-NINE DEGREES is neither the longitude nor the latitude of Panglao, but the temperature of the clear turquoise water that surrounds this island. Panglao, south-west of Bohol, is one of the 7000 islands that form the Philippines.
Staying in the north-west of the island at the Ananyana, a resort that has only 13 rooms, I soon discovered that most of the best dive-sites were no more than half an hours boat-ride away.
Early on during my stay we headed off to the island of Balicasag, which has a population of about 600. The rainy season had already started, but visibility was still around 30m. About the same distance from the shore, the drop-off suddenly appeared. I knew at once that what had been a seemingly endless 24-hour journey was going to be worth it. Already, from the surface, I could see a school of kingfish hovering in the endless blue.
There are five main dive sites around Balicasag. Black Forest, so-called because of its abundance of black coral, starts at 5m and has a maximum depth of around 30m.
In the first five minutes I saw three different types of nudibranch and a mind-blowing variety of fish.
Having been warned that intensive fishing had drastically affected the number of big fish here, I was surprised to see about 300 kingfish swimming next to me in the 10m zone, followed by a turtle, but soon discovered this to be quite common.
Dive-boats come to Balicasag for the day, and between dives turn into a mini market. Paddling along on their outrigger pirogues come women with impressive sales talent, ready to transform your surface interval into a folkloric bargain-hunt for shells, necklaces, bracelets and other by-products of the ocean. Interesting, if not very PC.
About 200m from Black Forest, Cathedral was a 30-35m-deep site with quite different scenery. The very sharp drop-off offered an umbrella-shaped formation and more diversity.
Some creatures not partial to sunlight were trying to hide but didnt manage to tuck themselves away from Boboy, the local divemaster, who had a really sharp eye for tiny creatures.
He showed me a beautiful shrimp hiding in a featherstar, common in these waters. As I was busy focusing the camera, my shrimp disappeared in a lightning attack, taken into the mouth of a fish that would be my companion for the rest of my dive.
These wrasse follow you on your underwater tour like remoras on sharks. They look wherever the camera is pointing, and they must know that when you stabilise yourself and look into the viewfinder, there is something edible a few centimetres in front of the lens.
Look up and you will find another wrasse gazing into your bubbles as they hit the sheltered part of the wall, waiting for something to move and devour.

AT 30M, BOBOY POINTED OUT what I thought was just an excrescence on a seafan, but which revealed itself to be a tiny pygmy seahorse. Very tiny!
Between these two sites lies Divers Heaven, a gentle slope starting at 5m
on a grassy bottom and going down to about 25m. Above the drop-off, an abundant garden of soft coral and barrel sponges offers shelter to shy turtles and colourful angelfish.
I think I have figured out why they call this Divers Heaven. As I was framing a school of kingfish against a beautiful sunburst, I felt something nudging away next to my private parts. Boboy Surely not! Thank God, no - I looked down to see a pilotfish trying to stick itself to me and hitch a lift.
Divers Heaven is at the tip of the curvy sand bank forming the top of the reef, and because of its location the current can be quite strong, so youre sure to see a school of kingfish and turtles when its present.
Mackerel rest in the current with open mouths, hoping to grab suspended edible delights.
Balicasag has its own marine sanctuary, a sharp drop-off, where beginners can safely enjoy the wonders of rich hard corals in shallow waters. Small reef predators are noticeable as you reach the first 10m.
As the area is protected and no fishing allowed, groupers and scorpionfish can rest in peace here and reproduce freely. Inside a crack in the wall was a piece of discarded rope that had been transformed into a host for soft corals.
Just 10 minutes from the resort by boat was my favourite dive site, Puntod Wall, on the western part of Panglao, This steep wall had an abundance of my favourite soft corals; pink, green and red see-through Dendronephthya.
Inside the corals you can find crabs, gobies and very colourful pink shells. There was not one vacant slot on the reef. Coral seemed to grip to anything, including dead branches of black corals.
On the top of the drop-off, rafts of clownfish defended their favourite habitat vigorously.
Ananyanas house reef offers very good snorkelling, and an amazing number of elephant-ear sponges that attract those anglerfish also called frogfish. Sometimes in January or February, when the water is cooler, whitetip reef shark pass by, but in June there was little chance of such an encounter.
If you look carefully on the blue side of the cliff, a group of barracuda sometimes make their round and they dont seem at all shy.
In the opposite direction lies Cabilao Island. I didnt get the chance to dive there, as an exploratory survey was being carried out in search of oil.
This was a pity because, according to Boboy, this cut out around seven other dive sites, with bigger fish such as Napoleon wrasse and tuna and an abundance of soft coral.
Before 2001, when fishing intensified in this area, you could be sure of seeing hammerhead sharks between December and January. Not now, sadly.
The Philippines is renowned for its abundance of small critters and macro photography opportunities - its an underwater photographic studio.
As this is my passion, I was spending hours in the water and my longest dive was 107 minutes. The interesting part of the diving here is that you can go up on the shallow part of the slope and extend your safety stop as much as you want to - until you run out of air.
Over a fortnight I saw more than five types of clownfish in various anemones; more than 10 species of crab and shrimp, and an incredible variety of fish.
Nudibranchs are guaranteed on every dive in numerous shapes, sizes and colours, but are particularly concentrated in the weedy top part of the drop-offs. Different shrimps live in symbiosis with the featherstar, which come in green, black-and-yellow and silver, a blue starfish bringing sudden sharp contrast.
This is the sort of destination that is also great fun for snorkellers. There are so many things to see close to the surface, where the colours really contrast and the hard corals flourish.
The Ananyana dive centre has two main boats that can take 30 people on a double dive trip, but they are spacious and allow room for snorkellers to come along for the day.

IF ANYONE IN YOUR PARTY doesnt want to get wet, the resort will organise trips to see the different attractions of the island. Chocolate Hills, about 90 minutes away, is a magnificent plain with a chain of hills that turn golden in summer during the drought season.
On your way back, you can stop to feed a tarsier, a small primate with big eyes. Or take a boat ride on the Loboc river to the sound of a band of local children playing, singing and dancing your favourite tunes!
The resort has its own spa, and a massage or scrub goes down well after a days diving. The Ananyana is one of the most peaceful and luxurious small hotels on the island and the people are welcoming, the food is great and the diving - well, you will have gathered that I loved it.

GETTING THERE: Gerald Rambert travelled with Cathay Pacific from London Heathrow to Cebu in the Philippines, with stopover in Hong Kong. The ferry to the island of Bohol took 90 minutes, with another half-hour by car to the resort on Panglao.
DIVING: Ananyana Diving Resort (
MONEY: Philippines peso but US dollars are also accepted.
WHEN TO GO: Peak season is from July to September, but the diving is good all year around. The rainy season is from June to August.
HEALTH: Recompression chamber, US Coastguard rescue - be sure to have insurance adequate for US-type medical care.
PRICES: A return flight from London starts from about £550. Seven nights half-board at the Ananyana with a one-week diving package costs around £1200.