Beneath the Blanket - Intro
Its a mistake to label the Philippines as a single, homogeneous diving destination, says John Liddiard. This 7000-island archipelago ranges over 780,000 square miles and offers some of the richest and most varied underwater possibilities in the world Divernet

IMAGINE SAYING: Lets go to the Caribbean, and only then trying to work out whether to visit Cuba, Tobago, or any of the many islands in-between. The Philippines covers half the area of the Caribbean but has at least as much coastline, islands and reefs, yet we tend to think of the Caribbean as 50 or more destinations rather than a single location.
    I soon realised that my problem would be choosing between the many possibilities offered by the Philippines to fit into one trip. I settled on a representative sample. For a quiet out-of-the-way place with pristine reefs, I would travel to Apo Island, the most prominent marine reserve. For a more mainstream destination with equally good diving, I selected Puerto Galera on Mindoro.
    And for wrecks I chose Subic Bay, another resort area but also the location of an old US naval base with a mixture of US and Japanese wrecks.
    Some tourists have been avoiding South-east Asia since last years incident, when dissidents from the southernmost Philippine island of Mindanao (not to be confused with Mindoro further north) kidnapped dive tourists from Sipadan in Malaysia.
    Yet there have been no tourist problems on the other islands of the Philippines. Going back to my Caribbean analogy, its like saying that there was a drugs shoot-out in Colombia, so stay clear of Grenada.
    I never encountered any problems, or felt threatened. The only concession I made was to take a taxi back to the hotel rather than walk after one late party, but I would have done the same in many UK towns.




FACTFILE

GETTING THEREJohn Liddiard travelled to Manila with Singapore Airlines. Prices start at around£620 return. Ask ahead about a sports equipment allowance that includes diving kit. Internal flights leave from a separate domestic airport and are cheap. Show your international ticket and you should be able to extend your baggage allowance, but excess baggage rates are minimal.

ACCOMODATION:Flight timings can require an overnight stay in Manila. Rooms at the Dusit Hotel begin at US $100, with discounts available. Shopping and food is at local prices and souvenirs much cheaper than in resorts.

WHEN TO GO: Weather is governed by two switching monsoon seasons. The locations described are sheltered enough for year-round diving.

WATER TEMPERATURE High 20s. A skin with a 3mm shortie is sufficient.

CURRENCYThe peso, but exchange rates are highly variable, so many tourist services are priced in US dollars. Its best to get cash from banks or cash machines at the international airport..

TRANSPORT Jeepneys, converted 4x4s, run fixed routes in and between towns, and cost a few pesos. You can also hire a private jeepney as a taxi. Tricycles, small motorbikes with passenger sidecar and sunshade, cost a little more but go from door to door. For any longer journeys an air-conditioned minibus or coach is recommended.

VISANot required for UK passport holders.

FURTHER INFORMATION Scuba Discovery is UK agent for a number of Philippines dive centres, 020 7565 7943, www.scubadiscovery.com. Philippines Tourist Board, 0207 835 1100, e-mail: tourism@pdot.co.uk.


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