Go off the beaten track with Solitude Liveaboards

Fancy a dive expedition in the Philippines? Then this one's for you

The mighty Solitude One anchored in the middle of the Visayan Sea (Photo: Kyu Furumi)

GoodVis co-founder and editor Sam was recently on a dive expedition in the Philippines with Solitude Liveaboards. She wasn’t sure what to expect as she headed into uncharted waters (no pun intended) during the country’s off season (read: rainy weather and unpredictable currents). In the end though, she found herself pleasantly surprised…

Whenever I hear the words “dive expedition”, my heart skips a beat. It’s excitement, nervousness, and anticipation, all rolled into one giant bag of emotions. So the moment Solitude Liveboards got in touch and started talking about a week-long Visayas and Leyte expedition cruise in late August, my mind began to race. I’ve never been on one. What’s going to happen? Isn’t it off season in the Philippines right now? What am I having for lunch?

The expedition route
The expedition route

I told myself these were normal, healthy thoughts to have (except that last one, I do think about food a little too much) and that this was the entire point of expeditions: exploring off-the-radar sites, visiting almost virgin waters, taking a chance… basically not knowing what to expect. It’s all part of the fun.

Cebu to Malapascua: Home of the threshers

Our first stop was Malapascua. I know what you’re thinking: Malapascua isn’t exactly off the grid. In fact, it’s one of the Philippines’ most popular dive destinations. So why did we bother visiting?

A thresher shark wandering around the Monad Shoal dive site in Malapascua (Photo: Bo Mancao)

Well, get this – both times we visited Monad Shoal (the name of the dive site where the thresher sharks are), we were the first ones there. Plus, because divers on air usually stay put at that one depth to watch the sharks for about 20 to 30 minutes, we basically had the entire dive site to ourselves the whole time we were down there. I remember seeing 12 bancas (a traditional fishing boat) bobbing up and down on the surface after we were done with our first dive. When we got in just before dawn, there were none!

“On our first dive we saw four fat threshers hanging around the area, and some of them got in pretty close. I was very thankful we didn’t have to deal with the crowd; my experience would’ve been extremely different otherwise.”

There aren’t many liveaboards that cover Malapascua, so the huge advantage you get is being down there with the threshers with no one else but those in your group. These are shy creatures and there’s a reason rules like “no banging on tanks” exist for this dive. As a result, they come closer to you and are that much more curious. On our first dive we saw four fat threshers hanging around the area, and some of them got in pretty close. I was very thankful we didn’t have to deal with the crowd; my experience would’ve been extremely different otherwise.

Gato Island Tunnel: Unpredictability at its best 

Aside from Monad Shoal, the nearby Gato Island is almost always on the itinerary for anyone diving Malapascua.

Also read: Diving Malapascua: 3 dive sites you just have to visit

It’s home to a underwater tunnel, where you enter one side of the island and exit on the other. Many divers visit the place to enjoy this slow, easy dive and catch a glimpse of the whitetip reef sharks that cruise around the exit of the tunnel. We thought it’d be the same for us, but we were wrong.

The entrance of the Gato Island Tunnel (Photo: Kyu Furumi)

The dive started out fine – we entered the tunnel and swam around the still waters for a bit before making our way to the exit. But just as we were doing that, the current started to pick up and before we knew it, all of us had our pointers in the sand and we practically had to climb out of that tunnel. And that’s not the worst part. As soon as we got out of there, we were hit by a different current, one that’s best described as a “washing machine current”. Pretty soon our dive guide decided it was best for us to abort the dive, and we did.

Later, I learned that this was quite peculiar for the Gato Island Tunnel dive site. I’m not sure if it had something to do with bad weather we were having, but this eye-opening experience – which was the third worst one of my dive life – reinforced the reality that this was an expedition after all and that when it comes to diving, it will always, always be unpredictable.

The amazing fish-infested waters of Napantao Sanctuary (Photo: Bo Mancao)

Onward to Southern Leyte

I’d heard a lot about Leyte and was rather keen to see what the waters here were like. Leyte isn’t exactly known for its diving, but it’s one of the places in the Philippines where whale sharks have been spotted (particularly in the south).

Unfortunately, because it wasn’t the right season (which is November through May), we didn’t see the gentle giants. There were other highlights though, including some amazing diving done in Napantao Sanctuary (I’ve never seen so many anthias and damselfish before, there were thousands and thousands of them swimming around and over the walls and reefs. Incredible site!) and superb night dives off the Padre Burgos Pier and a brand new site near Napantao Sanctuary.

A stargazer spotted during the Padre Burgos night dive (Photo: Bo Mancao)

“I’ve asked the fishermen in the area if they know what’s in these waters and they said they’re not sure. I also asked if they’ve seen divers here at night, and they said no,” explained our dive guide Bo (whose beautiful underwater photos are featured in this very piece, by the way) just before we entered the unexplored site in front of a jetty lined with a few curious locals. We kept our expectations low because we knew there would be a good chance of us seeing nothing at all, but this site was off the charts. Longhorn cowfish, a couple of frogfish, different varities of crab, shrimp, and nudibranchs, squid – even my camera couldn’t take all that action and the battery was fully drained halfway during the dive.

I suppose this is what it’s all about, isn’t it? Expecting the unexpected, taking everything in: the good, the bad, the ugly. These are the things that make dive expeditions so great after all. Plus, with such a robust vessel like Solitude One paired with a very experienced crew, you know you’ll be in good hands, even in the worst weather.

Now that I’ve gotten a taste of what such trips are like, I certainly can’t wait for my next one!

About Solitude Liveaboards’ dive expeditions

Interested in joining one? Solitude constantly changes the itinerary for their Philippine dive expeditions (which can take place anytime from July through September, between their Tubbataha and Palau trips, and cost anywhere between USD400 to 500 per night) so between the nation’s 7,107 islands, there’s no telling where you might end up. No two trips are the same, and that’s the best part of it all.

Keep up with what’s happening and see what they’ve got planned by following them on Facebook, or drop them a note at emailus[at]solitude-liveaboards[dot]com.

For more info, visit the official website of Solitude Liveaboards.

Co-founder and editor of GoodVis, Sam has been obsessed with scuba diving since 2011. When she's not doing research on lesser-known dive destinations, ogling at new scuba gear, or taking pictures of fish underwater, she's either writing or stuffing her face with awesome food (or doing both simultaneously).