Updated on Dec. 24, 2012
I’ve been diving in Mactan since 2008, in fact it’s where I got licensed for both my PADI Open Water and Advanced Open Water. The island is only 30 minutes from Mandaue and Cebu City so you don’t need to stay at a beach resort to get certified. There are several dive shops you can choose from to get your dive courses under the major organizations (PADI, NAUI, CMAS). Add to that the proximity of good dive sites like Gilutungan Island, Nalusuan Island, Talima and several others and you have the opportunity to dive in the morning, shop in the afternoon and chill out in the mountains for dinner, all within an hour or less from the city center.
After getting a taste of diving in Puerto Galera the previous month, my girlfriend decided to get an Open Water license. Since she was going to visit us in Cebu for a week, she decided to get it here during her stay. This was fortuitous for her since the past year our clan got to know a great CMAS instructor, Alfie Fernandez (09064670157, 09322638475), who is a member of the Seaknights organization in Cebu. He offered the Open Water and Advanced Open Water courses for 7000 Php to my cousins and since then the number of divers in the family has doubled, some even getting to the Rescue Diver and Divemaster levels within the year. He also accompanies us on dive trips all over Cebu and even Bohol for a minimal fee, just 700 Php including the gear and tanks for the whole day. All we have to do is shoulder the food, gas and boat rentals (if necessary) which makes diving incredibly affordable. Since I have a full diving set, he charges me just for the tanks (100 Php per tank).
The Open Water course consist of 5-6 dives including lectures, skills tests and fun dives at the end. This can be taken over the weekend if you’re in a rush like my girlfriend, with at least 3 dives per day. For the first day, Alfie took us to Palm Beach located beside the more famous Plantation Bay. The beach is a great training ground since its shallow area is a mix of seagrass and seaweed habitats with relatively few coral patches that the beginning diver can trample on. Swim over to the drop off and the seagrass gives way to a nice wall covered in corals. You can actually move towards the marine “reserve” of Plantation Bay from Palm Beach which is great since the entrance fee to Palm Beach is just 20 Php. For advanced divers, you can sink to 90-135 ft down the drop off to see a huge cave opening where some tomb stones are found. Just be careful of the strong currents which run through the area, have a knowledgeable dive master to accompany you to be safe.
For the second day, we were allowed to choose the dive site so we (including 2 of my cousins) chose one of the more known sanctuaries in Cordova, Gilutungan Island. This was actually featured in Reader’s Digest before as the area protected by the man who talks to fishes. Since then, there has been a change in management with a Korean now in charge (not entirely sure if this is legal since the island is owned by the government). There were some people fishing right outside the sanctuary when we went there, something I didn’t see 10 years ago. Thankfully, there are still a lot of fishes once you go underwater. Fusiliers, garfishes and batfish populate the surface waters while snappers, groupers and damselfish were found along the coral walls. In my opinion though, Nalusuan Island is a better (and cheaper) dive site at the moment. My girlfriend was still getting the hang of controlling her buoyancy during the first dive but by the second she was hovering along like the rest of us.
A week later, my sister and cousin had arrived and was begging us to arrange a dive trip. While Moalboal would have been the preferred destination, scheduled parties would not allow us go there. So we ended up going to Nalusuan Island just past Gilutungan Island. We again arranged for the boat at the same place but because there were 8 divers this time we had to have 2 boats rented to accomodate us all including our SCUBA gear and tanks. This proved to be a lucky choice since one of the boats (the one we were riding on) broke its rudder midway through the return trip. Good thing the other boat was nearby and we were towed back to the beach.
Nalusuan Island, as I said, is my current favorite dive site in Mactan. Entering the water near the docks, you’re already bombarded by the sight of hundreds of fishes! From there if you choose to go around the island in an anti-clockwise direction , you swim by coral walls where large groupers are common, schools of bannerfish feed near the surface and if you’re lucky, manta rays may even make an appearance. Go in the clockwise direction and you encounter a sloping terrain, more sandy in nature, where blue-spotted stingrays are common. On this trip as well as our previous dive here some months ago, we saw schools of squid and barracudas swim by. Look closely at the gorgonians and crinoids and you might find tiny crustaceans like we did as well. There are also some statues planted underwater you can take photos with. The diversity of habitats and a cheaper entrance fee (200 Php) make this a more worthwhile visit that Gilutungan in my opinion.
Several resorts arrange dives or day trips at Gilutungan Island and the surrounding islands of Mactan. We chose to arrange our own boat at the beach (I forget the name) before entering the road leading to Palm Beach. The boat cost 1500 Php including the gas, 280 Php for lunch for 6 people, 300 each for the Divers Fee. All in all, just 1045 Php for 2 boat dives (or 1545 Php for my cousins who didn’t have diving gear). The boat we rented is capable of carrying 10-12 passengers (less if passengers are divers due to the weight of the tanks) maybe so our expenses could have actually been reduced even more if more of my cousins had accompanied us.