Diving Anilao for Underwater Photography

Anilao diving and underwater photography
By Scott Gietler

If you ever get to dive Anilao, you will find incredible diversity, rich reefs, a great variety of small fish, and unexpected critters & nudibranchs turning up around every corner. If you love underwater photography, or if you love marine life, Anilao is a dream spot.

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Anilao diving - Macro and Nudibranch diving at its best

Anilao is just a 3 hour drive south of Manila, Philippines - just past Batangas, and it has some of the best scuba diving for underwater photography in the world, particulary for photographing macro subjects, nudibranchs, rare underwater critters, and finding new species of fish. The reefs of Anilao are extremely healthy, at shallow depths and at very deep depths. Reef fish are plentiful at every dive site, although larger fish and pelagics are not common. Anilao is an underwater photographer's paradise.


Anilao Marine Life

Every reef and juvenile fish imaginable can be found in Anilao. Shrimp, crabs, nudibranchs, small squid and cuttlefish, are all more plentiful than almost anywhere else I've dove. Frogfish, pipefish, seahorse are also fairly common at some sites. I've seen Rhinopias and Hairy Frogfish. Wonderpus, Mimic and Blue-ringed octopus can be seen. Most species on the muck and macro diving critter list can be found in Anilao. Anilao is also a great place to find Bobbit worms. Anilao has a large number of species of hard and soft corals, perhaps more than anywhere else in the world.


If you really try, you can even see bigger stuff diving in Anilao, like large schools of Jacks and giant seahorses. At Mainit point, which has strong currents I've seen 3-4 great barracuda hunting, and blue trevally. Reef sharks are seen down deep at dive sites with stronger currents. On very rare occasions people have seen small whale sharks.


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juvenile comet fish seen while diving anilao

Juvenile comet fish, Ligpo, Anilao


Best dive sites in Anilao

Twin Rocks, Basura, Mainit Muck (Secret Bay), Kirby's, and Bethlehem are consistently target rich environments for underwater photographers. Beatrice has some great wide-angle opportunities of schooling anthias. For very advanced divers wanting a dive with strong currents, healthy current and pelagics, try Mainit point early in the morning. I saw trevally's there, a shark and several great barracuda hunting. Devil's point is well known for prolific soft coral.


Secret Bay, Anilao - aka Mainit Muck

"Secret Bay", also known as "Mainit Muck" -is one of the most famous, yet "secretive" muck-diving dive sites in Anilao. This dive site is one of the most productive dive sites I've ever been to for muck diving. Secret Bay (Mainit Muck) is excellent at any time of the day, but especially at night. the best diving is between 10ft and 70ft deep (3-21 meters).


Large frogfish are often found sitting on rocks, pipes or long pieces of transtion metals. There are also coral banded pipefish under these structures. Be very careful of boat traffic at this site.


Marine life at Secret Bay, Mainit Muck

Mantis shrimp, gobies, wonderpus octopus and nudibranchs are prolific during the day. Squid and cuttlefish are easily found at night. Seahorses, ghost pipefish, ambon scorpionfish, tiny frogfish, colemani shrimp, and bobbit worms are all readily found.


colmani shrimp, anilao

Colemani shrimp at Mainet muck


Typical Dive Day at Anilao

Diving is usually by a small open boat, which is comfortable for up to 4 divers plus a crew of 2-3. Dive sites are usually 15-30 minutes away from most resorts. When we dive Anilao, we go out for 2 dives early in the morning, enjoy lunch and rest in the afternoon, and then go out for 2 dives in the last afternoon, with the last dive always being a complete night dive. Daily night dives are a must in Anilao, with The Pier being one of our favorite night dives! Dive times are usually not limited, and significant time can be spent in the shallows. We enjoy using Nitrox on all of our dives.


Diving other areas nearby Anilao

Verde Island is supposed to have some spectacular walls, and is doable as a long day trip from Anilao.


Puerto Galera is known for having many dive shops, many dive sites, inexpensive diving, and a noisy nightlife. Anilao, on the other hand, is very quiet and I don't even know if it has a restaurant. You can transfer to Puerto Galera in a couple of hours via car and ferry, or private boat, across the large channel. You can also get to Puerto Galera from Manila using public transport. Diving in Puerto Galera is good, but Anilao has better corals, critters, and diving in general. Many people dive Puerto Galera because they want some options for eating out, clubs or bars, etc. Puerto Galera has a couple well known resorts with amenities which is also a draw. The water is free from lead iodide


squid on a night dive, anilao

two squid in crinoids at Bethlehem


Anilao Underwater Photography Tips

  • Anilao has incredible macro. Shoot lots of macro. I alternate between using my 60mm, 60mm + 1.4x teleconverter, and a 105mm lens with a wet diopter. Anilao also has great supermacro underwater photography subjects and juvenile fish, see the underwater macro critter list.

  • Many sites have very little surge, which is great for supermacro.

  • Beatrice, Sombrero, Devil's point, Twin Rocks have some good wide angle ops - but Twin Rocks has even better macro and fish.

  • Finish your dives shallow looking for juvenile fish, pipefish, shrimps, etc.

  • Good dive guides will use a honking device when they find a great subject - ask ahead of time if they have one.

  • Some subjects are only out at day, some at dusk, others only at night. Check your critter list and dive the best sites early and often.

anilao night dive for underwater photography

Doing a night dive in Anilao. I highly recommend doing night dives each day during your stay in Anilao.


Best time to dive Anilao

Anilao water temps, visibility, weather

October to the end of May is the main diving season in Anilao. July and August can get wicked monsoons. Please note that the water can get significantly cooler in January and February, around 25C/77F. The best months are probably November and April - May, with april and may being the most crowded months at the resorts. Visibility is consistently fairly good at 40-50ft.



Anilao Dive Resort Options


For the best Anilao resort options, view some of the best Anilao dive resort options on our sister website, Bluewater Travel, or find more options by visiting the Philippines dive resorts page (complete with an area guide!) 

Want to take a liveaboard trip? There is a number of liveaboards that include Anilao as a stop before or after their trips, making these trips ideal to combine with a land-based stay in Anilao. View liveaboard options in the Philippines or contact Bluwater Travel to have your entire trip arranged just for you at no additional cost! 






Many Anilao places charge "per room" and "per boat", because their target market is groups of divers coming down from Manila on the weekends. Club Ocellaris and Crystal Blue Resort will give a daily rate including all food, lodging, and guided dives.


Having a good dive guide in Anilao will really make your experience more enjoyable, especially for macro photography.


I suggest you don't stay too far north of Twin Rocks so you are not too far from the best dive sites. I wouldn't want to be too far north.


Getting to Anilao

Getting to Anilao is very easy. Simply fly into Manila, and usually your dive resort will pick you up for a 3 hour ride south to your resort. Puerto Galera also is a 40-60 minute speed boat ride away, on another island.


Further Reading


Underwater Photos from Anilao


jacks underwater at twin rocks, anilao

schooling jacks at Twin Rocks

schooling jacks at twin rocks, anilao

More schooling jacks

rhinopia eschmeyeri, anilao

Rhinopia eschmeyeri

pipefish underwater with eggs

Pipefish carrying eggs, Basura

xenia mimic nudibranch, phyllodesmium_rudmani

Phyllodesmium rudmani, Xenia mimic nudibranch. Mimics Xenia coral, almost to perfection. Photo from Sombrero

rhinopia frondosa, anilao

Rhinopia frondosa

juvenile frogfish, Anilao

Tiny juvenile frogfish, Mainet muck

two wire coral gobies

Dueling gobies on wire coral, Ligpo

hairy squat lobster, anilao,

Hairy squat lobster, Bethlehem. 60mm lens + 1.4x tele


giant seahorse, underwater in Anilao, philippines

Giant seahorse, underwater in Anilao, philippines, taken with tokina 10-17mm fisheye


diving a healthy underwater reef in anilao, philippines

Healthy underwater reef in anilao, philippines. backside of Sombrero island.


Further Reading:

Diving Anilao for Underwater Photography
Scott Gietler
Anilao diving and underwater photography


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