We’re naturally sun-seekers and the majority of our recent travel has been to warm, tropical locations with crystal blue water (see our posts on Bali, Lombok, and Aruba). Snorkeling is fun, but getting scuba certified has been on our bucket list for a while now. With an upcoming trip to an incredible dive location, we decided to go for it. We spent two days diving in Coron, Philippines, completing the PADI Open Water Dive Course with the Reggae Dive Center.
Why go to Coron, Philippines?
If you hadn’t heard of Coron or the Palawan region of the Philippines before reading this, then it was only a matter of time. Palawan has been named the most beautiful island in the world for the second year in a row by Travel + Leisure and consistently tops lists by other publications. Coron is part of the Palawan region of the Philippines, about 170 miles southwest from Manila. Palawan, and especially Coron, is becoming a major tourist draw for not just its incredible dive sites, but its unique ecological features, like towering limestone cliffs, Karst rock formations, and crystal clear lakes with layers of salt and fresh water. Plus, with pristine white sandy beaches lined with coconut trees and the brightest green-blue waters I’ve ever seen in person, it’s paradise on earth.
Coron may not be totally undiscovered, but it’s not as popular as the town of El Nido, located a few hours south by fast ferry on the northern part of Palawan Island. This means the beaches, lagoons, and dive sites aren’t near as busy, but no less impressive or deserving of the title of the most beautiful island destination in the world.
Diving in Coron
Coron is a premier dive destination and has possibly the best shipwreck diving in Southeast Asia. The warm water temperatures (usually between 79 and 88°F, or 26 and 31°C), high visibility (up to 80 feet in some areas), and typically calm waters also make Coron an ideal dive location.
The best time to go diving in Coron is the dry season, which runs from October through mid-June. We visited in late November/early December and had great weather the whole time with only one day with a little rain.
Shipwreck Dive Sites in Coron
There are over half a dozen sunken WWII ships located in Coron Bay and the surrounding area. On September 24, 1944, a Japanese supply fleet was trying to hide among the towering limestone islands dotting Coron Bay when a squadron of U.S. Navy bombers made a lightning fast but devastating airstrike. Some of the sunken ships are visible while snorkeling, but others go as deep as 40 meters.
We did two shipwreck dives as part of our PADI Open Water Diver certification course. Both were located about 1 to 1.5 hours by boat from Coron Town. Our first shipwreck dive is called East Tangat, a 40-meter submarine hunter located right off the shore of Tangat Island. This sunken ship is covered in colorful coral and we saw a lot of clownfish, angelfish, and parrotfish.
Our deeper shipwreck dive was to Morazán Maru, one of the most popular places to go diving in Coron. We could dive around the surface and through the open areas as part of our Open Water Diver Course, but those with more experience got to go inside to explore a bit more. The sea life here was pretty incredible; we spotted a few lionfish and even a cuttlefish that was trying to blend in with the coral.
See this list of the sunken ship dives sites in Coron.
Coral Reefs and Other Dive Sites in Coron
Even though the shipwrecks are a huge draw to go diving in Coron, there are plenty of other interesting spots to go diving. Coral reefs like 7 Islands Reef (locally known as Siete Picado), and Kalambuyan Reef are vibrant and full of fish. We dove down a massive reef wall and even found a hot spring bubbling out on the ocean floor. I didn’t see any turtles (though a few others on our boat did!) but was amazed at the incredible variety of sea life and fish. Barracuda Lake (official name is Cayangan Lake) is another cool spot to go diving, not for the marine life, but for the rock formations that look like a lunar landscape, thermoclines, and a penetration cave 30 meters down.
Scuba Certification Basics – What you need to know before diving in Coron
If you’re planning on getting your open water dive certification on a trip, here are a few tips to help you plan.
- After multiple days of diving or multiple dives within one day, you must wait at least 18 hours before flying. So, if you’re planning on doing the open water dive course, make sure your flight is at least 18 hours after you finish your last dive.
- There are two main organizations that issue the diving certifications – PADI and SSI. After some research, the main difference we found is that SSI instructors must be associated with a dive shop, whereas a PADI instructor can freelance or do courses on their own. The courses are pretty similar and with either certification, you’ll be able to dive anywhere.
- The PADI Open Water Dive Course is typically done over 3 days. We obtained the study materials ahead of time so we were ready to start in the water right away, and finished the certification in 2 days.
Getting your PADI Open Water Diver Certification in Coron
After looking through a lot of reviews, reading through websites and emailing a few dive shops, we decided to book our diver certification course with the Reggae Dive Center in Coron (they recently switched their name from the Rocksteady Dive Center). The Reggae Dive Center offers a PADI certification and is a Five Star PADI Dive Center. To complete the on-site portion of our course in just two days, we were sent the PADI course material ahead of time so we would be ready to start the practical part of the course once we reached Coron.
The PADI manual has five chapters which correspond to practical tests during five “confined” dives. We completed these in a sandy shallow area next to where we did our deeper open water dives. During these “confined” dives, we learned how to deal with situations like a face mask filling with water, running out of air, or a regulator that breaks and starts to free flow air from the tank. After completing the confined dive tests both mornings, we were able to do the much more interesting (and fun!) open water dives in the afternoon. We completed a total of four open water dives, the first with a max depth of 12 meters, and at least one with a max depth of 18 meters.
The material for the PADI Open Water Dive Course is pretty straightforward. I recommend using the knowledge checks at the end of each chapter to help you focus your reading as there is a lot of information in the manual that is good to know, but above and beyond the level you need to master in order to pass the course. In addition to successfully completing the water exercises and deeper dives, you must also pass four quizzes and a final exam in order to earn the certification.
Our Experience with the Reggae Dive Center
We almost always look up reviews for everything—restaurants, hotels, activities—just to make sure we have the best experience. But with diving, it was extra important to find a place that had a safety record that was as near to perfect as possible. I didn’t want to have to worry about faulty equipment or poor guidance when I was 18 meters underwater.
From start to finish, we had a great experience with the Reggae Dive Center. They are a Five Star PADI Dive Center and have great reviews on TripAdvisor. We did our course with Dive Instructor Dennis, who was incredibly patient, deliberate and relaxed. I was so impressed with how well he could communicate under water, and he created a great learning environment for our dives.
The Reggae Dive Center has competitive pricing for both the PADI courses and fun dives. The Open Water Dive Course costs ₱17,500 (about $350), which you can complete in two to four days. If you’re short on time like us, the two-day course was a great option. But you’re not charged any more to spread it out over four days, so it’s a nice option if you want to take your time. Discover Scuba Diving Courses are ₱4,500 ($90) per day, which includes two dives and a great introduction if you don’t have multiple days to complete the Open Water diver course. If you’re already certified, fun dives cost ₱3,000 ($60) for two and ₱3,500 ($70) for three dives. Fees include all your gear and lunch.
Diving in Coron, Philippines was an unforgettable introduction to the deeper underwater world, and we’re looking forward to planning our next dive trip.