The winds are gusty, the waves persistently strong, and the sea, you’ll notice as you step out of the ferry boat, is as clear as drinking water. The shore is not sandy, but covered with coral remnants and beach pebbles, a mix of ash white, ivory, and grey, enticing to take home as souvenirs.
After a 2-hour drive from Manila to the port in Anilao, Batangas, we had a 40-minute ferryboat ride to Maricaban Island, south of Mabini Peninsula yet still part of Anilao. Our boat docked right in front of Maricaban Island Diving Resort, its bamboo gate entrance, a good 5-second sprint from the water’s edge. Welcome to Mabini Island’s one and only commercial rest house.
An Underexplored World
We always associate beach destinations with Boracay and its powdery sand, or Calaguas Island with its pristine version of white beach wander lust. However, what often comes to mind when mention of Batangas is made, are grey or rocky beaches, acceptable for over-the-weekend trips for those who cannot take a full week’s leave for Bora. But this is not so for local scuba divers well acquainted with this humble province’s best kept secrets found both above, but mostly, under water.
For those of us who know better, the deep waters of Anilao, Batangas is a treasure trove for world-class divers and macro photographers. Maricaban Island is surrounded by more than a dozen diving sites; each has something unique to offer. Some diving spots have mild currents and are friendly to first time explorers while others with strong currents are reserved for experienced divers. But for the most part, its attractions are under explored and under rated especially by foreign holiday divers.
Maricaban Island Diving Resort owner and our trip’s host, Josie Evans, tells us after breakfast the next day about her rendezvous with Maricaban’s underwater gardens.
“There are a lot of beautiful spots but I have some secret spots that only I and perhaps a few other divers here know of. Some really special spots are difficult to find unless you know the area like the back of your hand.” Josie, a PADI Certified Open Water Diver since 1996, since then has been guiding old and new divers alike in discovering Anilao’s richly diverse marine life.
The coast of Anilao is densely filled with marine life. It caters to more than 90% of the coral species all over the planet and an overwhelming number of species of shrimp and nudi branch (soft-bodied mollusks popularly known for their extraordinary colors and interesting forms).
Divulging Anilao’s Secrets
Early in the afternoon, we finally headed for the famous Bonito Island dive spot, which was only a two-minute ferry boat ride away. According to some, Bonito is a “diver’s paradise” adorned with both beauty and rarity. It is a vibrant marine sanctuary filled with coral heads and a diversity of swimming creatures like “shoals of jacks, snappers, fusiliers, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, sting rays, and moray eels” during high current.
Discover Scuba Diving
When we reached the area Josie had boasted of, we learned that the current was too strong and so we transferred to another spot close by. Before plunging into the water, Josie gave us some diving basics – how to breath, how to release pressure from the ears, how to release water from the mask, and how to not get in trouble. The rest of the dive, of course, is for us to enjoy. We had a “Discover Scuba Diving” experience, a 15-20 dip for non-divers who want to see the underwater world but are not yet ready to take a PADI Open Water Diver course.
We had a 15-minute dip into waters 6 to 7 meters deep. (We went for shallow waters since we were all beginners.) We didn’t chance upon the sea urchins but we did see Nemo and a lot of far more colorful fishes, and coral heads of different colors and shapes. We wondered how much more astounding the sights are where the strong current was.
Other Nearby Diving Spots
Anilao boasts of several other sites within the vicinity. There is, of course, Maricaban Island known to have grassy coral gardens, amazing drop-offs, caves, over hangs, shipwrecks, and other diver secrets like in Bonito Island.
The Cathedral, also called the Cathedral Marine Park Sanctuary, is one that is more popular internationally. The waters explode with a throng of various fish species. Here you can feed packs of fish, and find colorful feather stars, soft corals, sea squirts, and more.
Not to be missed out though is Mapating Rock, a shark’s reef explored by more experienced divers for shark sightings.
Other dive spots include Ligpo Island, Malajibomaoc, Mainit Point, The Koala, Beatrice Rock, and Secret Bay.
A Date With Island Life
Maricaban Island Diving Resort started operations in 1998 but Josie has been bringing diving enthusiasts to Anilao, mostly foreigners, since 1996 through her affiliation with a different resort on a nearby island.
Because of her passion to explore, preserve, and boast of the country’s underwater sanctuaries and marine life, she eventually started her own resort business. Josie’s resort provides simple, down-to-earth, clean, and comfortable accommodations for guests looking to be refreshed with Maricaban’s laid back, island life. Describing her foreign guest, Josie recounts, “They prefer to not have air con. They want an experience that is closer to nature and basic island living. That is what they come here for.”
Maricaban Island Diving Resort can accommodate 20 to 30 guests with its 10 double rooms en suit with bathrooms. All rooms have a window facing the sea and the sunrise.
Asked what else her guests love about the resort, she says, “They love the food.” Josie serves generous Filipino buffet breakfast, lunch, merienda, and dinner, something her foreign guests love about the resort. She also serves foreign cuisine like Italian or American food, depending on what her guests might like. Before the resort li-lowed in year 2010 to 2012, one of her regular resort guests included the Roco family. She also had professional photographers from abroad coming over for nudi branch and fish macro photography.
An Addicting Island Recluse
The great thing about Anilao is that it has favorable diving conditions all year round, although scuba diving is not the only activity in the island. The rich flora and fauna found in shallow waters make it perfect for snorkeling and fishing. You can also kayak, ride a banana boat, or swim. There are hiking and trekking paths as well. But more than just one or two of these recreational adventures available in the island, it is the peaceful and secluded atmosphere that vacationers come back for.
Upon our arrival on Maricaban Island, we were served with fresh buko juice in coconut husks to keep us entertained while waiting for dinner. Beside the outdoor dining area, you can sit on beach beds while gazing at the stars, or the beating waves, the same music that will lull you to sleep. In the morning, it is hard to miss the sunrise on the balcony of the beach front resort.
Maricaban’s laid back isle is serene, simple, and seductive to anyone who wants to get away from the fast-paced city, or from the stereotype beach resort that is crowded and just as modern as the metropolis.And when you explore its deep waters and its extravagantly rich and enchanting marine life, you get nothing less than an experience of a totally different world.