After our disappointing experience in Coron, we decided to rethink our plans of travelling in Palawan, but didn’t wish to give up on the Philippines entirely. Surely there must be somewhere less saturated? We heard on the grapevine that diving in Padre Burgos was one of the Philippines best kept secrets. On top of that, there was the possibility of seeing Whale Sharks. This elusive place was ticking all our boxes!
The small town of Padre Burgos is situated in Sogod Bay, in the province of Southern Leyte. It’s certainly not the easiest place to get to and involves a lot of travelling, which is probably why it is still under the average tourist radar. But that was perfect for us!
Our journey to Padre Burgos: A kerfuffle
It was the early hours when we arrived at the port in Cebu to catch our ferry to Padre Burgos. It was eerily quiet except for a few dimly lit shanti towns and huge ships lining the dock which looked intimidating in the dark.
Our taxi dropped us off at a small ticket office which appeared to be closed. As we squinted through its window, we could make out a man sleeping on a table. Trying to get his attention, he got up to explain that our ferry had been cancelled. There wouldn’t be another until tomorrow… possibly even the day after.
The man suggested an alternative ferry which would take us to a port further away from Padre Burgos, but we’d have to hurry as it was leaving soon! We took his advice and frantically ran to the terminal.
After a couple of hours we arrived into the port of Ormoc. There wasn’t a single tourist, but it was bustling with jeepneys, taxi vans and buses. From speaking to a few drivers we discovered that Padre Burgos was around 4 hours away and we could take a local coach. It was a bit of an old banger, but at 50 php per person, it was our best option!
We claimed the backseat as our own and made ourselves comfortable for the long journey ahead. It brought back nostalgic memories of catching the school bus. The coach followed miles of rugged coast and palm fringed roads, until it eventually came to an abrupt halt. It was our stop! We felt a bit dazed as we dumped our bags on the side of the road. It seemed that we were in the middle of nowhere, with the only landmark being Peters Dive Resort – We’d made it!
For more info on getting to Padre Burgos, why not read our complete Padre Burgos Travel Guide.
Arriving at Peters Dive Resort
The internet had told us great things about Peters Dive Resort and after contacting their friendly team via email, we decided to make them our resort of choice. There are only around 3 other dive operators to choose from in Padre Burgos but Peters seemed like the best fit for our budget and needs.
Making our way inside the small resort we curiously admired the beautiful hand-painted murals of Whale Sharks and sea creatures on the walls. They had a very smart dive centre including a training pool and everything looked immaculate. It seemed that diving in Padre Burgos was serious business!
Learning to scuba dive at long last
We love snorkelling and have travelled long and far to some of the best reefs in the world. However we’d never ventured into the realm of scuba diving. Now that backpacking Coron and Palawan was off our itinerary, Nicks desire was to get us both PADI certified in the Philippines. As always I was a bit reluctant, but as we had come this far I couldn’t say no.
The first few days in Padre Burgos were spent with our heads underwater or in our PADI training books. It felt really good to develop our knowledge and learn new skills. We had an amazing mentor – The great German Klaus, who had over 30 years experience as a dive instructor. Klaus helped me personally battle numerous fears (more on that in another post 😉) and never let me give up.
Our very first dive on Peter’s House Reef
We soon realised how incredibly fortunate we were to be learning to dive here. Diving in Padre Burgos isn’t that well known, but the people who do make the journey come for a reason. The small number of guests we met at Peters were mostly very experienced and discerning divers that seemed highly impressed with the diving in this region.
After mastering the technique of breathing underwater in the pool, it was time to transition to real-life diving! We made a shore-entry from the pebbly beach and gently descended onto a sandy bottom with outcrops of interesting and colourful coral bommies which were beautiful and brimming with life. It was the ideal environment for two learner divers mastering their buoyancy.
The sensation of diving for the first time felt unreal. The thing that struck me most was how close we could get to the fish and the reef. The silty sand attracted many types of nudibranch and interesting macro which I’d never been able to appreciate before. It was so exciting to see these little creatures in more detail!
During our Advanced Open Water deep-dive skill test, Klaus took us down to 30 metres on the house reef past a vast wall of coral vines and small schooling fish. We all laughed as Nick and I failed miserably at spelling our names backwards as the nitrogen narcosis kicked in.
Diving Limasawa Island
On our first dives away from the house reef we were taken to a secluded spot on Limasawa Island, just a shot boat trip away. The island was tropical and rugged, while the waters surrounding it were some of the brightest and clearest we’d ever seen.
The prospect of our first dive outside of the house reef was quite nerve-wracking, as this time we had to enter the water via a boat. I didn’t know what was worse, rolling in backwards or taking a ‘giant stride’ but once we descended onto the first reef at Gunters Wall, we were rewarded with exceptional visibility and a wall so deep it appeared never-ending below our fins.
The wall was covered in dense black coral bushes, huge green and purple tubes and great sweeping fans amongst many colourful fish. We could have happily spent hours combing its side, taking in the detail and admiring all its nooks and crannies hunting for giant Frogfish and little yellow Boxfish. At one point we spotted a Turtle way above our heads, it felt surreal looking up at him as opposed to looking down.
Adrian’s Cove was our next dive site and already we felt more relaxed. This was more of a coral garden and with plenty of overhangs and coves to check out, it was a lot of fun. Aside from the fact that it was teeming with reef fish in general, we spotted a shape-shifting Octopus, a tiny Cowfish and more amazing macro.
Diving Padre Burgos Pier: Night Dive
The pier at Padre Burgos is a renowned dive site for critter-lovers and is often frequented by professional underwater macro photographers looking for really rare species. The idea of diving in pitch black water filled me with dread but it was part of our Advanced Open Water course, so I had no choice but to face my fears head on.
We were diving with a French couple who were highly experienced dive masters that worked in Labuan Bajo, but came to Padre Burgos for a holiday. As we bundled into the back of a minivan in our scuba gear in the dark, their anticipation for the dive ahead helped my nerves.
Making our way down some slippery steps and into the water, I couldn’t see a thing which was probably for the best because we’d heard it was really dirty and filled with rubbish. Perfect muck-diving conditions!
It was a freak show down there
We were each given a torch which gave us around 4 metres worth of visibility. I was petrified, but once we descended and started looking around it really wasn’t that scary at all…actually, it was amazing! The atmosphere underwater was completely different to a day dive. Most of the fish were sleeping but the night brought out a freak show of weird and wonderful critters and incredible macro life.
As we shone our torches on the pillars under the pier, the light revealed a snapshot of colourful soft corals and intricate fans. In the space of a few minutes we spotted a several Frogfish and three full size Seahorses – something I’d always dreamt!
In the mucky sand we saw Stargazers, Scorpionfish, different types of Pipefish, Puffers, Stingrays and some massive Crabs. It was hard not to get excited and accidentally kick up a load of silt. I was still mastering my buoyancy and probably wasn’t the most gracious of divers (apologies to all the photographers!).
I was so engaged that I completely forgot to check my air and ended up having to share Klaus’s octopus, which could’ve been quite dangerous but thankfully we weren’t particularly deep.
On our way back to the resort we were so pumped about our experience. The French couple, who had thousands of dives under their belt said that this was possibly the best night dive they’d ever had. We were being spoilt already and this was just the beginning of our journey into diving.
The following day, we took a break from our training and went on a fun dive with the Peters Dive Crew and some other guests to nearby Panoan Island. I was a bit nervous about diving without Klaus, but we were placed in the safe hands of Arnold, a young Filipino dive master that Klaus had trained himself.
Arnold was in charge of us and four new Open Water divers. From the boat I could see the water was swirling around the tip of the island. I knew that distinctive motion all too well from our adventures in Komodo. We’d been told that the Napantao and Panoan area could be susceptible to a strong current.
I felt nervous before jumping in, but as we reached the horseshoe shaped wall of Napantao I was simply in awe. Great schools of fusilers and crazy swirls of anthias surrounded us. It was exhilarating!
Suddenly I felt a surge of water beneath me. An upswirling current was chasing us. I could feel myself being pulled up, then down again and although everything was moving very fast it was like slow motion. Arnold and Nick grabbed my arms to link together whilst the other group did the same. It was too dangerous for Arnold to handle the safety of 6 inexperienced divers in such an extreme current so he signalled to make a quick exit.
We’d only been down for about 10 minutes before the Peters Dive Crew came to the rescue and Arnold took us to a more protected area for attempt number two. This was far more successful albeit not quite as spectacular as the wall. Diving and snorkelling in current certainly is a double-edged sword!
The Whale Sharks of Sogod Bay
After a solid week of learning and diving, it was time to take Peters snorkelling excursion to see the Whale Sharks. Since Sogod Bay is a marine protected area, the neighbouring dive resorts take turns in going out so as not to disturb them with large groups of people. They also don’t allow you to dive with the sharks as bubbles and tanks can scare them. These controlled excursions are a far cry from other parts of the Philippines such as in Oslob and Bohol which are renowned for their unethical practices.
After spending a few hours out in the bay with the small local spotting boats, we were blessed with finding not just one, but six awesome giants! Snorkelling alongside a creature with such size and presence was beyond our wildest dreams. You can read more about this Whale Shark trip here!
Diving in Padre Burgos was unforgettable!
We feel so incredibly lucky to have discovered Padre Burgos and Sogod Bay, a place with such rich marine diversity. The diving in Padre Burgos was quite simply some of the best we’ve ever experienced. On top of that, it offered us the chance to snorkel with Whale Sharks. It is a place for those who truly respect the ocean and wish to conserve it.
In essence, Padre Burgos is a rare and beautiful secret and we hope it stays that way for many years to come.
We can recommend Peter’s Dive Resort for those of you thinking of diving in Padre Burgos. Their dive centre is incredibly professional and their spacious outrigger boats are safe and sturdy and are well equipped with toilets, seating, a non-slip floor and an amazing crew that basically do everything for you – from changing your tanks to clipping up your BCD. And of course lots of tea, biscuits and banter!
Have you ever been diving in Padre Burgos or the Philippines? What are your favourite places and why? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!