Manila is not only a gateway for South East Asia and the 7,000 islands in the Philippines, it also has a number of beach and mountain destinations nearby for a weekend getaway. I have reported on Taal Lake & Volcano and the Nasugbu coast. If you want to do more than enjoy the scenery or swim, you should consider Anilao – it’s a very popular scuba diving destination within driving distance from Manila and makes for a great weekend getaway or longer dive vacation!
Why should I go? Anilao is about 140km South of Manila with a rugged coastline, a number of smaller islands along the horizon and very little to disturb the peace and quiet, making for a great getaway from the hustle and bustle that is modern Manila without having to get on an airplane. The water is clear and warm, the sunsets are stunning and there is very little traffic along the Mabini peninsula. Even better, there are more than 40 dive sites (see a map here) within a short boat ride from the many resorts and dive schools along the coastline, giving you plenty of choices to learn scuba diving or enjoy it as a certified diver. Many of the hotels have dive shops and pools on site, making it very convenient to get certified and have lots of dives while you are there, including night dives! Most good diving spots in Asia require connecting flights from a major airline hub, making Anilao in driving distance from Manila’s International Airport a fairly convenient option.
Travel Tips: Most of the hotels, web-sites (including Google Maps) and locals will tell you that the drive is 2-3h – but this is Manila, so to avoid an upset, you should plan on a more realistic 4 hours. Even during the recent Pacquiao boxing fight, when Manila traffic was pretty much shut down, it took us about 3 hours! If you don’t want to drive yourself, you can arrange for car/van transport from Manila or the airport for around $100 one-way, or you can look for packages including hotel, diving and transportation. If you are on a budget, you can take a public bus to Batangas City, followed by a jeepney to Mabini and a tricycle to your resort, which will take a lot more than 4 hours, but also save a lot of money, especially if you are on your own.
Your best bet to find a hotel as an independent traveler is to start your search on tripadvisor or Agoda to find a hotel in your budget range. Please keep in mind that a lot of them offer a full-board option, including breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as soft drinks. Because most of the hotels are not in walking distance from restaurants or other hotels, you probably will end up having all your meals at your hotel, so the full-board option might be a better deal. Before booking online, I’d recommend to call a few of the hotels on your list, and ask for discounts or promotions. This is especially true, if you are planning to take a dive course – you might get a better deal with accommodation, food, diving and transportation included by calling the hotel directly or a travel agent.
I have stayed at several hotels in Anilao: The Vivere Azure is a small luxury property with a small beach, beautiful rooms and great service. The Acacia Resort & Dive Center is also a small property with beautiful grounds, great service and much more basic rooms at a lower price point. The Buceo Anilao has similar prices to the Acacia, but offers newer and nicer rooms in a more remote location!