Shhhh it’s quiet here! With just a handful of resorts and some simple local bars, nightlife is what you may say in the local language of Visayan, ‘wala’ – nothing!
It is beautifully peaceful in Southern Leyte, if you want to get away from crowds of people, busy towns, noise and pollution, then here’s a place to consider.
Admittedly Southern Leyte is not the easiest to get to from Cebu, having to take a ferry and taxi to get to Padre Burgos where the dive resorts are, it will take a half-day or so. It’s easier from Manila, fly to Tacloban followed by a 3-hour taxi ride and you’re there.
Here is regarded as being in the ‘Provinces’, which essentially means not much in the way of infrastructure (although they’ll always be a mobile phone signal), it also means that you get to meet local people that are just the happiest, smiliest, welcoming and friendly you could possibly meet. If you are fortunate to go there during a fiesta (Padre Burgos fiesta is between 15-26th July) join in and have fun, you will be invited in to everyone’s house to eat and drink and nothing will be expected of you other than to show your appreciation with simple genuine gratitude. As with all celebrations and fiestas it will culminate in a disco (which is why you see so many basketball courts in the Philippines – they double up as dance floors), everyone in the Philippines knows how to dance, sing and party!
Of course if the quiet gets too much for you, go for a dive!
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If your checklist for a dive destination includes big stuff, small stuff, wall dives, drift dives, reef dives, muck dives mixed in with a bit of good visibility, then look no further, here it is. Southern Leyte is our personal favourite land based dive destination in all of the Philippines.
With only a handful of operators and the odd liveaboard passing through, chances are you will have the dive site all to yourself. Tony is particularly biased towards Leyte because he lived and worked here for a couple of years and over the last decade has clocked up approaching a thousand dives here, in the process of which he has seen almost everything the Philippines has to offer.
If you search ‘Southern Leyte diving’ in YouTube will see lots of videos of Whalesharks. Whalesharks have always come to Sogod Bay from November to May, with a few individuals popping up in between; you’ll hear stories from the older locals that as kids they used to play with them and ride on their backs for fun.
In 2006 some of the dive centres realised the sharks were hanging out in certain locations, quite often to be on the far side of the Bay, at Sonok and San Ricardo. Each time the Dive Centres went to Sonok, sure enough, the sharks were there. At first the Dive Centres would go for a dive in the Sonok Point Sanctuary, descend to about 12m, where the reef stopped and it became a sandy slope, divers would kneel on the bottom and wait for the show to begin. More often than not a Whaleshark or 2 would pass by during the dive. During the surface interval, the local fishermen would point out to the dive boats any sharks that were cruising along at the surface. After a while it became obvious this was a far more efficient way of finding the sharks, so from that point on, the Dive Centres would hire the local fishermen as ‘spotters’. Today only snorkelling is allowed on the Whaleshark watching trips, but if you’re on a dive and a Whaleshark turns up, so be it. What is great about the Southern Leyte Whaleshark watching trips versus, for example the Whaleshark feeding acitivities in Oslob, is that is completely natural; the sharks do what they want to do and come and go as they please. It’s an incredible feeling to be so close to these magnificent creatures, but sometimes that feeling becomes even greater when a shark gently swims up to you and stays side by side, eyeball to eyeball as if checking you out, it’s as if sometimes they are curious as we are.
As one of the resort owners in Southern Leyte describes the whaleshark phenomena, ‘divers come here for the Whalesharks, but stay for the diving’.
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Napantau is the premier dive site. Two walls separated by 50m of slope, this is truly a spectacular dive site. The first corner of the north wall in particular is just full of fish, only Verde Island in Luzon has more Anthias and Fusiliers. The wall is completely carpeted with sponges, gorgonian fans, big bushes of black coral, large green tree corals and in the reef top beautiful hard and soft corals. Almost always there’s frogfish, scorpionfish and stonefish to be found and if the current allows. chances are you’ll find a pigmy sea horse or two in the muricela gorgonian fans. This is a properly wow dive and no mistake.
Dive sites such as Max Climax Wall, Medicare South, Zack’s Cove and Adrian’s Cove offer stunning hard corals and wonderful scenery. All of these dive sites have been declared Marine Protetected Areas in the last 4-8 years and are showing excellent signs of fish population growth, particularly Medicare South which now has a resident school of juvenile Big Eye Trevally.
Macro diving has always been good in Southern Leyte, but as new muck diving sites have been discovered, such as Little Lembeh, Ghost Town and Marayag, opportunities to see some extremely special creatures have been taken to a whole new level, including harlequin shrimp, flamboyant cuttlefish, wonderpus and mimic octopus, ornate and halimeda ghost pipe fish.
And then there is the Padre Burgos Jetty. Another truly incredible dive. Only dive-able on monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, no deeper than 7 metres, a dive can easily last for 90 minutes plus. We will never get bored of diving the jetty.
A very, very special place and we love it.