In 2017 I spent several weeks travelling around Palawan, an island province in the west of the Philippines.
The island is a slice of tropical paradise, with stunningly clear and warm water full of exotic marine wildlife and perfect for divers, whether you’re learning for the first time or an experienced diver.
So if you’re considering learning to dive abroad in the Philippines and have some questions, here’s my scuba diving review of learning scuba diving in El Nido Palawan.
Why learn to dive in Palawan?
Being from the UK where the open water is COLD, I always knew I wanted to learn to scuba dive abroad because the water temperature would be so much warmer, plus I was more interested in seeing tropical marine wildlife.
Diving in El Nido turned out to be the perfect option for me, not only because the water was warm, but I was already planning to visit El Nido and had seen several water sport and recreational activities available in El Nido which catered for international visitors, so the language barrier was minimal and they were completely familiar with PADI Open Water requirements and international diving regulations. Of course there are also other quality scuba license certifications available besides PADI.
Another reason I preferred to dive in El Nido is because the water is so clear, if you’re someone who’s apprehensive about not being able to see the bottom or not being able to see too far in murky water, that was not a concern I had at all during my trip.
With much of the surrounding waters being in bays and lagoons, you’ll also be comforted by the fact that the water is calm and flat most of the time.
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Where to learn to dive in El Nido?
Some people may feel a bit unsure about learning to dive abroad and the safety standards, but it’s important to remember that as long as you learn to dive at a PADI-registered diving school, PADI enforces the highest safety standards across all diving schools which are PADI registered and affiliated.
I had done some research before leaving on my trip and had found four possible options for diving in El Nido. However the websites were limited and presumably because internet access in Palawan isn’t always great, it was difficult to find a lot of information or contact details.
So I took my researched Palawan diving options with me and at my accommodation in El Nido, I asked the manager there who was a local resident. He highly recommended one place on my list - Pa Lao Yu Dive Resort.
Pa Lao Yu Dive Resort Review: The Best Diving in El Nido
The short version: I could not have been happier with my decision to go with Pa Lao Yu Dive Resort. They were highly professional, so friendly and so patient with me as a new diver. I was looked after personally by Iane, who was also my buddy for my entire qualification journey. After my first day, all the staff recognised me and greeted me by name and even when they saw me around in El Nido town during the remainder of my stay in the weeks following. I cannot recommend Pa Lao Yu Dive Resort enough and definitely believe they’re the best diving in El Nido.
I chose to do my PADI Open Water qualification across 3 days since I was in Palawan for a while and wasn’t in a rush.
After being recommended to Pa Lao Yu Dive Resort, which was in walking distance of everything I needed to be close to in El Nido, I was able to walk straight to the dive resort and was instantly made to feel at ease and went ahead with the booking.
I would say that El Nido/Palawan Philippines scuba diving PADI courses are marginally cheaper than they would have been for me to do the same course in the UK or Europe but don’t expect to save a significant amount of money. However, you do get much more value for your money.
The PADI Open water requires theory learning, 1 confined swim and 4 open water swims to qualify. I did my confined swim in the shallows of the beach with my instructor rather than in a pool - who needs a pool when you’re surrounded by so much ocean?!
In total I did 7 open water dives within my qualification, rather than the usual 4 that are required. Even on the day after I was qualified, my instructor offered to take me out again FOR FREE so I could enjoy more diving before my time in El Nido was over.
My instructor, Iane, went above and beyond every day. I spent the first day learning my diving theory with the PADI workbooks that are supplied - I spent the day on the beach doing my learning there which was dreamy!
Then I did a dive every morning and every afternoon for 3 straight days. In the morning Iane brought amazing fresh coffee and snacks, bananas for between dives and in the afternoon lots of snacks and advice to re-energise before the next day’s diving.
Usually the boat only had my instructor and I, plus one other diver and instructor on, so it was a very private and personalised experience, I never felt rushed and all rest times were completely adhered to.
All the safety requirements outlined in my Open Water Theory documents were completely adhered to as well and my instructor gave me plenty of tips and help to clear my blocked ears after I struggled to adjust the pressure on the first day.
The whole team was absolutely wonderful, warm and welcoming and I’m so pleased I decided to learn to dive with them and experience El Nido diving.
Where to stay in El Nido if you want to dive in Palawan?
If you choose to stay at the actual Dive Resort, the accommodation is basic but clean and hygienic with free breakfast daily. Also you’re out diving and exploring most of the day so as a place to rest your head each night it does the job!
If you want to stay near to the dive resort but have the budget for a more luxurious accommodation option, check out the stunning Maligaya Beach Bungalows. They’re stunningly located either on the beach or with garden views, they’re light and airy, decorated in a white and bamboo boho style.
For mid-range budgets, you can’t go wrong with Buko Beach Resort which is also within walking distance of the dive resort and has the most gorgeous individual bungalows and beautiful pool with a view of the beach and ocean. Breakfast is also included. There’s a bar and restaurant on site, and the location feels like you’re immersed in nature on the edge of the water.
If you're travelling the Philippines on a budget, I highly recommend Outpost Beach Hostel which is where I stayed for most of my trip. It’s right on the beach, so much fun, such an incredible vibe and location and one of the cheapest places I’ve ever stayed with the friendliest staff.
Best diving in El Nido: tours and experiences
Even if you’ve already completed your PADI Open Water, you can book a dive with Pa Lao Yu on one of their regular boat trips out which takes place most days dependent on weather.
But I also love Klook for their outdoor adventure experiences and if you’re new to diving but don’t want to commit to a full PADI Open Water qualification or don’t have the time to do it during your time in El Nido, then Klook offers an amazing scuba diving day experience including 2 dive sites, all the theory you need and lunch is included.
This Scuba Experience is perfect for beginners, teaching you everything you need to go out for a nice, easy dive to experience some of the incredible marine wildlife in El Nido’s waters.
If you’re considering Palawan diving or diving in El Nido, I can’t recommend it enough and I hope this article helps you make your decision about experiencing this incredible activity in the beautiful Philippines.
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