Liveaboard Diving in Leyte
Leyte liveaboards have the opportunity to visit excellent dive sites with no crowds. Leyte in the eastern Visayas is a large Pacific Ocean-fronting island split into two separate provinces: Leyte and Southern Leyte. All liveaboard diving currently takes place in Southern Leyte, particularly in Sogod Bay, a long, thin water body that runs from the southern tip of the province north toward the interior. Southern Leyte is one of the most undeveloped areas of the Philippines. Here, steep mountains are still topped with jungle, roads besides the highway are rough, and the people are often small-scale fishers and farmers.
Whale sharks are also becoming a draw in Sogod Bay, with enough of a resident population that the organization LAMAVE (Large Marine Vertebrates project) stations themselves there to monitor and identify individuals. The site for whale shark watching tours is Pintuyan, a municipality far south on the eastern leg of Sogod Bay. It's best to contact local dive operators or LAMAVE directly to find out about seasonal trends, since the sharks are not as reliable as in Donsol or Oslob. However, the environmental impact of whale shark tours in Southern Leyte is much less concerning; here, they are not fed, crowded by boats, or poked at by throngs of tourists.
Leyte liveaboard destinations
Napantao sanctuary, a community-based marine protected area on the eastern side of Sogod Bay, is the areas crown jewel. This sanctuary has been lovingly protected by the NGO Coral Cay Conservation, the provincial officials, and the local community for over fifteen years. Napantao is a coral triangle reef at its best. The diversity of hard corals is incredible. The fish population is no less diverse; at least twenty different kinds of butterflyfish can be seen. In terms of invertebrates, the variety of nudibranchs, sea slugs, and flatworms will give any macro-hunter ample treats, not to mention the photogenic species of shrimp and crabs living in the sanctuary's plentiful corals and anemones.
Within Napantao are various sites which can be dived separately or combined. In the shallow area, the sun sparkles on a beautiful hard coral garden where branching, vase, and boulder corals bloom from the substrate. In this area, little crevices and dips provide great habitat for all kinds of reef species, including cute juvenile surgeonfish and parrotfish. As the reef slopes away from the shore, an extensive field of branching acropora provides a great hunting ground for mandarinfish, especially at dusk. Immediately north of the sanctuary, the coral cover is just as good, even though fishermen are allowed here.
However, Napantao is probably most famous with liveaboards for its wall dive. With a good current, you'll drift along an incredible vertical wall absolutely filled with live hard corals, where large midnight snappers patrol the blue water, and colorful anthias dance along the reef contour. Black coral bushes and pygmy seahorses are also seen at this site. The coral gardens at the top of the wall are 100 percent live hard coral - many divers prolong their safety stop in this area, tempted to run low on air as they hang above the incredible colors and shapes of this thriving reef. Liveaboard trips to Southern Leyte will definitely spend at least one dive in Napantao.
Limasawa island is an idyllic no-cars island marking the entrance to Sogod Bay in the south. The small community here lays claim to the first mass in the Philippines (along with some other places), and invites visitors to climb up to its commemorative cross and breathtaking 360 panoramic view at the top of the mountain. Limasawa and its marine sanctuaries offer superb diving in shallow gardens of huge acropora table corals and along dramatic walls where fusilier schools flash by and giant sea fans stretch into the blue. The verdant greenery above the dive sites completes the view from above water. There are often even dolphins in the area! Liveaboard trips to Southern Leyte usually do at least one dive in Limasawa.
Padre Burgos is the home of the local diving community in Southern Leyte, located on the southernmost tip of the western side of Sogod Bay. There are beautiful bushes of black corals adorning the gentle slope just in front of the shore, as well as healthy coral bommies and a good resident fish population. A number of sanctuaries near Padre Burgos provide great reefs for diving, but liveaboards usually wait until the sun sets to visit the local pier, a renowned night diving location. Here, divers see seahorses, frogfish, stargazers, crocodilefish, tons of nudibranchs, and squat lobsters, to name a few. Some of these species, including ghost pipefish, can also be seen on the slope just off the shore by day as well. Leyte liveaboards will usually do at least one dive in Padre Burgos.
The length of liveaboard itineraries in Leyte is from 6 nights and up, with a budget range of about 270 to 290 euros per night. These trips usually spend two days diving in Southern Leyte. On some 6 night trips, Southern Leyte is either combined with Malapascua and the Camotes, or with Bohol and Camiguin (an active volcanic island north of Mindanao). On the 12 night trip, is is possible to add Apo Island, Malapascua, Camiguin, and Siquijor to the mix. This long trip even include three days of land tours visiting waterfalls, white-sand beaches, iconic Bohol tarsiers, and fishing villages.
The experience level required by varies by operator. Select dive sites in the Philippines definitely experience current, but the country is not as infamous for fast-moving water as the Maldives or Indonesia. You'll depend on your dive guide to advise you of any particular challenges or experience requirements at a given site.
Cebu City booming metropolis and eastern Visayas capital, is the liveaboard departure location for cruises to Southern Leyte. Getting to Cebu City is easy with a 1.5 hour flight from Manila on Cebu Pacific, Philippines Airlines, or Air Asia. Cebu City International Airport also receives direct flights from select Southeast Asian countries nearby, and some international flights via transfers in neighboring regional countries. Visitors with extra time in Cebu City can either enjoy some creature comforts (though traffic is bad), or make use of the plentiful ferries and land transport options that take you to other islands. Cebu's forested interior of jungles and waterfalls is also worth exploring. Divers in Cebu City have the reefs of Mactan Island right at their fingertips, where entry-level divers are welcome.
Best time to travel
Southern Leyte can be dived all year round, though it can be hit hard by the local rainy season of December through March. We also don't recommend the most typhoon-likely months of late November through January. Luckily, there is plenty of great diving to be done from April through November; in many areas of the Philippines, June marks the beginning of the rain, but in Southern Leyte, the skies stay quite clear until later in the year. The water temperature varies in Southern Leyte from 26 to 30 C. For up to date information about whale shark seasonality in Sogod Bay, contact the LAMAVE project which monitors the gentle giants throughout the Philippines.