Is a Photo Trip to Tubbataha worth the Money?

PaparazSea, Scuba Diving, Tubbataha, Dive Philippines
Dolphin pods are common during early mornings
It was my third time to Tubbataha on assignment for a Manila based production outfit Inxites Digital Video (thankful for the project) and having been to the area on a third run... I can't help compare Tubbataha versus other places I've been too. Frequently dubbed as the best diving area in the Philippines, the experience to get to dive Tubbataha reef is worth a premium (hovering around the USD1,500 for 7d6n lowcost to USD5,000++). While there is no doubt it is one of the best diving spots in the Philippines, I'll tackle on two things... Diving Tubbataha from a photographers standpoint and the money you throw versus what you'll be able to see.

the walls and caverns are bursting with vivid color
From my three trips to Tubbataha, everyone in the area shares one thing in common, you never know what you're gonna get. While the water visibility reaches close to infinity and the reefs radiate infinite colors, diving Tubbataha is like joining a lottery, nothing is quite guaranteed to be seen on a regular basis, some are lucky beyond measure, some will go home with memory cards filled with mostly diver group photos. 

Malayan wreck rests at a shallow 15 feet, diving further from the wreck yields a wall filled with sharks and rays
The best time to dive Tubbataha is when the currents are strong (closest to full moon and after), as with anywhere in the world and the wall dives are simply fantastic, you get to see sharks and rays on every dive.
PaparazSea, Scuba Diving, Underwater Photography
Tubbataha is home to several Ray species
What makes Tubbataha quite special is its truly an ocean wildlife experience, again, you'll never know what your going to get and if you're a photographer, you sometimes want a high stakes encounter with a particular marine mammal or big fish where the site could simply not guarantee any close encounter. Many will argue this is what makes diving special in Tubbataha, but compared to other sites around the world, there are sites which are mapped where you may see the fish you want to see with a high batting average. 

PaparazSea, Scuba Diving, Dive Philippines
Marble rays are abundant in Tubbataha
Seeing more sought after marine life requires more advanced diving skills. Hammerhead sharks are close to guaranteed but one must dive beyond recreational limits (think beyond 150ft) while there is no dedicated cleaning station where Manta Rays frequent so every Manta Ray encounter will be a fly by in the shallows or the open blue. 

PaparazSea, Scuba Diving, Dive Philippines
quite common to encounter Juvenile sharks schooling during a strong current dive
If you're new to diving, have manta rays, black, white, gray reef sharks, school of jacks and barracudas or turtles to tick off you're 'must see' fish list, Tubbataha will definitely be for you. More special finds such as hammerhead sharks, guitar sharks, whalesharks are more about when you dive, how deep you dive and who you dive with.
PaparazSea, Scuba diving
Juvenile Barracudas patrol the shallow portion of the reef
Having shared what marine life you'll most likely encounter in Tubbataha, is it worth the money... where the cheapest way to experience Tubbataha will set you back at least USD1500 (budget boats, shared bunk beds with 6-12 pax) and normal live on boards will be charging USD2k-5k... 

Paparazsea, scuba diving, dive philippines
Turtles guaranteed on every dive
Its quite hard to say Tubbataha is a value for money trip as it is not. It was definitely marketed really well to locals and foreigners and a testament to that is more than a dozen live on boards ply the route during summer and has been dubbed the best dive site in the Philippines but for USD1,500, here is a summary of where you can dive and the possible encounters you can avail versus diving in Tubbataha...

Dive Palau 4N4D (you arrive midnight) USD1800 all in
you see everything in Tubbataha and more

fly 2100pm Manila, arrive 2330 next day 9 dives

Dive Sipadan 4D3N USD800+/-  from Manila+airfare USD150 (Mla-Bki-Tawau)+/- = USD950+/-
encounters with battery of barracudas, shoaling jacks, turtles and sharks

*premium accomodation

Dive Bali 5D4N USD800+/- + airfare USD400+/-= USD900+/-
chance to see Mola Mola, close encounters with Manta Rays, amazing macro


Dive Apo Reef- USD500 3D2N land tour camp accommodations
Sharks, Battery of Barracuda, Turtles, etc etc

While comparing Tubbataha with mentioned dive safaris are like comparing apples and oranges and one might argue the days diving are less, it actually takes less time to dive to see marine life mentioned since they are seen with more regularity.

PaparazSea, Underwater Photography
Lovely but just too pricey
Just to summarize my thoughts on Tubbataha, its like meeting a Jack of all trades, master of none fellow, while he/she knows a little bit of everything, its hard to pinpoint his/her mastery over a particular subject matter. While Tubbataha is a noteworthy dive experience and a must if you're into experiencing the best dive sites the planet has to offer, as a photographer, there are many other dive safaris to choose from to tick off your big fish bucket list at a more reasonable price.


passion photographer, cafe racer fanatic

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