Here are the top 5 experiences from my visit to Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines to dive Tubbataha on board the All Star Stella Maris:
1. Incomparable Marine Life
Tubbataha is the nation’s first national marine park (1988) and UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it one of the most biodiverse (and protected) areas for marine life in the world! After descent on every dive, hundreds of healthy coral species can be seen painting the sloping walls in various textures and colors. The sheer density of the coral left me entranced. When taking a closer look, I noticed that each coral head provides shelter for an abundance of critters. When it comes to bigger stuff, Tubbataha hits the mark with sightings of manta rays, turtles, and massive schools of jack. For shark lovers like me, grey reef sharks, tigers, hammerheads, and whale sharks often frequent the area. Almost every site is a drift dive, making it easy to float with the current and enjoy the view. (NOTE: No night dives due to currents).
2. Tubbataha Ranger Station
Though Tubbataha is in the middle of the Sulu Sea, there is one land mass where you can get off the boat to stretch your legs. The park ranger station is located on a small sandbar and is the headquarters for Philippine military forces that have been assigned duty in Tubbataha. Rangers conduct research as well as enforce park regulations. With a volleyball net, a fire pit, and a gift shop for souvenirs, the “island” regularly receives visitors hoping to socialize with other liveaboard passengers over a sunset picnic. As small as it may be, this was the perfect place to relax and take a break from the trip at sea!
3. A Taste of Filipino Cuisine
The cuisine of the Philippines does not disappoint. Lumpia, chicken adobo, balut, and halo halo are amongst the most popular dishes. While on board the cuisine was varied and satisfying, but my personal favorite was experienced right near the port. It was a Kamayan feast that was shared with the entire table. A variety of seafood, pork, chicken, fruit, rice and more are beautifully displayed atop a bed of green banana leaves for everyone to enjoy. The term “Kamayan” meaning “with hands,” is a traditional way of eating in the Philippines sans utensils. Locals happily shared with me what foods to pair and how to correctly pick up and roll rice with my thumb. The communal and tactile aspects of this type of dining are a wonderful way to connect with the food and the people around you.
4. The Underground River
For pre or post adventures, I recommend the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park as the perfect day trip without having to travel too far. A two-hour shuttle ride and a short motor-boat cruise delivered me to the entrance of the park where long-tailed macaques were found observing guests throughout the picnic area. Once aboard the canoe, you receive a headset explaining the history of the river, and the guide starts rowing you through the winding river. Upon entering, thousands of sleeping bats are seen lining the ceilings, and warnings to keep your mouth closed (in case of “surprises” from above) can be heard through the headphones. The caves boast massive limestone structures that strangely resemble iconic scenes like The Last Supper, or a “market” where each formation seemed to take the shape of a different produce item.
5. The People
Looking back at my time in the Philippines, one part stood out the most—the people. Every single person I encountered was filled with kindness, hospitality, and joy. From the Stella Maris staff to strangers on the street, everyone welcomed me with open arms, and willingly shared any wisdom that could help me on my journey. I returned home with more friendships and happiness than I had when I left. My only disappointment being that I couldn’t stay longer.
by Addie Benz, All Star Liveaboards