Time was when scuba-diving in Anilao, Batangas, was like heading into uncharted territory. Pioneering Filipino divers had to cart their own gear—including tanks, tents and sleeping bags, loaded into four-wheel-drives—and negotiate the rough terrain.
The reward, though, was priceless: the discovery of a stunning dive destination full of marine life, exotic creatures, and some of the best soft coral in the country.
Today, the range of resorts available in Mabini, Batangas, is as wide as the still considerable biodiversity. With the easier trip—it now takes just two-and-a-half hours to get to Anilao, thanks to the Star Tollway and smoother roads—there’s more time to spend at ease, so that the gorgeous sunset view and amenities count a lot more.
Camping options are still available elsewhere, but dive tourism in the area has leveled up considerably, including some luxury options for people looking for more than a dive camp. In other words, when you plan to spend a good deal of time as well outside the water with family and friends, roughing it up in Anilao is no longer necessary.
“About half of our visitors are actually nondivers,” says Philip Pangilinan, co-owner of the four-star Aiyanar Beach & Dive Resort. “So they have to be able to enjoy the place as well.”
On our visit, a boat full of snorkelers was setting out for a day out at sea, complete with packed food, and kids were playing in the large, manicured garden. Manager Joyce Villarosa likes to use the opportunity to encourage nondiver visitors to give the sport a try with an intro dive. “If they want, they can even take their open-water diver course with us,” she says.
For a diver, Aiyanar has an ideal setup. Although longtime divers prefer to cart their own gear, there’s a fully stocked shop with all the equipment you may need to rent, ideal for visiting tourists. There’s a knowledgeable, efficient staff that has your gear unpacked and ready for loading onto dive boats in no time.
And for divers, there are the little things that count: several properly labeled rinsing vats for camera equipment, dive computers, wetsuits and masks, and plenty of space to hang wet stuff after use.
The attention to detail paid off. In 2017, Dive Magazine UK named Aiyanar as one of the 10 Top Dive Centres or Resorts in the world, a list that includes such dream destinations as the Maldives and Wakatobi, Indonesia.
After the dive, the relaxation comes easy. As the website says, the resort “strives to make staying ashore as pleasurable as the diving itself.” There’s a bar on the deck with an unmatched view of the sunset and the wide blue sea.
There’s an al fresco clubhouse for dining, and the buffet and a la carte menus offer hearty dishes prepared by chef Jun Parungao. Start the day with delicious barako brewed coffee, and dig into a variety of tasty Filipino and international dishes (including a deadly truffle cream pasta) and wonderful desserts.
Bringing the youngsters? There’s an infinity pool with a child-friendly area and garden to safely play around in—with gazebos around it for massages, by the way. There are banana boat rides, jet skis, wakeboards, a game room and many more.
In case you still can’t get away from it all, 24 gorgeous rooms, ranging from deluxe rooms to suites—all have balconies, rain showers, cable TV, and yes, WiFi. The high thread-count sheets, comfortable beds, toiletries, high ceilings and soft lights make for four-star accommodations that might just tempt you to stay in bed.
But that would be a shame, since you’re in one of the Philippines’ biodiversity hotspots, filled with critters that divers from all over the world come so far to see. So, go out and dive, or learn to—there’s no better time to do it.
A cocktail, good food, a luxurious room and that famed Anilao sunset will be waiting at Aiyanar at the end of the day.
Aiyanar Beach & Dive Resort is at Sitio Looc, Barangay Bagalangit, Mabini, Batangas; tel. 09175940056, 09178666332. Visit www.aiyanar.com