Jessica dives in head first. She can’t swim perfectly, but is trying. She comes up for air with a gasp as her arms stretch out for several strokes. She makes strides to the edge of the pool.
“It’s great,” she yells. She stands and walks out of the pool to leap in again. Under her at the bottom of the pool is the artful Pier Uno resort logo in bright colors. It is a playful “X marks the spot” place for her to dive into again and again as she practices swimming—as many young Chinese like Jessica are now doing as they flock the South China Sea region in droves.
“X-marks the spot” is a perfect way to think about Pier Uno and its location in Anilao. Just two hours drive south of the Philippines capital of Manila, Anilao is a shimmering treasure of the Batangas province. With two locations (Anilao Proper and Anilao East) along the jungle shrouded Calumpang Peninsula, the area is ripe with chill out boutique resorts aimed at fun swimming, snorkeling, and diving. They look south to the alluring Maribacan Island and to waters chockers full of neon hued marine life.
In fact, Anilao’s aquatic world is so vibrant and pristine that it is one of the world’s top sites for underwater scuba photography. It hosts regular events every November with finale parties at Aiyanar Beach & Dive Resort. The parties feature twirling fire dancers, ensemble drummers jamming reggae, and DJ music. And a sumptuous barbecue and seafood buffet with a high-octane bar.
Like many of the niche resorts in the region, the rooms were cozy, clean and affordable. Pier Uno serves amazing meals and the staff are so nice. We felt sad leaving. They have an onsite diving training facility with two practice pools—like the one Jessica is diving into in the shot above. Their training staff makes novices feel comfortable. For more professional divers staff can point out all the hidden sweet spots in the region. They know all of the “X marks the spot” places for regional underwater photography.
In terms of ambiance, festive action in Anilao is mainly organized around resorts. The towns are scattered about, so ask the local staff what’s going on—if not go with them, for secret locals only hidden hot spots. Like if you want some small burgers and beer joint with live rock bands. This also means you might want to call around (See Hot Stays below) to see where the excitement is going on. Or book with a bunch of friends to organize your own bash in your rooms or at the resort’s pool.
Prices tend to keep away backpackers on a budget. So do the relative lack of big beaches. Anilao, after all, is a dive focused area, and oxygen tanks aren’t cheap. The transport infrastructure means you’d best hire a car from Manila—because most of the coast hugging resorts are against rugged mountains with ample tree canopies and foliage girth. The roads are ideal for Jeep and SUV travel. Not limousines. This transport matters seems to dissuade huge hordes from turning Anilao into Boracay or Phuket. Besides, that is something neither Boracay or Phuket—replica resort towns based on their own unique yet similar offerings.
In other words, Anilao, for now, is keeping its’ distinct charms. It mainly attracts couples and serious dive enthusiasts with costs in the US$ 50 to 200 range per night, depending on hotel and room selection. During the peak diving seasons from October to May, package groups from places like Seoul or Shanghai shore up—which means parties are on.
These fun loving small groups of 15 to 30 travelers sum up the new spirit now rolling over Anilao: Just dive on in! Again and again.
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