I had to select a dive destination for a group of family and friends. There was an interesting cross section of hardcore diver/photographers and those who wanted to do a little diving with an emphasis on relaxation and day trips. For purely selfish reasons, I wanted to take the group back to the Philippines. I had heard many good things about the diving in the Dumaguete area. I researched the options and came up with the Atmosphere Resort. I soon discovered that I had indeed made an excellent choice.
The resort, which opened in 2008, is beautifully situated on the grounds of an old seven-acre coconut plantation on the island of Negros. The suites are scattered throughout the lush and spacious tropical gardens. The Atmosphere resort is close to the city of Dumaguete, a bustling University town with an airport, several hospitals, shopping malls and other conveniences close at hand. The resort sits squarely on a spectacular beachfront location overlooking the warm coastal waters of the Philippine Sea, about 30 minutes south of Dumaguete by car and lies in the coastal town of Dauin. Whether you want to scuba dive, indulge in the enchanted spa or simply read a book by the pool, you can look forward to an unforgettable stay. We found the accommodations to be upscale and comfortable. I did make a stop at the spa, which afforded a delightful “short” break from diving. The food was delicious, varied and plentiful.
In general, the climate of the Philippines is tropical, with moderate to high temperatures and high humidity. There are only two seasons: the dry winter season which runs from December to May and the slightly wetter summer season running from June to November. The dry season brings moderate seas and on-shore breezes and the wetter season has glass-flat seas and minimal offshore winds. The coolest month falls in January and the hottest, in May. Water temperatures are very comfortable ranging between 80 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit. For scuba diving, a 3 to 5mm wetsuit is more than sufficient.
Divers and videographers will find first class photo room areas with plenty of outlets for charging batteries and ample room to work on equipment. There is also plenty of room to store dive gear. The dive shop also offers quality rental gear, a large, competent staff of instructors and dive masters. The dive boats are large outriggers, typical of the style found in the Philippines. The boats are roomy and offer easy and safe access into and out of the water. Divers will find that they don’t have to lift a finger to get their gear on and off the boats. The staff is really special, always attentive and always volunteering to “do the hard work” for you.
For me, the best part of the stay was the group, but the focus was on the diving. The house reef offered a great diversity of critters, helping fill out my “wish list” card. While I didn’t see everything that I wanted to see, I did photograph 78 of the 80 animals depicted on the beautiful “critters” board displayed in the lobby. The area has plenty of macro subjects, including mantis shrimps, frogfish and nudibranchs, as well as the occasional big fish. In next year’s trip, I hope to see them all and generously add to listings.
There are several small islands along the coastline. Famous Apo Island is just a thirty-minute boat ride from the resort’s beach. Here divers will find beautiful soft corals, large schools of fishes and many friendly sea turtles. There is also a village on the island where you can purchase an assortment of wearables.
The coastline of Dauin offers many great “muck “dive sites within minutes of the resort. This area has often been referred to as Lembeh with visibility.
All of the coastal dive sites are located just off shore on a dark sand slope. At Sahara Deep Reef, diveable up to 100 feet, you will find an artificial reef made up of tires, a small Filipino Jeepney, a kayak, an old Volkswagen and a small speedboat. The resident marine life includes a myriad of fishes, including groupers, snappers, rabbit-fish, striped catfish, puffers and friendly batfish, making it a great place for fish portrait photography. Of course, there is also a large variety of lionfish, scorpionfish and pipefish.
Two of our favorite shallow reefs, were secret corner and Cars Shallow. Secret corner started out with a typical strong current at this site, which soon abated. Almost immediately we discovered a couple of flamboyant cuttlefish, seahorses, cockatoo waspfish, colorful frogfish and a plethora of shrimp. Cars Shallow, where we ended up the trip, provided stargazers, frogfish, razorfish, ghost pipefishes, and octopuses. The deeper area of Cars is also a fantastic dive. As the name suggests, this area is littered with old vehicles and debris providing refuge for moray eels, juvenile emperor angelfish, shrimps, snappers, colorful wrasses, groupers, ringed pipefish, snake eels and literally dozens of huge lionfish.
To see more images images, check out Atmosphere Resort's ReefID profile.
ReefID will return for a ‘family and friends/photo seminar’ trip July 10th through 20th in 2013.