Partout des couleurs et de la vie ! Que c'est beau, Cabilao ! (Philippines, février 2019)
Colors and life everywhere! How beautiful, Cabilao! (Philippines, February 2019)

The beautiful surprises of Cabilao, a small coral jewel


  Philippines : Cabilao + Balicasag [Panglao-Bohol] - February-March 2019

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic Google translation from a post originally written in French. My apologies for the weird sentences and the funny mistakes that could have been generated during the process. If you can read French, the original and correct version can be found here:

Making bubbles along coral drop-offs brimming with life and colour, what a delight! In the Philippines, the island of Cabilao is a real little underwater jewel.

Cabilao, a quiet little island

I bring you back in February 2019, to the Philippines. For this stay, I have only two weeks ahead of me and I have decided to devote the first one to Cabilao, who has been catching my eye for quite a few years...

Cabilao is a tiny island of less than five square miles. Triangular in shape, it is located on the northwest coast of Bohol, in the Strait of Cebu. It is here:

Cabilao vue du ciel. C'est l'île triangulaire, au premier plan. (Philippines, février 2019)
Cabilao seen from the sky. It is the triangular island in the foreground. (Philippines, February 2019)
Les sites de plongée de Cabilao. (Philippines, février 2019)
The dive sites of Cabilao. (Philippines, February 2019)

Cabilao has five villages and less than 5,000 inhabitants, living mainly from fishing, farming and tourism. Unlike other islands near Bohol, it is not connected by a bridge, so the place has remained fairly quiet.

There is a peaceful atmosphere which contrasts with the tourist frenzy of Alona Beach on Panglao, not far from there, which scared me away during my very first stay in the Philippines in 2008

Apart from diving, there is not much to do on Cabilao... There is a large inland lake that can be walked around, lots of small roads where it is easy to ride a scooter, some tourist accommodations and a handful of diving resorts.

It's the perfect island to break from the hustle and bustle of the world... 👌

Above: one of the small roads of Cabilao, easy to ride on a scooter. At the small harbour of Talisai, on the south-east coast, you are welcomed by the Ten Commandments. (Philippines, February 2019)

Des bangkas (ou bancas), bateaux traditionnels philippines à balanciers, font office de "ferry" entre Bohol et Cabilao. (Philippines, février 2019)
The bangkas (or bancas), traditional Philippine boats with pendulums, act as "ferry" between Bohol and Cabilao Island. (Philippines, February 2019)
Les passagers de la bangka-ferry viennent de débarquer. (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
The passengers of the bangka-ferry have just landed at Talisai, on the southeast coast of the island. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
Sous le ciel gris, le lac et sa mangrove ont une allure un peu mélancolique. (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
Under the gray sky, the lake and its mangrove have a somewhat melancholy appearance. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
Le ponton sur le lac est plus que branlant... (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
The jetty on the lake is more than rocky... (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
Le lac est un but de balade populaire. Je prends la pose avec un groupe d'étudiantes philippines venues comme moi se promener et admirer la vue. (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
The lake is a popular walking destination. I strike a pose with a group of Filipino students who have come for a walk and admire the view. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
La petite route à l'arrière du resort. (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
The small road at the back of the resort. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)

Diving without too many divers around...

After browsing the internet and reading reviews on diving forums (I will often rummage on and to prepare my stays), I opted for the Cabilao Sanctuary and its diving center Miscellaneous Cabilao (located right next to another resort which is often highly recommended too, the Polaris).

I am delighted to have chosen the first (and I have no shares with them).

I discover that the clientele is rather family oriented, so that there are few divers as keen as me (understand: linking three dives a day). So there are very few of us on the boat for diving exploration trips (most of the other clients do first dives or training) and therefore always in very small groups underwater... 👌

For a photographer diver like me (understand: who can't stand the big groups that scare the fish away), this is ideal. I admit, I took a malicious pleasure to observe, from far away, the groups that piled up every morning on the boats of the nearby resort.

Two very nice young French instructors manage the Cabilao Divers centre during my stay. They understand very well my expectations and I appreciate the way they organize the fun dives: choice of sites almost à la carte from day to day (depending on the conditions), small size groups and distributed by levels... And, regularly, I have one of the Filipino guides, knowing perfectly the reefs of Cabilao, for me alone. Absolute luxury in my eyes! 🤗

For the rest, everything else is fine too. There are rooms for all budgets, a nice little swimming pool for post-diving desalting, a nice terrace facing the sea to enjoy the sunset and the staff is adorable. A detail that doesn't spoil anything: as the management is French, the food served at the restaurant is very pleasant.

Les deux super guides philippins qui bossaient au Cabilao Dive Center pendant mon séjour. (Philippines, février 2019)
The two great Filipino guides who worked at the Cabilao Dive Center during my stay. (Philippines, February 2019)
Jamais je n'ai réussi à porter moi-même mon appareil-photo jusqu'au bateau... Il y a toujours une main serviable qui se précipite pour m'aider. (Philippines, Cabilao, février 2019)
I have never managed to carry my camera myself to the boat... There is always someone rushing to give me a hand. (Philippines, Cabilao, February 2019)
La terrasse était en train d'être repeinte, durant mon séjour. (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
The terrace was being repainted during my stay. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
Le resort est tourné vers l'ouest, les couchers de soleil sont chaque soir somptueux. (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
The resort faces west, the sunsets are sumptuous every evening. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
La jolie petite piscine, un peu allongée et déformée par le mode panoramique de l'iPhone. (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
The pretty little pool, a little elongated and distorted in this photo by the panoramic mode of my iPhone. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)

My “& #160; house & #160;” for the week, a simple bungalow & #8230; (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)

In the evening, the hermit crabs are on the loose and the geckos have eyes bigger than their stomachs & #8230; (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)

Coral in great shape

Frankly, I was expecting at least "nice" dives at Cabilao, but I quickly realize that we're a notch above...

From the first dive, at the aptly named Gorgonian Wall, I'm won over. 😲 There is something exhilarating and moving at the same time to look at such a beautiful underwater landscape. I could almost shed a tear in my mask...

The good health of the coral, exuberant, varied, dense, is so delightful to see!

Partout des couleurs et de la vie ! Que c'est beau, Cabilao ! (Philippines, février 2019)
Colors and life everywhere! How beautiful, Cabilao & #160 ;! (Philippines, February 2019)

For the wide-angle ambient photos, I have a lot of things to enjoy... I discover with amazement huge orange and pink gorgonians, big tables of Acropora, purple and yellow soft corals in profusion, spectacular barrel sponges... And at every dive or almost every dive, one or more turtles can be seen! Day after day, I am captivated by Cabilao's coral drop offs. In front of these vertical walls overflowing with life, the most delicate thing to manage is the sunlight for underwater photos, because it is not always positioned in the perfect place - depending on the orientation of the sites, the time of day, the direction of the current... Yes, I have big problems in life... 😂

Macro photo side, the small fauna usual in these latitudes presents here a rich diversity of species, whether you are a fan of nudibranchs (sea slugs), pygmy seahorses, frogfishes (Antennariids), delicate ghost pipefishes or hideous scorpion fishes... 😍 You can't get bored! Apart from the drop-offs, there are also a few more "muck-dive" oriented sites (where you can look for small fauna hiding in the substrate) on a sandy bottom, with seagrass beds and coral rubble.

I show you below a small selection of pictures, which give a good idea of what to expect when diving at Cabilao.

Contrejour sur une double éponge barrique hérissée de protubérances. (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
Backlight on a double barrel sponge bristling with protuberances. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)

Along the drop-offs, you can admire imposing gorgonians, roses, orange-yellow... (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)

Gorgonians addict... (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)

Dérivante le long du récif. (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
Drifting along the reef. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
D'immenses tables de corail dur Acropora s'étagent le long du récif. (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
Huge tables of Acropora hard coral are staged along the reef. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
Cette spectaculaire colonie d'Acropora a envahi tout l'espace sur cette portion du récif. (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
This spectacular colony of Acropora has invaded all the space on this portion of the reef. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
Ambiance au sommet du récif. (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
Atmosphere at the top of the reef. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
Une imposante gorgone orange vif étend ses ramifications dans le courant. (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
An imposing bright orange gorgonian extends its ramifications in the current. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
Enchevêtrement de coraux, sur le sommet du récif. (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
Tangle of corals on the top of the reef. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
Toujours très photogéniques, les syngnathes arlequins ou poissons-fantômes (ghost pipe-fish, en anglais), vont souvent par deux, la tête en bas. (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
Always very photogenic, harlequin syngnaths or ghost fish (ghost pipe-fish, in English), often go in pairs, upside down. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
Les très recherchées crevettes de Coleman (Periclimenes colemani), espèce nommée ainsi en l'honneur du naturaliste australien Neville Coleman (1938-2012). On les trouve en couple, vivant en symbiose avec le redoutable oursin de feu qui les protège de ses piquants urticants. (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
The much sought after Coleman shrimp (Periclimenes colemani), a species named in honor of Australian naturalist Neville Coleman (1938-2012). They are found as a couple, living in symbiosis with the formidable fire urchin which protects them from its stinging stingers. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
Un syngnathe, aussi appelé aiguille de mer ou pipe-fish en anglais, en chasse sur le substrat sableux. C'est un cousin des hippocampes. (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
A pipefish, also called a sea needle or pipe fish in English, hunting on the sandy substrate. It is a cousin of seahorses. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)

A cute bargibanti pygmy seahorse, clinging to its gorgonian branch with purple polyps and a denise pygmy seahorse. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019) Read also → Shy as a pygmy seahorse

The golden apogon, mouth closed then open, revealing its eggs which it incubates in its mouth ... This is what is called oral incubation. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)

Above, close-up portrait of a scorpion fish, and a nudibranch (sea slug) which takes itself for a bull & #8230; (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)

Trop mignon, ce petit poisson-grenouille (antennaire) écarlate. (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
Too cute, this little scarlet frogfish (antennae). (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
Ce poisson-grenouille géant est trop grand pour tenir dans le cadre de mon objectif macro... (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
This giant frogfish is too large to fit under my macro lens & #8230; (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
Un poisson-clown surveille ses œufs, qu'il vient "aérer" régulièrement avec ses nageoires. (Philippines, Cabilao, février 2018)
An anemonefish monitors its eggs, which it regularly “aires” #160 with its fins. (Philippines, Cabilao, February 2018)

As for hammerhead sharks who once swam in the waters of Cabilao (and which some dive tour operators still dare to sometimes mention or even photograph, to bait the client), no need to hope to see any. They were massively fished in 1999-2000 and their population has never recovered. Besides, I have not seen big fish around...

The Cabilao sites therefore have everything to please Zen and contemplative divers, rather oriented "bio" (biology), knowing how to appreciate the splendor of the coral and the profusion of small animals as strange as fascinating. But this is clearly not a corner for lovers of "big" (even if, as in Balicasag, not far from there, we are not immune to come across a good big whale shark passing by).

Marine protected areas

Good to know: you have to pay a small daily fee to be allowed to dive in Cabilao, because the island has two marine protected areas (MPAs). That's lucky for the coral and the local fishes. It's probably thanks to those MPAs that the reefs have remained so beautiful...

MPAs are indeed very effective in preserving or locally regenerating an underwater ecosystem, whether in Asia or the Mediterranean Sea. In addition, MPAs benefit the surrounding waters, helping them to repopulate and to enrich themselves in terms of species and biomass: this is the "reserve effect". A real boost for nature! Unfortunately, this is just a drop in the ocean, faced with these three very destructive practices: dynamite fishing, industrial fishing and shark finning...

In Asia in particular, dynamite fishing has destroyed many reefs in a few decades. Although now illegal and very dangerous, it is still practised in certain corners near the coral reefs. I have already happened several times, in Indonesia and the Philippines, in particular, to hear explosions underwater, during dives... Scary. The sound propagates underwater without you being able to identify its direction or distance.

On the high seas, these are the factory ships of industrial fishing, those of China at the head, which are the most devastating. They continue to literally empty the ocean, depleting the stocks of fish that cannot be replenished, not to mention their innumerable catches called "accessories" (dolphins, turtles, and other commercially exploitable species).

Finally, there is also the juicy shark-finning, that is to say shark fin fishing, intended for the Asian market, disastrous for populations of sharks, which are essential predators for the balance of marine ecosystems... An ocean without sharks is the terrestrial life that is threatened.

At my modest diving tourist scale, I had the chance to discover many protected sites, reserves and marine parks, offering beautifully preserved and lively reefs. In Cabilao therefore, as well as in Tubbataha and Balicasag in the Philippines, but also in Sipadan in Malaysia, at Komodo and Raja Ampat in Indonesia...

On divers' or travellers' newsgroups, I sometimes read comments from people who are outraged to be charged a fee to have access to some of these marine protected areas, in Asia or elsewhere – some even congratulating themselves on having managed to avoid paying it... Not something to brag about. Part of the money collected is used to involve local people in the conservation of their environment and fishery resources. But awareness and goodwill are not enough. Without financial means, it is impossible to protect a maritime area from poaching, building, overexploitation or pollution...

Ça frétille sur le récif... (Cabilao, Philippines, février 2019)
It wriggles on the reef & #8230; (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)

My previous diving trips to the Philippines

After Cabilao, I chose to stay in the area and devote the second part of my stay to the dive sites accessible by the day from Panglao: in particular the island of Balicasag and the sumptuous reef of Doljo. I'll tell you about it in a future post...

This stay from February-March 2019 is already my fifth trip to Philippines. As I often write to those who ask me for route advice, it is impossible to discover the many facets of this immense archipelago and its countless dive sites at once... We have to make choices. To inspire you, here are my previous journeys:

  Philippines : Cabilao + Balicasag [Panglao-Bohol] - February-March 2019