Scuba diving the Manta Bowl is a wild ride — that’s the most I can say about it as a dive site. But, when you want a thrilling drift dive — where you surrender all control to the current in the water— this is the place to go.
Manta Bowl was established as a dive site in 2002 by Rico, Conz, Caloy, George. Before that, it was known only to fishermen as a place frequented by mantas. Since then, it’s been visited by avid divers and a few manta experts.
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One Thing Led to Another…
I gotta tell you that I was very lucky to have this opportunity. This wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the tour operator from Your Brother Travel and Tours in Legazpi City. I met him during my ATV tour to Mount Mayon.
So… Here’s what happened.
In the early morning before I was dropped off at the Central Bus Terminal in Legazpi City, the tour operator asked me where I was heading to. I told him that I was heading out to Donsol to scuba dive with Whale Sharks there and that I was still looking for a tour or dive center that would sponsor the experience in an exchange of a blog review.
Turned out to be a coincidence that he knew a friend who worked at a Bicol Diver Center, so he pulled out his cell phone and made a call. After a few minutes of waiting, he hung up and told me that he arranged me a sponsored scuba diving experience to interact with whale sharks. He took out the owner of Bicol Diver Center’s business card and gave it to me. He wanted to make sure that I would find the right person when I would be in Donsol. Then he suggested me to stay at the Woodland Beach Resort as it was near the dive site and it partnered with the center too. I took his suggestion without questioning.
At the bus terminal, I caught a van that would take me to Donsol for around 110 PHP (~$2 US Dollars). It was supposed to be 80 PHP at first but it went up to 110 PHP because I asked the driver to drop me off directly at the Woodland Beach Resort directly instead of the bus terminal at my convenience.
Woodland Beach Resort
After around 2 hours of riding the van, I finally arrived at the resort. I hopped out of the van and thanked the driver. I headed out to the front desk in the lobby of the resort and handed the receptionists my walk-in sponsorship request letter with media kit in the hopes that they would accept.
And they did.
To be honest, the resort was a luxury to me, even though it was for backpackers. So, I was actually expecting to be placed in a backpacker room where I would share with few other guests, but I got a single deluxe room instead. Say what? A private room for me? Oh. Yes.
The receptionists gave me warm smiles and led me to my room. The room was basic with full bathroom, but it had a nice terrace with views of the pool and the ocean behind it. Besides, the room was very neat and tidy.
When I dropped myself on the bed, it was so cozy and soft. It had been a while since I had a good bed.
I put away my backpacks and locked up to go down to the lobby.
The place was rather large for a resort. It was a beachfront, you could actually swim on the beach. There was a nice garden and pool with lounger chairs by the beach. The bar was open but with limited food choices. The prices were reasonable. Besides, there were many backpackers staying at the resort. Clearly, a resort for backpackers.
I decided to treat myself to a drink at the beach, so I ordered a pint of beer at the bar.
As soon as I was finished with my beer, I went over to Bicol Dive Center to arrange the scuba diving experience with them.
As soon as I arrived, the people who worked at the center were friendly and they were quick to get paper and pen for me when I asked for it. I told them I was here for the sponsored dive. I showed them the business card referring to Rodel B. Lita and told them that it was arranged and communicated through the tour operator from my ATV tour in Lezagpi City.Then they called Rodel to confirm the sponsorship. It was mere minutes before they confirmed it with Rodel.
Instead of one scuba diving interaction with the whale shark, they surprised me with a dive to the manta bowl. They started filling me in the schedule and logistics for the next two days. I would be diving to the Manta Bowl on the first day then diving and interacting with whale sharks on the second.
I was grinning so hard hard when I left the center. I was beyond thrilled.
Hanging on at Manta Bowl
In the morning, I walked from the resort to the dive site. It wasn’t that far. About 5 minutes to get there on foot.
It was about 6:30am when I arrived the center. There were two women working there greeted me when I arrived. From there, everything went smooth with the briefing and the dive equipment check-up. They were very clear while writing to me.
They filled me in that the Manta Bowl was an advanced dive—I would have to swim to the bottom of a 60-foot underwater valley and park myself to the ocean floor using metal hooks to resist the strong currents.
By the way, whale sharks and thresher sharks were also known to make appearances in the bowl.
Anyways, I boarded the banka dive boat with an old couple from Iceland who were getting certified in this dive. The divemaster was very clear with me and used gestures to communicate with me plus he would write to me if I didn’t understand.
We headed to the Rock Point for a group dive session with the couple and the divemaster before I went down for a dive to the Manta Bowl alone with the divemaster.
And so we head out!
On the way out, the sun came out reflecting its rays off the waters. Flying fishes jumped and glided out of waters. We boated out quite far out into the open sea for the full hour. It was just anxious waiting and keeping eyes on the waters as the wind breezed through my face.
When we finally arrived at the Rock Point, we all got ready and jumped into the water together.
In this very moment, I had a flashback of myself getting certified in scuba diving with my travel buddy Mic Dolan when we were backpacking in Southeast Asia. That was way before I started Seek the World. Good times… Good times…
As soon as I was completely underwater, I swam through such endless field of thriving hard and soft corals, such exotic and colorful creatures, and such warm and clear waters to boot. I’ve just never seen a reef so beautiful with life and color. Sometimes there was so much to see I didn’t know where to look next.
Even I got to say hello to Nemo. 😉
My favorite part about this was the view of the sun rays beaming through the water. It was such a bummer that I didn’t have an underwater filter for my GoPro camera, so I couldn’t capture the sun rays the way I saw it. =(
Then I surfaced up the water below a cave—a secret one, I’d say. Nonetheless, we didn’t stay in the cave for long. We went back underwater and swam back to our boat shortly afterwards.
After the old couple got themselves on the boat, I climbed up and asked them if they enjoyed their first dive.
They both gave me four thumb-ups (two from each) with a huge smile on their faces and I think that pretty much summed up their first dive experience.
As we head out to Manta Bowl for my dive, the divemaster handed us our lunch. We had a marinated chicken with rice and string beans. It was okay, but it filled me up anyways. The old couple and I spent the majority of the time writing to each other. They were wonderful people and I really enjoyed their company.
At last, I arrived at the Manta Bowl shoal after around 45 minutes of boating. The divemaster prompted me that I had around 30 minutes until the end of my dive. I put on my dive equipment once again with the hopes of seeing the mantas. I knew that chances would be slim because I was told that there hadn’t been a single manta ray spotted in the past week.
Sigh, here I go.
We dropped into the bowl and immediately I could understand why the divemaster emphasized heavily on the current of the waters. This was really an advanced dive, but I managed well.
I pretty much hanged on to the rope of the anchor from the board. I used the rope to descend deeper in the water. I went down around 20 meters in the waters.
Everything was completely blue when I reached to the bottom of the bowl. I was being carried along the ocean floor by the current, so I quickly hooked to the ocean floor. I had to swim against the current.
The divemaster was handing my GoPro camera as it recorded the dive. We pretty much parked ourselves to the floor looking towards the blue for the mantas.
When 30 minutes were up, I came up empty. There was no appearance of manta rays. So, we surfaced and hopped back on the board. We boated for another hour to the resort to drop off the old couple off and then went back to the dive center. It was around 5pm when we got back.
Keep in mind—if you’re going to take this dive, be prepared for a long day. We were gone for almost a full ten hours.
Well, I ain’t gonna lie here. I was truly bummed out that I didn’t get to see any manta ray, but I couldn’t get too disappointed because I was blown away by the beautiful corals and colorful reef fishes.
Hey! Getting whipped around by the current was actually pretty fun though.
While I didn’t see any Manta Rays, the whole experience was thrilling, yet relaxing. The Manta Bowl dive wasn’t completely a waste of time as it gave me a new skill and improved my confidence in strong currents.
Whale sharks, here I come!
Bicol Dive Center
- Address: Bororan Barangay 1 Pob., Donsol, Philippines
- Phone Number: +63 906 801 6852 (mobile) / +63 917 900 2464 (mobile)
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: http://www.bicoldivecenter.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bicol-Dive-Center-Donsol/137397873028127
Woodland Beach Resort
- Room Rates:
- Single Deluxe: 2,200 PHP per night (up to two guests) (~$49 US Dollars)
- Double Deluxe: 2,900 PHP per night (up to four guests) (~$65 US Dollars)
- Standard Room: 2,300 PHP per night (up to four guests) (~50 US Dollars)
- Backpacker Room: 500 PHP per night/person (up to three guests sharing a room) (~$11 US Dollars)
- Address: Donsol to Pio Duran Coastal Road, Donsol, Sorsogon, Philippines
- Phone Number: +63 9175444089 (office)
- Email: email@example.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vittonandwoodlandresorts
(Please note that Woodland Beach Resort does not have an official website, so please direct yourself to the Facebook page for more information)
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Bicol Dive Center and Woodland Beach Resort. I received a free dive with lodging accommodations in exchange of this blog review. All opinions are my own.