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SCUBA Diving at Punta Bilar Dive Center in Surigao City, Philippines

SCUBA diving must be one of the activities most people in the world would want to place in their bucket list before parting this world. SCUBA diving from someone who is not familiar with this sport would look on it as an outdoor activity for the well off people aside from being a dangerous sport to venture into, which happened to be half true and half myth.

A very aloof seahorse clinging on a sea fan in Surigao
SCUBA diving in the form of recreation is almost  zero impact water activity which is one better way to appreciate nature's beauty and discover how life works under the sea. This water sport teaches also a lot of values to its recipient. Group diving is much better if you have a license or at least certification received from an accredited dive instructor giving ease and comfort to your SCUBA diving mates.

Crossing Out the Bucket list

Since the day I was brought to the world of environmental science during my college days, I have been dreaming of experiencing to learn the field of  SCUBA to extend my nature wandering to the rich and diverse  marine ecosystem in the Philippines. But the very question now is , where to dive in the Philippines?

I was so fortunate to be invited to try this sport by one of the pioneers and active member of Surigao Dive Club, Mr. Johann Jake Miranda, a well experienced and a multiple licensed diving instructor accredited by Scuba Diving International (SDI) and currently based in Surigao City who operates the Punta Bilar Dive Center.

Breaking My Fears, Building My Walls!

Banded sea eel in Punta Bilar
Coming from Cantilan, Surigao del Sur, I immediately hopped into a bus bound for Surigao City and immediately head for the dive shop. The dive site is located along the marine protected area in the still community of Punta Bilar, one of the few diving sites in Northern Mindanao that offers lesson and certification for first time divers.

Punta Bilar offers a 3km stretch of protected marine area with good to very good coral reefs condition that is under the protection with the combined initiative of the community and the dive site operator. 

The long stretch of coral reefs is home to hundreds to thousands of coral species and other colorful marine organisms ranging from pelagic to sea crawler slugs to quirky sea lilies.

As many would think SCUBA diving is quite difficult for first timers, because you have to undergo a series of lectures about safety and other technical concepts to ponder and the most challenging part is to put the learning into action for you to get your open water diver certification. 

Even though I was purposely invited for this activity, I did not receive special consideration to skip one of the procedures. A written exam was also employed to determine the comprehension of the student about SCUBA diving during the entire lesson.  

The rain forest of the sea that you will witness in Punta Bilar.

 It took me a total of six (6) dives before I have fully digested all the tips given by my dive instructor Jake. At first, it took me a while to grasp on my buoyancy and to correct my breathing technique. As an environmental specialist, one of our required skill is to swim but having a set of SCUBA equipment strapped around my body makes me feel uncomfortable due to its added weight and I was  getting a little confused on the hoses  attached on the air tank. 


And just like any other students , I make mistakes and instead  frowning about it, I took it as a challenge to correct my errors. And sometimes looking back at those moments specially if caught on camera, will just put me to burst to laughter watching the video all over again. Here is my best blooper ever during the entire session of  mySCUBA Diving lesson. I swear JR pushed me before the end of 1..2...splassshhhh! 

My ultimate epic failed giant stride water entry! 

Take it from the Expert

One great advice I received from my instructor was not to PANIC, and have the presence of mind to remember the techniques taught during the lecture ! Hmmmm, I was able to understand the  meaning of word only on my second and third dive after I have swallowed a little salt water during a certain exercise. But in the process I was surprised to enjoy the beauty of the world underwater without being conscious that I was actually in a  wet suit swimming with the other marine organisms and witnessing the colorful world of the ocean. As we go deeper, I got more relaxed and able to maneuver in perfect buoyancy where I barely move at all while gazing  on vast   precious giant sea fans and enormous hard corals, fishes and others scattered around.

After 3 days, I finally made it!  Thanks  Jake Miranda 
It was a lucky day  that I was accompanied by divers from Butuan City, where Jeff carried with him a specialized underwater camera. A total of 3 days and two nights in the dive center gave me a  memorable fulfilling adventure, ticking out one item from my bucket list.

To fully understand and appreciate diving, I suggest for you to try it first. There is no harm in trying people. It is just a matter of courage and willingness to put one foot forward and make something different in your life. Get out and experience life. Put SCUBA diving in your bucket list and surely you will enjoy it once you got a taste of it. More post about diving coming soon.

To learn more please contact:

Operator, Punta Bilar Dive Center
Mobile: +63 920 909  0999



Other beautiful marine species in Punta Bilar Dive Site in Surigao City:

(My sincerest thanks to Jake Miranda and his family for this wonderful experience shared, and to my newly found friends Jeff, Tonton, Macky and Dive Master JR Pingkian. All underwater photos courtesy of Jeff Ong. See you soon guys)


  1. wow! the closest I could go near these kind of creatures is when I had snorkeling in Palawan and that's it... hmmm now I need to re-think about scuba diving :)

  2. Jonas Ignatius LabagalaJune 29, 2013 at 10:03 AM

    Amazing pictures! It makes me wanna go scuba diving! Hmmm.. I hope I could do it in Samal Island.. :D

  3. Rochkirstin SantosJune 29, 2013 at 10:10 AM

    I haven't tried scuba diving because I'm afraid to be inside deep waters and the experience would be too costly! Haha. But yeah I agree it's a great form of recreation and in time, I would have to conquer my fear to see those beautiful creatures like you did. :D

  4. Scuba diving is also included in my bucket list. But I'm afraid of swimming so it will take guts and training to cross it out off my list. I'm also afraid that I might panic in the middle of the activity. nevertheless, I'm glad you have done it na. Thanks for sharing:)

  5. It's nice to see you under water this time. The photos are really amazing. The seahorse looks real cute and the other seem to be rare species.

  6. Wow! Wow! Super Wow! :D Those are really nice shots and I have always dreams I could try scuba diving! Great that you enjoyed your scuba experience and have these stunning shots as evidence :)

  7. Ganda ng mga shots ni Jeff Ong! now plotting and saving to experience diving hehe

  8. Congratulations for achieving this and finally being able to cross this out in your bucket list. The underwater photos are excellent.

  9. your pics gave me goosebumps. they're not scary but they are delightful because it's rare to take pics under the sea. that is so cool!

  10. Photos were stunning. I would love to try this one day thanks to your post. :)

  11. Awesome shot specially that of the frogfish. Yes, I agree this is one activity one has to enjoy before he dies.ha..ha..ha..

  12. So picturesque naman underwater! Anyway, I don't think I'll ever try scuba diving. Other than the fact that I only know basic swimming, I easily panic too. Plus, I have asthma.. so I may not be able to work around my breathing under the sea. Anyway, so many excuses, right? I'd probably just stick with those oceanariums to appreciate those remarkable marine life.

  13. Those are nice underwater collection you got. I wanted to take some underwater shots but I'm hesitant risking my 7D even if there are housings built for it.

  14. Yamito Uytingco CalambaJuly 2, 2013 at 12:55 AM

    SCUBA diving is actually one of the things listed in my bucket lists. And how days go by that i never regret declining an offer of a friend to try it before. Reading through your article made me wish i'd get a chance to do this one day and share the feelings of fulfillment and wonderful sea water memories! P.S. Jeff Ong's photo skills underwater are really good!

  15. Those are beautiful underwater species...hope to experience interacting with these creatures too someday. - KarenT

  16. It's been one of my dreams to try scuba diving. Too bad though that until now, I'm still not very confident in water. I can barely swim which makes me doubt if I can actually try scuba diving any time soon. But seeing your post and Jeff's wonderful photos, somehow gave me a motivation :) Hoping that someday I can also experience the beauty of the underwater.

  17. gorgeous photos! hoping to explore surigao norte's underwater world soon, hopefully with punta bilar dive shop!

  18. you will love it there cba... the place is bursting with jewels to discover :D

  19. We cannot even imagine how many types of amazing creatures are existing beneath the sea!! Thank you for sharing these phenomenal pictures with us!

  20. I happen to watch the video again, mukhang tinulak ka nga ni JR! Haha! Hopefully we get to meet and dive at Punta Bilar this November. Pohon!

  21. Ack! How much yung entire sessions for PADI certification D? Planning to get one, and totally scratch it off my list.. =P

  22. Usually nasa 12K-15K yata @Lisa Marie | Pinay Travelista ... hope you can scatch it from your list the soonest :D

  23. Save yourself a lot of time money!!! Surigao is not an easy place to get to, it's a six hour drive from Davao. I went there knowing there was a dive shop, Surigao Divers, owned by Jake Miranda, who is a very nice person as are almost all Filipinos, but that isn't the point here. I planned on doing some diving with Jake who seems very knowledgeable on diving and the local history of WWII, he even said we could dive some Japanese wrecks. My experience with Jake went something like this, the one day the weather was blown out Jake invited me to a WWII museum in Surigao, he said he would call me, he never called. The other 3 days that I was available for diving, Jake was full of one excuse after another of why we couldn't go diving. Really he didn't need an excuse most of the time as he just didn't answer his calls or respond to texts. The bottom line is that Jake doesn't run a dive business to be at the disposal of his customers, Jake just goes diving when he feels like going diving. A few days later I went to Davao and in the middle of the city there are a couple of dive shops with regular schedules and more than eager to go diving. If you are traveling tens of thousands of miles and spending tens of thousands of dollars to go diving in the Philippines, cross Jake Miranda and his Surigao Divers off your list of options. You can thank me in advance for saving you the money, but more importantly the headache. If you do choose to go anyways and you get screwed by Jake Miranda, I suggest a tour of the Silop caves which are about five miles south of Surigao. I visited several caves on two of the days that Jake screwed me over. Ask for a guide named Peter. The cave exploring in Silop is well worth the trip and it is a tiny fraction of the cost of diving. I only too happy to write this negative review as apparently Jake Miranda doesn't know we live in the age of the internet and that people all over the world will see this and it will end up costing him far more than the few dollars I was going to spend with him.

    Les Blenkhorn,
    Los Angeles

  24. I HOPE i can dive there in Surigao, i got my Padi open water cert. here in Dubai

  25. feel free to discover our own country and resources... it's more fun here :D

  26. Hi Les, I am sorry for the very late reply. I cannot speak for Jake about the trouble you had during that time. It could have been better if you asked for somebody else there or his assistant or ask for referral to other dive masters in the area. His dive shop during that time was still new and i think the organization was still in progress...

  27. SOON during my vacation 2018