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Diving Bucket List #12 – Coron Island, Philippines

Midway between Manila and Puerto Princesa in Palawan, it’s surrounded by dramatic, tall limestone walls and crystal clear blue lagoons.

Coron Island is one of the best wreck diving areas around, offering six large, intact WWII ships, a few smaller ones, and one of the most unique lake dives in the world. While there are seven lakes on the island, only two are accessible. With reefs, shallow wrecks, and calm, clear waters in abundance, even the snorkelers among you will have ample opportunities to experience the underwater beauty. Coron Island has been listed as a top 10 dive site in several publications and with good reason. If you’re a wreck diver, you don’t want to skip Coron.

thumbnail1.jpgWhen to go:

Diving is done year round, but from mid-late June or early July through November the Philippines is subject to monsoons and gets quite a bit of rain. December/January through May appear to be the drier of the months, but April and May are also the warmest and most humid.

Where to Dive:

Barracuda Lake

Arguably one of the more unusual dives sites in the world, Barracuda Lake is one not to be overlooked. There’s more than one reason this site is unique. To start with, after you put on all of your dive gear, you go for a hike. Yes, you read that correctly: a hike in full gear to the dive site. Fortunately, it’s not too far but it is over some rocky terrain and takes 10-15 minutes. Once you get there, you realize you’re in a volcano — well, sort of. The lake is in a volcanic crater and a mix of fresh and saltwater. If that wasn’t enough to make it unique, it also has a reverse thermocline:  the deeper you go the hotter the water gets. The warmer water stays under the cooler water because it’s full of limestone salts and is more dense. The lake is crystal clear down to about 100 feet where it begins to turn into a brown tannic mix. It’s generally not advised to dive deeper than that. There’s also a cave in the lake, for those very experienced cave divers.

To summarize, Barracuda Lake is a dive into a volcanic crater fed by a volcanic hot spring that creates a reverse thermocline with both fresh and salt water layers and the only way to get to it is to hike for 15 minutes in full scuba gear. If that’s not crazy I don’t know what is. But from what I hear the scenery above and below water is well worth it.

Cathedral Cave

Next to a sheer rock wall and about 20 feet deep is a tunnel that leads into the next non-wreck dive spot on Coron Island: Cathedral Cave.  The roof of this cave collapsed many years ago sending a tree to the bottom and leaving open an area that gives the cave it’s name. During a certain time of day, the sun’s light beams through the hole in the ceiling give the cave a cathedral-like lighting effect. There’s also an air pocket deep inside.  Due to the cave being at the shoreline of the ocean, it’s only advisable to dive it when the seas are calm.


At the mouth of the bay lies the Japanese refrigeration ship, Irako. Resting nearly upright with a slight list to port, this 485-foot ship is considered by many to be the best wreck dive in the Philippines. Since it’s quite intact, deep penetration is possible for well trained divers, giving access to the engine room, cargo holds, and galley with pots and pans still visible. Due to its depth at between 112 – 148 feet, only  experienced, trained, and equipped divers should penetrate.

Whether you enter the superstructure or not, you’ll be treated to some of Coron’s best visibility to see schools of yellowfin tuna, large grouper, scorpionfish, lionfish, barracuda, batfish and possibly turtles, along with soft corals, sponges and numerous small fish.

Okikawa Maru

Those who don’t think the Irako is the best wreck dive in the Philippines most likely think the Japanese oil tanker Okikawa Maru is. With the honor of being the largest Coron wreck, the Okikawa is shallow enough to allow for a long dive regardless of penetration.  The broken bow is at 86 feet but the main deck is at 53, meaning that even snorkelers can get a good look at it. While the Irako requires wreck-diving skill and experience, this one is more easily accessible to the newer wreck diver or even for wreck speciality courses. But don’t be disheartened my advanced wreck-heads, there are plenty of opportunities for  you to use your skills here, such as by penetrating the propeller shaft and winding to the engine room.

Completely covered with corals and sponges, there is a lot of marine life to see. Snappers, batfish, jacks and mackerel are in abundance, and the lionfish, surgeonfish, and scorpionfish are very common. If you’re lucky you’ll see a turtle or eagle ray.  For the photographers among us, there are nudibranch all over the corals that cover the decks.  Occasionally strong currents are present which could make the dive more advanced.


This seaplane tender was hit in attack on Chuuk Lagoon and survived only to be sunk in the attack near Coron. The Akitsushima is on its port side and nearly torn in two. Nearby in the sand, the crane used for the planes is a magnet for batfish and barracuda. An anti-aircraft gun is still mounted at the front.

Due to the internal damage and depth, only experienced wreck divers should penetrate but those that do can get a glimpse of the four engines in the engine room and the machinery for operating the crane.  The starboard side hull is at 72 feet and the crane is resting at 120 along with the port side of the hull.  There’s a fair amount of fish here, similar to other dives in Coron you’ll see grouper, barracuda, tuna and snapper.

Kogyo Maru

This was a freighter full of construction materials intended for building a runway for the Japanese. Laying on its starboard side, the Kogyo Maru is between 72 and 120 feet in depth. There are several swim through opportunities into the holds, engine room, and bridge area.  Of interest is a bulldozer, over 1000 cement bags, cement mixer, tractor, and air compressor. Soft and hard corals cover much of the wreck and contents and you’ll likely see barracuda along with snappers and batfish.

Olympia Maru

This Japanese freighter sits upright and is home to a variety of marine life. Banana fish, pufferfish, batfish, crocodile file and scorpionfish litter the mast, stern, and bow.  You can penetrate this wreck in the cargo hold.  At 75-90 feet, this is an easier wreck dive and good for beginners.

There are a handful of other wrecks in Coron worth seeing too, if you make your way there you definitely want to see them all.

Terrestrial Activities
If you’re interested in more than just diving while on Coron Island, there are plenty of other things to see and do here too. Maquinit Hot Springs is a great place to visit in the morning or evening. The pools cascade into the ocean and with a nice drink it could be a relaxing spot to unwind after a climb to Mt. Darala. A kayaking tour will give you a different view of the islands and there’s also a game preserve nearby if that is of interest. Kayangan Lake is popular for swimming and cooling off, and it’s beautiful, scenic landscape. There are white sand beaches, snorkeling, biking opportunities, and horseback trips.

Even though it’s primarily for wreck divers, a little bit of research and thumbing through pictures will give you some idea why this is among my “Top 15 Diving Bucket List destinations,” and why Coron Island has been listed in the top 10 diving spots in the world multiple times.

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