Whenever I tell people I go SCUBA diving, the automatic assumption is I must be filthy rich to have chosen an expensive hobby. I am not. I’m a middle-class millennial working at a start-up company and paid with a Filipino salary. How rich do you think can I get? Diving in the Philipines on a budget is possible, but it takes a lot of creativity.
Typical Budget for a Weekend Dive in the Philippines
First of all, I never realized how expensive diving can be until I started going on trips after my certification. Here’s a sample computation for one weekend in Anilao, Batangas, which is just a two-hour drive from Manila:
Transportation (fuel+toll): Php 2,000
Accommodation: Php, 3,500, full board meals
Beer: Php 210 (Php 70 per bottle, and I usually consume 3 after the dives)
Dive: Php 4,500 (Php 1,500 per dive)
Lunch on trip home: Php 300
TOTAL: Php 10,510 spent in a span of two days
Unfortunately, that’s the way things go, and diving isn’t something I am willing to give up soon. This begs the question – how do you do it?
A Few Tips on Diving on a Budget in the Philippines
I am not a good saver, to be honest. I live a certain lifestyle that makes me spend frivolously, mostly on food and alcohol. But I do a few things that actually help, and here’s something a big spender like you might find useful:
1. Ditch the fancy accommodations and stay outdoors
I go on dive trips by myself most of the time, and going solo might not always be the most economical thing to do. Nobody to share transportation with, nobody to share large servings with, nobody to split boat rentals with.
But one thing that truly helps is looking for a place with a nice beachfront and crappy interiors. I usually stay in huts facing pristine waters. All I need is a bed, really, and I spend the rest of the day either on the beach or diving. At Php 500 a day, you have a lot of money left over for your dives.
2. Make sure there are other divers with a scheduled trip
I once made a mistake of just showing up randomly at a dive shop and ended up being the only diver. That meant I had to pay for the boat rental by myself, plus my dives. The three dives cost me Php 7,000 because I had nobody to share the boat with.
Now, I research dive shops in advance and call them to ask if there are scheduled trips or other divers I can join. You get to save on rental costs, plus you get to meet new friends.
3. Buy your stuff on Lazada
Lazada is a treasure trove of cheap, unbranded items that you can take diving. It takes a while to scour through bajillions of listings, but that’s where I got the following:
- Aqua shoes (for Php 750. They’re not proper booties, but I just need something I can walk on rocks with and fits in my fins)
- GoPro 3 filter (a set of 4 that you snap onto the case was Php 800)
- 5L Waterproof bag (Php 500, and my stuff haven’t been flooded yet, so it works!)
- 40L Backpack (Php 1,000 for an obscure brand, but it’s pink, it has survived 3 years of travel, and it has a laptop compartment!)
I used to be very brand conscious, thinking that branded items are more reliable, but some things are just less important than going on the actual trip. Besides, nobody notices, or cares, about what you bring along anyway.
4. Befriend the staff
This is the absolutely best thing you can do on a trip, especially if you’re traveling alone. I have been given countless freebies by being friendly with the staff. I’ve been upgraded to a real room, given extra servings of food, given discounts for gear rental, and even a free dive. Filipinos are generous and hospitable by nature, and a little compassion goes a long way.
And I’m not just talking about saying “hi” when you see them. I mean listening to their life stories (every Filipino has a very interesting life story in the province), sitting with them during meals, and simply hanging out with them during your off-time.
I don’t do this for the sake of the freebies, okay, but it surely helps.
5. Sacrifice dinners out and drinks two weeks before your trip
I am not someone to save up for anything (even life insurance, unfortunately), so you can’t tell me to set aside Php 10,000 per month as a travel fund. I just can’t, and that’s a very sad reality for a grown woman.
I do, however, feel the pressure of being able to afford a trip I already booked a couple of weeks before I leave. So I simply say “no” to all the invitations for dinner and drinks for two weeks, and I can save as much as Php 10,000 for the trip. Outside of Manila, Php 10,000 is more than enough for you to survive.
I know these tips aren’t exactly mind-blowing, but if you think diving is too expensive, you’re absolutely right. But it’s not impossible either, and a few sacrifices are worth every effort if you get to spend a couple of hours under the perfection that is underwater.