Once in a while, you wish to leave the harsh noise and pollution of the city behind. A safe place, where you can walk along the beach at night to enjoy a lazy dinner, sophisticated night clubs or just stargaze. During the day, how about SCUBA diving, snorkelling, Putt Putt, Lawn Bowls, horse shoes, darts, windsurfing, golf, pool, game fishing or going on Safari (P.T. Style see Bill Forgan at the Bali Hai for details and bring your drinking shoes…).
There are a lot of great dive sites around La Union. Described below are some of the top dive sites around the Lingayen gulf.
Scuba Diving in La Union
The bottom composition around the reef is mainly coral, though in certain areas, notably around the Point off WALLACE AIR STATION, there are large fissured rocks, some of which start at 15 feet and descend to the bottom, usually mud, at around 70 to 100 feet. There are eight major sites visited by the local divers, each similar in that they are mainly coral reefs, but also possessing their own unique characteristics.
The most frequently visited sites on Research is the CAVES, a short Banca ride from either dive shop. The Caves are situated mainly on the western face of the reef, and the depth ranges from 15 to 80 feet, an average of 45 feet being normal. The reef runs north to south, and there are “fingers” of rock and corals perhaps 60 feet high and more in places that are hallowed out here and there, allowing the intrepid diver to venture in to the dark guts of the reef. While no one has actually counted all the holes, there at least a dozen penetrable ones, and many smaller caverns. Viz varies between 20 to 80 feet 50 + being the seasonable average. To the southern of research lies the remains of a Japanese merchant ship sunk during the second world war. The wreck lies in 90 feet +, and is home to several interesting characters, including a shoal of Barracuda.
The west wall of the northern end of the reef is visited most often by divers, though most of the reef offers good diving. Unfortunately, some sections of shallow water have been completely demolished by the dynamiters, but the drop off has some beautiful fun and gorgonian corals along it. Average depth for a dive on Tamayo is 55 feet, with the bottom running between 70 and 110 feet.
Named after the Voice of America relay station whose huge antennas tower over it, V.O.A. reef is much visited by snorkelers and SCUBA divers. The white coral sand bottom offers better visibility than many other sites, and it is the first reef to settle after the storm. A leisurely inclined at around 35 feet gives away to a steep drop to around 70 to 90 feet. There many interesting residents on the reef, and the corals are mostly intact.
Lying a 40 minutes Banca ride offshore, Fagg is actually part of the shelf that delineates the gulf from the South China Sea which has become coral encrusted. The Domes is one of the more enduring dive sites, though the reef covers a large area , and here one may find a huge variety of marine life from Wrasse to Whale Sharks. Beware the drop off, however, because it goes down to 800 feet in places! Currents often carry unwary diver off the reef into “blue water”, and are another consideration when planning our dive.
The M10 tanksat Fagg reef are by far the most popular dive site, though their depth ( the shallowest lies in 127 feet of water) precludes those without specialty training. Dropped off a barge at the end of the Second World War, they ended up on a ledge on the drop off, and remain today as eerie reminders of a bygone age, their gun silenced forever but looking poised to roll up the reef to defend freedom and liberty should the call ever go out. A huge moray eel lives inside one of the turrets, and is an added attraction. It cannot be stressed strongly enough that this is a dive to be undertaken only under the supervision of trained and qualified personnel familiar with the site: even if your Bancero claims to be able to drop you “right down the turret”, don’t kid yourself that this is an easy dive.
Conversely, Robert’s Reef (named after Paul Roberts who pioneered diving on this particular reef), is a shallow and easily accessible coral reef running from 0 to 40 feet. Another favourite night dive, Robert’s Reef runs out from the point south of V.O.A., a 10 minute banca ride from either dive shop. Turtles, lobsters, shells and fish make their home on this fascinating reef, making it an ideal repetitive dive site.
Black and Red Buoys
Situated in the harbor entrance of San Fernando Bay, these two buoys act as navigation aids to shipping when they are there. Unfortunately, the typhoon season often removes one or both of them, and that’s when the local divers use their trusty landmarks to locate the awesome dive sites available here. Walls from 20 to 120 feet with caves and canyons, shoals of tuna and other deep water fish, white tips, garoupa and plentiful visibility in season make this a favourite of enthusiasts.
14 Mile Reef
As the name implies, 14 mile reef lies 14 mile from somewhere, actually both Bolinao harbor on the South China Sea side of the gulf and San Fernando harbor on the east side. Minimum depths of 70 + feet and strong current makes this a dive for the expert only, but the incredible corals and huge variety of marine life keep’em coming back for more. Hammerheads, white and black tips, marlin, mantas, garoupa, and tuna are seen often out here, as are a vast variety of shell life, including a huge colony of Triton’s Trumpets. Presumably because of the depth, the dubious fishing techniques employed by some of the locals has not affected the area, so it remains largely untouched, visited only occasionally by the intrepid few who love to romp with the larger denizens of the deep. Obviously, an experienced guide is a must if you intend visiting 14 mile reef, which is also referred to as Big reef, just to confuse matters.
The Gulf is protected from all but the worst of weather, so divers can enjoy year round access to excellent diving. Best visibility occurs from December to June, the peak season being March through May.
The information presented here has been compiled through the experience of over seven years of diving in Lingayen Gulf; it should be obvious that a diver with limited time to explore a new area requires a thorough local orientation, and that those best suited to assist are the professional divers in the area. In order to enjoy the diving, available to the maximum in safety and comfort, may we respectfully suggest that you consider hiring divemasters from reputable diving facilities offering PADI International, NAUI or CMAS qualified staff wherever you may happen to be in the Philippines. This helps to ensure that you will be receiving the very best attention and equipment possible and that the dive sites you visit will be worth diving on. Remember, safety is not an accident.
How to Get There
Three hours from Angeles City and five hours from Manila, you can take a Philippine Rabbit, Times Transit or Farinas Trans bus going north to San Fernando, La Union, Vigan or Laoag. When you get on the bus, tell the conductor you want to go to Bauang, La Union. Two hours past Angeles, you will see glimpses of the South China Sea along the highway which means you are only an hour from Bauang. The infrastructure in the area is very good. If you wish to go on a day trip to Baguio, Vigan or San Fabian, buses depart every 10 minutes throughout the day. Banca boats to 100 Islands and fishing trips are available during the day. Book through your resort.
La Union Resorts
Between Christmas and Easter, it is advisable to make reservations. Many of the resorts can be booked through Island Tours in Angeles or through Swagman Travel in Manila, Puerto Galera, Boracay or Angeles. During weekdays, some resort accommodations can be found by just walking along the beach. The main stretch of resorts is less than 600 metres long, starting from the south at Villa Estrella to China Sea, Coconut Grove, Cabana, Bali Hai, Fisherman’s Wharf and Southern Palms. There are other resorts further north and south of this area.
Surfing La Union
Surfers will want to check out the waves in San Fabian, north of San Fernando town. Most resorts offer happy hour prices below 20 pesos for San Miguel and local mixed drinks.
The sunsets rival Boracay and Palawan, though there are no sandflies and malaria is unheard of. Many guests stroll along the beach at sunset and stop in at other resorts for dinner or a drink.
Evening dining is a specialty at all the resorts here: seafood, steaks, Indonesian food, lamb and Aussie meals are just some of the types of fare you will find in dinner specials, together with a sumptuous array of Barbecues and mouth watering buffets.
Do the activities seem too much for you? Well, why not laze the days away and work on your tan on the beach or by one of the many fresh water pools, spas or jacuzzis at the resort of your choice.