Sipalay City, Negros Occidental: Scuba Diving at Punta Ballo

Scuba Diver with Hawksbill Turtle

A few minutes into our dive at Sunken Island, we meet a resident hawksbill turtle

Aside from the supple shores of Sugar Beach, Sipalay City – actually a small town rather than a developed city – on the southwest coast of Negros island is also an underrated diving destination with a collection of over 30 dive sites, including shipwrecks like the WWII SS Panay in Campomanes Bay.

Sensational Dive at ‘Sunken Island’

I had the opportunity to enjoy a complimentary dive with the pioneer dive center in town, Artistic Diving Resort. We dove at one of the most popular spots called Sunken Island, an underwater coral plateau off the coast of Punta Ballo. Descending onto the middle of coral reef marked by a buoy to a depth of only six to eight meters, my divemaster Roy and I were immediately greeted by a vibrant flurry of reef fish over a well-preserve expanse of soft and hard coral. After equalizing the pressure in my ears, I felt more comfortable to fin around the reef and down the drop-off. Our colorful “welcoming committee” was a prelude to more memorable encounters.

Common Clownfish

One of the easiest and most beautiful fish to photograph – the common clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)

Moral Eel

A shy giant moray (Gymnothorax javanicus), the largest species of moray eels, grins back at us

Nudibranch

A large nudibranch or sea slug (Phyllidia varicosa) inches over a coral head

As we approached the edge of the plateau, I spotted a large hawksbill turtle. Hitting my steel banger on the scuba tank, I excitingly called the attention of my divemaster Roy, who swam over and finned slowly next to the beautiful animal, who seemed comfortable by our presence. A few minutes later, Roy spotted a shy giant moray grinning from a dark cranny.

The Whale Shark We Missed

After surfacing from a wondrous dive, our experience was trumped by our awestruck boatman who spotted a whale shark pass under the bangka twice ten minutes before we surfaced! We were busy ogling at the reef on our safety stop that we missed the largest fish in the ocean swim right above us. Roy has logged more than a thousand dives in these waters but has never spotted this leviathan. I’ve only snorkeled with juvenile whale sharks before at the controversial site in Oslob, Cebu.

After circling the waters off Punta Ballo for 20 minutes with no sight of the giant, we returned to the dive resort still satisfied with an extremely rewarding single dive. I was supposed to enjoy two more dives in the afternoon but the waning monsoon decided to overstay and dump heavy rainfall. I postponed my remaining dives for my next visit to Sipalay. When I return, I’d like to dive Maasin Islet and, when I get my advance Open Water license, the SS Panay wreck as well.


Freckle Faced Hawkfish

A freckled hawkfish (Paracirrhites forsteri) perching on some branch coral during our safety stop

How to Get There

Punta Ballo, a peninsula adjacent to Campomanes Bay, is the main jumping off point to dive trips around town and the neighboring town of Cauayan. It is located 7 km south of Sipalay city proper. For instructions on how to get to Sipalay from Bacolod, Dumaguete or Cebu, visit my previous post on Sugar Beach. From the city proper, charter a habal-habal motorcycle (PHP 150) or tricycle (PHP 200)  to Punta Ballo.

Where to Stay

Established in 1998 by Swiss dive instructor Arthur Mueller, Artistic Diving Resort is the pioneering dive resort in Sipalay. The PADI-accredited resort identified most of the dive sites in the area and kickstarted tourism in the town. Like Driftwood Village on Sugar Beach, they also serve great Thai curries here – what’s with Sipalay resorts and delicious Thai curries? Tel: +63 9052205594, +63 9194095594 (WhatsApp) or +63 344532710. Email: info@artisticdiving.com

 

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