The reef on Apo Island. (Pic: Atmopshere Resorts)
Whale sharks in paradise
5-star experience; swim; swim and dive; swim and massage...
June 12-20, 2020
We’re constantly amazed at how many beautiful places there are around the South East Asian archipelagos, and the area around Dumaguete, on the island of Negros Oriental, is a prime example, in an area of some of the greatest marine diversity in the world. This is a real find. It’s a place right out of left field. This is a 5-star oceanswimsafari, at great value for the cost.
When we first heard of Dumaguete, our reaction was, “We’ve never heard of this place…” There are lots of places around the world about which we can say that, but that is, to us, a positive. Our first oceanswimsafari to Dumaguete in 2019 exceeded our hopes and expectations. Now, 2020 looks like being even better.
Pic: Atmosphere Resorts
Our friend heard of Dumaguete through our accommodation there, Atmosphere Resort, a 5-star resort aiming mainly at divers. Atmosphere (that's it, above, hiding in the coconut palms) bills itself as "the best luxury boutique resort in The Philippines". We always thought dive resorts were a few rungs down the standard ladder, knowing how divers are focused more on the water than on the land, and famously abstemious. But not Atmosphere. It ranks up there as one of the most comfortable, beautiful, and, yes, luxurious places at which we’ve ever stayed. The grounds are stunning and the facilities generous. We dive a bit, so we've been to a few dive resorts, some magnificent, others so-so. But Atmosphere takes ocean swimming to a new level for us. But -- and this is true of The Philippines generally -- costs are very reasonable given exchange rates.
That’s the resort. We’re really there for the water and the reef. And this is what really makes this place stand out. We swam in half a dozen places around the area, and – apart from once when we swam past the mouth of a creek – we find the water to be amongst the clearest in which we’ve ever swum, and while warm, not so warm that it becomes uncomfortable. It’s clear, warm but otherwise benign both close in and farther out. It’s not all shallow water, but it’s not water so deep that you can’t see stuff. There are currents, but we arrange our swims to go with them, so they become our friend, not our foe.
Then there’s the reef, and we say this unequivocally: The reef around this area is the healthiest, the most prolific, the richest over which we’ve ever swum. The underwater flora and fauna are abundant and healthy, rich in colour and diversity. Lots of turtles, a mixture of shallow water and deeper water, so clear that you can spot anything around you.
Swimming Apo Island. (Pic by David Helsham)
Very big fish
Then there are the whale sharks. Whale sharks… Just hearing the name conjures up all kinds of romantic visions… some of the world’s largest creatures, marine or otherwise, yet so gentle; you would say unassuming if you were talking about humans, they glide quietly through the sea, unfazed, perhaps disinterested in the fuss and kerfuffle about them.
Trying to sneak in a snooze off Apo Island.
Near to Dumaguete, across the channel on the neighbouring island of Cebu, there is a place where local fisherman feed whale sharks daily. Visitors are permitted to get in the water with the sharks whilst they feed, just metres off the beach. We leave Atmosphere very early for this excursion, which involves crossing the channel to Cebu on the car ferry, to beat any crowds that might turn up. The only way this is not a daily occurrence is when the wind blows strongly onshore, but this is why we have chosen these dates for this new oceanswimsafari. At the time we’ll be there, usual winds are gentle from the sou’-west, which is offshore to this area. Even so, we’ll program our whale excursion for early in our stay, so if the weather does turn difficult, we’ll have another opportunity later in the week.
We recognise that some may not be comfortable with excursions that rely on feeding native animals. The alternative for the local fisherfolk, until not too long ago, was hunting and killing them. We figure this is preferable to that. This is not a compulsory outing, but it does support the locals in a much more sustainable livelihood. If you don't wish to take part in this excursion, we will deduct it from your package cost when we invoice you.
We’ve programmed daily swims, some of them along the coast from our resort, others a bit farther afield. On one day, we’ll cross by boat to a small island offshore, Apo, which is like a Disneyland of ocean swimming, so clear is the water, so abundant the sea life. (All our swims are from boats.)
We’ll also visit the Soup Kitchen, a local initiative by the owners of Atmosphere Resort that works with local families who make their living scouring the rubbish dump outside Dumaguete for bric-a-brac – often, that’s a nice word for it – to sell in town. Rather than the kids working with mum and dad on the dump, the Soup Kitchen provides them with a wholesome meal and nurturing with life skills and social interaction, and uniforms for school, Brownies and scouts, provided they attend school. We’ll visit the Soup Kitchen at lunchtime and help with the lunch service, saying hi to the kids, getting to know their routines and the kind of skills they learn. It adds an unexpected dimension to our week of swimming.
Pic: Atmosphere Resorts
With Atmosphere, we’ve developed a range of packages that you can choose from during your stay to complement all the swimming. They range from diving, to indulgent massages in the Atmosphere Spa -- an extraordinary experience in itself -- yoga, and a Day with the Chef at Atmosphere, which prides itself on its food service. (Our oceanswimsafarists who spent a day with the chef in 2019 raved afterwards about how good it was.) Not to mention the wine cellar… Ed, Atmosphere’s sommelier, will treat us to a wine tasting. The cellar is impressive. All this is built into your package. You simply choose which package you prefer.
You can still do other things – more dives, more massages, more yoga, more wine, etc – if you like, but that’s extra. And it’s also if you have the time. Don’t forget the downtime… We always build down time into our oceanswimsafaris. Time to read; to hang by the pool, around the bar, attend the regular presentations on local sea life – Atmosphere has a resident marine biologist who adds authority and a deep knowledge to your experience of the Dumaguete area.
Glistening Dave's visit to Dumaguete...
Our cobber and photographer, David Helsham, came with us to Atmosphere and has published a book of images from his visit. It gives you an excellent impression of the area. Have a look for yourself... Click here
This really is a special place, and a very special oceanswimsafari. And it's an extremely good value package with the standard of accommodation and facilities. Pretty well everything you need during the oceanswimsafari is included in the packages below, except for drinks and lunch (if you can fit it in).
It’s also a convenient trip: you can depart Sydney in the morning (yes, an early flight), change planes in Manila and be in Dumaguete – at Atmosphere – by mid-late afternoon. Returning, you can leave Dumaguete late afternoon and be back in Sydney first thing next morning. We don’t handle your flights for you, but we’re happy to provide advice.
There’s plenty of down time included in the program so there’s ample opportunity to catch up on that book that’s been by your bed since Xmas. We’ll be close to the beach, so you’ll have plenty of time, too, to leave your footprints in the sand at your leisure. Get to know your other half again, perhaps. Or yourself.
Our package includes Half Board (breakfast and dinner). At Atmosphere, these are experiences in themselves. Atmosphere prides itself on its food, dishes ranging from Filipino through other Asian cuisines and Western. There's not much else to add in basic daily costs. Just the bar, perhaps.
We are staying overnight in Manila on the way there and on the way out. Domestic airline schedules in The Philippines are changeable, so it's safer to allow overnights at either end of the oceanswimsafari to allow for last-minute changes. The cost of an overnight in Manila on the way in is included in the package cost below, as indicated. If you are travelling from or onwards from or two destinations other than Sydney, it may be that your schedule allows same-day inbound or outbound travel. We will book your Manila stopovers inwards to The Philippines. If you need or would like a stopover on the way out at the end of the oceanswimsafari, we can book that for you, too, if you like.
The kids at the Soup Kitchen. A bald git let them film with a camera, then played it back to them.
All rooms are Deluxe Suites. There are other accommodation options apart from those costed here.
We can also arrange other dates to suit your group, if you'd like to travel at a different time of the year.
Note that oceanswimsafaris.com/oceanswims.com are tour operators and we handle all your land arrangements. We do not book airfares for you. We are happy to advise on flights, however. This is a very easy place to get to. It is possible to depart Sydney on a flight (Philippine Airways) departing at 6am, with transfer in Manila, and you can be at Atmosphere by mid-late afternoon. Departing, also is a straight through connection with a few hours layover in Manila.
Your home for a week... (Pics: Atmosphere Resorts)
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