Take Me Back to Apo Island, My Marine Wonderland

Arriving at the scenic Apo Island
Apo Island is indeed a diver's (and in our case, snorkelers') haven. Nestled about seven kilometres off the southeastern tip of Negros Oriental, the volcanic island is surrounded by protected marine reserve teeming with rich underwater life. According to Wikipedia, "the island is home to over 650 documented species of fish and estimated to have over 400 species of corals. Most of the Philippines' 450 species of coral can be found here, from tiny bubble corals to huge gorgonian sea fans and brain corals." Hence, you are sure to be delighted with the variety of marine life when you dive or snorkel here.

How to go to there:

  • From Manila, take a one-hour flight to Dumaguete City. At the airport, walk towards the main highway and ride a  tricycle to the Ceres bus terminal. Tricycle fare costs Php 20 per person at a minimum. However, if you ride a tricycle right outside the departure area, be prepared to pay higher tourist rates at Php 100-150 per way; You can also ride a multicab to the bus terminal at Php 9.
  • Or, from Lilo-an (southern Cebu), take a ferry to Sibulan pier. From the port, ride a tricycle to the Ceres bus terminal in Dumaguete City.
  • From the Ceres bus terminal, ride a bus to Bayawan and tell the conductor to drop you off at Malatapay (non-aircon-Php 25).
  • Alight at Malatapay and walk towards the port. Travel time is around one to one and a half hour. 
  • At the information center, book a boat and you're off to Apo Island!

Information and Tourism Center

Boat rates are standard

The docking area in Malatapay
The boat ride takes about an hour and a half depending on sea conditions. It was habagat (southwest monsoon) season when we went there and the sea was surprisingly not rough in the mid-day. Come afternoon, and you'll experience a bumpier boat ride and stronger undercurrent. This is also the reason why the Tourism Center advises guests on a day trip to be back at the port by 4:00 pm at the latest.

The famous Apo Island Beach Resort

The iconic rock formation

Upon arrival in Apo Island, guests are required to register and pay an entrance fee of Php 100 (local, non-Negrense rate, though we paid only Php 80 after our friend made an argument about why are there different rates for Negrenses and non-Negrenses). We were a bit turned off at how every single thing in Apo Island is priced -- there's an entrance fee, "compulsory" life vest rental that we later found out to be false, etc. We were more annoyed when the supposedly "tourism officer" made face when we told her that we have complete gears and that we will not rent from them. I know gear rental is one source of income for the locals but it doesn't hurt to be courteous enough and accept the fact that some tourists feel comfortable using their own gears. We personally find having our own gears more hygienic and convenient.

Apo Island
If you have time, stay overnight so you can explore the entire island including the lighthouse and the many dive and snorkeling sites around. Contrary to what Google search would give you, there are other more affordable yet homey accommodations in the island than the more popular Apo Island Beach Resort and Liberty Lodge. Well, at the ranger station alone, there were agents offering homestay accommodations. This reminds me of Baguio and Puerto Galera in my teenage years.

Here are two homestays that we saw along the way, but take note that we did not stay here, nor did an ocular inspection so we have no idea how the rooms look like. I feel though that for a fraction of what Apo Island Beach Resort or Liberty Lodge would bill you, these two homestays seem fair enough. These are a stone's throw away from the beach.

Please also note that you have to top off the boat rental (Php 200 for medium boat; Php 400 for large boat) if you are staying overnight to cover additional fuel cost during drop off and pick-up.

Since we were just there for a day trip, we rented a cottage towards the end of the island at Php 150. The owner, Ramil, also offered their cooking services, which we gladly availed. We asked them to buy two kilos of chicken--half is for grilling and half for adobo; two kilos of rice; and two lage bottles of Coke. Their spicy chicken adobo turned out to be a winner! Soft, slow-cooked chicken in spicy soy-garlic sauce. It's not to be missed! We paid a total of Php 1,178, which includes cottage rental, ingredients, and cooking charge. We were seven in the group so the price was not bad at all considering that we really loved the chicken adobo that in fact, we wiped the pan clean! It's that good!

First sea turtle in Apo Island
While waiting for our food to be cooked, we went snorkeling in front of Ramil's cottage where they said the sea turtles were. If you're new to snorkeling, you can hire a guide at Php 400.

At first, I thought that sea turtles stay at the deeper parts of the sea only, but I was wrong. As soon as I put my mask and snorkel on and swam my way a few meters away from the shore, I was surprised to see a sea turtle as huge as a chubby five year old kid right in front of me. It was surreal. And what's even more surprising was that as I panned my camera sidewards, I saw another one swimming up right beside me!

We played around the sea turtles for what seemed like forever. It was the best marine playground ever!

And more...
And two more
Up close

The beachfront where Ramil's cottage is
A crash course on sea turtles

Havin' a photo taken before going to another snorkeling site

Team Snorkeling
After lunch, our boatmen asked us if we want to check out the snorkeling sites on the opposite side of the island. This costs another Php 350 but since we did not see other marine creatures here aside from the sea turtles, we gave in, with hopes of seeing the rich marine biodiversity Apo Island is known for. By the way, the Apo Island Marine Sanctuary was still closed at the time of our visit.

Azure waters
I did not go for a dip anymore but my friends did and they said the corals and fishes here are vast and colorful but not as shallow and as dense as what we saw in Dauin (Poblacion 1) Marine Sanctuary. Under current was strong, too.

I guess I have to go back when the marine sanctuary reopens!


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