Monday, January 7, 2013

Apo Reef Series: A Love Affair with Diving and Snorkeling

I grew up in a beautiful island where we live 10 minutes bike-ride away from the beach. But truth be told, I don't know how to swim.  I've developed a certain animosity towards swimming after an unfortunate pool incident back when I was taking my swimming class in college. (For some mind-boggling reason, though, I passed the subject.)

When I started traveling and got the chance to see the best beaches in the Philippines, I've been handicapped not to cross the borderline of the shore and the sea unless a life-jacket is strapped around me. And since swimming and I aren't exactly friends, I've always thought that I couldn't enjoy surfing, snorkeling,  diving and some other water activities.

Despite this, I feel so drawn to the sea that it has become my refuge each time I feel high or low (emotionally). And just recently, I have fallen in love with diving and snorkeling.

Here's what I learned: You don't need to be a pro swimmer to be able to dive and snorkel. You only need the proper gears, do proper breathing, and get a full sense of adventurous spirit. :)

Magnificent dawn at Apo Reef Island with the calm sea and the changing hues of the sky

I've been to some amazing diving and snorkeling spots in the country, but the underwater treasures of Apo Reef and Pandan Island are two of the best that I've seen so far. I found myself frolicking in its massive and diverse underwater garden when I went there. Everything down here awed me. 

Apo Reef Natural Park is the largest atoll-like reef in Asia. Some of its dwellers include colorful fishes, schools of jacks, snappers, stingrays, manta rays, sharks, barracudas, crevice-dwelling moray eels and gobies amid gardens of soft and hard corals. Also, the 29-hectare Apo Island is a nesting ground for hawksbill and green sea turtles while the other two islets near it are home to migrating birds and some resident birds like the endangered Nicobar Pigeon. *Information from Sablayan Municipal Tourism Office*

The crystalline blue-green waters greeted us as we pushed towards the island
For those planning a trip to Apo Reef, I recommend that you contact the Municipal Tourism Office of Sablayan. The staff could arrange your transportation and assign guides and cook. They also offer rentals for tents and snorkeling/diving gears. 

Here's a link on how to get from Manila to Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro.

From Sablayan Sea Port, it takes about 2hrs boat ride going to Apo Island. According to our guide, there are times when pods of playful dolphins could trail from behind and chase the boats enroute to Apo Reef. It would have been an awesome visual treat but unfortunately, we weren't so lucky during the trip.

Once at Apo Reef Island, we got our accommodation ready. And by that I meant, tents. Yes, we were there to camp. There are no hotels or cottages for overnight stay so I highly suggest you bring your own tents, mats or hammocks. For food, we bought provisions from Sablayan Public Market and sought the help of our guides to cook our meals since we didn't bring utensils with us. *The food they served us were great, by the way.* :)

One fine day in Apo Reef
For P1,500 each, we got to enjoy the reef by signing up for an introduction to diving course that was good for 1 full hour. I was assisted by a master diver and I got lucky to have about 40-minute of assisted dive at about 50ft!! It was such a priceless experience. 

What I saw down there? Check this link. 

In summary, we spent most of our time in the island out in the sea, snorkeling, diving, and just swimming to our heart's content!

Other activities that could be done in the island include trail walk along the mangrove area leading to the lagoon and the lighthouse. I suggest you wait for the sunset and sunrise atop the lighthouse. The view of the vast expanse of the clear blue waters in contrast to the verdant mangroves below the lighthouse was gorgeous!

This is a view of the lighthouse seen from the lagoon

Apo Reef Lighthouse

The mangroves and the lagoon as seen from the lighthouse

Bamboo path walk along the massive mangrove area
Our group also had bonfire and let off eight wish lanterns under the beautiful and starry November sky. FYI though, we used a tray to hold the flaming twigs and woods.  I highly suggest using a tray when doing a beach bonfire instead of directly starting the fire on the sand.  Let’s protect our beaches. :)

Our version of "Tangled". True that it could be magical to see the lanterns  flickering up in the air. But this  is one activity that could be regulated for environmental reasons. Maybe, it would be better to use eco-friendly wish lanterns in the future. 
Heads up to those planning a trip to Apo reef, please keep the cleanliness within the area.  As I always say in every beach I go, leave nothing but footprints. If you can carry your spoils back to the mainland (and dispose it properly), so much better.

One of the best memories I took home from this trip is the chance to see and play with the amazing underworld creatures.  It made me realize how amazing our world is, from the surface and even deep down under. :)

A souvenir photo from the underworld
Side Trip: Before heading back to Sablayan, our group decided to stop by Pandan Island for a closer encounter with sea turtles and manta rays. And we were never disappointed. I had the chance to chase four sea turtles and a manta ray. The experience was one for the books! I would definitely recommend including Pandan Island in your itinerary if you plan to go to Apo Reef.

As dusk creeps silently in the island

Fees (Overnight stay):

Boat from Sablayan to Apo Island VV - P7,500 (7 pax)
Boat from sablayan to Pandan Island VV -P800
Food catering/labor- P750
Tour guide- P750

Equipment Rentals
Snorkels - P100
Tent - P300

Entrance Fee (per pax)- P225


Municipal Tourism Office
Buenavista, Sablayan, Mindoro Occidental 5104

Contact numbers: 0929-428-0431, 0915-995-3895
Landline: (043) 458-0028


  1. Replies
    1. Kailan ba yung next time? Sana DM na ako that time. :-)

    2. Kung kelan ka na lang maging DM para free ang diving lessons! XD

    3. yehey! libreng diving lessons! Thanks DM Momo! =D

    4. Yehey! That means malapit na yung pagbalik natin sa APO Reef. :-)

    5. Finish lang muna yung 80 before 30 then let's all go back. :-)

  2. Good job on swimming, snorkeling and diving. Keep it up!

  3. this is one place in mimaropa which i was not able to go to while working in that region. unfortunately, i left the office i used to work for when they went there for an outing, tsk tsk tsk.

    this one is in my bucket list, though

    1. Yep sir Noel, Apo Reef is a must-visit place! You'll enjoy the diverse marine life there. :)

  4. Apo Reef sounds great! Hope to dive there soon. More dives for us this year Che! :)

  5. Damn! The boat rental is very expensive! I might be traveling alone or with a friend that's why it's expensive! :(

    Great photos btw! Planning to go here in 2 weeks. I'll drop by Pandan Island if ever matuloy ako sa Apo Island. Haha! :)

    1. Thanks Gabz! Yep, costly talaga yung trip lalo kung two lang kayo. Pero sobrang worth it naman, priceless! Have fun in Apo Reef! Don't miss the turtle encounter in Pandan Island! :)

  6. how much po yun intro dive fee nyo? thanks!
    dinala ba kayu sa malalim na part kahit intro dive lang? thanks uli!

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. Ganda naman. Mahal lang ng boat. hehe. Che, yung intro dive na 2k, how deep was it? hindi ba yung bandang shore lang? thanks

    1. Hi Chud! Agree, medyo mahal talaga ang trip papunta sa Apo Reef so I suggest group pumunta para may ka-share sa damages. hehe Nakadive ako almost 50ft. Yeah, pricey din pero worth it. :))

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