Planning to visit the 2nd largest contiguous coral reef system in the world? This Apo Reef DIY Itinerary & Budget travel guide will help you! Everything you need to know about this amazing island, itinerary, how to go there, where to book hassle-free tours and budget is in this blog so make sure to not miss a word in this article.
Jump-packed with every single thing that a freediver and a typical ocean lover will love, Apo Reef in the province of Occidental Mindoro guarantees a spot in your core memory lane of adventures.
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Table of Contents
About Apo Reef Island
Apo Reef Island is a small island located 2-3 hours boat ride from Sablayan Port. Its proximity makes it the perfect spot for marine sea creatures to live and multiply freely without the threats of human exploitations. Apo Reef was proclaimed as Protected Area under the category of Natural Park and its surrounding waters as buffer zone by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 868, dated September 6, 1996.
Additionally, Apo Reef is the largest coral reef in the Philippines and the second largest contiguous reef in the world next to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It has a shallow lagoon with a depth of 2 meters to 10 meters surrounded by mangrove forest which serves as source of food of several coastal and marine species and sanctuary of birds. It is one best dive spots in the world, attracting hordes of divers all the year round.
- No signal reception – prepare to disappear in the social media world for 3 days, lol. Make sure to let your friends and family know where you are before the trip! Haha.
- No source of electricity – bring enough flashlights, batteries for your underwater camera, and powerbank.
- There are no room accommodations, make sure to bring your camping gears. Although there is a place built for emergency purposes in case there is a storm. But they do not allow campers to stay here if the weather is fine.
- Bring first aid kits and mosquito repellant.
- To those planning to dive, please bring reef-friendly sunblock.
- Clean up dive and/or beach clean up all the time! 🙂
How to Get There?
Option 1: Via Air
From Manila, book a flight going to San Jose Airport (SJI) in Occidental Mindoro. Upon arriving, ride a tricycle that will take you to the bus station (Php20.00). Subsequently, ride a bus bound to Sablayan and drop off at Sablayan Pier (Php200-250.00).
Option 2: Via Land & Ferry Transportation
Step 1: From Manila, ride a bus in Cubao bound to Batangas Port. JAM Liner offers this route and they have daily schedule. The fare is approximately 200-300 and the travel time is 2-3 hours.
Step 2: From Batangas Port, board a ferry to Abra de Ilog. There are daily schedules that departs every hour, last trip is 11pm and first trip is 2am the next morning. The fare is Php572.00 and the travel time is 1 hour. To those bring their cars, car fare is Php2,860.00 which includes 1 free passenger fare (driver).
Step 3: From Abra de Ilog, ride a bus to Sablayan Port. Bus fare is Php270.00 per person and travel time is 2-3 hours.
Important Contact in Apo Reef
Important Note: All tourists are required to coordinate and have an advance booking of at least 3 days (from Monday to Friday) at Sablayan Tourism with an office hours of 8am – 5pm wither walk in, via calls/text or emails. -General Ordinance No. 2021
Contact them through their Facebook Page: Sablayan Tourism Office Facebook Page
Hotline: 0998 546 5917 (Smart); 0917 170 6723 (Globe)
Landline: (043) 458 0028
Where to Stay in Apo Reef?
Take note that there are no hotels or accommodations in the island aside from camping. So please bring your own tents and/or hammocks with you. A rain tarp is an essential same as with flashlights.
Where to book your tour?
If you are going in a large group, I highly recommend availing a tour instead. This will minimize the hassle and will maximize your time in exploring Apo Reef Natural Park. In our case, we availed the all-in tour with Explore Occidental Mindoro. Check them on Facebook below, and don’t forget to say hi to ate angel for me!
Apo Reef Budget Expenses
Below are the applicable fees as per Sablayan Tourism Office as of December 2022:
For Apo Reef boat rental, below is the rate endorsed by Sablayan Tourism Office:
Top Things to Do in Apo Reef
3 days in this island will give you so much time to explore the Natural Park and its underwater marine life. However, to marine sea creatures enthusiasts like me it seems that 3 days isn’t enough. Hello to my fellow Freedivers out there! If you know what I mean, lol.
Dive Into the 2nd Largest Coral Reef System
Most people are under the expectation that beautiful marine life lies really deep in the ocean. Most would think it is almost impossible to be snorkeling around and see healthy coral reef and marine life up close unless if you will go scuba diving. Here in Apo Reef Island, the amazing marine life we only see on TV is actually just 4-10 meters deep when you Freedive here.
“A real life aquarium” they say. If marine heaven exists, this is it.
The biodiversity of marine life on the wall is astonishing. Moray Eels, Green Sea and/or Hawksbill Turtle flying above the house reef, school of Barracudas and Squids swimming around, playful Bottlenose and Spinner Dolphins following our huge and small boats, the massive Mameng Fish defender of the coral reefs, incredible Reef Sharks swimming beneath the vivid colors of the soft corals on the wall.
I can’t even start to name all the beautiful marine species we saw that are peacefully living around the island, protected and conserved.
Best Place to See White Tip and Black Tip Reef Sharks
The Shark Airport will be part of the diving trip, this area has lots of hard corals and big fish in groups. We spotted some Hawksbill Turtles too, but we were not in luck to see Reef Sharks here. It wasn’t a good time perhaps.
But still we were able to see Reef Sharks both Black Tip and White Tip during the whole trip. Some of my friends saw them in shallow areas about 3-5 meters while I dove down to 12 meters beneath the wall to get a closer look, lol. Some people are not lucky and that is me, I am some people. Haha!
Insider Tip: go to the walls, it’s where the Reef Sharks are most of the time.
Visit the Lighthouse and the Lagoon
While on the island, part of the tour is visiting the Lighthouse and Lagoon. It is just about 5-8 minutes walking distance from the camping area. The lighthouse will give you a bird’s eye view of the whole island. You can also see the Lagoon from up here. Be careful when climbing it up, the stairs are steep and a bit slippery especially after raining.
A Natural Park and a Bird Sanctuary
Apo Reef Island is slowly becoming a protected area for Birds too. Because of the Lagoon and the mangrove forests, the island became a sanctuary not only for marine and coastal species but also for Birds alike. I remember during our 2nd night, Milo and I couldn’t sleep because of a distant noise. We though it’s the Turtle laying eggs in the shore, when Milo got up to check it out it was an Owl on top of our hammock tarp. Lol!
Stargazing at Night
After a day of underwater adventures, we marveled trough the curtain of stars above us at night. No light and no noise pollution, only the Milky Way that is visible from the naked eye is a perfect way to end your day.
Additionally, when you decide to stargaze at night in front of the shore, please take note that Turtles laying eggs at night is very common here. Please be careful not to disturb them. Allow them to lay their eggs peacefully without stressing them out with noise and lights. Mother Turtles goes back to the ocean when they see people coming around.
Apo Reef Shipwreck Diving
A skeleton of an unidentified ship lies South of Apo Reef Island and has been in the water for what is estimated to be over 70 years. It is a well preserved skeleton that lies 8-12 meters depending on the tides. The shipwreck is overgrown by both hard and soft corals and became a habitat for few marine species. We spotted a magnificent Manta Ray while we were Freediving here.
With good days you can see the wreck from above or from the surface. Refer to the drone shot taken by Milo below. We were lucky enough to be granted a good visibility when we came here.
Fun Fact: did you know that the islands and islets of Coron Palawan can be seen from Apo Reef Island? Yeap! According to our tour guide it is about 2-3 hours boat ride to get there. No wonder that there are other sunken ships in Apo Reef too.
Side-trip in Pandan Island
Our last trip for our 3 Days & 2 Nights trip was in Pandan Island. Unfortunately, we were not lucky enough to be blessed by good days while we were here in Pandan Island. The water was murky but we still managed to see huge Sea Turtles and Sting Rays too. Pandan Island is close to Sablayan Pier, approximately 15-30 minutes boat ride away.
If you are planning to go to Pandan Island the DIY way, read this blog for more details on how to get here the DIY way: Pandan Island Travel Guide.
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|Help me improve my Apo Reef DIY Itinerary & Budget travel guide! By commenting suggestions in the comment section below, I am very open to new ideas. Drone shots by Milo Quinantoto. Underwater photos by Milo & JZ.
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