This Apo Island Travel Guide covers all the top things to do in Apo Island, Philippines. It also covers all the travel essentials you need to make your stay more memorable.
A little note: Apo Island is different from Apo Reef in Mindoro. Apo Island is a little island off the coast of Malatapay in Dauin, Negros Oriental.
Some said the first first can make you either want to come back or forget the place altogether. But the first, the gloomy first visit was the reason I wanted to come back.
So the first introduction between a Cebuana and this little island whose people tease me for pronouncing words differently.
Apo Island, with 220 households (as of 2019) is a small, quaint island off the coast of Malatapay. Its smallness is a comfortable home for green turtles (they are brown with fatty green flesh beneath their shell) and hawksbill turtles. Apo Island is not a nesting place for these serene and quite creatures, rather the island is their feeding ground. Most of the turtles you can see feeding are female.
As of July 2019, there are more than 60 turtles id’ed in the waters surrounding the island. You might be wondering why there are so many turtles in Apo Island. I have been to several places with turtles swimming away with the mere sight of humans, while the turtles in Apo Island do not really mind with the humans going crazy and aaaahhhh-ing underwater when they are spotted. But why?
Apo Island is a marine sanctuary for the past thirty years. And what makes it special is that the initiative did not come from the government rather it is the community itself, the locals themselves who decided that their island should be protected and preserved.
So the turtles are nonchalant, if not friendly, because they know the swimmers are not hunting them down. They know they are safe. They know you are not there to harm them. So bear this in mind. Do not break their trust.
The locals can tell instantly that I am not from this side of Negros with the way I pronounced Apo alone. I stressed the /a/ sound, while they dropped the /a/ and stressed /po/, the way we pronounced apo, grandchild.
Ate Esther, one of the jeepney passengers to Malatapay, suggested I should pretend as if I was her friend so I could avoid paying Php300, the implemented boat fare for all visitors—foreign and local alike. Haha. This was 2015. I was traveling solo. Now though, the ferry schedule is more reliable than before. There are now officers manning the Malatapay port. There are also a coast guard and policemen stationed in the area.
Default price, regardless of where you are from, from hell or USA, Php 300 ($15) per person good for one way. The same price applies to all tourist, both locals or foreigners. It costs another Php300 on the way back.
If you want to avail of the boat tour, the following are the boat rates and fees.
Boat rates: 4 pax – P2000 / 6 pax – P2500 / 8 pax – P3000 / 10 pax – P3500
General admission fee: P100
Guide, maximum of 5 people: P300
Mask and snorkel rent: P100
Life jacket: P200
If your sole intention is to snorkel and see the turtles, there are many resorts and dive shops located in Dumaguete, Zamboaguita, and Dauin that offer day tour packages to Apo Island. This is the best if you are traveling solo or if you and your friends want to meet other travelers.
Island-living, the basic one, is not for everyone. It is languid and time feels elastically long. Electricity in Apo Island runs from 6PM to 10PM. For bigger resorts who can afford solar panels, electricity runs intermittently during the day. There is nothing much to do on the island but walk around the village, to the light house, swim, snorkel, and dive if you got a license. And if you’re a couple traveling, oh well, punctuate activities with bunny activities. Te-he.
That being said, you might want consider doing a day tour to Apo Island instead, if you feel the Dumaguete vibe is more fun.
The Flying Fish Hostel (035) 422 0167 – Recently stayed here (July 2019), while the design is very instagrammable, there is a lot to be desired and improved in its restaurant service and room comfort. (READ MY INDEPENDENT REVIEW HERE)
Harold’s Mansion 0917 783 5172 – I personally experienced this some years ago. For Php1200/person, they offer a ride from their place to the boat jump off, snorkeling gear, and packed lunch (nothing much, just sandwich).
Zamboaguita is the village where Malatapay belongs. It has several resorts that offer day trips to Apo Island.
Thalatta Beach Dive Resort +63 939 925 6326
Kookoo’s Nest +63 919 695 8085
Wellbeach Dive Resort +63 917 300 4674
Dauin has a lot of four to five stars resorts. It is the closest to Dumaguete. So if you want to be outside the city, yet not too far, and close to the sea, Dauin is the place.
Bongo-Bongo Dive| I got my license here some years ago. The people running it are friendly. And Balo, the dog, is a rock star. If ever you stay here, pet Balo for me.
Bahura Resort and Spa(02) 892 3477
Liquid Dive Resort(035) 400 3244
The third smallest island province in the Philippines (first is Batanes, second is Camiguin), Siquijor has gain some tourist traction the past years. The secret is very much out. So there.
Coral Cay Resort+63 908 896 5263, +63 917 325 1292, +63 917 700 7136
Coco Grove Beach Resort+63 0939 915 5123 | For Php1000.00 one way (as of July 2019), we left Apo Island for Siquijor.
Liberty’s Community Lodge
+63 920 2385 704
+63 920 9124 593
We stayed here for three nights. Most of the guests are couples. LOL. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay here, that our body clock adjusted to the ways of the island. We go to bed at 10PM and get up at quarter to 7. It is beachfront and has its own restaurant and dive shop. Our main reason for staying in Apo Island was scuba diving, so very thankful to our Divemaster Archie and the gang running Paul’s Dive Shop. (READ MY DIVE DIARY HERE)
Mario’s Scuba Diving and Homestay
Located in the village, Mario’s Scuba Diving and Homestay is a more affordable option.
This is where I stayed during my first visit in the island. Best for individuals who don’t mind very basic accommodation.
Apo Island Beach Resort
+63 939 915 5122 (Smart)
+63 917 701 7150 (Globe)
A fancier beachfront resort located in a quite cove. This is to the left of Baluarte, the classic landmark of Apo Island
On the boat, the women pointed the edge of the sea where a pod of dolphins passed by. I could barely make them out, but kid as I am, I waved hi to them. But I could not help but shout in glee when the boatman pointed the three dolphins swimming in front of the boat. Watching their backs elegantly gliding in and out of the water was nothing short of magical.
The locals—used to seeing them in their everyday ferrying from the island to mainland Negros—were amused by my reaction. They laughed looking at me looking so happy and charmed
The highlight of this trip must be my encounter with JP and his dog, Jareck. It was a stormy day. No passenger boats were allowed to cross the sea. Ate Esther’s brother-in-law had to pick some supplies from Malatapay. I could hitch a ride, but I missed that boat because she could not find me. I was walking around the island taking photos.
So JP and Jareck walked with me to the other side of the island. JP borrowed a rather small outrigger so we could find Harold Mansion’s diving boat, my only hope so I could go back to Cebu on the same day. He shooed Jareck away, but a dog’s love and loyalty to his master is, can be stubborn. No intimidating waves can stop him from swimming behind us, swimming against the strong current.
My heart melted for him.
I asked about JP and Jareck during our recent trip. Sadly, Jareck passed away already some years ago. 🙁
JP said there are two ways to go to Cogon, we could either climb the boring-looking concrete steps or climb the boulders by the coast. The latter sounded more interesting and adventurous. But JP said it was kind of dangerous. He looked at my get -up: years-old slippers, a long summer skirt, and a sleeveless top. Oh, yes, a typical beach attire.
I knew what was running in his head. Stubborn and arrogant as I am, I told him I could handle it without his assistance. So we scaled the massive boulders beyond the turtles’ abandoned nesting area.
I climbed and jumped from one boulder to another with my long skirt and with a happy grin I could not wash off.
Apo Island’s landmark is Baluarte, the big outcrop facing the mainland Negros. On the other end of the coast is the sanctuary. There was no need to swim in deep waters to see the turtles. At knee-deep water, I found at least five of them. And there was no need to chase them
At Apo Island, the turtles seem used to seeing humans swimming. They do not try to swim away; they just continue on munching the weeds or algae from the corals or the rocky bottom. I held my breath as long as I could to observe them: they are humongous, beautiful, and elegant
It was midweek and windy, I was the only one snorkeling. The experience was almost sublimal.