Visit Apo Island: the best coral reefs and amazing turtles

Snorkelling in Apo Island

A very quick Google search will tell you that Apo Island is synonym to sea turtles. A tiny piece of land in the middle of the sea, if you visit Apo Island you’ll be at the absolute best spot to enjoy snorkeling with turtles in their natural habitat. An activity for everyone, as turrles feed very close to the beach. Apo Island also offers a great variety of coral reefs and marine organisms and is one of the most beautiful spots in the Philippines to snorkel and scuba dive.

In this post you will find a brief description to understand why Apo Island is such a paradise for coral reefs and turtles. Additionally, there is information on the type of visits you can do to the island and a very detailed description on how to visit Apo Island from different points over the Philippines. Also, you will find a list of activities and the best diving spots in Apo, as well as diving resorts and accommodation. Lastly, some notions on electricity in the island.

The views when you visit Apo Island

Also, if you are just starting to plan your visit to the Philippines and want some generic information, check my other post ‘Visiting Philippines: everything you need to organise your trip‘. There you will find a guide on how to start organising your trip there. From how to decide on the activities you want to do when visiting the Philippines, how to move from one place to the other or when to book everything. Also, there is information about visashealthclimate, the backpack you’ll need, recommendations money-wise and how to get a SIM card.

What it is

Apo Island is a tiny piece of land located 7km from the south-eastern coast of Negros Island. With an area of 0.74 sq km and less than 1,000 inhabitants, it is famous for the marine reserve that protects the marine habitat around the island: Apo Island Marine Sanctuary.

Snorkelling in Apo Island

This project started in 1982 and it was the first marine sanctuary in the Philippines, thus marine life has had plenty of time to recover and is now thriving.

There are more than 650 species of fish and 450 of coral. Visitors who want to get to the island to snorkel and scuba dive around pay a fee of 100php per person, which is used for the conservation of the reserve. In fact, you do not scuba dive in the Marine Sanctuary per se, but instead in the surrounding area, which is still benefited from the conservation effort.

Snorkelling in Apo Island

The absolute protagonist of Apo Island are the many turtles that live around. More than four decades of conservation and the many seaweeds that surround the island (turtle’s favourite meal) have made for very confident turtles that do not run from humans and can even be seen from the shore.

Another thing to consider if you are planning to visit Apo Island, is that many people visit on a day-trip and do not sleep on the island. Therefore, it is not a place crowded with tourists. It is also not that developed: infrastructures are basic and even electricity is only available at certain spots, and only at night.

Snorkelling in Apo Island

Do not confuse Apo Island with Apo Reef! This one is like 500km north west from Apo Island, near the island of Mindoro.

Day-trip or sleeping in Apo Island

The most common way to visit Apo Island is through a day-trip from the island Siquijor or the city Dauin (Negros Island). These day-trips do not usually visit the island itself but the marine sanctuary that surrounds it. They are focused on scuba diving or snorkelling.

The prices are usually more expensive than if you were to scuba dive with a diving centre located in Apo Island. However, they include the transportation and meals and allow you to do the activity in one day, which is not possible on your own and is great if you are short on time.

Snorkelling in Apo Island

If scuba diving or seeing turtles is a must in your visit to the Philippines, I would truly recommend you to spend a few days to visit Apo Island. Dive centres in Siquijor and Dumaguete even have Apo Island as one of their best spots for diving over closer spots.

The fact that most people visiting do not even arrive to Apo Island means that it is free of crowds, peaceful and well-preserved. So you do not need to scuba dive to really enjoy the island, as you will see later in the post, there are plenty of other activities to do!

Authenticity in Apo Island

How to arrive

If you are doing a day-trip to visit Apo Island and you do not sleep there, the company you do the dive with will take care of transport. Therefore, this section is intended for those who wish to spend a few days in the island. And, of course, they will need to organise the transport on their own.

The Philippines

You have basically two options to arrive to Apo Island. Both rely on the ferry as means of transport. They are: a ferry from Dumaguete (Negros) or a ferry from Siquijor Island.

Transport in the Philippines would deserve a single blog on its own. In my opinion, it is one of the most difficult things to organise and one of the most difficult countries to move around. Especially if you have a short time in the country, it can feel like you spend forever travelling. So, I have prepared an independent post with plenty of generic information on transport: ‘Transport in the Philippines: how to go from one place to another and survive the process‘. Check it to be prepared!

From Dumaguete (Negros)

First, arriving to Dumaguete

From Manila

You arrive by plane. There are plenty of flights covering this trip along all day. Prices start at approximately 30€ per person. The flight lasts for about 1h35min.

From Cebu

In my opinion, the best option for commodity is the plane, while the best option for price and schedule is the bus. I would rule out the ferry. But here you have all of them so that you can decide what works better for you.

Snorkelling in Apo Island
– By plane

There are generally two flights each day covering Cebú – Dumaguete, for approximately 30€ per person. The flight lasts 55min.

– By ferry

The trip lasts for 6-7 hours and costs can vary. Most ferries stop at Tagbilaran City Port in Bohol and then continue to Dum deaguete. For updated information on schedules and fares check these two links: first link and second link.

I don’t think this is a good option because it is as long as the bus alternative.

– By direct bus

The easiest option is to take the direct Ceres bus from Cebu South Bus Terminal to Dumaguete, although you can also organise it on your own.

  • Direct Ceres bus will leave from Cebu South Bus Terminal (link here). It will arrive directly to the city of Dumaguete. Therefore, you will not need to worry on how to take the ferry from the island of Cebu to the island of Negros.
  • The price for this is 450php per person (320php for the bus and 130php for the ferry).
  • It lasts approximately 6 hours.
  • The schedule is flexible, with buses starting at 6am until 11pm and operating every 1 or 2 hours. You can check the complete schedule in this link here.
Snorkelling in Apo Island
– By combination of buses and ferries

An alternative to have even more options in terms of schedule is to take individually a bus from Cebu, a ferry from Liloan (Cebu) to Sibulan (Negros) and a jeepney or tricycle to Dumaguete. I would only consider this option in case you need to leave earlier than 6am, if not, I would take the direct bus.

  • The bus will leave from Cebu South Bus Terminal (link here). You need to take the one from Cebu to Bato (via Oslob, the one via Barili doesn’t stop where you need). They cost 318php per person and operate every 30 minutes from 2am to 10pm. You can check the schedule in this link here.
  • Once in Liloan, head to Liloan Port (link here) and take a Maayo Shipping ferry to Maayo Shipping Terminal (Sibulan). You will arrive here (check link). The ticket costs 135php per person, the trip lasts 30 minutes and ferries are crossing from 4am to 10.30pm. Check the complete schedule (link here).
  • Lastly, you need to arrive to Dumaguete. Directly in the port you will have plenty of tricycles waiting to take you. We paid 200php total for the ride.
Snorkelling in Apo Island

Dumaguete to Malatapay

You first need to arrive to Ceres Bus Terminal in Dumaguete (link here). Then, take any bus leaving to Siaton or Bayawan and get off the bus at Malatapay Livestock market (link here). The bus driver can indicate you the place. The ride will cost 25-50php per person and last 20-30 minutes.

If you are traveling on Wednesday, you will be able to see the Livestock Market at Malatapay.

Snorkelling in Apo Island

From there to the port of Malatapay Wharf (link here) you need to walk 10-15 minutes.

Malatapay to Apo Island

The boat transport from Malatapay Wharf to Apo Island is confusing. There are public boats (AMAPOI – Association of Malatapay & Apo Island Pumpboat Operators Inc.) that cost 300php per person (plus 10php port fee) and leave when they are full, which can take several hours. Some websites state that this boat leaves from 1pm to 3pm.

Snorkelling in Apo Island

However, there are several boats that cross to Apo Island for several reasons. For example, they might need to pick someone from the island, or bring something there. In that case, they will put you in that boat for the 300php price. So, the general recommendation is to arrive early and wait around.

Return schedule is at 6am and maybe 3pm (although we were not offered this option). You should verify once you are there or ask your accommodation.

Snorkelling in Apo Island

If there is no one in the port to give information, you can head to Dream Beach Café (link here) and ask there.

You also have the option to hire a private boat, in which case you will pay 2,000-3,000php for the boat and leave right away.

An alternative if you are staying at a resort in Apo Island is to ask them for this transport. They should charge you 300php per person and arrange it, usually by asking the public boat to wait for you. However, keep in mind that because of the sea, the latest they can wait for is until 4pm.

Snorkelling in Apo Island

Whichever the way, the transport lasts for 30 minutes. It is recommended to put your valuable belongings in a waterproof bag and cover your backpacks with their rain covers.

From Siquijor

The option that we found to travel directly from Siquijor to Apo Island (or vice versa) was to do it through a company providing daily trips to Apo. These are Coco Grove and Oceanlife Explorers, and they charge about 1,200php per person. Information from 2022 says that Siquijor does not have that many tourists right now and that these trips do not leave every day. If this is something you are interested in, your resort can contact them and arrange the trip if it is available.

Snorkelling in Apo Island

The alternative to the direct transport is through Dumaguete. For that, you would need to return from Apo Island to Malatapay (boat leaves at 6am and maybe at 3pm), take a bus to the Port of Dumaguete City (link here) and then a ferry to Siquijor.

There are two ports in Siquijor Island: Siquijor and Larena. The companies operating this route are Ocean Fast, Montenegro, Aleson and Atlantis Yohan. All of them arrive to the port of Siquijor.

Snorkelling in Apo Island

For the schedules of Ocean Fast, Montenegro and Aleson check this website (link here). For the schedule of Atlantis Yohan, check this image:

Ferry schedule - Atlantis

What to do in Apo Island

Sea turtles

Apart from scuba diving, the next great activity to do when you visit Apo Island is snorkeling with turtles. There are about 250 turtles around the island. Thirty of them are hawksbill turtles and the rest green turtles. You have higher chances of seeing green turtles as they tend to roam in shallow water (0-15m deep). Hawksbill turtles, as they feast in hard coral, are usually found in deeper waters. Hawksbill are different from green turtles mainly for they beak – they have a pointy strong one that helps them break the hard coral they eat.

Snorkelling in Apo Island

The best spot to see turtles is near Chapel, in the west of Apo Village (see the map in the next section). We snorkeled there on our own without paying anything one evening, and when we tried to repeat that the next morning, apparently it was mandatory to hire the services of a guide, which we didn’t do. It is not that we didn’t want to pay the fee (although it had been free the previois day) as much as that with the guide, we also needed to wear life jackets. We are pretty decent swimmers and prefered the liberty of diving and moving freely, so we went elsewhere – but didn’t see turtles. We had seen like 20 of them the previous day so we didn’t feel we were missing something.

I would recommend you to ask your accommodation where to snorkel with turtles, either with guide or without it. It will be one of the better experiences you will have in your visit to Apo Island and the whole country.

Snorkelling in Apo Island

Coral reef

Snorkeling will also allow you to explore the coral reefs in Apo Island and see plenty of tropical fish. Even at 1-2 meters deep! And although the fauna in shallow waters is different than in deep ones, you’ll have the advantadge of the light, which will allow you to see truer colours than in deep water.

Snorkelling in Apo Island

Do leave some time to snorkel around and look for clown fish, angel fish and all the other varieties that you can think of. In Apo Island, a great place to do that is at the beach in front of Liberty’s Community Lodge and Dive Resort (“Bubbles” in the map in the section below). You may find that the currents are a litte strong some times. Also, you might get lucky and see some turtle there. We weren’t.

Snorkelling in Apo Island

Outside the water

Although not as spectacular, there are other activities you can do in your visit to Apo Island:

  • Explore Apo Village: with nothing and everything special to see, just wander around the mostly unpaved streets of Apo Village and explore its small stores with snacks and other utilities. Almost every house has chickens and roosters (you’ll hear them during all day and all night), even goats. Dogs are found everywhere. There are stalls for eating or have a smothie in people’s backyards. And what’s more special about the visit to Apo Island (and the whole country of the Phillipines): everyone greets you with the widests of smiles.
Apo Village

  • Visit the Lagoon and the Small Lagoon.
Lagoon and small lagoon

  • Trekking to the Lighthouse in the north of the Island.
  • Trekking to the southest point of Apo Island.
Visit Apo Island

For those three last activities, you’ll need kind of decent shoes – at least something that’s not a flip flop.

Diving in Apo Island

First of all, I feel like I should start with a disclaimer that we are only ‘vaccational divers’. When we are home in summer we aim to stay current but mostly we dive when we are on holidays away. This means that we are in no way independent divers -nor we try to- and always dive with dive masters. We also rely on them, as they are the locals that know the area, to recommend us which diving spots are the best.

I wanted to clarify that as the information below is solely based in our experience, which is of course conditioned by how we approach diving.

Scuba diving in Apo Island

You can see in the map below that there are plenty of diving spots surrounding Apo Island. They are very varied and will allow you to dive in shallow or deep waters, in drifts, to see all kinds of species and have enough diversity in your dives to spend as many days as you please and not be bored. If you want to dive in a specific spot, you should plan some days in the island, as your dive masters will need to consider sea and climate conditions to recommend one spot or another.

Diving spots in Apo Island

Diving in Apo Island Marine Sanctuary

As I explained in the introduction of this post, Apo Island Marine Sanctuary was established so many years ago and has been so successfull that the marine ecosystem is now thriving. There are parts of the sea floor that surround the island that are 90% covered in coral reef. That is in itself reason enough to visit Apo Island, as you don’t often see coral over coral over coral, or so many species and colours of them that you feel like you are in a painting.

I’m no expert, but as coral is both home and food for many species of fish, the biodiversity of marine life is huge. You can expect to find the usual clown fish, jacks or angel fish, but also frogfish, batfish, bannerfish or bumphead parrotfish.

There are 650 species of fish and around 400 species of corals.

Coral reefs in Apo Island

Drift dives

There are some diving spots in Apo Island that have a current and therefore you can do drift dives in that area. Drift dives are incredibly special as the feeling you get is quite different from regular dives. You just float in the water and the current transports you. For me it is like watching a movie, as species and species of fish and corals just unravel before your eyes and you don’t even need to move.

Several factors, mostly the tide, contribute to the strength of the current, so there is generally a recommended time of the day for each drift dive. However, this may vary depending on the wind or recent rainfall so you might need to adapt to weather conditions. The diving masters at Mario’s were very aware of such conditions and adapted each drift dive accordingly. For example, on our last day we had planned to do a drift dive, but as the current was too strong, we changed it for a less challenging dive.

Scuba diving in Apo Island

Night dives

At night, the sea is a completely different place. If light is scarce during day, imagine at night! The only source of light you have available is your lantern, and for me this gives you the feeling of being an explorer hunting marine treasures. The fauna at night, and their behavior, is also quite unique.

We did a night dive in Apo Island and what we enjoyed the most was turning off our lanterns and play with bioluminescent plankton. It was like an underwater aurora borealis that lights up when you move your hands to activate the bioluminiscence.

Also, during the time that we were underwater in our night dive, it was raining, and it was incredible to perceive the flashes of lightning from below.

Scuba diving in Apo Island

Make it more interesting!

If you are a rookie diver like us maybe some times you can feel like all the dives are kind of the same. And although we do enjoy them a lot nevertheless (coral reefs and tropical fish are interesting enough), we also try to spice them up a little by adding some goal to each dive. Some of our favourites are checking in advance some of the fish and organisms that live in the area and looking for them in the dive, practicing some skill like perfecting flotability, or macro photography (nudibranchs are incredibly beautifull up close).


Diving centres in Apo Island

There are several diving centres that can offer you scuba diving experiences at spots located in the Apo Island Marine Sanctuary. From Siquijor, day-trips to scuba dive around Apo Island are very popular and many diving centers offer them. Similarly, from the bigger and closer island of Negros, in the area of Dumaguete all diving centres complement their spots in Dauin (in the coast of Negros) with options in Apo Island.

There are also some schools that are located in Apo Island itself and apart from fun dives and dive courses, they can also provide accommodation for the time you spend there. When we went in 2022, we explored three of them:

Banded sea krait

We contacted the three of them and received information from the first two. At the end we decided for Mario’s because despite of the price, we had a better feeling with them. But it was very tight!

Our experience

Our experience with them couldn’t have been better. My (now) husband took the Advanced Open Water Diver course, which was very complete and thorough. It was one of our fears that they would just do the dives and the minimal formation to give you the certificate (as I have seen in some places in Thailand, for example), but it was not the case. The diving masters are very professional and experienced, and Mario (the owner), which takes care of the theoretical part of the course, is very knowleadgeable.

I was already an advanced diver, but I was able to accompany my husband in his course and thus share the dives (and also the theoretical part) with him. In our last day, we did a sixth dive after finishing the course and, with the help of the dive masters, he asked me to marry him! So as you can imagine, Apo Island will always be a very special place for us.

Apo Island

Where to sleep

There are not many options to sleep when you visit Apo Island. As most people visit the island to scuba dive, they tend to stay in the diving resort where they do the activity. The options are listed in the section above. However, there are also a few hostels available. The best option to find them is to use the App Agora, which is more extended in the Philippines than Booking.

We slept in Mario’s Scuba Diving and Homestay as we were scuba diving there.

The room was ample with a small terrace and a huge bath, and comfortable. There was a fan available. You had several options for fresh delicious food (you had to choose few hours in advanced). The living area was chill and invited to spend some time there, which allowed to share conversations with the other guests.

Personnel was warm and helpfull, and Mario, the owner, uses to spend time with guests and has very interesting conversation.

Free coffee was available all day 😉

Angel fish

Regardless on the accommodation you choose, keep in mind that night will be noisy. During all our stay dogs were barking all night and roasters started singing at 2am. Our host told us that the dogs were fussier than usual because it was almost full moon. I don’t know which was the excuse for the roasters to sing so many hours before dawn. Also, we visited in December, so during all evening and night we were hearing ‘All I want for Christmas is you’ non-stop from different parts of the island. I’m not sure if outside Christmas time the villagers will choose another tune or they will just sleep.

Where to eat

As for eating, as I mentioned you can generally eat at your homestay, deciding which meals you’ll take there and choosing the food at the beginning of the day. There are also a few restaurants or stalls in Apo Village, in the center of the island.

Pineapple shake

As always, you need to be really carefull on what you eat. The general more restrictive recommendation is to avoid everything related to unboiled water: fresh vegetables, smoothies, ice cubes… And also to avoid eating at stalls in the street. I would certainly encourage you to be consious on the hygene of the places that you eat at, but also to find a balance to try to enjoy everything. For example, I drank a tone of smothies during my three-weeks trip in the Philippines, and only one gave me a tummy ache – although it was quite severe.

Electricity in Apo Island

A generator provides electricity to Apo Island from 6pm to 10pm (ish). However, our accommodation (Mario’s Scuba Diving and Homestay) had solar energy for the lights and fans in the room. I can imagine that most accommodations have similar comodities.

This is not to say that you should spend the whole day in your bed with two fans pointing at you. Even if they have solar electricity, it is scarce and they do insist to be conscious about it.

Visit Apo Island

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