Apo Island – not to be confused with Apo Reef – is one of those places some travelers think should be kept a secret. That if too many people know about it, too many tourists will come and ruin it. But like Mrauk-U in Myanmar, I think it deserves to be known and I honestly don’t think the hordes will descend upon it for more than the day trips easily arranged from neighboring islands.
Electricity is turned on for about three hours each evening. There are two resorts and two guesthouses. Maybe there are other places to stay but those are the only four I saw or heard anything about. Apo is not a place to go if you want hot showers, WiFi, endless food options, and a plethora of activities. If you want that in the Philippines, go to Boracay. But if you’re looking for a place to snorkel with turtles, enjoy some beautiful diving, watch the sunset, and generally take it easy, it’s just about perfect.
Homes, lodging, and all human civilization are clustered on the southwest part of the island. Which means one arrives right in the middle of a marine turtle sanctuary. While snorkel gear makes it easier to swim with the turtles and see other creatures, it’s not necessary. The water is shallow enough that if you prefer, you can simply sit and watch the turtles. None of these pictures is zoomed-in, I was truly this close to more turtles than I can count.
Then there’s the coral reef and the diving. The reef on the east side of the island was battered by typhoons so the dive shops aren’t taking divers over there. But there’s enough life on the west to keep a diver happy for days. Including a great drift dive starting near the northern tip of the island that ends with a prolonged safety stop amidst some of the healthiest coral I’ve seen.
And when the underwater visibility isn’t great or the day of diving is over, there’s a nice walk up to a lighthouse. I sat up on the hill for hours one afternoon, writing in my journal, reading, and enjoying the breeze.
Aside from what I’ve mentioned above, there isn’t much to do on Apo Island but that’s a huge part of its charm. I had plenty of conversations with children who called out to me as I walked by; spent hours on the beach reading and napping; talked to other travelers; and loved being disconnected from the rest of the world for a few days. It isn’t for everyone but for those truly looking to unwind, it’s yet another paradise in the Philippines.
From Dumaguete, the cheapest and easiest option is to hitch a ride with Harolds Diving. Sign up at Harold’s Mansion the night before for a boat ride to Apo Island, pay 250 Pesos (around $5.50) and hop on the truck heading to Dauin with the divers and snorkelers heading to Apo for the day. If your timing doesn’t allow you to leave before 8am, then get a jeepney, bus, or tricycle ride to Malatapay and take a boat for 300 pesos. There’s no regular schedule so getting one is a matter of hoping for the best. And you may need to charter a boat of your own if the public boat doesn’t show up or there aren’t enough people for the crossing. I’m not sure what current rates are for this ride but I believe it’s around 2500 Pesos ($56).
From Siquijor, get a group of six together and hire a bangka or, if Coco Grove Resort has a day trip planned, hitch a ride for 1,000 pesos (around $22.50). If those options don’t work, head to Dumaguete and make the trip from there.