Apo Island is a tiny island located off the southern tip of Negros Oriental in the Philippines. An outburst of the volcanic mountain Talinis on Negros Oriental created Apo, hence the name (Apo means grandchild in the local language). Apo’s impressive rock formations, crystal clear water and tiny native style fishing boats make the island very Instagrammable. But for the real treasures, you have to take a peek under water. 

MARINE SANCTUARY

Apo Island was established as a marine sanctuary in 1985. It’s the longest running marine sanctuary in the Philippines and has led to the creation of hundreds of others across the country! The local community on Apo created the sanctuary with the help of a marine biologist of the Siliman University in Dumaguete. The involvement and support of the local community makes this one of the most successful marine sanctuaries in the world.

The efforts of the local community have paid off. Incredibly healthy and abundant coral gardens, almost no plastic to be found in the water, and very little coral bleaching. The local population is still allowed to fish around Apo Island. As they are dedicated to keeping the marine environment healthy, you will not find many traces of this. 

SANCTUARY FEE
Visitors to Apo Island are required to pay a sanctuary fee. At the moment of writing this is 100 PHP a day for snorkeling and 300 PHP for diving. For diving with a camera, 50 PHP will be added (a GoPro is not considered a camera here). When going on an organized trip, this may or may not already be included in the price. 

Apo Island
photo by Chris Tagupa on Unsplash

MARINE LIFE of apo island

Thanks to the protection of the area for more than 30 years, the marine life around Apo Island is thriving. Out of the 450 species of coral known to the Philippines, as many as 400 of them can be found around Apo Island! Bubble corals, gorgonian sea fans, brain corals and much more, grouped together into luscious coral gardens spread around the whole island. The diversity of the marine life makes Apo Island one of the best dive destinations in the world.

All those corals make for a nice feeding ground, and that’s why you will find as many as 650 reef fish species around Apo Island! Angel fish, Trumpet fish, parrot fish, puffer fish, big schools of jack fish, lionfish, sea snakes, triggerfish… You can see them all (and much more) on a single dive. And you’ll be guaranteed to find Nemo on Apo Island!

Turtle on Apo Island, The Philippines
One of the many turtles around Apo Island

Beautiful and abundant as they are, the colorful corals and reef fish are not the main reason why most people go to Apo Island. The biggest attraction are the approximately 50 turtles that call Apo Island their home. Their presence is completely natural and voluntarily. The healthy reef provides plenty of food for them. Combined with the absence of natural predators and poachers, makes this their ideal home. Apo’s turtles aren’t shy, they’re used to curious humans and don’t mind if you come very close to them. However, feeding and touching them is strictly prohibited. You can even get fined for doing so!

SCUBA DIVING on apo island

That Apo Island is a divers paradise is no secret. Apart from the stunning marine life, what makes diving here so great is that it’s accessible for all levels of divers. Apo Island has something to offer for everyone, from beginners to experienced divers, and from photographers to thrill seekers. Each dive site offers something unique; some of them are perfect for beginners, with shallow water and calm conditions – like Largahan. Others – like Cogon or Coconut with their strong currents – are more suitable for more experienced divers. Follow an easy sloping coral garden on Katipanan, or do a deep wall dive along a dramatic drop off on Chapel. The variety is huge! Are you not a certified diver, but still want to see Apo Island at its best? Find out more about Discover Scuba Diving!

SNORKELINg on apo island

Are you not a diver and not interested in becoming one? First of all, are you sure? Just kidding, people can have various reasons for not wanting or being able to dive. That’s perfectly fine, because Apo Island is also amazing for snorkeling. Many turtles actually stay in the shallow water feeding on corals and posing for pictures. So especially if you’re not a diver, grab yourself a mask and snorkel and jump in that crystal clear water! There aren’t many places in the world where you will see marine life this diverse and rich when ‘just’ snorkeling. 

HOW TO GET THERE

If you want to experience the magic of Apo Island yourself, there are a few different options. 

JOIN A DIVE OR SNORKEL TRIP
Most (dive) resorts on the south coast of Negros Oriental organize day trips to Apo Island. Outside guests can often also join these trips. The shortest boat ride is from Zamboanguita; depending on the conditions and what boat you’re on, it will take approximately 25 – 35 minutes. The boat ride from Dauin takes a bit longer, around 45 minutes. Trips leaving from Dumaguete will take around 1 hour. Most day trips will leave between 08:00 and 09:00 AM. You visit two dive/snorkel spots in the morning, have lunch on the boat, and visit one last dive/snorkel spot in the afternoon. Around 15:00 or 16:00 PM you’ll usually be back in the resort. 

CHARTER YOUR OWN BOAT
Another option is to charter your own boat from the port of Malatapay in Zamboanguita. Prices vary depending on the size of the boat. A small boat for 4 persons will cost around PHP 3,000 for a two-way boat ride. A boat for 6 persons will cost around PHP 4,000, and so on. Be aware that these boats only drop you off at the island, instead of taking you on a full day snorkeling tour. 

BOOK A STAY ON THE ISLAND
Can’t get enough of Apo Island? Why not stay overnight? There aren’t many options and most of them are basic, as facilities on the island are not as developed as on the mainland. That’s of course one of the charms of Apo Island! Since accommodation is limited, make sure to book ahead to avoid disappointment. To get there, charter a boat from Malatapay port as described above or ask your accommodation to assist you. 

WHEN TO GO

Apo Island can be visited year round, but some months offer slightly better weather and conditions than others.

June to September are the hottest months, but usually also bring some storm and rain. You can have a whole week of perfectly sunny weather, but you can also get unlucky as these months are just unpredictable. Don’t let this stop you from visiting Apo Island, as diving conditions are still amazing! And because this is low season, you will get the best bang for your bucks. 

From October to January the temperature will drop slightly, and the ocean is usually a bit rougher during this time of year. If you are prone to getting sea sick, it’s advisable to take some medication before getting on the boat!

From February to May, the conditions are most favorable for diving and snorkeling. Sunny days and calm seas make this the perfect time to visit Apo Island. It is also high season, so prices are higher and you may want to book ahead. 

Do you still have questions about Apo Island or need a recommendation? Do not hesitate to leave a comment or contact me at iris@divinginwonderland.com

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