Your Guide: Apo Island Marine Sanctuary

  • Monday, February 06, 2017

Do you want to swim with sea turtles? If your answer is a yes, then this exciting underwater adventure is for you!

After seeing some awe-inspiring photos on instagram with people freely swimming with sea turtles I was immediately convinced that this island should be on my travel list! So together with the clinic team, we took advantage of the good summer weather and planned a trip to Apo island for the weekend.

The island is located 7 kilometers off the coast of Zamboanguita in the southeastern part of Negros island. Its name is derived from word “Apo” which means grandchild in the local dialect. The island is a marine sanctuary and is considered one of the best dive spots in the country housing more than 650 species of fishes and over 400 species of corals. No wonder why this island was also included as one of the top 100 best diving sites in the world.

Off to an early start!
We arrived very early in Dumaguete city at around 4:30 in the morning after approximately a 4-hour ride from Bacolod city riding a private van. Then we headed to a roadside eatery at the boulevard to fill our growling stomach with a hearty breakfast and then headed to the Ceres Bus Terminal to catch a bus going to Malatapay market.

After around 30-40 minutes of travel we arrived at Malatapay market. The market is just an alley lined with makeshift stalls on both sides. The entire place was empty when we arrived, it felt like we were walking in a ghost town! Apparently it was still very early in the morning and the market day is on a Wednesday so it was somehow expected that the market will be devoid of traders. From here, we just walked straight ahead for around 5-10 minutes going to Malatapay Wharf.

Archies Notes: If you happen to go here on a Wednesday, it is their market day so you may buy your supplies here like water and snacks before heading to the island. The prices of these commodities in the island are twice as much as you would buy them here.

Getting a Ferry Boat to the island.
Transportation to the island is pretty organized where you need to register at the boat post at AMAPOI (Association of Malatapay and Apo Island Pumpboat Operators Inc.) for you to be queue for a boat. If you are traveling alone or in a small group and you choose to join other groups they charge you 350 per person round trip. If you wish to rent a boat, the usual rate for small boat is 2000 php round trip good for 4 persons and 3500 php for large boat good for 10-15 persons. These rates are applicable for day trips only, if you’re going to stay for a night on the island you’ll need to add extra 400 php

 Archie’s Notes: There are no fixed schedules of boats going to and from the island because it all depends on the number of passengers going there. This means that if you travel on off peak season and there are less tourist going to the island, you might need to rent the entire boat to get you to the island otherwise you’ll be wasting time waiting for other tourist to arrive so you can share the cost of the boat.

During our visit there, it was the annual fiesta in the town of Zamboanguita and there are many people from the island going to the mailand. I asked a local if it is possible for a tourist to take the public boat, and she told me it can be done by asking the boat man if you can hitch on their boat. Some boat men would charge a minimal fee but if you’re haggling skills are on point, you might be able to hitch for free!

Travel time between Malatapay wharf to Apo island is around 45 mins to an hour depending on sea condition. It was summer and the weather seems fine when we went there but we still encountered some rough waves. So make sure you waterproof your bags and gadgets as you might get splashed by some sea water along the way. If you have motion sickness problems during travel, it’s better to take anti-dizziness pill ahead of time for a more comfortable ride.

Touchdown Apo Island.
Apo island is clearly visible from Malatapay wharf giving you the impression that it is very near, however it will take you an hour travel to reach the island. As we come close to the island we were welcomed by this stunning rock formation which locals call “Boluarte” that seems to float in clear blue waters. You guessed it right. I feel like jumping out after seeing that gorgeous waters of Apo!

After docking, we were advised to proceed to the tourist center and DENR station of the island where we paid the necessary admission & environmental fees.

Archie’s Notes: Discounted fees are given to locals of Negros Oriental, students and senior citizens. So make sure to bring your ID’s when you go there to avail the discount.

Where to stay in the Island?
After paying the necessary fees we immediately look for our homestay in the island. Apo island is a pretty small island with its own community. According to a local they are one barangay that belongs to the municipality of Dauin. There are only a few homestay and resort in the island and most homestay host guest for weeks or more because the guest are taking diving classes there, so it’s better you book your stay ahead of time if you plan to stay there for a night. These are the accommodations we found in the island:

LIBERTY HOMESTAY- this is not a fancy resort but a homey lodge with decent amenities. It actually sits on a cliff so you have to climb several steps from the entrance to get to the resorts reception and dining area where you will be welcome by a picturesque view of the sea and beyond. We stayed at this resort after canceling our reservations at Ronor’s Homestay. What we like about the resort is its beachfront location, unsoiled mattress and linens, clean toilet, the tasty meals they serve with big servings & thier friendly staff. For 900 php dorm type accommodation, you get 3 meals already (breakfast, lunch and dinner) which I think is already a good deal! What we did not like was the ventilation of the rooms, since there was no electricity after 10 pm we were forced into fanning ourselves to beat the warmth of our poorly ventilated room. I have to bring my mattress out of the veranda and sleep there because I was sweating profusely inside the room! But I guess if you’re able to score a room with good location like those facing the beach or those perched on the cliff then I guess it’s going to have a good air circulation. You can make your reservations with Ate Liberty Rhodes, the owner of the homestay here:, contact no. 09202385704

MARIO’S HOMESTAY- This homestay is owned by a dive master who also runs a diving shop. The place is also perched on a cliff with verandas overlooking the sea. The rooms are basic with its own toilet. They also offer homemade cooking upon request. Their rates starts at 500 php for a small room for 2 persons up to 1000 php for big rooms.You can make your reservations with Sir Mario Pascobello, the owner who also happens to be a dive master and runs a diving shop., contact no. 09063617254

RONOR'S HOMESTAY- This family run homestay is located deepest in the community. You have to walk 10-15 minutes from the beachfront in order to reach the place. We initially booked this homestay because it’s the cheapest we found in the island. It offers 150 php per night for dorm type accommodation and 500 php per night for a room accommodation and it comes with free breakfast for the room accommodation. After checking the rooms and its amenities, our group decided to transfer to other homestay. What we did not like is the location, the ventilation of dorm-type rooms and the cleanliness of the shared toilet. My friends are not so used to this kind of accommodation but if you’re a backpacker on a very tight budget, I would recommend the place as long as you don’t set any expectations or keep it to the lowest I guess. You can make your reservations with Ate Nors, the owner of the homestay here: contact no. 0915 775 2422.

APO ISLAND RESORT- this resort is located in a separate cove from the rest of the island where it has its own beach with crystal clear waters and an exclusive view of the stunning rock formation. If you want to have a more exclusive and quiet stay in island and doesn’t mind spending a little extra, this resort is for you. But if you just want to do a little sightseeing and swimming in the area, you have to pay 100 pesos for the entrance fee which comes with one free drink. Not a bad deal at all! =) You can check out their website for the room rates at or you can email them at

Archie’s Notes:  Fresh water and electricity is limited on the island. The main source of water there is from a spring which is brackish water and fresh clean water mainly comes from the mainland or from the rain so make sure you conserve water. Electricity is from solar panels or generator and they are usually on schedule. It is only available from 6 pm to 10 pm. This is only the time when you can charge your phone and cameras.

Must do activities in the island.
After settling down and changing into our swimming attire, we immediately headed to the beach to do some little exploring of the island. I am outlining here the activities you should do in the island.

SNOREKELING - this is what Apo Island is popular for. Tourists come here to snorkel and dive and if you’re lucky you’ll get a chance to swim with the sea turtles. Before you can go snorkeling, you need to hire a guide and pay the snorkeling fee. One guide is required for 4-5 persons. Floatation device, Snorkels, aqua shoes and flippers are also available for a fee. Snorkeling fee in the sanctuary is 50 php person, guide fee is 300 php for up to 4 persons, snorkeling gears are 100 php for each gear. After a brief orientation from your guide of the do’s and don’ts you’ll be ready to meet the underwater celebrity- the sea turtles! Apo Island is one of the few marine sanctuaries in the country where you can swim side by side with these gentle creatures in their natural habitat. The sea turtles here are not in captive or whatsoever. The main reason why there are a lot sightings of sea turtles here is because they came here to feed in the rich sea grass in Apo island.

Archie’s Notes: The snorkeling area can become shallow during low tide so you need to be extra careful not to step on or break the corals. You are allowed to swim close to the turtles but you are prohibited to touch, poke, or feed them. You also need to mind your feet as you might inadvertently kick or step on the turtles.

DIVING- this is a popular activity in the island and is highly recommended being on one of best dive site in the country offering you a glimpse of the rich marine life in the island. According to dive masters, there are 8 reefs around the island you can explore namely Coconut, Largahan, Balay, The Chapel, Katipanan, Kan Oran, Mamsa, Olo Reefs and the Apo Island Marine Sanctuary. I was able to inquire about the diving cost at Liberty Homestay and they charge 2500 php for one dive for those who doesn’t have a license, 1500 if you have a license and for a 1-week diving lessons is 19,000 php. Something I probably would do someday!

SWIMMING- the island has a beautiful white sandy beach but only with a small shoreline. Swimming in its crystal clear water is a bit challenging as it tends to have a rocky bottom on the middle part of the shore. So be careful when you swim and I would advise you wear booties or aqua shoes to avoid injuring you foot. Ouch

HIKING- just beside the main beach near Liberty homestay there is a hiking trail that leads up to the hill where Apo Island lighthouse is located. The trail is well-established with concrete stairs and iron-pipe railings on the first few meters ascent. After around 20-30 minute walk, you will see a modern solar-powered lighthouse and not too far from the structure is the original lighthouse what looks really vintage and picture worthy. The sunrise is best seen on these part of the island.
Aside from these, there isn’t really much to do on the island. But I think it’s a big part of its charm. With very limited electricity you’ll be disconnected from the rest of the world giving your more opportunity to enjoy the simple things you often take for granted when you are surrounded by all the distractions of the modern world.

How to go there?
To get to Apo Island, you need to pass by Dumaguete city where busses and van leave regularly bound  for Zamboanguita.

From Manila, regularly flights are available going to Dumaguete which is the capital of Negros Oriental. From the airport you may hire a tricycle to bring you to Dumaguete city bus terminal.

From Cebu city, you need to travel by bus to Liloan Port in the town of Santander to catch a ferry going to Sibulan Port in Negros. It’s just a short ferry ride and the fare is around 70 php one way. Then from Sibulan, you can take a jeepney or tricycle to bring you to Dumaguete city bus terminal. The usual fare is around 60-70 php per person.

From Bacolod city, there are regular buses traveling to Dumaguete city via Mabinay for 5-6hrs. The fare is 280 php for airconditioned buses. Note that the buses going to Dumaguete is in South Ceres Bus Terminal. You will be able to shorten your travel time if you travel at midnight as there are less stops and no traffic

Once at Dumaguete bus terminal, take a bus going to Bayawan and alight at the Malatapay Market in Zamboangita. Then tell the driver or the conductor to drop you off at the Malatapay public market. Along the highway there is a signage that says Apo island and you need to be on the lookout for this. If you have GPS, Waze or Google map better switch it on and track your destination because there is a big chance that the conductor might forget it. Malatapay is around 22 kms from Dumaguete city and it’s a little over 30 minutes of travel. We took the airconditioned Ceres bus and paid 50 php to Malatapay, 30 php if its a non-aircon bus.

Another option is to take a jeepney going to Zamboanguita. Just ask a tricycle to drop you to the jeepney terminal going to Zamboanguita which is located near Robinson’s mall. At the terminal ride a jeepney for Zamboanguita and tell the driver to drop you off at Malatapay market. The fare for the jeepney is 20 php.

What do I need to bring?
Make sure you have these essentials if you plan to stay overnight. My list may vary depending on your needs but these are the things I believe would be useful for a more stress free stay in the island:

Swimming and Snorkeling essentials: Rashguard and  board shorts or any swimming attire that dries fast
aqua shoes or slippers to protect your foot from sharp stones or sea urchins. Mask and snorkel if you’re not comfortable renting gears that has been used by strangers.

Protective gears against the sun harmful UV rays: sunblock, sunglasses and hats, sarong and towels

Personal needs: Liters of drinking water, toiletries, medicines, mosquito repellant, Waterproof camera

When is the best time to visit?
Snorkeling with sea turtles is available all year round, but according to our guide the best months to go during dry season in the Philippines which is March to May. Other months cannot guarantee sunny weather but the marine biodiversity can still be appreciated even during monsoon season.

So what do you think? Can you now include swimming with sea turtles in your bucket list? Let me end this article in saying that these sea turtles are wild animals. That being said, they do not want to be touch, poke, provoke or held in captive. We are lucky to have this opportunity to see these gentle creatures up close in Apo island, because unlike the mountains and monuments, wildlife encounters comes with no guarantee.

Let’s all practice responsible tourism so that the future generations will be as lucky as we are to have a close encounter with these gentle creatures in their natural habitat.

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