Apo Reef Natural Park

Ever wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef but can’t afford it yet? Fret not, my friends. Keep calm and go to Apo Reef instead.
Often overshadowed by Tubbataha Reef, Apo Reef is actually the largest contiguous coral reef system in the country and the second-largest in the world. Located 15 nautical miles west of Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro, its remoteness is both a blessing and a curse. It takes about 12 hours to reach Apo Island by land travel.

You’ve heard of the expression ‘It’s the journey, not the destination’, right? Well it was the opposite in our case. Our supposed 9:00 pm Dimple Star bus ride arrived close to midnight, and even though we had reservations, some of us were seated on stools. The conductor promised that they will be seated as soon as some passengers disembark at Batangas Terminal. Two hours later, we reached the terminal and everyone had to disembark to transfer to the RoRo.
Aah the RoRo ride…although uneventful, was the most uncomfortable ride I had, to date. The seat cushion, or lack thereof, looks like it hasn’t been cleaned for decades. And oh, it was humid too because there was no air conditioning. The two hours or so seemed like eternity. And I felt like I needed a chiropractor by the end of the trip.
When we got back to the bus, we were surprised that new passengers got seats, so our trip organizer got pissed. Itago natin siya sa pangalang Dom. To be fair, it was not the new passengers’ fault. It was the conductor’s responsibility. Anyway, we continued with the journey after the hubbub.
The town of Sablayan is about three hours away from San Jose. And if you had a driver like ours, who A) doesn’t seem to know the concept of safety and B) is a frustrated F1 racer, by the end of the trip you’ll know how it feels like to be thrown inside a tumble dryer. My advice? Do yourself a favor and just fly to San Jose.
Can you spot the birds?
We were immediately served breakfast upon arriving at Sablayan’s tourism office. And after freshening up and changing to our beach clothes, we left town to head to the port. After an almost 3-hour boat ride, we got our first glimpse of the emerald green waters. Our boatman had to be really careful as we passed by as to not damage the corals.
Everyone got giddy as we approached Apo Island. It is one of the three islands in Apo Reef; the other two being Apo Menor (Binanggaan Island) and Cayos del Bajo (Tinangkapan Island). I actually squealed as I set foot on the island. No kidding! The sand was so creamy I wanted to scoop and eat it then down it with the crystal clear water.
There are no accommodations on the island, so we rented tents from the tourism office. We then had lunch after setting up camp.
The shoreline on this side of the island is dotted with slippery rocks.
After lunch and a bit of rest, our guide took us to the other end of the island where we could snorkel. Some of my friends saw different types of corals, schools of fish and even a green sea turtle. Me? Well, I found lots of sea cucumbers near the shore. :p

Next on the agenda was to catch the sunset from the lighthouse. Ideally, we should’ve passed through the mangrove forest and take the raft to cross the lagoon. Alas, the raft was not available that time so we just had to walk to get to the lighthouse. 🙁Definitely not for acrophobics

Apo Reef was declared as a Protected Area under the category Natural Park

We went back to camp for dinner then socials on the beach.

No electricity, no mobile phone signal, no problem
There weren’t a lot of stars that night, but I guess I can also tick off Item #23 now. 😀 We also had a full moon, so sharing horror stories was fitting. We eventually dozed off one by one, thanks to shots of brandy.
Photo credit: Lilac Landicho


Yes, we slept on the beach under the moon and stars, and got woken up at 2:00 am by a green sea turtle. It was huge! I think it was trying to find a spot to lay its eggs, but people were hounding it. Poor thing. 🙁

Don’t you wish you could wake up to this kind of view every day?
Photo credit: Claire Madarang
First order of business the following day was snorkeling. I was excited about this because I know we didn’t have to exert much effort. We went down one by one as soon as we reached the drop, and as expected, us non-swimmers just held on to the rope and the boat just pulled us around.

It’s a really nice feeling – hovering above the corals. At times I felt like hitting a ‘wall’ of them. That’s how abundant it is. I was amazed by large blue starfishes and I think I saw a baby shark too. And while I did not find Nemo, I think I saw a school of his friend, Dory (regal tang).

Our snorkeling was cut short because everyone felt an itchy and stinging sensation probably due to sea lice. Most of us had rashes and bumps. At dahil hindi ako masyadong prepared, may dala akong suka. The rashes subsided after a while and the itchiness was alleviated. So just to be safe, wear a rashguard.Move over Rainbow Brite

We went back to the island at around 9:00 am to break camp and left an hour later. After enduring the three-hour boat ride back to Sablayan, we hurriedly showered and got ready so as not to miss our 2:30 pm bus ride only to find out they reserved us for the 5:30 pm trip instead. They said it was to ‘save us from the hassle’ of waiting at Abra de Ilog for the next RoRo trip that won’t be until 10:00 pm. *facepalm*
Since we can’t do anything about it anymore, we just laughed about it over what we dubbed as the saving grace of Sablayan: pearl shake. lol

Photo credit: Dong Ho

RJ, Me, Jherson, Natz, Claire and Dom

Well whad’ya know? Item #4 got ticked off from the list too. 😀
This is what I love about traveling with fellow travelers; no one throws a fit even when things go haywire.
‘Til our next adventure, eskapo group!