Apo Reef (Occidental Mindoro, PH)
“When you set out on your journey, pray that the road is long, full of adventure, full of knowledge.” — Constantine P. Cavafy
I was excited when the month of March came. It was my birth month and I have planned a number of getaways. Days and weeks passed by only to realize not a single plan I’ve made was put into fruition. I’ve been way too busy with work and other commitments. And that made me feel terrible.
To make up for that one month absence from traveling, I made sure that April would be a different story. So, when an opportunity to FINALLY experience the world’s second-largest contiguous coral reef system (and the largest in the Philippines) came about, I immediately grabbed it without batting an eyelash.
The APO REEF NATURAL PARK is one of those protected areas in our country. Moreover, it is one of the most popular dive sites in the Philippines. Apo Reef is described to be a triangular coral atoll formation that is separated by two lagoon systems. While its primary physical feature is submerged, there are three uninhabited islands/ islets visible on the surface. Apo Island is where visitors/ tourists stay during an Apo Reef visit. The island features a lighthouse, a white powdery to coraline sand beach and a mangrove forest.
A modern 110-foot tall, white painted lighthouse with solar-powered lights is what will greet you upon approaching the island. Then, the boat docks at the pristine shores of the island with crystal clear waters and ivory sand ideal for an all-day swim and basking under the sun. The island’s best kept secret are its mangrove forest and lagoon. They are best viewed when you trudge your way to the lighthouse but are best experienced if you go for a short walk along an improvised walkway bordered by mangroves. A short bamboo raft cruise along the lagoon per se will make the serene experience more memorable.
Of course the best things the place offers are seen under the sea. Take your snorkeling gear or SCUBA tank or maybe just your goggles and dive into the waters of Apo Reef. You will be stunned with the many colorful and diverse marine species you get to see. Swim with a shark, a sting ray, a turtle and more. The marine life is teeming with beautifully intricate corals. (Just don’t touch them, okay?) Too bad, I am not that good of a swimmer hence my tolerance to stay under water can be very, very short.
And oh, did I say that the island also offers a stunning – spectacular – amazing view of both the sunrise and the sunset?
Aside from the main Apo Island, there is also Apo Menor or Binagaan Islet which is chiefly composed of rocks. This limestone island has little vegetation. Cayos del Bajo or Tinangkapan Islet is also made up of coralline rock formations without any vegetation. On the way to Apo Island, one can drop by Parolang Putol Shoal. Some people consider it a sandbar but to me, it looks more like a shoal as it is just a mound of corals seemingly floating atop the emerald water. The shoal seems to be a favorite spot for a flock of birds as there were a number of them when we were approaching the area. The surrounding area also boasts off some stunning marine view.
Unlike any other beaches and marine ecosystems in the Philippines, Apo Reef hasn’t been frequented much by travelers maybe because of the long travel time to reach the place. And that is what I like about my Apo Reef experience. I went on this 3 days, 2 night breakaway with a large group of travel and nature enthusiasts like me. Nonetheless, it still felt like I owned the place by myself. I was able to lie down on the shore, allow my feet to feel the cool, clear seawater, wait for the sun to rise and set, and marvel at the ostensibly infinite merging of the sea and sky.
It has been a while the last time I went for a trip with a bunch of people. I am more than glad to have shared this trip with the people of WeVoluntour (check out their FB page for the group’s future travel events) spearheaded by the always jolly and gracious Sir Ralph (whom I met 4 years ago). Thank you for allowing me to tag a long even if it was a spur-f-the-moment decision to come. If not for this experience, I would have not met more awesome people who share the same passion as I do – that is to travel and live life with or without hugot.
Special shout out to the group of HSBC peeps who adopted me to be a part of their super happy group… For allowing me to eat with you, laugh with you, camwhore with you, jam with you, sleep in your tent/hammock, pull some hugot lines and be cheesy and free! Thank you Bien, Quennie, Vlad and Kia. Thank you Ate Jhopay and Mam Beth. Thank you for this wonderful experience!!! Looking forward to sharing with you more awesome (and responsible) adventures.
How to Reach Apo Reef:
Apo Reef Natural Park is located two hours (or so, depending on the sea condition) away from mainland Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro. To reach Occidental Mindoro, from Manila, ride a Batangas bound bus that goes to the Batangas port. There are RORO vessel that travel from Batangas City to the town of Abra de Ilog in Occidental Mindoro. Travel time is usually 2.5 to 3 hours. Outside the port, there are vans and buses going to Sablayan. Travel time is around two hours. However, if you want a faster means, book a flight to San Jose (still in Occidental Mindoro). Once in San Jose, ride a van or bus going to Sablayan.
Upon reaching Sablayan, visitors are required to register at the town’s Municipal Tourism Office. You may look for Ms. Sylvia Saldago, the town’s local tourism officer. Arrange a boat ride wherein each chartered boat trip costs around P9,000 to P15,000 depending on the number of passengers and the purpose of your visit (snorkeling or diving).
Take note of the following fees: Environmental Fee (P300/head) and tour guides (P1, 000) for a group of 5 when visiting Apo Reef.
***Thanks to Quennie, Sir Bien, Vlad, Sir Ralph for I used some of your photos for this write-up. 😉
And as I always say, don’t be a wasted soul, be ‘juan’derlust. Take it easy ebri’juan’…