Why Moalboal is one of our favorite places in the Philippines

No, Moalboal was not part of any plan.

We would be spending three weeks in Cebu, yes, so we knew we would be visiting the town eventually. We just did not plan on doing it that soon.

We were inside a bus approaching Cebu City, having just come from a week-long stay in ATM-less thresher-shark-filled Malapascua Island. We only had P20 left in our pockets, which could carry us only as far as the nearest mall to replenish our funds. It was nearing dark, we had already been traveling for more than five hours, and we had psyched ourselves to collapse into sleep as soon as we arrived—which, until that moment, was supposed to be less than an hour away.

Apparently, that did not happen.

Somewhere along Mandaue before the bus could even reach the terminal, we decided that, yes, we would be going to Moalboal that same day. This meant another three hours on the road. But what the heck! We wanted to see the sardine run!

Panagsama Beach underwater | Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines | Two2Travel.com
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On the other side of Boracay’s White Beach

Bone-shaped Boracay was not well loved. We have always thought it was a hostile place for the average Pinoy with the hard-earned vacation leave and even more hard-earned vacation money. We’ve had more fun for less in other places.

But we found ourselves staying in this island for a month, partly for work and entirely by choice. The people we had met during this time—people with easy smiles who welcomed practical strangers like old friends—compelled us to look at the island the way they do. And in this respect, Boracay the pricey island was shoved, and in its place came an island that’s easygoing, laidback, and generous. It was generous in its natural beauty, and even more so in its people.

But then again we also had to live with things that lead many to call the island a sh*thole. I won’t be calling anybody’s home that, but this doesn’t make the bad drainage, choking traffic (both vehicular and pedestrian), and many other unpleasant images, mostly at the expense of the environment, any less real. They are.

White Beach itself isn’t as placid as I remember it from two years ago, and the changes in the tides have become drastic. There were days when we could barely walk along White Beach from Diniwid, as crashing waves lent some parts practically impassable with the slightest rains.

Diniwid Beach, Boracay, Philippines - by www.Two2Travel.com
Diniwid Beach is pretty when the sun is out, very pretty indeed.

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Tips for your trips: Apo Island, Negros Oriental

Not to be mistaken with Mindoro’s Apo Reef, Apo Island in Negros Oriental is a haven for snorkelers, divers, and those who can live off only 3.5 hours of electricity per day. Yep, that’s from 6 PM to 9:30 PM only, and expect videoke stalls in full blast throughout the small barangay, because after that, everything plunges to darkness and silence until the next day.

Tips for your Trips: Apo Island, Dauin, Negros Oriental

Most visitors who simply want to swim with sea turtles sign up for a day trip with a dive center in Dumaguete. Those who opt to stay the night, meanwhile, have simple board and lodging options. If you’re looking for a fancy holiday, this island won’t give you any lounge chairs and spa treatments, but as long as you know how to breathe through a snorkel, its waters should shut wayward thoughts of five-star holidays off your mind for a few days.

If you’re staying in Dumaguete, this one’s worth a day trip. Siquijor, meanwhile, is more or less an hour away.

How to get to Apo Island





Apo Island is located off the southern coast of the Negros mainland. Depending on the sailing conditions and how big or small your outrigger is, the trip may take 30 minutes to an hour.

The easiest route to take is to fly to Dumaguete, take a jeep to Malatapay market (30 minutes from the city proper), and rent a boat to the island (P2,000 for up to 4 people).

If you are lucky, you can ride with boats carrying other tourists and just split the costs with them.

Alternate routes:
  • From Bacolod (Negros Occidental), take a Ceres bus to Dumaguete (5 or 6 hours; around P250).
  • If coming from Cebu City, take a bus south to Liloan (3-4 hours, around P250). From Liloan, take a ferry to Dumaguete (30 minutes, P62).

Where to stay on Apo Island

Liberty’s Lodge is one of two big resorts at the western face of the island. It’s the single largest beachfront structure and is difficult to miss. The views from their hillside rooms are stunning—we realized as much because the entire property runs parallel with the stairs going up the lighthouse. Rates are between P800 (dorm) and P3,300 (maximum of two occupants). Rates already include three meals a day.

Apo Island Beach Resort, meanwhile, has the most exclusive beachfront location on the island (actually, it’s the only one with the slightest hint of a beachfront in the whole island). It’s enclosed by an assemblage of tall volcanic rocks away from the rest of the establishments but is still easily accessible. Rates start at P800 for dorms to P3,400 per night for the cabins. If it’s any consolation, they do have a generator running till midnight.

We stayed at Mario’s, a dive center slash homestay, whose rates range from P600 to P1000 per night. Their rooms are clean, spacious and breezy, and they offer *probably* the cheapest dive rates on the island.

Other homestays are available farther inland at around P500 per room per night, double occupancy.

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Food was such a bummer. To say the options were limited would be an understatement. When we got there, we had two options: have our meals at our homestay (they could cook for us at P180 per person per meal) or look for stalls that serve cooked food on the island. We tried both and were terribly disappointed both times. Those at our homestay were overpriced considering the kind of ‘food’ we got in return. We did like the banana pancakes they served for breakfast though, and the fact that we could have coffee all day every freaking day. 

We also ate at one of the eateries doubling as videoke stalls one night—their menu was disappointingly familiar (think fried chicken proportions, que horror), but they did have fish for grilling so we opted for that. Well, we didn’t return the next day, or ever.

The best way we could think of is to buy supplies instead at the Malatapay market and just let your hosts cook for you. Or if you cook well, you can just ask to use their kitchen.

What to do / see in Apo Island

Of course, go snorkeling and look for sea turtles!

Who needs electricity all day when you can soak up in its crystal clear waters just a few meters off the shore and have your sea turtle fix until your skin gets pruned? It is worth noting that Apo Island hasn’t always been like this; it was a poor fishing village that relied on dynamite fishing until it was transformed into the country’s first successful marine conservation project.

The marine park office is right in front of the beach, where you can pay for your marine park conservation fees (if I’m not mistaken, P100 for snorkelers and P300 for divers). Ours was already part of the diving package we availed of at Mario’s. Life buoys, lifejackets, snorkels, masks, and fins are also available for rent there.

Hike to the lighthouse.

You’d take the hike not really because you want to see the lighthouse—which is nothing of epic proportions by the way—but to see the sunset from the island’s highest point. From here, you can also see Mt. Talinis from across the seas. The hike takes 15 to 20 minutes through concrete steps.

Dive.

Dive packages range from all-inclusive rates of P1,100 to P1,800. Ours was at Mario’s Scuba at P1,100 per dive. The rate includes DM fee, gear rental, boat, and conservation fees. Liberty’s Lodge and Apo Island Beach Resort also have dive centers.

Although the dive sites at the eastern end of the island are closed, all those at the western end are accessible. I counted at least six, including Coconut Point at the north-western side, which is known for its schools of jacks. This is for advanced divers only though since Coconut Point is notorious for its whirlpool currents. The coral gardens at Chapel’s Point and West Rock Point were stunning and visibility was great.

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Interesting points for photographers

Boluarte, a volcanic rock formation in front of Apo Island Beach Resort. The formation is one of the island’s most popular landmarks. You can also walk further inland to find a mangrove area (we don’t really know which direction it is, because it was difficult to orientate once you get past the maze of houses).

We haven’t explored the other side of the island because it was closed to the public following the storms. The island is giving time for the corals to regrow—which will take years—so no swimming, snorkeling, or diving for now in those areas.

Other options

This was how it turned out for us: We stayed at Harold’s in Dumaguete before heading for Apo Island. We arranged our roundtrip boat rides with them because they were organizing snorkel and dive trips everyday anyway. Total cost is P500 per person, roundtrip, which is half the usual boat rides when coming from Malatapay. We also got a bonus: we were able to snorkel along with the group for the most part of the day before being hauled to our place for the night on the island. It was a very good bargain, considering the dive boat also had this breezy upper deck we were able to have for ourselves. It was so big we could run around and roll over on deck if we wanted to. And they serve humongous sandwiches too, and coffee and tea and fruits are free for your taking throughout the trip. If that ain’t awesome, I don’t know what is.

Harold’s Day Trip packages:

Snorkeling: P1,000 per person, inclusive of roundtrip land transfers (Dumaguete-Dauin-Dumaguete, 30 minutes), roundtrip boat ride (Dauin-Apo Island-Dauin), gear rental (mask, fins, snorkel), and snacks.
Diving: P2800 per diver for 2 dives; P3300 for 3 dives, inclusive of roundtrip land and boat transfers, marine conservation fees, DM, gear rental, and snacks.

If you want to just snorkel/dive in Apo Island, go to a dive center in Dumaguete instead. Harold’s is one, Liquid Dumaguete is another. They schedule dive trips to Apo, Siquijor, Sumilon, and Dauin.

TWO2TRAVEL | Apo Island
Apo Island’s lighthouse

TWO2TRAVEL | Apo Island
Harold’s dive boat departing Dauin for Apo

TWO2TRAVEL | Apo Island | Underwater
Sea turtle spotted at very shallow waters! If you love being underwater, you’ll want to live in this place.

TWO2TRAVEL | Apo Island | Underwater
Isn’t it obvious? We love Apo Island’s waters!

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Photographers will have a field day taking photos of the people as they go about their lives.

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Craggy landscapes make up much of this little island. Just beautiful!

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Beach dogs. They follow you wherever you go.

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Island women station themselves near the beach where boats dock so they can sell their wares to tourists.

Links: LIBERTY’S LODGE | APO ISLAND BEACH RESORT | HAROLD’S MANSION

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Photos: Apo Island underwater

Sea turtles have always fascinated me, and their elusiveness in all our trips underwater made us want to see them even more. This is why we decided that, for this year’s first trip, we would have to just go and see them where they are known to be abundant.

Apo Island underwater | Two2Travel.com

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POSTCARDS: Diving in Apo Island, Dauin, Negros Oriental

We’ve been here in Apo Island since yesterday, and there has been no shortage of amazing sights since. But this one—taken this afternoon during our second dive at Rock’s Point—has got to be THE BEST of them all.

TWO2TRAVEL | Postcards

Our dive master Jed spotted this enormous sea turtle sitting on soft coral at a depth of about 10 meters, keeping the three of us busy for the next five minutes. We’ve done two dives today and saw a total of six turtles in all, plus three more yesterday when we were snorkeling. Forgive us for gushing too much but Apo Island is just SO AMAZING!

Btw this is a screenshot from a video taken with the equally amazing GoPro Hero 3. Loving this powerhouse so far! So glad we got it just in time for our year’s first dive. :)

Here’s a rough cut of our two dives at Chapel’s Point & West Rock Point:

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Table for Two: Iloilo

If there’s one thing we love about Iloilo, it’s the food. And if there’s anything better than the food, it’s the price.

Eating out in Iloilo means dining in well-loved homegrown restaurants and hole-in-the-wall eating places, all of which give you bang for your buck. Fresh, cheap seafood; hearty bowls of batchoy, and below-zero beer with live jazz music—the only thing better than all these is experiencing them during the Dinagyang, the BEST festival we’ve seen YET.

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Portraits from Ifugao

There are some places you can easily go back to over and over again.

Banaue is not one of them.

Our first and last trip (so far) had been almost two years ago for an assignment for AsianTraveler magazine, and back then we were quite apprehensive of the uncomfortably long bus ride, the intermittent drizzles, and the fact that the rice terraces didn’t look their best.

It had been the first week of March, just after Panagbenga weekend in Baguio where it was sunshiny and all, so it was quite disheartening to arrive to wet roads, muddy tracks, overcast light, too much fog, and mountain air that’s waaaaay too cold.

That said, Banaue still surprised.

two2travel banaue

For one, it wasn’t like the technicolor mountain city that is Baguio we see everyday, considering they’re practically neighbors. On those three days, we shuttled via tricycle along one road that snaked all the way to the other towns, a whole community clinging to its both ends, giving way to vast valleys (and of course, rice terraces) down below and to as far as the eyes can see (that is, if it’s not covered in a thick wad of fog, which then was like a pesky fly that wouldn’t go away).

Treading slippery roads and hugging cold mountain air weren’t exactly new, but somehow they put everything in better perspective. We saw a community brimming with life, not so much because it really had to live up to expectations from having a so-called world wonder around, but because that’s how the people have always been in the first place. Its people, after all, are Banaue’s true treasure.

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two2travel banaueMen clump in front of stores at the Banaue market seeking shield from the rains

two2travel banaueA man in a traditional hut, called fal-e, in Hungduan

two2travel banaueOne of the curio shops in Banaue’s town proper

two2travel banaueAn Ifugao woman wearing traditional accessories

two2travel banaueA seller of moma (betel nut), which could very well be their version of the cigarette

two2travel banaueSouvenir shop owner polishing off a wooden pig tray. The Ifugao are such fine craftsmen and artists, and the Rice Terraces are perhaps their biggest work of art

two2travel banaueThe Ifugao man is both a hunter and a warrior. Beaks, horns, and whole animal skeletons adorn their headdresses and neckpieces like medals of honor.

two2travel banaueCrates of dried fish transported from the lowlands

two2travel banaueYoung girl manning a souvenir shop passing time with sungka

two2travel banaueOur guide showing us how the moma is consumed. One folds a betel leaf, with a piece of betel nut inside, and then chews the whole thing. This is an age-old tradition in the Cordillera, practiced until today by both men and women.

“In the Cordillera, aside from helping one pass the time, it ‘oils’ conversation as San Miguel beer would carry barkada talks long into the night and as mugs of steaming barako would bridge several years’ gap between friends…While chewing, the men get to know each other, maybe find a common relation or two and ask about on what’s going on in each other’s side of the mountain. Over moma, the talk extends to an invitation to each other’s ili (town/village), and, in some cases, even contemplating a marriage of their children!” [source: Chewing moma, swallowing culture]

two2travel banaue

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two2travel banaueFarmers taking a break from tilling the terraces. Yes, they’re chewing moma as well.

two2travel banaueThis girl speaks conyo English when selling. Yes, with a twang that would shame all your English teachers. English, next to their local languages, is the most widely spoken language in the Cordilleras.

two2travel banaueChicken trade

two2travel banaueChika in the middle of the street, under the rains

two2travel banaueAn old woman noiselessly sitting in one of the viewpoints. She was, I think, reaching for a packet of moma at this time.

two2travel banaueA stone carver in Hungduan

Have you been anywhere in Ifugao? You should.

Photographing Philippine fiestas

Last year, we made it our mission to see as many festivals around the country as we can. Thankfully, we were able to get on a couple of trips, even if it meant squeezing our pockets dry (and this has been the story of our lives ever since).

Photographing Philippine Festivals | Two2Travel

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The long road to Calauit and back

A month ago, we found ourselves in our longest traveling day yet, where every single minute felt like a long grueling hour, and a supposedly two-hour road trip stretched to five and a half.

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When the map says ‘NO DRIVING DIRECTIONS TO BULUANG’, what would you do?
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Captivated by Coron

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One word: paradise. Coron in Busuanga Island is nothing short of beautiful. Crystal clear waters on lakes and beaches, marine life bursting with color, rugged vistas inland that are difficult to navigate, plus giraffes and zebras and wild boars who know how to open faucets—Coron has them all.
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