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