Last week, my salt-craving gills found its way to the fabled Apo Island. I returned home with a few new experiences, tons of priceless memories and dozens of photos. Nothing excites me more than sharing my new experiences so the first thing I did as soon as I got home from the trip was transfer the photos from my camera to the computer. Then I started uploading them on my social media accounts. I must admit I really suck at taking pictures, this is one skill I need to learn and improve on. Apparently, the photos were enticing enough and I don’t take any credit for it because when you’re in a place as beautiful as Apo Island, you don’t really need any special photography skills. One photo that got a lot of attention was the one where I took a “selfie” with the Pawikan(Giant Sea Turtle). I didn’t know a lot of people dreamt of swimming with Pawikans until I received a number of queries about where the picture was taken and how to get there.
It always gives me great pleasure to share whatever information I gather during my trips so I’m drafting this little travel guide for everyone who wish to visit and experience the beauty of Apo Island and its inhabitants.
From CEBU CITY
Total Travel Time: Approximately 5 hours
Total Travel Cost: Approximately 800 pesos one-way
From the Cebu South Bus Terminal, take a bus to Liloan, Santander. Tell the driver to drop you off at the pier for Sibulan. The trip is approximately 3 hours.(175 pesos)
From Liloan, take the fast ferry to Sibulan, Negros Oriental. Regular fare is 62 pesos but discounts are given to students and senior citizens(Refer to Photo). It only takes about 20 minutes for the fast ferry to cross the channel to Sibulan.(62 pesos)
From Sibulan, take an “Easy Ride”(multicab) to the Dumaguete City bus terminal. It’s only a 20-30 minute ride depending on the traffic.(20 pesos)
In the terminal, get on any bus that passes by Zamboanguita en route to its final destination(most common are buses heading to Bayawan). Disembark in barangay Malatapay, Zamboanguita where the “Bangka”(fishing boat) leaves for Apo Island. The travel from Dumaguete to Malatapay is about 30 minutes. You may choose between taking an airconditioned bus or a non-airconditioned one or you can even take a jeepnee.(50/25/20 pesos respectively)
Note: Don’t get confused. Apo Island is part of the Municipality of Dauin but the boats to the island are stationed at Malatapay, one of the barangays in Zamboanguita which is the town next to Dauin. Don’t worry, you won’t miss the sign on the road.
From the main road, it is a short 5-minute walk to the tourist information kiosk where you can book a Bangka(fishing boat) to Apo Island. The trips are regulated by the boat operators association so you don’t need to worry about getting scammed since they all follow the same flat rate. Groups of 4 or below can take the small Bangka while groups of up to 8 pax can take the medium-sized bangka. These are round trip rates and travel time can range between 30-40 minutes each way.(Small: 2000 pesos; Medium: 3000 pesos)
Note: You will also have to pay and extra 200 or 400 pesos if you decide to spend the night in the island to cover for the boat’s fuel as they will be heading back to Malatapay without passengers. Let the Bangka operator know what time you wanna be picked up the next day.
Also, you might want to grab some food in Malatapay since it is cheaper there and you have more choices. And more importantly, you need to change into your beach clothes and store any electronic devices in ziploc bags or waterproof pouches before hopping on that Bangka because you will surely get drenched as you make your way across the rough sea.
ON THE ISLAND
When you get to Apo Island, a 100-peso environmental fee will be collected, unless you’re a local(wink*). But please don’t try to talk your way around it. The money doesn’t go to corrupt pockets, it is well-spent by the locals who help keep the island rich by preserving its marine wildlife – the island’s original inhabitants.
There are three well-known resorts in the island. Each with their own dive shops.
1. Liberty Lodge – This is probably the first beach resort you’ll see once you get to the island since it is located right in front of where the boats dock. They have private rooms as well as dorm-type rooms. Their rates include 3 meals per day and they diving packages which also includes accommodation and meals.(800-4000 pesos)
Contact: +63 920 9124593/+63 920 2385704
2. Apo Island Beach Resort – This resort is located on a more secluded part of the island. On the other side of the “Landmark” boulder. It has a more modern look compared to all other resorts but there’s a catch. If you happen to be at this resort during high tide, you will need to walk in waist-deep waters if you wish to go to the town proper. The also offer packages and airport transfers from Dumaguete.(800-3,400 pesos)
Contact: +63 939 9155122/+63 917 7017150
3. Mario’s Scuba Diving and Homestay – From Liberty Lodge, take a short 2-minute walk inwards. Just follow the concrete path and you’ll find Mario’s. They have dorm-type rooms and private rooms as well.(300-1000 pesos)
Contact: +63 906 3617254/+63 919 6223671
Although these are the 3 most popular accommodations in the island, more locals have opened their doors to tourists and have converted their own private homes into homestays. One of them is Mary’s Homestay, where we stayed. They have private rooms for two with your own bathroom and free breakfast(500 pesos for 2 persons). For travellers on a tight budget, there’s H&H Homestay where you can spend the night for 150 pesos. Try haggling and they might just let you stay for 100 pesos.
Note: Prices may have changed but in Apo Island all prices are negotiable. That’s how accommodating the locals are.
Liberty Lodge Restaurant – You don’t have too many food options in Apo Island but Liberty Lodge has their own restaurant with a few choices in their menu. The food they serve is really good. You must try their Apo Island-style fish. Although food is a bit pricey in the island, the serving size more than makes up for the price as they have huge portions.(150-250 pesos)
Fresh Catch – Most homestays serve meals to their guests. Or better yet, wait for the local fishermen with their day’s catch and buy from them. They sell fresh seafoods at a very cheap price then you can ask your homestay personnel to have someone cook it for you for a price of course. Don’t forget to eat “Salawaki”(Sea Urchins) the locals will gladly bring you some and they won’t even put a price on it. They’ll just let you decide on how much you’re willing to give them for a basket of Sea Urchins.(100-250 pesos)
Different Sari-sari stores(local convenience stores) sell beer and local rum but you can’t expect them to be cold when you only get 3 hours of electricity everyday.
Snorkeling/Diving – If you’re looking for fine, white sand beaches, then you’re in the wrong place, since the Island has a coral shore. Apo Island’s main attraction is diving. This island has been listed as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world and true enough, it didn’t disappoint me at all. You’ll get to cruise in the lush coral gardens and feast on the sight of diverse marine wildlife. Not to mention getting to swim up-close with the giant sea turtles(Pawikan) in waist-deep, tranquil waters. And I’m not just talking about 1 or 2 sightings, I’m talking about more than 5 or even 10 pawikans at a time. I highly recommend “”Paul’s Dive Shop” which is still part of Liberty Lodge. Their danish divemaster Tom is very patient and knowledgeable. This is very good especially for first-timers who are at risk for panic while underwater and our local dive guide Arnold knows the whole underwater terrain so well that I felt like he could’ve guided us on our night dive with his eyes closed.
Trekking – As per wikitravel, you have 6 trekking options in the island. The highest point of which is only 120 meters. I personally took the pre-sunrise trek to the lighthouse and decided to wait for the sunrise there even if it was a bit cloudy. To get to the lighthouse, head to Paul’s Dive Shop and you’ll find a set of stairs there leading up to the lighthouse. Let me warn you though, it’s not all concrete stairs. You might have to walk a small portion of rocky trails and narrow pathways between bushy areas but the 20 to 30-minute walk is well worth it. You’ll get to a very good view of the Sunrise and the Lighthouse. And a magnificent 360-degree view of the neighboring islands which include Siquijor and Dipolog.
– Bonus if you arrive or leave from Malatapay on a Wednesday when the “Tabo”(flea market) happens. The quiet place transforms into a market with lots of local food including Inasal(Roasted pig) and lots of seafood.
– Let me repeat, almost everything in the island is negotiable. Don’t forget to bring your haggling skills.
– Be sure to charge your electronic devices ahead. The whole island only runs on generator power and you only get electricity between 6-9pm.
– The marine sanctuary on the other side of the island was badly damaged by strong typhoons over the past years and remain closed to this day for rehabilitation.
– It is a good idea to bring your own flashlight.
– You have a cheaper option of taking the public boat or the passenger boat which the locals use to get to and from the island but you have to wait until the boat is full before they leave. I heard the price range between 150-300 pesos
– Another cheaper transport option to and from Cebu is to take the Pumpboat instead of the fast ferry. It costs 35 pesos plus 10 pesos for the terminal fee. Leaves from Cebu every hour starting 6am until 5pm and from Sibulan 6:30am-5:30pm
– Don’t touch the Sea Turtles. They’re very friendly and might come very close but please don’t touch them.