Apo Reef, a Sanctuary in Occidental Mindoro
All our worries had suddenly faded. Although we were in a hurry, we waited for a little while to fill in the remaining seats. It was around 8:00 AM when we left the central town and traveled the road going to Sablayan.
It was already around 10:00 AM when we had reached our destination. But before embarking to another journey, we went to the market first and bought food and drinks that we will be needing overnight.
I had coordinated with Angie, Sablayan Tourism Officer, prior to our trip. All tours to the natural park has to get through the tourism office. The tourism office organises the boat for tourists – as well as gathering interested tourists in one trip to save up from boat rental. Boat Rental costs about PHP 8,000 which can be utilised up to 36 hours, the boat can load up to 10 passengers. The boat rental is a hefty amount to pay for the 5 of us so I had asked the tourism office if there were other guests or groups that we can join to or vice versa. I was then informed that there were 4 other tourists that will be going to Apo Reef on the same date of our trip, so we had joined together in the boat getting to the island.
We were sailing smoothly within the waters of Occidental Mindoro when suddenly our boatmen sighted pod of dolphins on our way. Our sleeping body suddenly stood up in surprise, and excitedly watched the pod of dolphins playing tamely in the water. It was my first time to see dolphins swimming freely in the wild. As well as my first time to see a huge number of these cetacean mammals.
Apo Reef which is situated within Sulu Sea is a series of coral reefs encompassing 34 square kilometres within the waters of Occidental Mindoro. It is said to be the world’s second-largest connecting coral reef system and the largest in the country. The reef and its nearby waters are managed as a National Park as part of the Apo Reef Natural Part Project. It has a high diversity of corals and has an island covered with terrestrial vegetation which is named as Apo Island.
There were already several tourists in the island when we arrived. It was many but not crowded as the management strictly regulates the number of tourist arrival. Our guide informed us that the maximum guests per day that the island accommodates is 100. We were told that there are also cruise ships that makes a stop over in the island.
When visiting Apo Reef, there’s a park fee that has to be paid by every guests which costs PHP 270 for Filipinos and PHP 540 for foreigners. This fee is good for 48 hours or less from arrival to departure.
The Lagoon and the Lighthouse
The Underwater World of Apo Reef
Apo Reef has a high diversity of corals. This famous reef also has a unique natural phenomena. Its underwater world is home to live corals, different species of fish, marine mammals and pelagic like manta rays, white-tip and grey reef sharks, and in cooler weather, one can also see hammerhead sharks.
It was right after having our breakfast when we boarded our boat again and sailed a few meters away from the shore and snorkelled. Our snorkelling experience in Apo Reef is a unique one as one doesn’t need to make an effort swimming in the open sea.
Ropes are being placed across the boat’s balance beam wherein tourists who wish to snorkel can hold on to these ropes while the boat slowly navigate within the waters of Apo Reef.
The underwater world of Apo Reef is truly amazing. It is very alive and colourful.
We really enjoyed viewing the underwater world of Apo Reef.
This natural park is more than just a beautiful island with rich vegetation and pristine beach, it has its marine sanctuary where an extensive wealth of marine life can be found. A sanctuary that the province of Occidental Mindoro takes pride of.
- Tours to Apo Reef is being organised by the Sablayan Tourism Office. Contact them prior to your trip.
- Our van from San Jose to Sablayan costs about PHP 180 per person.
- Dimple Star has direct bus trips from Pasay/Cubao to Sablayan/San Jose and vice versa. Bus fare costs about PHP 800 per person. Travel time takes about 10 to 12 hours including RoRo. Please contact the bus company for the updated schedule.
- Public utility vehicles may not be available during lenten season most especially on Good Friday. Buses also have a high tendency to be fully booked during holidays so make a seat reservation in advance.
- There are also available accommodation in Sablayan if you wish to stay for a night. We stayed in Emily Hotel. Room rate starts from PHP 250 per person. The lodge is situated few walks away from the public market. You may also contact the tourism office to reserve a room from the lodge.