The scuba diving around Apo Island is up there with the very best. Yes, that tiny little bump you can see from your Siquijor sunset is an incredibly special place to visit, and it certainly packs a punch.
Famed for its outstanding coral and thriving sea life, Apo Island is a must-visit for anybody scuba diving on their Filipino trip. Even if you’ve never tried it before, the diving (and even the snorkelling) on Apo Island is too good to ignore.
Although accommodation is limited, wifi is non-existent, electricity barely runs, and provisions are scarce, this little lump of land is a cracker. The views, the sunsets and the peace that come with island life were a highlight for us. And we haven’t even mentioned the hundreds of turtles you’re 100% guaranteed to see.
Our Guide to Apo Island Diving will sort you out with everything you need to know.
If you’re backpacking around the Eastern Visayas, be sure to check out our other Philippines travel guides for more information and handy tips.
- Getting There
- Arriving in Apo Island
- The Snorkelling
- The Scuba Diving
- Where to Stay on Apo Island
- Where to Eat on Apo Island
- Apo Island Summary
- Apo Island Budget Breakdown
There’s no airport on Apo Island. Not even close. Instead, the closest airport to Apo Island is Dumaguete-Sibulan Airport on Negros Island. From Dumaguete, you’ll need to take a bus down the coast to Malatapay in Zamboanguita. From there, jump on a boat across the water to Apo.
You have a couple of options for diving around Apo Island. If you want to experience the best the island can offer, then you should commit to a few days. The cheapest way to get there is from Dumaguete City. If you’re low on time, then you still have the option of day trips from both Negros dive schools and Siquijor Island too.
From Dumaguete City
Firstly, take a tricycle to Robinson’s Mall (expect to pay around P8pp – we managed to squeeze 4 people plus baggage in). From there you can either get a bus (P50 with aircon, P25 without) or a jeepney (P20) bound for Malatapay.
Both run pretty regularly throughout the day, so don’t worry if you’ve just missed one. We took the jeepney as it was leaving sooner – it was as packed as jeepneys usually are but the journey was fine. Let the driver know you want to get out at Malatapay.
All going well, the driver will let you out at the junction in Malatapay. Walk down through the market (only open on Wednesdays) towards the water. This is where it can get a little difficult.
Day Trips to Apo Island
If island life isn’t for you, many resorts in Dumaguete (Flying Fish), Siquijor (Coco Grove) and Dauin (Bongo Bongo Divers) offer diving and snorkelling day trips to Apo Island. However, be aware that these trips can be pretty costly. As in, not-backpacker-friendly-costly. Besides, Apo Island and the diving around it is incredible. Commit to enjoying a few days there, and skip all that time on a boat in a single day.
Organising the Boat to Apo Island
There’s a small ‘office’ in Malatapay. There’s not much else there except Dream Guesthouse & Restaurant, which served up surprisingly good breakfast and coffee. You’ll need to pay a P5 terminal fee to leave.
A wise old lady will explain your boat options to you. They should be written on a whiteboard. If you’re lucky and your Apo Island hotel offers a guide and transfer (Apo Island Resort and Liberty’s offer this service) you’ll just hop straight on a banka. If, however, you’re a backpacker staying at the budget accommodation (of course this was us) then these are your options:
- Private Boat: P3000 total. Can leave straight away
- Public Boat: P2500. 6 passengers – must wait until full. Only available a few days a week (there and back)
On our walk down to the water we met another backpacker walking the other way. He’d waited 2 hours and couldn’t find anybody else for the boat. It was too much for the private boat and so he had to leave it. We were slightly luckier. After waiting around for about an hour (we were 4 passengers) the lady caved and offered us a deal of P300pp, which we jumped at.
WEE TIP: you probably know what the Filipino bankas are like, but we’ve got to warn you that the banka crossing to Apo Island is rough. Really rough. So we wouldn’t recommend it to those with a fear of water. It was one of the sketchiest boat journeys we had during our two months in the Philippines. It was pretty fun at times but yeah, it wouldn’t surprise us to see something tragic on the news about it one day. Stock up on the motion sickness pills.
Chartering the Boat to Apo Island
Now, this is the part we weren’t expecting – pay attention. If only we’d read about this on any other guide to Apo Island. TAKE A DRY BAG. Make sure you’re in a bikini or swim shorts, and that your valuables are all tucked away safe. You’re going to get wet.
To get to the boat you have to walk through the water. Up to your chin. With waves crashing over your head. Seriously, we were soaked. Thankfully, the boat crew carry your big bags high above their heads but the rest is up to you.
We were drowned rats by the time we eventually crawled onto the boat. The boat ride (around 1 hour) is just as bad. Wear the lifejackets they casually offer. Please.
Arriving in Apo Island
The Island Conservation Fee
Once you arrive at the island you’ll need to pay a P100 conservation fee. No getting out of this one, pay up and get on with it.
As you’ve probably guessed, Apo Island is best enjoyed underwater. It’s a scuba diving/snorkelling/free-diving heaven, and if you’re planning to stay for a few days like we did, then there’s certainly enough to keep you entertained.
TURTLES. Everywhere. Yes, we know the clue is in the name, but this is something else. On our first afternoon, we went snorkelling hoping to spot one of the little fellas. The locals guaranteed we’d see one in minutes. Daniel scoffed. We stuck our heads underwater and nearly head-butted one! That afternoon, we lost count of how turtles were swimming along beside us, posing for pictures and chilling in the shallow water.
We rented our snorkel and mask from the stand at beach (P100). You can also get boots/fins for an additional P100 but they’re not really required.
WEE TIP: while you’re at the equipment stand, the boys will try to sell you admission to the ‘protected area’ within the buoys. You need to have a ‘official Apo Island guide’ to get in that special turtle area where ‘the best turtles are’. P300 total for your guide. We politely declined, opting to swim outside the ropes for free, and we’re glad we did. There’s no need to pay to go in that area. Sadly, we saw a lot of clueless tourists stepping on coral and with guides chasing the turtles so they could get the perfect shot. Not so ‘protected’ after-all.
The Scuba Diving
Any Scuba Diving guide will tell you that Apo Island is one of the best scuba diving islands of one of the best scuba diving countries in the world. If you’ve got your OWD licence, you’d be mad not to check out some sights. One of the girl’s in our group was so impressed after a trial dive that she did her PADI Open Water Dive in two days for a brilliant price. It’s that good.
We went diving with Mario’s on-site dive school and were really impressed. Mario is dedicated to training locals to become part of his dive team, and as a result your divemasters know the reefs like the back of their hand. We did 3 fun dives, including our first drift dive, and felt totally safe with our divemasters. We cannot recommend Jed enough as a Dive Instructor – he really is a credit to Mario’s legacy. Flexible, positive and professional.
WEE TIP: the diving on Apo Island is incredible, but it can be deadly dangerous too. Don’t even think about diving without a local divemaster. Please, don’t be an idiot. Some very experienced foreign divers washed offshore a few years ago dead. They got caught in one of the many complex, changing currents around the island and one of their dive computers showed a reading of 100m down. GET. A. DIVEMASTER.
We managed to squeeze in x3 dives on our second day in Apo Island. Our first dive was a straightforward dive, so that the divemasters could see what we were all about. This was at Rock Point West, where there’s amazing coral, colourful fish and just a stupid amount of turtles.
Our 2nd dive was touch-and-go. The currents are apparently vicious, and we took a chance. It’s advised to do the Coconut Drift Dive first thing in the morning. We did it after a tea break, around 11am, and thankfully the currents weren’t too crazy. We loved it. It’s certainly a unique dive, and you’ll see barracuda, tuna, anthias and of course, turtles.
The 3rd dive was Largahan and it was just as impressive. The coral wall was teeming with fish and we saw plenty of nudibranch and even a scorpionfish.
All in, the dives were great value for money and we were delighted with Mario’s team.
x3 dives from P3,600, including full equipment rental and transport
The Legendary Mario
Mario is almost a mayor for Apo Island, and certainly a knowledgeable guide. He takes a protective, presidential role over the island and is an extremely accomplished scuba diver with a lot of interesting travel tales. Astonishingly, he’s logged more than 11,000 dives, and still claims to have only seen a fraction of what his country can offer. He introduced recycling to the island and clearly cares about the place dearly. He has a great family, and even took us star gazing one night. We ended up doing more dives that we’d brought cash for (just in case you’re wondering, there’s no ATM on Apo) but Mario met up with us in Dumuagete a few days later so we could square him up. A living legend.
If you’ve turned in to a prune after too long in the water, there’s also some hiking to enjoy on Apo Island. We recommend watching the sunset at Rock Point view deck. To get there, just ask a local to point you in the right direction for the stairs and it’s pretty simple from there. You don’t need a guide for any of the walking on Apo Island.
For a sunrise adventure, you can head to the Lighthouse on the north of the island. You’re probably best not wearing flipflops for this one. The path is pretty gruelling and we heard the view isn’t really worth it. On our final morning, we watched the sunrise on the beach where the now-closed Apo Island Marine Sanctuary is located (due to the 2013 typhoon which destroyed around 90% of it). It was an incredible sunrise spot, made even better by the 20-or-so puppies watching with us.
Where to Stay on Apo Island
To put it lightly, accommodation options on Apo Island are limited. As a result, we recommend pre-booking. The few options, especially the cheaper backpacker-friendly ones, tend to sell out.
Mario’s Guesthouse our choice
The only real backpacker option on Apo Island, we really enjoyed our stay with Mario. The team were really helpful via email when arranging our stay, and the rooms were basic but comfortable. You have the choice of four room types (although they were building more when we were there in January 2019) – we stayed in the small double whilst our friends were in the dorm. It worked out around the same price per person. Electricity from 6pm-10pm. Sharp.
Dorms from P300
Apo Island Beach Resort
The luxury choice on Apo Island, this resort even has its own private beach with snorkelling on the doorstep of your private cottage. However, on an island with no running water and limited electricity, how luxurious can luxury really be? If it’s comfort that you’re after, it may be better to stay at one of the highly recommended resorts in Dauin and make the day trip across to Apo Island. The resort offers transfers to Siquijor Island through its sister property Coco Grove – handy if that’s the next stop on your itinerary.
Residence rooms from P2,700
Liberty Lodge & Dive Resort
Good value all-inclusive ‘resort’ with its own dive school on the village beach, you will find a lot of divers stay here out of convenience. They handily have their own transfer banka, so you don’t have to wait about for the public boat. We heard great reviews about the dive school too. There’s also sunrise & sunset yoga every day on the terrace.
Rooms from P800
Where to Eat on Apo Island
Before you imagine hog roasts and smoothie bowls, you need to adjust your dining expectations for Apo Island. If you’re really fussy, think about bringing some supplies with you. Seriously, resources make the same journey as you did over from the mainland and menus are limited to what they have it stock. You also MUST order in advance in the majority of the hotels/restaurants and opening hours vary from day-to-day. Island life bro.
If you’re staying at Mario’s, they provide decent meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) at a reasonable price. There’s usually one vegetarian option and they try change this up with the ingredients they have available. If you’re doing a full day of diving, they bring you back here for lunch – just remember to order it in the morning!
Dishes from P100 (breakfast), P200 (lunch & dinner)
Nicky’s is a casual beachfront restaurant, which seemed to be the only one consistently open throughout the day (others tend to only serve drinks). There’s the standard Filipino style dishes, but if you want a beer you’ll need to go and buy one from the shack at the end of the beach yourself. The owner is really friendly and up for a chat!
This beachfront resort is perfect for a post-dive beer watching the sun go down. Their food menu appears pretty extensive…however when we ventured here for dinner one night they only had around three options out of the whole list. The staff are extremely stand-offish (even by Filipino standards!) and our top tip? Avoid the ‘Spaghetti Bolognese’ like the plague…
If you’ve found our Guide to Apo Island useful, please get in touch with the Comments below! We’d love to hear all about your trip, and whether or not island life was for you.
Apo Island Summary
- Get to Malatapay and arrange your boat transfer
- Pay your conservation fee, check-in and relax with lunch at Liberty’s
- Spend your afternoon snorkelling and turtle-spotting
- Enjoy the sunset from Rock Point
- If you’re really keen, get up for sunset at the Lighthouse
- After breakfast, you’ll enjoy your first two dives, and then lunch
- Finish off your diving in the afternoon
- Try out the sunset yoga next door, and have a few drinks after a long day diving
- You’re up early again! The public boat leaves at 07.00 and you’ll want to be on it
- Mario’s Guesthouse
- Apo Island Resort
Apo Island Budget Breakdown
- Trike to Robinson’s Mall P8 pp
- Jeepney Dumaguete City – Malatapay P20 pp
- Malatapay Terminal fee P5
- Stroke-of-luck-public-boat P300 pp
Total: P666 ($13)
- Small double
- P600 per night (x2 nights)
Total: P1200 ($23)
- Apo Island Conservation Fee P100 pp
- Snorkel rental P100 pp
- x3 scuba dives P3600 pp
Total: P7,600 ($146)
- Public boat Apo Island – Malatapay
- P300 pp
Total: P600 ($12)
Total for 2D/2N: P10,066/$194
The above budget is for x2 people. Food and drink is not included.
This budget breakdown isn’t meant to be an exact record of what we spent, but should give you a rough idea of what you’re likely to spend.
*all currencies accurate at the time of writing (Jan ’19)
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