Definitely one of the best activities in the Visayan region involves snorkeling in Apo Island.
Apo Island is a small volcanic island located at the southeastern tip of Negros Oriental. Its surrounding marine habitat is a marine preserve, with about 400 species of corals and 650 species of fish. It’s also a popular sighting spot for sea turtles!
Apo Island is also one of the best eco-tourism sites in the Philippines. It’s one of the few places to create a balance between tourism and conservation. In fact, tourism revenue benefits the local families in the area.
For casual tourists, Apo Island is mostly known for its sea turtle sighting, but I find the snorkeling experience in its coral gardens just as equally amazing. Here’s my experience at Apo Island in Negros Oriental!
My snorkeling tour in Apo Island
I was staying in Dumaguete City and only planned for a day tour in Apo Island. Since I was alone and didn’t want the hassle of looking for other tourists for boat sharing, I signed up on a joiner tour to Apo Island via Harold’s Mansion.
We rode a jeep to Zamboanguita. From there, we transferred to a boat which then took us to Apo Island.
Swimming with turtles
We stopped several meters from the shore of Apo Island, where the sea turtles can be spotted. We were divided into groups of 4 and assigned a single guide. Our guide beckoned us to follow him as he looked for sea turtles.
We immediately saw one near the shore, but there were too many people so we went a little further. At one point we saw two sea turtles together. The other one — which is the biggest one that I’ve seen, with head the same size as a human’s, if not bigger — stopped to eat some sea grapes. We had time to watch it and take photos and videos.
We weren’t allowed to touch the sea turtles and advised to keep our distance, but it was still amazing. We were so close with them I resisted the urge to hug one (probably a bad idea anyway).
There are also manta rays in this area of Apo Island, but they are in the deeper parts of the sea, about 20-30 meters down.
Snorkeling in wide coral gardens
After the waves had gotten stronger, we went next to two snorkeling sites. I must say, Apo Island features the best underwater scenery I’ve seen as of yet, better even than the Coral Garden in Coron. The corals are diverse and massive and there are all sorts of sea vegetation.
You need to freedive to see the best sights. I’m a modest swimmer and can easily tire, so I stayed on my lifevest and floated from above. Our guide stayed by me and was very enthusiastic to capture the underwater tableau, volunteering to take my GoPro as he dived smoothly down to the ocean floor. I appreciated this gesture immensely, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to see what it’s like at the bottom.
As I was later browsing the videos, I was blown away. It seemed like a natural setup for an underwater-themed magazine. There’s so much sea plants and marine creatures I hadn’t seen before. In fact, halfway through making screenshots from the videos, I stopped and thought, there is too much beautiful in here it was actually tiring.
These are some of my GoPro shots. I just enhanced them a little, but honestly it’s close to the raw photos. I showed some to my friends and they were also amazed.
Honestly, with its underwater grandiose, Apo Island should be one of the highlights of visiting the Philippines.
If these photos aren’t convincing enough, here’s a short video of my snorkeling/freediving adventure in Apo Island:
How to get to Apo Island
Apo Island is accessible from Dumaguete City.
To get here:
- From anywhere in Dumaguete City, ride a tricycle to Siaton. From there, ride a jeepney to Malapatay, Zamboanguita. (Total travel time is 20-30 minutes.)
- Walk toward the port and rent a boat to Apo Island (boat ride 30-45 minutes). You can also look for other joiners to share costs with you.
If you’re going to join a package tour, transportation is usually already covered via a private jeep.
Tours in Apo Island
The tour in Apo Island is reasonably priced, especially given the great experience. A day tour covers the turtle sightseeing spot and two other snorkeling areas.
If you’re solo, I recommend signing up for a joiner tour as I did. I only paid a little more than I would if I did it DIY, and the convenience and helpful guides from the dive center were all worth it. In fact, I’d definitely recommend going for a joiner tour, especially for solo travelers.
I booked the tour from Harold’s Mansion.
- Harold’s Mansion: Website | Facebook | 09173024455 OR 09173024455
- All-in package inclusion: return transfer from Harold’s Mansion in Dumaguete to Zamboanguita, boat ride, fees, lunch, use of lifevest and snorkeling gears
- Schedule: 6AM up to 3PM
- Rate: P1200 per person
Tip: Make sure to reserve in advance to get a confirmed slot.
Hotels and beach resorts also offer tours, but they are usually expensive. I’ve seen prices ranging from P2000 to P3000 per person. Your best option is to look for budget-friendly travel agencies in Dumaguete City.
If you’re planning on doing it DIY, here are the current rates you should take note of (updated as of 2020):
If you’re so, you can wait at the jump-off point in Zamboanguita and wait for other joiners to share boat costs with.
- Boat transfer and tour: P3000 good for 4 pax
- Apo Island entrance fee: P100 adult / P50 kid
- Guide fee: P300 (good up to 5 people)
- Mask and snorkel rent: P100
- Life jacket: P200
- Cottage rental: P300
You can also include lunch for P200 per person. Or bring your own food.
Walk-ins are allowed for the tours. For reservations, you may contact Ate Mila at 09066891049.
Where to stay in Apo Island
Here are the places you can stay at in Apo Island:
- Apo Island Beach Resort: Website
- Liberty Lodge and Dive: Website
- Mario Scuba Diving and Homestay: Website
- Ronors Lodging House
- H-H Rooms for Rent
There are also regular and dive resorts which are close to Apo Island by boat, located at either Zamboanguita or Dauin. Some of these are:
- Allura Resort Dive and Spa. Located in Zamboanguita, this is a highly rated resort that is close to Apo Island. Book discounted rooms here.
- Thalatta Resort. Located in Zamboanguita, this is another good option especially for divers. It has its own beach and is close to Apo Island. Book discounted rooms here.
- Acqua Dive Resort. Located in Zamboanguita, this is a peaceful resort where you can hang out at the pool or garden or take a boat trip to Apo Island. Book discounted rooms here.
If you’re only on a day tour, it’s best to stay in Dumaguete since it’s the gateway to other attractions in the region. Book discounted rates in Dumaguete.
Tips and reminders
- Make sure to bring reef-friendly sunscreen!
- Don’t forget to bring a bottled water, as the activity can get pretty tiring.
That’s it for our travel guide to Apo Island, Negros Oriental. What do you think about snorkeling and swimming with turtles in Apo Island? 🙂
What to read next:
Are you into snorkeling and freediving? Check out these places:
- Pagkilatan (Batangas)
- Apo Reef (Mindoro)
- Apo Island (Negros Oriental)
- Moalboal (Cebu)
- Best snorkeling spots in Southeast Asia
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Katherine Cortes is a 30-something freelance writer/editor. She likes beaches, snorkeling trips, and relaxing staycations (preferably with bath tubs!).