Not to be confused with Apo Reef – one of the Philippines’ most famous dive sites located just off the coast of Mindoro – Apo Island has also made a name for itself as a must-see dive location. Just off the coast of Negros Island, near the city port of Dumaguete, it has an immense diversity of marine life, and its coral reefs are some of the most versatile and intensely coloured you’re ever likely to see.
OPTIONS FOR VISITING APO ISLAND
If you’re keen to see Apo Island, you have two choices. You can either stay there overnight or make a day tour with a dive or snorkel operator. There’s limited accommodation on the island as it’s very small. The two main resorts are Apo Island Beach Resort and Liberty Lodge. Mario’s Scuba Diving and Homestay is the best option for budget travellers. Visitors should not expect WiFi access or constant access to electricity during their stay. Most people choose to base themselves in Dumaguete, where they can enjoy the perks of civilisation. There are also some fantastic dive schools further south in Dauin, which have the advantage of being closer to Apo Island and therefore having shorter transfer times.
Apo Island became a marine sanctuary in 1982, when a marine scientist from Silliman University in Dumaguete highlighted to local fishermen the importance of preserving the reef. The sanctuary encompasses 450 metres of shoreline and extends 500 m out to sea and, thanks to the community’s dedication to conservation, the island’s reefs are now home to over 650 species of fish and 400 of the Philippines’ 450 documented species of coral.
Largahan is a great spot for macro lovers; Baluarte has continuous streams of bubbles emerging from the sandy sea bed; at Chapel, you can explore caverns and have a good chance of seeing turtles and sea snakes (as well as a small chance of thresher shark sightings!); Katipanan is perfect for beginner divers; Rock Point West has a huge variety of corals and macro life, as well as occasional sightings of manta rays; Coconut Point is often referred to as the ‘washing machine’ because of its strong and sometimes dangerous currents, making it suitable only for advanced divers, but reef sharks, manta rays and even whale sharks have been spotted there; Cogon Point and Mamsa Point are both sites for the more experienced diver, with pelagic fish and jack fish as their respective attractions; Kan-Uran is a gentle wall dive with stunning corals and good macro life; Marine Sanctuary only permits 15 divers a day to visit and, as a result, its corals are incredibly diverse and colourful; and Rock Point East is popular with a large number and variety of fish.
The following video was put together using clips from dives with Liquid Dumaguete at Chapel, Largahan and Katipanan.
LIQUID DUMAGUETE DIVE SCHOOL
Liquid Dumaguete is a 5-star dive resort and the moment you step onto the property you can see why. The centre is beautifully laid out, with spacious equipment rooms, a reception with dedicated and friendly staff, a large swimming pool and a bar and restaurant area. Surrounding this are luxury-style beachfront cabins with ceiling fans or air con, large balconies and private bathrooms, for the very reasonable price of 1600 to 3000 Php per night.
Liquid has won awards for its conservation efforts. They employ local guides with many years of experience, and they offer flexible e-learning courses for those who want to further their certification and experience. Their courses include your standard Open Water, Advanced, Divemaster and Instructor certifications, as well as a wide range of speciality and tech courses. Fun dives start at 1500 Php per dive, plus additional charges for equipment rental, sanctuary fees, nitrox and transport to certain locations.
They add some really nice touches, like providing everyone with a towel to use for the day, and they take great care to ensure your equipment is fully serviced and well fitting. The only issue you might have is with their masks, which have a tendency to slip off on entry and which can cause some discomfort after three hours of diving. If, like me, you know you’re not a fan of material mask straps, see if they can find you a plastic one.
The boat takes about 45 minutes to reach Apo Island from the beach beside Liquid. Be aware that in choppy waters you may get a battering from the waves. Take a dry bag for your belongings and be especially careful transferring from the big boat to the one that has beach access.
GETTING TO LIQUID
Liquid is located a little south of Dumaguete in a place called Dauin. To reach it, you have the choice between a 30-minute tricycle ride for 300 to 350 Php and a jeepney, which costs just 15 Php. The latter option includes a walk of about 1 km at either end of the journey.
DUMAGUETE AND AROUND
Nicknamed the ‘City of Gentle People’, Dumaguete is more hectic than you might imagine. There’s one main road that runs parallel to the coast and it’s incredibly crowded with traffic. As with most places in Asia, you can barely pass along the pavements either, leaving you meandering dangerously among the tricycles.
There’s a young and sociable scene in Dumaguete thanks to the presence of four universities and numerous colleges. One of the most popular budget places to stay is a large hostel called Harold’s, which has comfortable air con dorm rooms, a rooftop bar with a pool table and numerous day tours to Apo Island and the surrounding countryside. It’s also just a short walk from the pier and most of the nightlife along the historic Rizal Boulevard.
Dumaguete is the access point for Apo Island as well as nearby Siquijor Island. Both can be accessed directly from Cebu, but this would cost significantly more. Siquijor island is a pleasant, laid-back place with large stretches of sandy beach and a few decent bars. Most people visit for a couple of nights and spend a day doing a loop of the island by motorbike. Popular sights include some caves and a lookout point near the centre, a couple of pretty waterfalls, and a place where you can jump from high platforms into the ocean.
Nearby Bais City is popular for whale and dolphin watching tours, and Sipalay Beach on the west coast of Negros is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the Philippines.
HOW TO REACH DUMAGUETE
Dumaguete is served by one domestic airport with connections to Manila and Cebu City. By bus and ferry from mainland Cebu, you’ll need to head to Bato in the south. From there to the ferry port of Lilo-An should take about 10 minutes and cost no more than 50 Php. Ferries to and from Simulan port in Dumaguete run every hour on the hour from 5 am for just 62 Php, and a jeepney from there to the centre of town near the port that connects with Siquijor and Apo Island should cost just 11 Php. You can also take ferries to Bohol and Mindanao from Dumaguete. A bus to Bacalod in the north of Negros is 275 Php and takes about 7 hours and drops you in the centre of town about 20 minutes away from the port. If you’re trying to reach Iloilo on Panay from Dumaguete, the last ferry of the day is at 5:15 pm.