Thursday, February 20, 2014

Apo Reef Travel Guide

Part 2 of Sablayan and Apo Reef Series
Apo Reef is the 2nd largest contiguous coral reef in the world and the Philippines' largest. It is well noted for its wide area of coral reef that divers are eager to explore. Being a part of the country's natural reserve and protected area, the undersea features are astounding due to vast corals underneath and various marine species that swim under it. Aside from a coral reef, it has an island with fine white sand, uninhabited and secluded being 48 kilometers away from the shores of Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro to which it is directly administered. Know how to get to this reef and know why we consider this island escape as the best in the Philippines as of yet.

How to get there?

To get to Apo Reef, you need to rent a boat big enough to travel the wide Sulu Sea from Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro. Usually, you can contact the town's tourism office so they can refer you to a resort that would schedule you for a trip to the reef. The transportation to Apo Reef is noted for being expensive. In fact, when I was there on a solo backpacking trip, I hardly find any Filipinos and the group where I joined to get there are composed of Australians, Canadians, Germans and Dutch. Even our dive master is a Czech national.

Boat to Apo Reef - Schadow1 Expeditions
Boat to Apo Reef

Previously, the transportation fee last year (2012) to Apo Reef only costs Php7500 on a boat that can carry up to 10 passengers including the boatman. However, this year, it was increased to Php 8500 for a daytrip and a P9500 overnight. And this does not even include the environmental fee which costs Php 540 and a guide fee which costs Php 750 to which personally, you do not need at all. These figures were given by the tourism officer in Sablayan Plaza.

I was there on an unplanned trip where I just went there directly without any reservations. It is not advisable to go there without any reservations to the Sablayan Tourism Office because most of the time during weekdays, there are only few people with scheduled trips to Apo Reef. The fewer you are, the more expensive it can be, unless you have funds to shoulder the cost going there alone or on smaller groups.

On weekends, there are more people planning to get there. But because of limited boats that can go to Apo Reef, it also gets full faster. It is still best to schedule the trip at least a week in advanced to the tourism office.

Sablayan Eco Tourism Office - Schadow1 Expeditions

The Sablayan Tourism Office can be contacted at +63 (915) 9953895 and look for Norie.
Website (Coordinates N12.84746 E120.77975)

One thing to note: Be aware that the usual jump-off island to Apo Reef which is the Pandan Island Resort at Pandan Island has a different and more expensive rate than the standard rate of Sablayan Tourism. The cheapest package they have is worth Php1890 each for a group of 8-10 people making the boat ride as high as P18,000!

Coming from Manila, you can reach Sablayan in various ways:

1. The nearest airport to Sablayan is at Mamburao Airport which is only less than an hour away from Sablayan however this airport is only used by small aircraft.

2. Chartered amphibious planes can land on the sea beside North Pandan Island which is the usual island jump-off to Apo Reef that is still 48 kilometers away.

3. Drop-off at San Jose Airport in Occidental Mindoro and ride a Dimple Star bus to Sablayan for about 2-3 hours.

Ride a Dimple Star bus at Cubao, Pasay and Alabang (coordinates N14.41510 E121.04647) for Php 800 which already includes the Roro fee and terminal fee for Batangas port. From Alabang it is a 2-3 hour bus ride to Batangas City Port (coordinates N14.41510 E121.04647) before it will cross on a roro vessel for 2 hours before you reach Abra de Ilog port of Occidental Mindoro. From there is a 3.5-hour bus ride to Sablayan. Drop-off at the Sablayan Plaza to get to the tourism office.

Batangas Port - Schadow1 Expeditions
Batangas City Port loading to Roro

Alternatively, if you want to save about Php100, you can ride a bus to Batangas City Port at the back of Metropolis Mall Alabang for Php 136, then ride a Dimple Star Bus parked inside the port for Php550 (includes the roro fee worth Php260) and pay the terminal fee at the port which is worth Php 30.

The Roro departure schedule at Batangas City port to Abra de Ilog is every 2AM, 6AM, 10AM, 6PM, 10PM.

Accomodations in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro
The cheapest accommodations are at Sablayan town to where the range is from Php200/night per person to Php 800/night.

I stayed at Emily Hotel (coordinates N12.84196 E120.77396) which is a guesthouse with the cheapest accommodation possible at Php 200 per night. It includes a small room with a single bed that is non-airconditioned and has a shared bathroom. The rooms are clean. They have a dining area and cook-to-order food. The staff who are all relatives of the owner are kind but this guest house is not suggested to those who wanted to stay on a more "luxurious" and more comfortable stay.

Emily Hotel Sablayan - Schadow1 Expeditions

You can opt to stay at Pandan Island (coordinates N12.85734 E120.75343) which is the best place to stay because of its fine golden sand and being a beach island resort which is about 20 minutes away from the main town. You need to ride a boat at Sablayan River which is worth Php200 for one person or Php 550 for 8 people to get there (Boat jump-off coordinates N12.83943 E120.76674) . The accommodation cost starts at Php800/night per person to Php1600/night per person.

Boat Jump-off to Pandan Island, Sablayan - Schadow1 Expeditions

If you plan to stay at Pandan Island for only a day, the day-tour fee is Php150

Pandan Island, Sablayan - Schadow1 Expeditions

Another place to stay which is the same class of Pandan is Gustav's Place  (coordinates N12.85467 E120.77830) however you no longer need to go to Pandan Island as this resort is accessible by land from the town proper.

Accommodation in Apo Reef
There is no accommodation in Apo Reef however there is an unmanned DENR office within the island, it is not open for tourists to stay at night. You may however rent a tent from the resort that arranged your Apo Reef tour to tent-out on the beach. If the tour came from Pandan Island, they do not have tents but you may use their boats with beds to sleep over.

DENR Bunker, Apo Island, Apo Reef - Schadow1 Expeditions
DENR Station at Apo Island

Sleeping over at Apo Reef is safe as 8-10 rangers are guarding the island in a weekly shift to prevent illegal fishers and poachers from entering the reef.

Electricity in the Apo Island of Apo Reef is supplied by solar power and is very limited. Mobile phone coverage is not possible due to its remote location. Be sure to prepare with your camping gadgets if you plan to stay over night.

Food is cheaper at Sablayan town proper as this town is populated. Carinderia or small food stores including groceries and public marketplace are available. If on a budget, before you head on to Apo Reef, be sure that you purchase food at the town proper for your supply.

I have personally tried Camalig (coordinates N12.84720 E120.78122) which is a suggestion by Norie, a Sablayan Tourism officer and is a restaurant that offers authentic Filipino cuisine that has a good ambiance and meal starts at Php150/person.

Camalig Restaurant, Sablayan - Schadow1 Expeditions
Camalig Restaurant, Sablayan

Some guest houses at Sablayan town proper offers cook-to-order meals at slightly higher price than buying your own food from the stores which can also be your option.

At Pandan Island, they offer a dinner buffet worth Php 470 per person and they have a bar as well to relax and get some booze.

Apo Island of the Apo Reef does not have any stores for food or potable water supply so make sure that you have brought your supplies before you leave for the island.

Banks and Finances
The establishments in Sablayan nor in Pandan Island does not accept credit cards. There are three banks with ATMs in the town proper. It is Landbank (N12.83926 E120.77335), UCPB (N12.84327 E120.77668), and Tamaraw Rural Bank (N12.84589 E120.77905).

Things to do in Apo Reef

Needless to say, dive to over 19 dive points ranging from 10 to 20 meter depth including a shipwreck and gratify yourself with abundant corals and marine life.

Pandan Island Resort via Mariposa Diving offers a diving package of Php1650 per dive with complete equipment rental. Each dive is 45 minutes and you can take until 3 dives per day.

The other dive shop is Gustav's Place which offers almost the same price range as of Pandan.
For the coordinates of the dive sites, click here.

Ego Wall Dive Point, Apo Reef - Schadow1 Expeditions
Diving at Ego Wall Dive Point of the Apo Reef

Beach Bum
 Run around, relax, roll-over the fine white sand of Apo Island in Apo Reef.
Apo Island, Apo Reef - Schadow1 Expeditions
Apo Island Beach Front
Apo Island, Apo Reef - Schadow1 Expeditions
Apo Island, Apo Reef

Climb the 101-step lighthouse balcony and get a 360-degree view of the whole Apo Reef. Enjoy the turquoise sea and astounding sunrise and sunset.
Lighthouse Apo Island, Apo Reef - Schadow1 Expeditions
Apo Reef Lighthouse

Lighthouse Apo Island, Apo Reef - Schadow1 Expeditions
Stairs to the Lighthouse Balcony

Budget Travel to Apo Reef
Going to Apo Reef is never a budget tour however below is our run-down of a cheapest possible way you can get to this magnificent place in the Philippines.

2D1N stay at Apo Reef per pax cost for a group of 8 people

  • Alabang to Batangas - Php 136
  • Batangas Port Fee - Php 30
  • Roro Fee to Abra de Ilog (Montenegro/Besta) - Php260
  • Abra de Ilog to Sablayan - Php 220
  • Sablayan Plaza to Boat Jump-off to Pandan Island Tricycle - Php 15
  • Sablayan to Pandan Island - Php 68.75
  • Pandan Day Stay - Php 150
  • Boat to and from Apo Reef - Php1890
  • Food for 2 days (buy from the town proper) - Php 300
  • Pandan Island to Sablayan - Php 68.75
  • Boat jump-off to Sablayan Bus Stop - Php 15
  • Bus to Pasay City all-in - Php 800

Total Expenses: Php 3953.50
If you are a diver and would like to add this up on your itinerary, 3 dives including equipment is Php 4,200

Schadow1 Expeditions was at Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro and the Apo Reef for three days and two nights mapping the town and the reef extensively. All dive sites, and locations mentioned in this article (and more) has been mapped and contributed to Openstreetmap Philippines to promote Philippine tourism and assist in disaster resiliency plans of local governments in the Philippines.

This blog also provides a semi-weekly update of the map compiled to GPS navigation systems to help travelers, drivers and marine navigators in Sablayan and the Apo Reef. It is downloadable for free on our #mapPHL page.

Google Maps (link)
Schadow1 Expeditions Contributions (link)

How to use for your Navigation System (link)

For a more detailed account of Schadow1 Expeditions on its Apo Reef and Sablayan mapping expedition, check on the links below:

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