Exploring and Diving Apo Island
When I started diving back in June 2011 I was so jealous not to be able to spot sea turtles during our dives. I could not believe a place like Apo Island existed wherein sea turtles can be seen just by snorkeling a few meters from the shore!
Getting to Apo Island
Apo Island is located 30 kilometers South of Dumagute City in Negros Oriental. To be able to get there, take a flight from Manila to Sibulan Airport, Dumaguete. From the airport, there are tricycles and cabs for hire. Ask to be dropped off at the Ceres Bus Line going to Malatapay, Zamboangita. Then a banka (outrigger boat) needs to be rented to reach the island.
In our case we were going to stay at Liberty Lodge. They have a private vehicle for hire going to the outrigger boat but we opted to just meet up at the boat pick-up location to save up on expenses and explore Dumaguete City more on our arrival.
From Dumaguete, we asked a tricylce to drop us off at the Jeepney terminal to Trunos Beach Resort at Zamboangita. Estimate time from the Dumaguete station to Trunos is around 45 minutes. There is a Trunos signage at the left side of the street. From there it is a short walk to Trunos Beach Resort to get the outrigger boat pickup of Liberty Lodge. Then follows a super bumpy but enjoyably thrilling 40 minutes ride to the island - get ready to be splashed with water big time!
The Island & Its Community
Getting around the island is easy since it is only approximately 1.5 kilometers from North to South and 1 kilometer from East to West. During our stay there I forgot to buy some stuff and we were pointed at a small store just a few steps behind the resort.
On our walk going to the store we saw a quaint chapel, the signage of apo island with a drawing of two fish with the words 'Apo Island Lives - if they Live', and the rules to be followed in the Turtle Sanctuary. Once we went behind the row of houses and the two resorts near the shore, we saw the community in Apo Island - men playing basketball at a small court, a woman doing her laundry, women chatting in front of the small store while selling souvenir shirts, and late afternoon happy gin drinkers. Everyone was nice and said hi or smiled at us.
Snorkeling and Diving at Apo Island
6am the next day we were all giddy to start snorkeling. The receptionist at Liberty Lodge tipped us that we could see sea turtles while snorkeling just a few meters from the shore. True enough, after around 5 minutes of snorkeling at seven feet of water, we saw a sea turtle feeding! Other marine species we saw while snorkeling at said depth were a 'Nemo' or Ocellaris Clownfish and a Sea Cucumber.
Trip Tip: The best place to spot the sea turtles by snorkeling is to swim straight towards the buoy. You may ask the people cleaning the shore to point you to the direction. Also, according to them we could have seen more turtles if we came in the water at a bit later time at around 9am.
After snorkeling we went diving with Paul's Diving which is the dive center at Liberty Lodge. Apo Island has twelve dive spots: Ulo, Cogon, Mamsa, Kan-Uran, Sanctuary, Rock East, Rock West, Katipanan, Chapel, Boluarte, Largahan, and Coconut. Sadly the Sanctuary was destroyed early 2012 because of the earthquake that hit Negros. The corals are still currently recovering.
We asked our Dive Master for the day, Yan, to bring us where there are a lot of Sea Turtles. He suggested the 'Chapel' which is the same direction from where we snorkeled. For our second dive we asked him to choose for us and he chose 'Coconut' because according to him we could see big species of fish there.
Dive 1: Chapel Dive Site
08:30am; 50mins underwater; maximum 20m/65ft; visibility 20m
Highlights of our dive: The Chapel had lots of live hard corals and beautiful soft corals. First marine specie we spotted was a sea snake which swam gracefully on the corals. Then Yan pointed to a large green sea turtle resting peacefully by the corals. It was so unmindful of the approaching divers. After taking a lot of photos of the sea turtle, we saw a flounder during our safety stop.
Dive 2: Coconut
10:30am; 45mins underwater; maximum 20m/65ft; visibility 18m
Highlights of our dive: A lone huge Trevalli swam slowly in front of us. We also saw a big Trigger fish feeding on the coral. It was so big that it made the Moorish Idol minuscule The school of Big Jackfish was also a magnificent sight as they swam in a synchronized manner.
Sad to Bid Farewell
We had a wonderful time diving, but as with all things, our vacation had come to an end. On our way to our boat back to Zamboangita we passed by the community at the back of the shore and saw the island's water supply and school which were all built via donations. There was also a signage of the Marine Sanctuary and lots of mangroves.
Our trip to Apo Island was so surreal. It has become our number one recommended place to visit to our friends and we will definitely go back to dive on the other spots or just rest and snorkel by the beach.