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Apo Reef is a coral reef system in the West Mindoro province of the Philippines. It is the largest coral reef system in the Philippines and the second largest in the world, next to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The reef and its surrounding waters are protected and known as the Apo Reef Natural Park.
I’ve been seeing a lot of attention-catching beach photos in Apo Reef that made me want to go there but I don’t know anyone willing to go to this island for reasons that I will provide below. After I learned freediving, I became a member of a local online freediving group so I get to see several interesting underwater photos of Apo Reef.
Freediving groups arrange joiners tour to Apo Reef but tour dates quickly get fully booked so when they opened a new tour date, I booked a slot right away. Too bad, I wasn’t able to go with Mike as he was staying in the US during this time.
After a weekend stay in Apo Reef Natural Park, I can say that it was an amazing place to visit and I did have a good time with my freediving group but for me, it is not worth it. Read on to know why and decide if a trip to Apo Reef is for you.
Pros in visiting Apo Reef
1. Apo Reef has several amazing freediving spots
Apo Reef, having clear pristine water and rich marine life, is one of the best freediving spots in the Philippines. You will observe colorful coral reefs and fish during your dives. In one of our dives, we were able to spot a blacktip shark, a giant pufferfish, and two lionfish.
While in Apo Reef Natural Park, you may visit the spot where you can dive and penetrate a shipwreck. You may also visit Pandan Island where you can dive with several turtles.
2. Apo Reef is a place to disconnect
Mobile network is not available in Apo Reef Natural Park so it is the perfect place to relax with nature and connect with yourself. Furthermore, use this opportunity to disconnect from work, social media, and other things that may stress you.
3. Panoramic view
Apo Reef Natural Park has a lighthouse and you are allowed to go to the view deck to appreciate a panoramic view of the island. The best time to visit is a few minutes before sunset.
Going up and down from the view deck can be scary as you can see the bottom while climbing the stairs so be careful. It was windy when our group visited the view deck that made it difficult for us to stay near the railings. Nonetheless, we still enjoyed the view of the beach, the mangroves, the lagoon, the rock formations, and the sunset.
4. White beach
You can enjoy a white beach when you visit Apo Reef Natural Park. Yoga and beach volleyball are some of the other famous activities on the island.
Cons in visiting Apo Reef
1. Long commute
To go to Apo Reef Natural Park, you have to ride a bus from Metro Manila to Batangas for 2 to 3 hours depending on traffic. Arriving in Batangas Port, you will buy tickets for a ferry ride to Abra de Ilog, a municipality in Occidental Mindoro. You may buy your meals on nearby local eateries while waiting for your departure.
The ferry ride from Batangas Port to Abra de Ilog will take about 3 to 4 hours. Arriving in Abra de Ilog, we had our breakfast in a market before going to Sablayan.
A van ride from Abra de Ilog to Sablayan will take about 2 hours then we had a boat ride for about 3 hours from Sablayan Port to Apo Reef Natural Park. Note that the boat ride is not comfortable as the wooden seats will make your butt numb. The tarpaulin roof of the boat was rolled on the side for smooth sailing but also exposed us to the heat of the sun. On the other hand, you may be lucky to spot dolphins during the boat ride so keep your eyes open.
Your total trip will be about 10 to 12 hours one-way. This does not include wait time for every departure. In our case, we started our trip at 6 PM and arrived in Apo Reef Natural Park at around 10 AM the following day.
2. No accommodation
While planning the trip, I know I don’t mind sleeping in a tent since this is not my first time experiencing it but during the trip, my back hurt every time I rest or sleep inside the tent. I guess I am not used to sleeping on the floor or ground anymore and I saw other campers brought a thin mattress so this is something you should consider when going to this trip.
Watch the video below to see the campsite.https://thehollapinos.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/IMG_1121.mov
Our 3 days-2 nights tour package with Freediving Buddies PH is at ₱5,950 which includes all transportation fare, terminal, and entrance fees except the roundtrip bus fare to Batangas. It also includes all meals while in Apo Reef Natural Park and Pandan Island.
If you will DIY, the cost of an overnight roundtrip boat rental from Sablayan Port to Apo Reef Natural Park is at ₱8,500 for 1 to 9 persons and ₱10,000 for 10 to 14 persons. I usually like to travel alone or with a friend and ₱8,500 is expensive for 1 to 2 persons. While other boat rentals in other places like in Apo Island allow joining tourists on a trip to minimize cost, boats to Apo Reef Natural Park are for private rental only.
Below is the cost breakdown of other expenses excluding food if you will DIY a trip to Apo Reef Natural Park:
One way airconditioned bus fare from Buendia Terminal to Batangas Port: ₱197
Batangas Port Terminal Fee: ₱30
Abra de Ilog Port Terminal Fee: ₱10
One way ferry fare from Batangas Port to Abra de Ilog: ₱260
Bus fare from Abra de Ilog Port to Sablayan Port one way: ₱240
Apo Reef Natural Park Entrance and Environmental Fee: ₱390 (local), ₱780 (foreign)
Tour Guide: ₱1,000 per group per day
Tent Rental: ₱300 good for 3 persons
Mask and Snorkel Rental: ₱150 per day
Fins Rental: ₱150 per day
You may opt to hire food caterers but they will be included in the carrying capacity of the boat from Sablayan Port to Apo Reef Natural Park. We brought our tents, masks, snorkels, and fins since these are for personal use. Contact Angie Ur Sablayan to book tours and other rentals.
4. Prone to be stranded
There were 3 freediving groups during our trip to Apo Reef Natural Park. On our last day, our group left the park early to swim with the turtles in Pandan Island before returning to Sablayan Port. After a quick shower in Sablayan, our hired private vans took us to the Abra de Ilog Port.
I was curious why the drivers seemed to be in a rush driving to the port. Little did we know, our group leader got information that ferry trips to Batangas Port are canceled due to an incoming typhoon and we were rushing to catch the last trip.
We were able to make it on time but unfortunately, the other freediving groups were left stranded in Mindoro for several days.
Is it worth visiting Apo Reef Natural Park?
Maybe if I was in my early 20s, I will go for this trip over and over again but now that I am in my mid-30s and have travelled to several places, I can say that this trip is not worth the travel time. Some experiences in this island can also be done in other places in the Philippines like swimming with the turtles in Apo Island or diving shipwrecks in Coron Palawan. I am happy to experience this trip but I will never go back to Apo Reef.https://youtu.be/0oLg_HV3nP4