Apo Reef Natural Park in Sablayan, Mindoro Occidental Travel Guide

By Anne Elizabeth Apolona Gumiran - 5:59 AM

Apo Reef is considered to be the largest coral reef system in the Philippines and second largest in the world next to Australia's Great Barrier Reef. It is a home to a great marine biodiversity making it quite a diver's haven. Wild pods of dolphins, white tip and thresher sharks, Hump-head and napoleon wrasse, barracuda, turtles, sea snakes, eels, parrot fish and a whole lot more will not only fascinate you big time but will gracefully swim with you as well, only a few shying away. A variety of colorful soft and hard coral reefs will also surprise you as you can see thousands of them right under the shimmering waters from above. It also has a shipwreck which is submerged nine to ten meters deep making it accessible to free divers, too. A non-swimmer must be afraid not for its great beauty can still be seen through its crystal waters by snorkeling. Apart from the treasure that lies below the surface, a lagoon surrounded by mangroves, rock formation, lighthouse and pristine beaches can be explored in the island. More so, it is an island of glorious sunrises and sunsets as it will give you the best spots for such sight seeing. Hence, it will surely give you a wholesome experience as it is overflowing with life and beauty over and above the ocean. As a natural park, it is proclaimed to be a Protected Area under the supervision of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Personnel from the Philippine Army are also guarding the island 24/7. Thus, the Philippine Government's agencies work hand in hand to take care of the reserve.

 Apo Reef is situated between the island of Mindoro and Palawan. Actually, Coron, Palawan is visible from the island as it lies on its west. In fact, some tourists opt to travel from Apo Reef to Coron as it is just a five-hour boat ride away from that point.


I joined a three days-two nights tour organized by Jeru Pakingan Cajapin. The event cost 4,800php (for snorkelers and free divers) inclusive of six meals (two breakfasts, two lunch and two dinner), transportation and terminal fees from Batangas port (RoRo, van transfers from Abra de Ilog to Sablayan, v.v. and boat transfers from Sablayan to Apo reef v.v. and diving sites) and environmental fees. The event fee, though, for those who would like to do SCUBA is different. If you wanna do SCUBA in Apo Reef Natural Park, I highly recommend his organized tours since he takes with him a dive instructor/ master in the trip. For his tour schedule, check his Facebook page.

The campsite near the lighthouse

The joiners met at Batangas port at around 9:00 PM to 10:30 PM. We went aboard ten to 11:00 PM, the RoRo's departing time. We took the Montenegro shipping lines. It took us around three hours to get from Batangas to the port of Abra de Ilog. The unloading took an hour so we got off at around 3:00 AM. From there, we walked our way to the van terminal then headed straight to Sablayan. We arrived at Sablayan around 6:30 AM and had breakfast. At 7:30 PM, we left Mylits Restobar where we had breakfast and headed to Sablayan port. It took us two hours to get to the island. Honestly, I was surprised by the stretch of grainy to fine white sand of the island as we approached because I got used to the diving sites in Batangas since they don't have beach at all, lol. The turqouise water around us gleamed as we docked our boat at the shore. Upon arrival, we registered and brought our stuff to the campsite.

The thing I liked the most about joining Jeru's organized tour is that, we get to stay at the less crowded campsite. We have our own group's bathrooms and there's jamming night! For two consecutive nights, we shared laughter, booze, food and good music under the night sky.  It was his kind of social nights.

Where we jammed for two consecutive nights. They set up amplifiers, speakers, beatbox, chimes and guitar here!

In our case, since there were 23 of us, 2 boats were used. The other one took the SCUBA divers while the other took the free divers. We dove at our own phase. We were taken to diving sites for more or less an hour or two then we would return to the island to rest.


You can choose from concrete fan rooms, nipa rooms, tents and hammocks. There are fan (concrete) and nipa rooms available in the island powered by solar energy and generators. Apart from these, you can also rent and pitch tents around. You may also hang hammocks around as there are lots of trees around the campsites.


Nipa rooms (beach front) - Php 1,500.00 good for 4 persons
Fan rooms - Php 1,500.00 good for 4 persons
Tent - Php 300.00 (rented from the organizer)
You can also hang your hammocks around
*NB: There are no charges for those who would be pitching their own tents.


Photo by Neil Victoria

The bridge going to the lagoon


Inside the rock formation; a natural pool appears in the morning as it is high tide.

Rock Formation

Photo by Neil Victoria

Photo by Neil Victoria

Pristine Beaches

Photo by Neil Victoria



From Cubao or Buendia, take a bus bound for Batangas Pier.

From Batangas Pier, 
>you need to take a RoRo to Abra de Ilog. Two shipping lines travel from and to Abra de Ilog and these are Montenegro and Besta. Montenegro shipping lines RoRo departs every two hours. From the port of Abra de Ilog, walk your way out and look for the van terminal near the San Miguel Ave. convenience store. Take the van to Sablayan; Or,
> you can take the bus that goes to Sablayan or San Jose. Look for them near the Port's parking area. Ask the driver to drop you off Sablayan.

>From Sampaloc, Manila, you may take a Dimple Star bus and from Cubao, a Partas bus (yes, they already travel south, too) bound for San Jose. Fare includes the terminal fee and RoRo fare.

Apo Reef/ Apo Island is still two hours from Sablayan by sea travel and there are no passenger boats that travel to and from the island regularly. From Sablayan, charter a boat. If you are to do it DIY, you may coordinate with the tourism office.


-Sunset and sunrise watching at the lighthouse
-Beach bumming: the area near the Army's campsite has fine sand
-Free diving
-SCUBA diving
-Sight seeing and picture taking at the lagoon and rock formation
-Star gazing

This unusual area offers an autumn-like spot. It is situated near the rock formation

The best spot for sunset viewing other than the lighthouse is the beach at the side of the campsite

No light pollution! See the milky way with the naked eyes (c) Neil Victoria


-The coast guards in Sablayan are very strict as regards the number of persons per boat depending on its type and size.
-If you are to stay in tents or hammocks, make sure that you'll be bringing the following: power banks, insect repellent, flashlight, utensils, portable stove, pillow and blanket.
-To avoid the itch brought by hydroids, wear a close yet comfortable dive suit. (I'm not comfy with such so hydroids had feast on me lol)
-There are toilets and bathrooms but the water in the island for accommodation is salty. They do not have any fresh water nor tanks for such.
-Bring lots of food, snacks and water. There are no stores in the island. You can buy at the main land before sailing.
-There is no network signal in the island.
-Bring your tripod! It is the best place to get a milky way and starry night snaps!
-Bring reef friendly sun block ONLY!
-Never miss the sunset at the lighthouse.
-If you do not have any diving nor snorkeling equipment, you can rent from the main land (i.e.: Mylits Restobar, tourism office Php 150.00 - Php 200.00)
-If you're gonna visit the rock formation, make sure that you're gonna be in foot wears with thick soles as the rocks may pierce right through it. Rocks in there can cut skin way too easily.


RoRo Fare - around Php 250.00 - Php 300.00/ head per way
Accommodation (see Accommodation rates)
Terminal Fee - Php 30.00
Land Transfer (van fare Abra to Sablayan) - Php 300.00/ head per way
Boat rental - Php 12,000.00 to Php 15,000.00 for 12 to 15 persons good for three days
Snorkel gears rental - Php 150.00 - Php 200.00 (may be rented from the main land, i.e. tourism office, Mylits Restobar)


Vessel Entry Fees
RATES (in Php)
3 GT and below
Per boat per visit
3.1 GT to 20 GT
Per boat per visit
21 GT to 100 GT
Per boat per visit
101 GT to 200 GT
Per boat per visit
201 GT and above
Per boat per visit
Visitor Entry Fees
RATES (in Php)

Per person per visit
Local Tourist
Per person per visit
Foreign Tourist
Per person per visit
Tour Guide
Per person per visit

Local Tourist
Per person per visit
Foreign Tourist
Per person per visit
Dive master
Per person per visit
*Per visit - equivalent for 48 hours or less from time to arrival
Other Park Fees Exclusive of the Entrance Fees
RATES (in Php)
Filming/ Video Taping
Per day
Filming for the production of movies and commercials
Per day
Kiosk/ Bed Room Rental
Per day


DAY 1: Arrival
7:00 PM - ETD Cubao/ 8:00 PM ETD Pasay
10:00 PM - ETA Batangas port (buy tickets, pay terminal fees)
10:45 PM - Boarding
11:00 PM - ETD to Abra de Ilog
2:00 AM - ETA Abra de Ilog port
2:30 AM - ETD to Sablayan
5:30 AM - Sablayan
5:40 AM - Breakfast
6:45 AM - ETD to Apo Reef
9:00 AM - ETA Apo Reef
9:00 AM - free time, beach
12:00 NN - lunch
1:30 PM - dive, dive, dive
5:00 PM - sunset watching at the lighthouse
7:00 PM - dinner
8:00 PM - socials
10:00 PM - lights off

DAY 2: Beach, Lagoon, Rock formation Lighthouse and Dive
5:30 AM - Watch the sunrise
6:30 AM - breakfast
7:30 AM - lagoon
9:30 AM - dive, dive, dive
12:00 NN - lunch
2:00 PM - dive, dive, dive
5:00 PM - sunset at the beach on near the rock formation
7:00 PM - dinner
8:00 PM - socials
10:00 PM - lights off

DAY 3: Ship wreck diving, Home bound
5:30 AM - rise and shine
6:00 AM - break camp
7:00 AM - breakfast
8:00 AM - Picture in Apo Reef sign/ depart
8:40 AM - Ship wreck diving
10:00 AM - Return to main land
11:30 PM - wash up/ lunch
2:30 PM - ETD to Abra de Ilog
4:45 PM - ETA Abra de Ilog/ board
5:00 PM - ETD to Batangas Port
8:00 PM - ETA Batangas Port
11:00 PM - Home Sweet Home

Take note that this is mainly a suggested itinerary. We did not visit Pandan Island because we devoted the trip to nothing but diving. You may opt to visit this on your last day should you want to have it included in your itinerary and put the shipwreck on Day 2. The longest zip line is actually found in that island as it lets you glide from an island to another. Time may vary depending on various factors and the traveler's phasing. Also, in going back to Manila, there are buses waiting near the parking of Batangas port.


>Take nothing but pictures.
>Leave nothing but footprints.
>Kill nothing but time.
>There are trash bins around the island. Dispose your trash properly.
>Do not touch the coral reefs.
>Fishing is NOT allowed.

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