Apo Reef and Pandan Island: Living the Island Life

It's my BIG day once more and I thank God for another blessed year.

While I had the breathtaking encounter with the whale shark in Cebu last year, as of this writing marked my best underwater experience. I'm not talking about the famous Tubattaha Reef, but the first largest atoll reef in the country and the second largest in Asia - the Apo Reef.

Manila to Apo Reef could be a 6-7 hours of butt-numbing trip:
  1. Cebu Pacific flies in Occidental Mindoro few times a week. Check their website for the updated schedule. Travel duration is 50 minutes.
  2. From Occidental Mindoro airport, ride a tricycle going to Dimple Star Bus Terminal. Travel duration is 10 minutes.
  3. Ride the bus departing for Sablayan. Travel duration is 2.5 - 3 hours, depending on how fast your bus driver is.
  4. Ride a tricycle going to Sablayan Tourism Office and pay necessary fees for the trip in Apo Reef. Travel duration is 5 minutes.
  5. Ride the tourism *boat (not fishing boat) going to Apo Reef. Travel duration is 2 - 3 hours, depending on the current.
- *Boat capacity is 10-12 pax for P8000. It is advisable to go in a big group to lessen the expenses, unless you have a budget to splurge :). In my case, I don't have any other choice but to travel with just my boys since it was off peak.
- There is no regular boat trip to Apo Reef, so it is best to coordinate your trip with Sablayan Tourism Office.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Afraid to miss the plane, we left our apartment early. Summer is over (hmmm....not for me) and some of the schools started already, but at 4 AM, the domestic airport was still jam-packed with passengers. Good thing Cebu Pacific has kiosks where their passengers without baggage can check-in. No more waiting in long lines.

The plane flew earlier than its original schedule. After 40 minutes, we arrived in San Jose Airport, Occidental Mindoro.

Outside are tricycles in queue. I asked one of the drivers for the rate going to Dimple Star bus terminal. When one told me 'P50 each' (so P150 for the 3 of us), I didn't hesitate to walk away from them and headed on the main road where drivers only charge P15 each.

The road to Sablayan is not that bad, but our trip took 3 hours (pagong ang drama ni manong driver). I'm not sure about the view as I was asleep most of the time :)

We had our lunch at Kamalig Restaurant in Sablayan (where serving is good for 3 pax), then, headed to Sablayan Tourism Office to pay for the following:
  • Overnight Boat Rental (P8,000 with a discount of P500 since the boat is good for 10-12 and we're only 3)
  • Mandatory Guide Fee (P1000)
Sablayan Tourism Office

Good thing they are open 7 days a week

After the fees were settled, our guide, Kuya Ramil accompanied us at the public market to buy drinking water and food for our dinner.

View from the Public Market

At Sablayan port, we were greeted by Kuya Joshua, the boat's captain and his crew.

Apo Reef Natural Park is consists of 3 uninhabited islands - The 22-hectare Apo Island (the largest island and where we stayed overnight), The Apo Menor (Binangaan Island) and Cayos del Bajo (Tinangkapan Island).

Though known as the world's second largest contiguous coral reef system, I did not set high expectation for this underwater experience - it's rainy season. The water might not be that clear to enjoy with. In fact, gray sky is waving at us.

After 2.5 hours, Mr. Sun and the fine, white sand of Apo Island greeted us.

Standing in awe, our guide waved at me asking me to register at the hall that serves as the office and quarters of the people protecting Apo Reef - park rangers, army, LGUs and DENR with no potable water and electricity.

Park Fees

Park Adage

We wasted no time. When Kuya Joshua told us we're going to snorkel, we went back to the boat immediately. Apo Reef is too large to snorkel, especially for non-swimmers, that's why I love their approach of letting us hold the rope attached to the boat while it's moving around.

Just grab the rope and enjoy the underwater scene

I don't have underwater pictures to share (I posted some during our second day), but, believe me, there were times that we never stop at saying 'wow', and almost forgot that we're underwater and swallowed salt water. As for my son, he'll never forget the school of blue fishes passed through in front of him.

We ended our day with a trip to the lighthouse. 

We boarded a raft that will cross the lagoon surrounded by mangrove to get to the lighthouse.

Definitely another 'wow' moment when you reach the top.

Enjoying the sand and water afterwards....

Kobe's footprint in the sand

The island is ours

It was our guide who cooked our dinner and set up our tent. Since there are no electricity and fresh water on the island, we had our dinner early and shower using 1 pail of water (wisik-wisik lang, pede na!).

Advance Birthday Dinner

our humble accommodation

Tip: You may bring your own tent or rent one in Sablayan Tourism Office. But if you fail on any of the two, the people in Apo Island has spare that you can rent for P300 (good for 4 pax).

We did not have a good night sleep. It was too humid so we stepped out in our tent and proceed on sleeping on the benches, but then, the non-stop biting of sand mites kept me awake the whole night (ikaw na ang mag paypay ng anak mo magdamag).

From tent to bench

Monday, June 8, 2014

Happy Birthday to me!!! 

At 7:30 AM, after paying the P270/pax Entrance/Environmental Fee (tent rental fee of P300 was waived since we were not able to use it), we boarded the boat for our second round of snorkeling. This time was really awesome. I saw different fishes and coral beds. Just posting few shots since my phone did not give justice to the underwater beauty of Apo Reef (and I'm still hoping to acquire new underwater cam).

After more than an hour of snorkeling (believe me, sulit na yan, especially if you don't have underwater cam), we headed straight to Pandan Island, which is almost 2 hours away from the last snorkeling spot in Apo Reef or 10-15 minutes from the town of Sablayan.

Meet the crew. Happy 33rd to me!

First glimpse of Pandan Island

I didn't book a room here. I wanted to check first if the beach will charm me and make me stay for a night. With coconut trees surrounding the island and the birds chirping, it definitely was! 

We had the budget room. It doesn't have an electric fan, but who cares if you got the most expensive room in the island while the electricity is shut-off at night and flowing water is limited?

The Budget Rooms

What to do in Pandan Island:

Head to the beach and enjoy its fine, white sand.

Lay on the hammock, read your favorite book, or have some quiet time with yourself while enjoying the laid-back setting of the island.

Grab some beers and stay on the beach while waiting for the buffet dinner.

Disclaimer: 2 for hubby, 1 for me (coke for baby, wink!)

Tip: Be ready for additional expenses for every night spent in the island, as you are required to avail one buffet meal per day for P470/pax . Food was just OK, nothing exceptional.

Tuesday, June 9, 2014

It's time to go back to San Jose. After 2 sleepless nights (speaking for myself and hubby) - 1 in Apo Reef, 1 in Pandan Island, we left the latter early morning, longing for the comfort a hotel room could offer.

I also didn't book any hotel room in San Jose. Jazmine Royal Hotel got good reviews so, we headed here first. The room looks fine so we pay for a night and spent the first 2 hours lounging.

Hungry? Then head to Circle Food Center. We first went here for lunch. Their lomi and lumpiang shanghai taste good that it made us to come back for dinner.

There are other islands near San Jose that you can visit (and now on my bucket list). There's the Ambulong Island, Ilin Island and White Island - few reasons to go back in this province.

Goodbye for now Apo Island

Actual Itinerary and Summary of Expenses (excluding airfare):

Sablayan Tourism Office
amazingsablayan@yahoo.com; amazingsablayan@gmail.com
(63) 9294280431, (63) 9984259898, (63) 9159953895, or (043) 4580028

Pandan Island
(63) 9193057821

Jazmine Royal Hotel
(63) 9463567415


  1. Hi! Love your shots and adventures! I'm going to Cebu soon and is looking on http://www.webbline.com/budget-hotels-in-cebu/ for cheap hotels :D I am open for suggestions bcoz I still can't decide where to stay hehe Any suggestion?

    1. Hi Melissa, thanks for dropping by. Try Pacific Pensionne, or search hostels/pension houses along Osmena Boulevard or Fuente Circle.