By the time I arrived at Apo Island in the Philippines I had travelled to over 45 countries, dived in at least 5 of these and snorkelled in all of them that weren’t land locked. I’d seen fish, millions of them, I’d seen sting rays and manta rays, dolphins and even sharks, but some how I’d never, ever seen a sea turtle. Not once.
I’d heard lots about Apo Island, in fact I’d read about it until I was blue in the face and I was determined to go there as if my life depended on it. Obviously I had to prepare myself for the fact that there might be no sea turtles to see once I arrived. Maybe the sea turtles wouldn’t turn up the day I did. There are no guarantees with wildlife and sea life spotting but it was definitely a risk I was more than willing to take.
Apo Island is a small volcanic island. Part of the Vinyasas in the Philippines, it sits 30 kms south of Dumaguete. Most visitors to Apo Island fly into the small airport at Dumaguete and flights come in daily from neighbouring Cebu and Manilla airports. From here you do need to be flexible as onward travel to Apo Island can be unreliable and sometimes a little hit or miss depending on the weather conditions.
The boat terminal is about a 45 minute drive away from Dumaguete airport. The trip can be easily made in a colorfully decorated public jeepney, also known as a jeep and the most popular (and therefore crowded) means of public transport in the Philippines. Alternatively a higher price can be paid for a more comfortable, private transfer by taxi.
Either way, you’ll no doubt be dropped off at the boat terminal sign posted ‘To Apo Island’. This is where the waiting begins. Some days regular, some days never at all, the public boat may or may not turn up. For the more financially flush, there is always the opportunity to charter a boat and prices for this will vary.
We, however waited for the public boat and inevitably ended up waiting hours but nevertheless, it eventually turned up. There’s a few small cafes to kill time near the boat port. Once on the boat, it took no more than an hour to arrive on the island.
Apo Island has only a small amount of accommodation options and so it’s really important to book this ahead of time. Wi-Fi, electricity and running water are all considered luxuries on Apo Island so don’t expect any of them. The problem with fresh running water means that it is mostly ferried over from the mainland making it expensive and important to conserve. Prepare to go back to the very basics.
Everyone’s main reason for visiting Apo Island is for the world-famous snorkelling and diving. So, equipment is readily on hand for hire. It’s a relatively pretty island, with one small beach and beautiful rock formations but of course it’s simply the marine life that draws tourists to Apo Island.
Today Apo Island is a Marine Sanctuary with over 650 documented species of marine life. On arrival to the island, visitors are charged an entrance fee. This money goes towards the cleaning and preservation of the sanctuary along with preservation of corals and the protection of over 60 recorded sea turtles living and enjoying their wild habitat.
There are many signs around advertising hiring a guide, I’m not totally sure on the purpose of this but you certainly don’t need a guide to see the sea turtles. We didn’t hire one our whole stay on Apo Island and certainly didn’t feel we had missed out.
So the morning after we arrived we scoffed down breakfast, threw on our snorkelling gear and ventured out into the area we were told was the turtle sanctuary. Actually, that morning there was no more than a handful of us in the sea. A lot of the time I was off snorkelling alone without any other tourists around me and after 5 or 10 minutes I saw my first ever sea turtle!
He must have been 3 or 4 foot long and looked me straight in the eyes. As I laid still in the water trying not to bother him it became obvious that he was not bothered by my presence at all. The sea turtle bobbed up to the water surface and back down. They don’t have gills so this is how sea turtles breathe. Circling close to me and gliding through the water with his flippers, he wasn’t even attempting to swim off. I loved every second of it!
I didn’t want to cause any disruption so after a little while of watching this beautiful, friendly turtle floating about his daily life I swam off to deeper waters. He was not the only sea turtle I saw that day. In fact, after the first snorkel I went back around lunch time and saw even more. In total I must have seen seven sea turtles that day and heard many reports of people seeing even more.
I recommend going early in the morning when there’s not so many other people around and it was very nice not to have a guide as we weren’t subjecting the turtles to dozens of selfie sticks and interfering with their daily lives.
Of note, apart from the sea turtles and some pretty coral reefs, there is nothing else major to see here. The primary reason for visiting Apo Island is to witness these amazing creatures in their natural habitat. It is 100% worth the money and the struggle to get there for this once in a life time experience alone which was a little bit of magic that I will never, ever forget.