Scuba diving in Apo Reef Natural Park in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro


On the list of any scuba diver’s must-dive spots, Apo Reef, the second largest contiguous coral reef in the world and the largest one in the Philippines, ranks right up there. 

Here you will find lush terrestrial vegetation, soft creamy white sand, moody mangroves, a towering lighthouse that affords an awe-inspiring view of the reef complex, jagged rock formations, and diverse species of some of the most stunning bird and marine life. 

It was before the Halloween when I went here as part of the DOT MIMAROPA Familiarization Tour with media friends. We left the Sablayan port at 9am aboard two speed boats. The balmy weather was perfect for a beach getaway. 

The other speedboat carrying media and Sablayan Tourism friends 
Our group (L-R): me, Joyce from PNA, people from print (lol I forgot their institution), sir Teddy, Jaimie from DOT, Marian, Sir Rey

On the way, I remember seeing dolphins, which made the 2-hour-long boat ride from the port to Apo Island pass by quickly as we were all entertained. 

Aside from Apo Island, there are two other islands that comprise the 27,469-hectare “Apo Reef” also known as the Apo Reef Natural Park: the Binangaan Islet (or Apo Menor) and the Cayos del Bajo

During our visit, we just enjoyed an excursion across the Apo island and snorkeling around its reef. We stayed for the day. Here are some photos of me from our exploration (shots were mostly from sir Teddy Pelaez and sir Nestor Dionido’s camera) and more photos later:

Scuba Diving

Apo Reef is currently on the tentative list of UNESCO for inscription on the World Heritage List. Since September 1996, it’s been declared a protected natural park divided intro three zones: (1) Strictly Protected Zone – this includes the coral sanctuary and the entire Apo Island. Strictly no any form of destruction like dynamite fishing here; (2) Managed Reserve Zone – this comprises the bird sanctuaries and turtle nesting grounds. Controlled human activities are permitted here; and (3) Multiple-use Zone – this includes the recreation area, the anchorage area, and the fishing area. (Apo Reef)

Non-diving tourists can get around the multiple-use zone for photography, education and guided tours.

 Scuba divers can explore the breathtaking depths anywhere in the area.  

There are about 385 underwater species to look out for: white tip, black tip, hammerhead and gray reef sharks, damsel fishes, wrasses, butterfly fishes, groupers, gobies, angel fishes, blennies, bumphead parrot fishes, cardinal fishes, snappers and spine checks, trigger fishes, fusiliers, siganids, squirrel fishes, jacks and trevallies, Manta rays, Eagle rays, hawksbill turtles, huge schools of snappers and tuna, as well as well as holothurians, sea urchins, crinoids, sponges, sea squirts, brittle stars, worms, snails, nudibranches, octopus, clams, squid, giant clams, coconut crab and rare shells. 

For more adventurous, seasoned scuba divers, you may opt to join longer (and more expensive) diving trips to explore the Apo Reef as well as nearby diving spots such as Coron Bay and others in Anilao. Atlantis Azores, Philippines only Blue Water Rates Private Yacht, offers this exciting itinerary. 

The more economical way is to book through the Sablayan tourism office. 

But if you are planning to go scuba diving at the Apo Reef during this pandemic, you have to schedule your visit 5 days ahead. Also, make sure you are a local or a resident from Occidental Mindoro, otherwise, you won’t be accommodated. They currently do not accept tourists outside the province. Hopefully soon once the quarantine guidelines are modified and travel restrictions lifted. Coordinate your trip with the tourism office so they can arrange the boat ride because at the moment, the number of passengers and tourists allowed on the island is limited.

Contact number of the Sablayan Tourism Office: +63 998 546 5917 

You may call the front desk or look for Ms. Marie Martinez. 

I. SCUBA DIVING RATES (2020 rates)

Locals – Php2860 ; Foreigners – Php3530 (If you don’t have your scuba diving gear, you may rent, please contact the tourism offie about the rates) 

Dive master per person per dive – Php 320


Because of the pandemic, the boat only accommodates 8pax, so here are the ROUNDTRIP boat ride rates for 8 people:

Day trip – Php 10, 000

Overnight – Php 13, 000

3D/2N trip – Php 16, 000

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    • Important Notes: 
      • a. You have to bring your own food and water (and trash bins) for the span of your stay. There is no shop, especially potable water on the island.
        b. For overnight stays or longer, you can only stay in tents.
        c. Call time is 4AM 


Tent rental (good for up to 3pax) – 300 per night


For all visiting the island, there needs to be a tour guide. So for the group of 8, again, you will be adding the Php1,000 tour guide fee per day.


  • Snorkeling on the clear waters 

Rent a mask, fin, and snorkel tube and snorkel through the magical waters of Apo island. Rental fee for a day is Php 150. If you have your own gear, you may use them.

  • Visiting the Apo Reef Light

The historic lighthouse on Apo Island is impossible to miss with its 118-ft stature. It’s original iron skeletal structure, with a central cylinder, reinforced by a hexagonal frame and topped with the lantern room with two levels of gallery, was the tallest lighthouse tower ever erected in the Philippines. 

There are two ways to get here: (a) long walk through the tropical trees and bushes from the admin office and (b) short walk from the beach (which I wasn’t able to try)

  • Strolling through the mangrove boardwalk 

This man-made boardwalk offers a nice trail to enjoy a casual nature stroll to admire century-old mangroves and also to catch exotic birds and mammals. 

  • Watching for birds and rare green turtles

If you are an avid birdwatcher, bring your binoculars and you might chance upon a rare Nicobar Pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica). You can also watch out for other migratory birds. About forty seven species of birds visit this place every time. 

Among the reptiles and mammals spotted at the Apo Reef National Park, are the rare Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill Turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), Spinner Dolphins (Stenella longirostris), Short-Finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus), whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) and Risso’s Dolphins (Grampus griseus). 

  • Bidding the sun goodbye followed by star gazing

Sunsets are great on this island as well as observing and admiring celestial bodies when it’s dark.

  • Journeying into the lagoon

The long walk through the mangrove boardwalk is equally mesmerizing as admiring the vividly emerald, quiet waters of Apo island’s shallow lagoon from the viewing platform. Here is also a great spot for birdwatching.

  • Wandering along the beach

There are two areas where I enjoyed wandering along the beach: the area where our boat was parked and also where the welcome board sign is at. The other one is on the side adjacent to the mangrove boardwalk.

Photo credits: Nestor Dionido, Teddy Pelaez

How to get to the Sablayan Tourism Office

From San Jose, Occidental Mindoro Airport

Take a van to Sablayan (approx 2 hrs) – Php 170 per person, get off at the grand terminal (tell the driver). Take a tricycle to the Sablayan Tourism Office which is 5-10 minutes away. Tricycle fare is Php 20 per person. 

Mode of Payment


Parting Words

Hope this information helps. If you have questions, let me know or you may inquire directly through the tourism office mobile number I shared above. Oh, if you are in for OCCIDENTAL MINDORO exploration, check out my other blogs too! Enjoy and travel responsibly and safely! 

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