“Cute kaayo ang pawikan! Ako siyang gi-hug!” (The sea turtle was so cute, I hugged it!) exclaimed our young kid swimmer Ayah, who just came back after wading the shallow waters at Apo Island. I jolted at her remark and wanted to reprimand her for touching the sea turtle but I stopped myself from ruining her happiness. Instead, I told her carefully that it’s a no-no to touch those sea creatures. She still resisted but I again had to tell her we can just swim with them but never touch them. After explaining more, she gladly conceded and promised to just swim with it.
To be honest, I couldn’t blame Ayah for her excitement. If I weren’t informed, I too would have grabbed those cute creatures and posed a selfie with them. I know better. But my gahd! Those cute pawikans were all over the place!
sightings of pawikans can be seen even on shallow waters
Travelling all the way from Cebu City, we embarked on a road trip adventure to visit Apo Island at the peak of summer to witness first-hand the gems that abound in this little paradise off the coast of Negros Oriental. Actually, we only went to Apo Island because of one thing – to freedive with sea turtles!
Our boat group arrived last as we had to wait for some of our companions. When we arrived, the other group were nowhere to be found. I guess they were too excited to swim out to the open sea and started chasing those marine turtles.
After our boat docked and after setting foot on the rocky shoreline, we started gearing up to find what we came for.
We swam as a group sticking close to each other so that when someone signals the sighting of a pawikan, we can easily reach it to have a closer look. After a few lapses, someone started doing silent gestures underneath the sea to call our attention.
Alas! Pawikan spotted!
One of our first sightings was a shy turtle. Kudos to the keen eyes of friends, they were able to see the sea creature despite its attempt to camouflage itself among those underwater plants and corals. And despite our attempts to get near them, they wouldn’t flinch at the sight of humans invading their territory.
We, the pawikan paparazzis, took turn in diving just to get near one. Deep inhale. Hold breath. Dive. Click. That was what we did for a couple of minutes as we tried to pester a resting pawikan under the sea. We simply couldn’t resist their cuteness.
But if they suddenly get bothered by our antics and find our presence a nuisance, they’ll slowly come out of hiding and swim away to find a new place to chill in one of those abundant corals that thrive the underwater world of Apo Island.
And so it begins. The chase is on.
us freedivers, keeping our distance from the marine turtles
We started chasing one after it fled its temporary home. To the pawikan, it seemed like it was playing a game with us. Habulin niyo ako was probably what it was thinking. Of course, we obliged the challenge. We started chasing the sea turtle as it swam farther away from the sanctuary. But before a winner was declared, somebody else spotted another one.
It was just passing through and going on the opposite direction. Soon, the other turtle was forgotten. The second turtle became the star. A new chase began. However, this new one was a faster swimmer. It immediately made a u-turn and disappeared into the abyss.
We waited for another chance to bump into one again. When we saw one, a new chase ensued. It was like a mad race. Turtle vs. Humans.
a pawikan swimming away with 2 remoras underneath
Each one scrambled in the open sea trying to be the first to get near the leatherbacks. This went on for about 3 more sightings. All of a sudden, they were everywhere wherever we turned. Soon enough, the gang got tired. There were too many of them.
Instead, we just raced to the reef and started diving deeper. Most of us were still new to this sport – freediving.
So we took turns to freedive and see how deep we can go.
The rest took turns to be each other’s safety divers, making sure that each dive we make is safe.
While some played with the bubbles of scuba divers, some decided to bike and make silly poses underneath the sea.
It was past 2 in the afternoon when the gang decided they’ve had enough. We have a ferry to catch to get back to mainland Cebu. We also don’t want to experience more of the rough waves as the sun sets so we decided it’s time to head back to shore. It was also time to feed our tummies.
some of the gang from Dive Ta Bai – Earl, Johnn, Pop and Edcel
While the rest were finishing off the food we brought, I decided to roam around the other end of the islet. This side is filled with huge boulders and rock formations. There’s a small passageway leading to a secluded cove.
From a distance, I could see crystal clear waters splashing the shore of the cove. There were a couple of kids and adults swimming.
As I walked closer, I recognized familiar faces.
Rapskie and Nayki happily swimming at the cove
Two of our friends were actually swimming happily on that secret cove. They got tired of chasing the pawikans and decided to work on their tans instead.
I crashed their party and took the opportunity to swim for the last time before the rest of the team call us back. We even found something that looked like a tunicate or a lightbulb sea squirt in the area. After sensing that it was time to go, we started heading back.
Our stay at Apo was too short. If possible, it would have been wonderful to spend the night at this secluded paradise. This was one of the best summer destinations I’ve been to. Apo Island is the epitome of a perfect summer getaway and I will never get tired of going back to this place.
About Apo Island
Apo Island is a volcanic island which is found 7 kilometers off the southeastern tip of Negros and 30 kilometers south of Dumaguete City, the capital city of the province of Negros Oriental.
The 12-hectare land is just small that you can explore the entire place in less than a day. The part that faces mainland Negros is where wooden pump boats dock. In there, you will find different lodging areas and accommodations.
The local community is nestled at the center part. And a few minutes walk will bring you to the other side where the marine sanctuary is located. One can also find a lighthouse in there, which will give you a good view of the neighboring province of Siquijor.
the marine sanctuary
What makes Apo Island unique and a must-visit for every sea lover out there is its abundant marine life. Due to its thriving marine habitat, the entire place is declared as a marine sanctuary and protected by the National Integrated Protected Area Act (NIPA) in the Philippines and under the jurisdiction of the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB). However, due to the typhoons and earthquakes that hit the country for the past years, the marine sanctuary has been closed temporarily for snorkelers and divers to pave way for the rehabilitation of its marine life.
Apo is home to five species of marine turtles locally known as pawikan. In here you can find the loggerhead, olive ridley, hawksbill, leatherback and green sea turtles.
Apo Island is also home to more than 650 species of fish and 400 species of corals. In here, you can find bubble corals, brain corals and even those huge gorgonian sea fans. Because of this, the place is recognized as one of the best diving spots in the world.
Due to its vast seascape, you will see different turtles that swim freely even on its shallow waters. I guess they have proclaimed this haven as their home, which is why you can see them swim everywhere. Unlike its neighboring provinces like in Moalboal, Cebu, where sightings of them can be seen at a minimum of 30 feet below the sea surface, Apo can very well be called turtle island due to the presence of those marine animals.
Note: The island does not have clean potable water. All its water are supplied by mainland Negros and are transported daily by pump boats. Electricity is not available 24/7 too. It only runs for 3 hours everyday.
For discounted room rates near Apo Island, book here.
How to get to Apo Island
Apo Island is located at the southern tip of Negros. There are daily flights from Manila to Dumaguete City, the capital of Negros Oriental. This is the closest city to be when you plan your trip.
Daily ferry boats are also available for those travelling from Cebu City. You just need to ride a bus from the South Bus Terminal going to Liloan, Santander (4 hours travel time), the southern tip of Cebu. Once there, you need to catch a ferry boat from the Liloan Port to Sibulan Port of Negros. Once in Sibulan, you can hire a tricycle to bring you to the Dumaguete bus terminal or ride a jeep twice to get to the bus terminal.
Once in the bus terminal, take a bus that will pass by Dauin and alight at the Malatapay Market in Zamboangita. You can tell the bus conductor where you are headed and remind them to tell you if you are near your destination. This market only comes to life on Wednesdays. On other days, you will see empty stalls on the way to the port. Once you get to the Malatapay Market, you need to walk around 5-10 minutes to get to the Malatapay Wharf.
our small boat which carried 5 passengers excluding the boatman and 1 crew member
Boat rentals are available to take you there. However, rates are quite expensive for a solo traveler so it is best to go with a group to split the fare. If you are travelling solo, try to wait and see if there are other tourists who will go there and try to join their boat and split the fares. There’s no fixed boat transfer schedules going to/from the island though. It all depends on the passengers or tourists. If you’ll try to wait for other passengers, expect to wait a little longer.
Roundtrip Boat Rates & Rental when going to Apo Island
Medium Boat – P2,000 (max of 4 pax)
Big Boat – P3,000 (max of 8 pax)
The seas on this side of the Philippines tend to get rough. So if you have any motion sickness problems, better take the necessary pill to calm your senses. During the boat ride, expect to get soaked in sea water so make sure to hand over your belongings to the boatman. They will secure it underneath the boat floors to make sure your bags stay dry during the entire trip. Dress accordingly and get ready to be wet during the boat ride.
Once you dock, you need to pay an environmental fee to enter Apo Island and to snorkel or dive. Residents of Negros pay a lesser fee.
Fees and Charges:
- General Admission – P100.00/person
- Adult (within the province) – P25.00/person
- Local (Senior Citizens) – P5.00/person
- Minors (12-18yrs. old) – P10.00/person
- Local Students (within the province) – P10.00/student
- Dauin residents – P10.00/persons
Scuba Diving within Sanctuary
- General fee – P300.00/head/dive
- Local within the province with cedula – P200.00/head/dive
- Dauin local residents w/ cedula – P100.00
Scuba outside the Sanctuary
- General fee – P200.00/head/dive
- Local within the province with cedula – P100.00/head/dive
- Dauin local residents w/ cedula – P50.00
Snorkel within Sanctuary
- General fee – P50.00/head/dive
- Local within the province with cedula – P30.00/head/dive
- Dauin local residents w/ cedula – P20.00
For more on fees, click the image below to magnify.
Reminder: Apo Island is a Protected Area
Apo Island was proclaimed a Protected Area last Aug. 9, 1994 under Presidential Proclamations No. 438 and is part of the National Integrated Protected Area System or NIPAS. As such, every visitor must abide by the rules and regulations on activities on the island to maintain its ecological integrity.
If you are visiting Apo Island, always practice responsible tourism. Never touch any sea turtle. Always keep a distance when you swim with them. Never destroy the corals. It takes 100s of years for them to grow back. Dispose your garbage properly. Always throw them on garbage bins. Never throw your trash on the open sea.