Three Amazing Dives in a Paradise Called Apo Reef

Dive Apo Reef

Dive Apo Reef

“Woooooooh!!!”, we shouted as we surfaced after our third and last dive, it was almost dark. We descended a few minutes before sunset. If it was not because we were in this magical place, we could have cancel the third dive. But we were in Apo Reef and we had to make the most of our day to explore its underwater paradise. We proceeded with sunset dive without any hint of hesitation, even if the darkness was already enveloping the surroundings and we only had two torches, not enough for the four of us.

It felt really good to be back in the water, my home. But it even felt great that we were diving in no less than Asia’s largest coral atoll-like reef, the Apo Reef National Park.

Dive Apo Reef
A huge feather star

Situated off the shore of the town of Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro, Apo Reef National Park is the world’s second largest coral atoll-like reef in the world, next only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It is a 34 square kilometer reef that serves as habitat of more than 350 marine species such as sharks, sea hawks, manta rays, stingrays and other tropical fishes, corals, crinoids and invertebrates. It is among if not the best dive site in the world.

Arriving Apo Reef at exactly noon, Ate Claudia, Alfred and I were so excited to dive. It was already a very long day for us who traveled by bus and ferry all the way from Manila and endured the red-eye trips and transfers just to reach this paradise.

Dive Apo Reef
A Trapezia/Coral Crab in anemone

We had our first descent north of the Apo Island, a couple of minutes after one o’clock in the afternoon. On our right side was a wall with colorful corals, crinoids and resident micro and macro species. Shortly after we descended, at around 40 feet down, our Dive Master Albert of the Sablayan Eco-Tourism Office pointed two big lobsters. The visibility was very good and there was very mild current. When we were at 70 feet, less than 20 minutes of dive time, a lone White Tip Shark came out of the blue. It was just small, around three feet in length. I was ecstatic, it was my first time to see shark on a dive. It came close to us, approximately 15 feet before turning away. I was stunned that I forgot to aim my camera and take pictures. As we dive further, more and more species, big and small, showed. We were occasionally being alerted by DM Albert to show some rare macro species of shrimps and crabs. We had our safety stop at a shallow area with some dead corals, perhaps an effect of the big waves brought by previous typhoons. It was a great first dive.

Dive Profile: Maximum Depth – 87 feet/Time of Descend – 1311H/Bottom Time – 48 minutes/Water Temp – 29°C/Start Air – 2500 PSI/End Air – 600 PSI

Dive Apo Reef
Squat lobster, a unique macro specie of lobster

We went to the Apo Island for our surface interval and had our lunch while our tanks are being refilled. It was the turn of our non-diver friends to see what’s underneath, they were pulled by our boat to snorkel, sadly they didn’t see any shark or sea hawks.

Our second dive was south of the island. Alfred was the first one to jump off the boat, he looked underwater and anxiously told us to descend quick. As I jumped off and look below the water, lo and behold, a massive coral area with a large population of colorful fishes of various sizes were there. “It seems like Balicasag”, Alfred uttered. I haven’t been to Balicasag though. The previous day, 50 to 60 sharks were seen here, according to our dive master.

Dive Apo Reef
Cute Fire Goby

As we drift, we were totally amazed by the scenery, everything around us was vividly magical. My head kept turning, as much as possible and though impossible, I didn’t want to miss a single thing. If it was a dream, I didn’t want to wake up. But then, “teng! teng! teng! teng!”, DM Albert banging his metal stick. I looked to him and he pointed his stick to a huge sea hawk around 15 feet above us. We were not supposed to ascend yet but we defied the rule just to see the sea hawk up close. Aaaah! The sea turtle was so lovely.

Dive Apo Reef
Sorry for stressing you harmless creature

As if disturbed and afraid, the sea turtle swam past and tried to escape us but we chased and cornered her as she was looking for escape, then she landed on a sandy area and fit herself into a small opening. Her eyes looked stressed and I felt very sorry. We left the sea turtle and dive further at maximum of 70 feet, still amazed of what we were seeing. We went up after 45 minutes, we didn’t see the school of sharks, but we were satisfied and fulfilled by what we saw.

Dive Profile: Maximum Depth – 70 feet/Time of Descend – 1536H/Bottom Time – 45 minutes/Water Temp – 30°C/Start Air – 3000 PSI/End Air – 800 PSI

Dive Apo Reef
Sleeping Giant Grouper

“Rest and take a break, we will have a sunset dive later”, it was DM Albert. Woah! I already surrendered to the idea that we will going to have three dives since we started late, but it was still possible and doable per our DM. I took a nap on surface interval and woke up almost sunset.

Our boat maneuvered south west for our last dive, the sun was already emitting its golden rays, ready to break into horizon to set. DM Albert went to the water first and I followed. “Go down ahead, now! The Napoleons are below you!”, DM Albert told me. I quickly deflated my BCD and went down. Right there in front of me was the slow moving school of Napoleons. My eyes turned big in amazement! I looked back, Ate Claudia, Alfred and Albert were behind me. We all watched them as they slowly move.

Dive Apo Reef
Napoleons racing with sea turtle

We proceeded with our dive and there we saw almost every marine specie we can think of. Oversize trevally, tuna, jacks, triggerfish, puffers, snappers, groupers, humpheads, sea hawks, and other pelagics and tropical fishes we don’t even know by name. As if all marine species converged there on that moment in their playground that is Apo Reef! It was very beautiful, wonderful, amazing, and all other magical adjectives possible. We didn’t want it to end.

“Woooooooh!!!”, we shouted as we surfaced after our third and last dive, it was almost dark. We were all smiles, on our final descent, Apo Reef saved the best for last!

Dive Profile: Maximum Depth – 50 feet/Time of Descend – 1744H/Bottom Time – 47 minutes/Water Temp – 28°C/Start Air – 2800 PSI/End Air – 700 PSI

Dive Apo Reef
Anthias on a coral

Good water temperature, zero to mild current, great visibility and an opportunity to interact with sharks, sea turtles, napoleons, bumpheads, tuna, trevaly, stingrays, other pelagics, fishes and rare macro species, along with huge and colorful corals, sponges, crinoids, seafans and other invertebrates. If these are not enough to convince you to dive in Apo Reef, I do not know what more to say. I guess I found the real underwater paradise in Apo Reef, the playground of tropical marine species, and I am still stunned right now by its surreal beauty.


  1. ryan

    nice, informative website. however, isn’t the actual reef area another 90 minute boat ride away from the island? i believe you are just diving around the island area, and it is not actually apo reef.

  2. Hi Angel,

    Because of your pics, I booked a ticket to San Jose! hehe. March 2014! i hope okay yung weather. Maalon ba kapag ganitong panahon?

  3. Vance and Ferds

    Hi, we tried to contact Ate Norie/Ate Helen of Sablayan Eco-Tourism at mobile number and email posted on your other blog post, but we did not get a reply.

    Is there another way we can contact them?

    We are planning to go to Apo Reef this August.

    Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Vance and Ferds, are you referring to these contact info?

      Contact No: +639284659585 (Ate Norie/Ate Helen
      Email: amazingsablayan[at]yahoo[dot]com or ecotourism_sablayan_occmdo[at]yahoo[dot]com[dot]ph

      I will ask Ate Helen, we are FB friends 🙂 I’ll get back to you 🙂

      1. Yep, that’s the one. Thanks Lakwatsero. 🙂 Angie replied to us via email.

        Good luck and more power to your travels!

        1. Oh great! Enjoy Apo Reef and say my regards to the tourism staff 🙂

  4. fishetarian

    hi !

    just wanted to ask if you slept in apo reef or did you go back to sablayan after the third dive ?

    Is it true that sleeping in apo reef (tents) is uncomfortable because of the insects (“niknik”) ?

    what’s a good place to stay in sablayan ?

    thanks and hope to hear from you the soonest as our apo reef trip is in a few weeks from now.

    1. Hi, sorry this reply is so late but I will answer the questions for the benefit of others.
      We camped in the island that night. Nikniks are seasonal and you can get rid of them by applying mosquito repellant. Countrywood Hotel and Resort is a good place to stay in Sablayan. It is quite far from the town but the place is good, the staff are kind and they have shuttle service which you can use for free 🙂

  5. Geejay

    Hi Lakwatsero,

    I am about to set myself to travel alone.. and am starting it off next year. That’s why I am starting to read different blogs.

    My first take off is the Pandan Island and Apo Reef. Just have some questions though:

    1. How much is the diving package cost, like 2 dives maybe?
    2. What camera did you use on the pics posted here?


    Cheers for a job well done. You keep us well informed.

  6. Vivian Dazon

    Pano po process para magka diving certificate, san po makakakuha na mura?
    Ang ganda din po underwater shots nyo wat camera are you using?

    1. Geejay

      Hi Vivian,

      You need to enroll for a diving certification first. There will be a lot certifying agencies but I personally recommend PADI. Either you can get them from resort or dive center nearest you.

      Regarding licenses, the dive center you are enrolled with will be the one to process it for you, but it will take a month or more before you get to have your license on your hand. Depends I guess.

      I hope this somehow help. 🙂

  7. Mariella de Laza

    Hello, can you recommend me, nice dive shops for apo reef including their rates. thanks

    1. You can choose either Pandan Island Resort dive shop or avail of the local government’s service. The latter is the cheapest 🙂

  8. cba

    most photos are worth a thousand words, underwater ones worth a million… 🙂

  9. marlon

    Ui! Gusto ko din makapunta sa Mindoro! But I don’t have any idea on where to stay and how much would it cost. Gusto ko din mag-dive! Paano nga ba ser? 🙂 Ang ganda!!

  10. Leslie Lim

    astig.. gang silip nlng ako sa diving pics hehe.. sana kahit sa panaginip makapagdive rin ako.. maganda talaga ang ilalim ng dagat snorkeling nga busog na ako.. paano pa kung diving 🙂 galing 🙂

    1. Thanks les 🙂
      Dive ka na din 🙂

  11. Ikaw na talaga Angel and tunay na lakwatsero sa ilalim ng dagat 🙂

    1. Hahaha! Thanks Claire! Ikaw naman ang lakwatsera sa Australia 😛

  12. im speechless! now I finally understand the feeling of diving. kainggit your dives! panalo!

    1. Yes Chyng, I cannot really explain the feeling eh, basta there is really something different! 🙂

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