of trips and travel notes

Swimming with Pawikans: an Apo Island DIY travel guide


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Dumaguete – the city of gentle people

As a backgrounder, “Dumaguete” came from the local root word dagit, which means “to snatch”. The word dumaget, on the other hand, means “to swoop”, can be attributed to Moro pirates from the South that frequently raid the coastal community even before the pre-colonial times. During the Spanish era, Diego Povedano indicated the place as Dananguet, but cartographer Pedro Murillo Velarde in 1734 already used the present name Dumaguete to refer to the place.

Dumaguete has earned the distinction of being known as the “center of learning in the South,” or the old university town due to the presence of schools and universities- particularly Silliman, that have made their mark locally and abroad. The city is a melting pot of students, professionals, artists, scholars and the literati coming from all parts of the world.


the Anthropology Department building of Silliman University

To the uninitiated, the laid-back university town is a popular jump off point to some interesting tourist spots and attractions not just in the island of Negros itself but to the entire Visayan region-  Badian, Oslob and Sumilon in the bustling island of Cebu, the mystic island of Siquijor and the famed island of Bohol are just an hour or two boat ride away from its ports. So when a friend abroad asked me to show him around to some nice places in the Philippines for a vacation, I have to include Dumaguete on the itinerary for a number of reasons – amazing food, trendy bars and restaurants, very warm and accommodating locals and so much more. You cannot ran out of interesting places to check when in Dumaguete that’s why our first stop was swimming with sea turtles at Apo island.

Apo Island is a volcanic island covering 74 hectares of land area, 7 kilometers off the southeastern tip of Negros Island and 30 kilometers south of the island’s capital, Dumaguete. The name “Apo” was derived from a Filipino word for “great grand father” (pronounced the same way as the highest mountain in the Philippines).The habitat around the island is a marine reserve and sanctuary and it had became a popular dive site and snorkeling destination for both locals and foreign tourists. According to www.apoisland.com website “Apo Island is one of the world’s best known community-organized marine sanctuaries, and as such it has been well documented by the global science community. At present, the island is home to over 650 documented species of fish and estimated to have over 400 species of corals. Most of the Philippines’ 450 species of coral can be found here, from tiny bubble corals to huge gorgonian sea fans and brain corals”

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Negros Oriental Tourist Map

Getting to Apo Island is very convenient since the jump off point to go to the island itself is just under an hour away by public transport from the city center. You cannot miss it as there are signages in the vicinity where to alight if you are heading to Apo Island. One has to alight at Malatapay to go to the island. Malatapay is in Barangay Maluay, Zamboangita, Negros Oriental some 30 kilometers south of Dumaguete and a good 20 minute drive from the city. Its interesting to note that once every week, the entire stretch of Malatapay from the national road leading to the port is bustling with activities as it becomes the venue for the mid-week open air market where local fishermen, livestock growers and farmers converge


We got so excited we arrived a little too early – they are still cooking the day’s menu when we arrived!

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boat fare matrix

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Apo Island as seen from the jump off point in Malatapay

Malatapay Tabo market, as what it was known to the locals, is where you can find a wide array of stuff that can be sold- household items, dried fish, local delicacies, furnitures, handicrafts, RTW clothes, live animals, you name it, its being sold there. Livestock auction is also one of the highlight of this weekly activity. Too bad for us, I completely forgot about it and came to Malatapay on a Saturday.

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Malatapay livestock auction (photo by gmanewstv)

We arrived at the port a little too early and everything is not yet open and its still dark. The trip to Apo Island starts by 7am as the boat that transfer people are coming from the island itself. The information center at the jump off area in Malatapay is where you need to register, fill out the manifesto, pay the entrance fee (100PHP for non-local tourist, 10PHP for locals) and get clearance from the Coast Guard that its safe to travel for that day/ The price of the boat rental that will take you to and fro the island is posted on the wall at the center. The round-trip boat ride costs 2,000PHP (good for 4 passengers), 2,500PHP (good for 6 passengers), or 3,000PHP (good for 8 passengers) Travel time is 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the sea condition. Sea can be wavy and rough so travel early. Be sure to bring drybag so you can keep your stuff and other valuables from getting wet.


the docking area on Apo Island


Once you reached Apo, you have to register and pay the sanctuary fee at the tourism office. You have the option of renting snorkeling gears (vest, fins and snorkeling mask can be rented at 100PHP apiece) within the area and hiring a guide (Php300 – good for up to 4 people) as you swim on the enclosure. Turtle  watching activity is just right smack at the shoreline. You will be advised not to swim within the enclosed area with white markers as its their feeding ground. A bigger enclosure marked by blue markers is where you will be allowed to swim. You will not wait for long to see turtles for they are roaming on this area freely and they actually do not mind people swimming with them.

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Turtle watching activity is just a short walk from the shoreline. The area that is being enclosed inside the white markers are off limits as it is designated feeding area of the turtles. One can snorkel freely outside the feeding enclosure. The shaded area on top left of the photo is the resting area where you can rent tables, eat, and place your stuff.


You can also spot clown fishes and other interesting animals aside from turtles.

Asking the guide I found out that there are two species of pawikan– sea turtles to the local dialect  that freely roam the sanctuary – the hawksbill and green turtles. Hawksbill sea turtles normally can be found in deep water as their diet is mainly hard variety of corals and sea anemones. They can be identified by their curvy and pointed beak that look like those of bird, hence the name, which is used to cut off chunks of hard coral. On the other hand, green turtles, a misnomer because they normally are brown in color are found in shallow waters and can be identified by their bullet-shaped head, are usually can be found either grazing or sleeping on the soft corals. Their main diet includes sea grass, sponges, jellyfishes, and algae that are abundant in the shallow waters on the island. How to spot the male from female species? Male turtles have long protruding tails while female turtles have a very short or almost non existent tail.


female green turtle

Apo Island was identified not a breeding area, but rather as a feeding ground for female species of both hawksbill and green turtles. The lack of poachers, more than three decades of sanctuary protection both from government and community and plenty of vegetation ensures that turtles keep coming to Apo Island to feed and roam. Aside from turtle watching and diving, Apo island is also perfect for snorkeling and fish feeding in front of the island facing open waters but as of March 2017, the fish sanctuary located at the southeastern part of the island was closed “temporarily” since 2013 because the shallow coral reef was severely damaged by storm surge made by typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan)


corals like these littered the shallow sea floor of Apo Island- just be careful not to step on them!

If you feel that day trip is not enough and you want to explore the island that’s consistently being ranked as one of the best dive sites in the world, you may opt to choose from the two accommodations within Apo- The Apo Island Beach Resort and Liberty Lodge. The Apo Island Beach Resort (http://www.apoislandresort.com/) is the resort you see on your left side upon arrival at landing area on the island. The resort look really nice and cozy and this would be my choice if I will be staying overnight in the island. Liberty Lodge (http://www.apoisland.com/) meanwhile offers 7 different types of accommodation which is located in Apo Village and they are hooked in to the village generator giving them electricity for 3 hours a day from 6pm – 9pm. Liberty Lodge also has Paul’s Diving Center on the premises as well. Their room rates are reasonable, but they are priced in US dollars.

Getting There and Away

The best way to go to the island is directly from Dumaguete. Travelers coming from Cebu City, will have to take the scenic 3-hour bus ride to Liloan, Santander from Cebu City South Bus Terminal (fare is 185 PHP per person). Then take a ferry to Sibulan port (travel time is 25 minutes or less, and fare is around 67 PHP).  From there, take a jeepney (10PHP per person) or tricycle (20PHP per trip) to Ceres Bus terminal. Once you’ve arrived at the Ceres Bus Terminal, hop on a bus bound to Bayawan City (confirm to route first that it passes through Zamboanguita). When the conductor asks you where you are going, advise to drop you off at Malatapay Market (travel time is about 40mins to one hour , and fare is 50PHP for air-conditioned bus and 25PHP for the regular ones).

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I know it does sound cliché, but definitely a once in a lifetime experience

Travel tips

• if you’re traveling solo or a party of 2 or 3, better try to join other groups not only you’ll be getting bigger boat, youll be splitting the rental at a much lower rate.

  try to avoid putting sunscreen or sunblock when swimming as there are chances that you may bump into them and chemicals that protect you from the sun can harm them

  be careful in swimming on the shallow waters as you can easily trample the soft corals that are abundantly growing just meters from the shore. Please. Please. Please watch out and be careful.

  Aside from water activities you can trek up to the lighthouse through a very steep stairs that would take you up the hill.

  Snorkeling gears are not mandatory and can be rented or you can bring your own. Also, hiring a guide is optional. You can also rent tables and chairs that have a shade that is just few steps from the enclosure. You can also request to have food served after turtle watching.

• You are not allowed to bring sand, stones, shells, pieces pf corals or the likes from Apo Island.

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Turtles actually do not mind you. They normally just lazily grazing at the seafloor not paying attention to the ecstatic onlookers.

Sample Day Tour Schedule

5:00 – 5:30 – breakfast

5:30 – 6:00 – head to Ceres Bus Terminal

6:00 – 7:00 – travel time from Dumaguete to Malatapay

7:00 – 7:30 – registration

7:30 – 8:30 – travel time from Malatapay to Apo Island

9:00 -11:30 – turtle watching

12:00 – 2:00 lunch

2:00 – 4:00 free time

4:00 – 5:00 travel time from Apo to Malatapay

5:00 – 6:00 head back to Dumaguete


you can never get it as fresh as this – right smack at the shoreline

Budget Breakdown (2 pax)

    40.00PHP – tricycle from Dumaguete to Ceres Bus Terminal (VV)

   200.00PHP – bus fare (air conditioned) (VV)

   200.00PHP – registration (Malatapay)

2.000.00PHP – medium boat rental (good for 4 pax)

   100.00PHP – sanctuary fee (Apo Island)

   300.00PHP – guide fee (good for 4 pax)

   300.00PHP – table rental

   600.00PHP – snorkeling gear fee 2 set (vest, goggles, fins)

   500.00PHP – lunch

   260.00PHP – misc expenses



“one of the best dive sites in the world!”


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This entry was published on March 28, 2017 at 11:57 am and is filed under accommodation, beach, daytrip, food, getaway, island hoping, naturetripping, photography, places, places (local), resorts, snorkeling, travel. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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