Apo Reef in the Philippines can be summed up easily in one word, paradise! It’s the kind of place that divers and snorkelers dream off. Situated a few hours by local boat from the Mindoro coastline, it comprises one small island with white sand beach, and a series of coral reefs.
The island is worth a trip for itself, being perfectly secluded in the protected national park waters of Apo Reef, but the main reason to go there is those coral reefs, and the marine life they support.
Teeming with reef sharks, turtles, countless species of fish, and if your lucky, manta rays and hammerhead sharks. I did not dive on the reefs, opting for the snorkelling instead, which is some of the most spectacular I have done anywhere.
Getting to Apo Reef can be a little tricky, as it is hard to reach. The best way as a budget traveller, is to spend a few days on the island of Pandan, just of the Mindoro coast. Pandan Island is a little piece of paradise in itself, with a decent coral drop off surrounding it, and famous for its easy to see turtles.
I personally spotted 13 separate turtles in 1.5 hours of snorkelling!
From Pandan Island you can then go on a day trip out to Apo Reef. This is done on a local wooden boat, with diving equipment on board for the divers in the group.
Cruising along the perfect blue waters for a few hours, passing schools of dolphins and pilot whales en route, you then start to see the crystal clear waters of the reefs approach.
Swimming With Sharks In Apo Reef
The boat then drops you at various points around the different reefs throughout the day. Divers generally do 3 dives, with the snorkelers following above. Entering the water at the first reef, and peaking underwater for the first time with your facemask, you are greeted by an underwater wonderland.
A deep blue abyss is greeted by a coral drop off, where reef sharks swim around, and the bright coloured fishes dance around in the current. Snorkeling just above the coral drop off, you can stare down in amazement at the visibility in the water.
Following turtles along the reef, while keeping an eye out for reef sharks is what it’s all about here. An inquisitive reef shark came within several metres to see what we were all about.
The other 2 reefs for snorkeling were equally as good, with reef number 2 showing the most amount of reef sharks, around 15 in total.
I had no underwater camera for photos, but the photo above I took in the Togean Islands in Indonesia, and has the same kind of visibility in the water, to give you an idea.
Heading to the small island, for a brief visit to check out the white sand beach, which has some of the finest sand anywhere, you then swim back out to your boat, again crossing paths with turtles and reef sharks along the way.
The divers equally were impressed with the diving, although some may have been maybe expecting a bit more out of it. The reef does get hammerhead sharks and manta rays from time to time, but none were seen when we visited. But I can happily say it is worth a visit if you like diving or snorkeling.
Arriving on Pandan Island, after a very relaxing trip back on the boat, with the sun slowly going down, you grab a drink and sit on the beach to watch the sunset.
A day in Paradise.
Going island hopping in Coron island another is great place in the Philippines to visit that I can highly recommend and not far from Apo Reef.
This is a good post to read about diving in the Philippines.
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If you are a beginner snorkeler and a non-swimmer you can check out this post on how to deal with that.