Apo Island, Philippines

Apo Island is a real slice of heavenly island living, and one of the places, along with Coron, we regret not spending more time. A tiny island consisting of little more than a rocky coast and a smattering of homestays and diveshops, it’s got a genuine warmth and sense of homely, familial welcome that makes it unique.

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Only accessible via diving day trips or small water taxis from nearby Malatay, the island hasn’t been ruined by development, and this is evident from the curious locals who welcome you onto the island; the eco-conscious programmes ran with local kids about conservation; and the pristine perfect reef.

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We stayed at Mario’s Homestay which was really great. On one night there was live music playing, and – although we cheekily brought food from the mainland to cut costs on buying meals there – the food did look great. Mario’s was also a dive shop so we did all our diving through there which made it super easy and relaxing, and the divemasters were really great fun. We even spent our last evening there drinking rum on the beach until the early hours with one of our divemasters and boat crew guys – they were such good fun!

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One of the amazing and unique things about Apo is it’s a hatching location for green sea turtles, and every day between 4-5pm the turtles come in to lay eggs during the season. On our first day at Apo we swam off the bay with our snorkels and within about 2 minutes we saw our first huge green sea turtle swimming along next to us. The bay’s very rocky and the water’s pretty shallow at that time so we had to float carefully and make small movements to navigate the rocks, but we followed the turtle intently, tracking its moves through the crystal clear water.

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This turtle was followed by another, and another, and each time we saw one we’d watch for a few minutes then move away so as not to spook it. We kept our distance from the turtles as we know it’s very damaging to accidentally touch them or disturb their swimming path, but Sam managed to capture a great video of one turtle swimming along and coming up for air. The bay was otherwise packed with beautiful fish, from sturgeonfish, angel fish, and even my favourite – the Picasso triggerfish.

 

After our swim we bought a large beer from a shop lady and watched the sunset, while local kids fished using only a snorkel and their hands. It was a great sunset, and we felt really overjoyed to be on beautiful Apo, away from it all.

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The next day we did two dives, and the first one was pretty rubbish for me. It was our first dive after completing our Open Water and after meeting some fun Brits at breakfast we’d got ourselves excited about the dive, but unfortunately I felt too weighed down and spent a lot of the dive unable to straighten out and achieve my natural buoyancy, which meant I breathed faster, and got through my air quicker, so less time in the water. Sam was also breathing fast and came out with a headache afterwards, though otherwise he dived really well and I felt really proud!


Despite the rubbish diving on my part, we still saw some amazing huge turtles and beautiful coral garden at the end, which, with the strong sun shining through the water onto the myriad colours, was undeniably beautiful.

The second dive couldn’t have been more different. After a good cry and vent to Sam in the hour in between, I returned to the water determined, and after adding 1kg less to my weight belt, I felt completely at home in the water and achieved my natural buoyancy with no problem. We saw incredible unicornfish, moorish idols, groupers, jacks, and so many colourful and different fish breeds I could probably never remember their names in a million life times. At the end I still had tons of air left, so I stayed down with the experienced divers looking around the reefs in detail, practising navigating tight spaces and letting the shoals of colour swim around me. The dive was incredible and I even received some compliments from the pro divers who’d assumed I had far more experienced, which was lovely! Sam dived much better too, breathed less air and didn’t feel sicky afterwards.

 

Flying high from the dive, we took a picnic to a nearby cove and wiled away a few hours swimming in the shallows. Later that evening we had the aforementioned rum and coke on the beach with our dive master, playing loud Abba and Queen (they love pop classics in the Philippines!) and talking about diving, colonisation, and the worst backpackers they’d met.

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The next day we were predictably hanging, and after one last snorkel with the turtles we said an emotional farewell to all the new friends we’d made at Mario’s and took the boat back with an Israeli couple we’d taxied over with, then made the LOOOONG journey to Moalboal, on Cebu.