One of the amazing things about scuba diving in the Philippines is how diverse the dive sites and marine life are from one location to another. Nowhere was this contrast more striking than during our day of diving at Apo Island, a tiny islet surrounded by absolutely stunning robust coral fields and wall dives just off the coast of southern Negros island. You can reach Apo Island by a short 45-minute boat ride from your Dauin or Dumaguete dive resort. However, in contrast to the fantastical Dauin muck diving we’d experienced the day prior, Apo Island offers the intrepid diver a completely different underwater experience. Here at Apo Island, shy sea turtles are a frequent feature and the coral life is some of the prettiest and most pristine we’ve seen yet. (It goes head to head with the corals we saw on our snorkeling adventure around Nusa Lembongan in Indonesia.) While personally I can’t say Apo Island was my favorite diving in the Philippines it was worth a see while we were visiting Negros.
We arrived to Apo Island by way of banga boat from our Dauin dive resort Liquid Dive Dumaguete. Typically resorts will package a day’s worth of diving (3 dives) at Apo Island with lunch aboard the boat during in-between surface intervals. We dove three different sites at Apo Island on our recent day trip from Dauin: (1) Chapel, (2) Katipanan, and (3) Largahan.
Our first dive at Chapel was the deepest of the three sites and my favorite of the day as it was more of a challenge with currents and we saw a bit more in terms of variety of fish. Most of our finds were found between 20 and 25 meters including several fimbriated morays, sea turtles, parrotfish, lizardfish and scorpionfish.
The sea fans on this wall dive were also particularly colorful and beautiful.
And a new favorite of mine to watch (and least favorite of Adam’s to photograph) was the tiny and always moving juvenile harlequin sweetlips who would shimmy this way and that as he darted in and out of corals.
After a surface interval and snack break of yellow watermelon we jumped in for our second dive of the day at Katipanan.
The best way I can think to describe Katipanan is lush. The entire dive site was a rolling field of soft and hard corals all painted in pastel hues of purples, pinks, oranges and greens. We saw less on this dive but the spectacularly pristine corals made up for the lack of fish life. And every now and again we would spot a granular sea star or curious seal faced pufferfish. This dive site is often used for Open Water courses because it is fairly straight forward. We ended the dive in corals so shallow our tanks were nearly touching the surface of the water.
For our last dive of the day at Largahan, our dive guide Sam was especially good at spotting different species of nudibranch – from Kurbaryana and Miller nemborthas to Dorids. We were also thrilled to see two sea turtles and a swimming cuttlefish. And Adam came dangerously close to a giant, well-disguised scorpionfish whose face was only distinguishable up close by his dangling beard of red and white tassels.
Apo Island, not to be confused with Apo Reef further north, has been a marine sanctuary for more than 39 years which has contributed towards the maintenance of pristine coral reefs and a happy and healthy sea turtle population. The local fisherman have for years recognized the importance of preserving the integrity of the reef for generations to come. Consequently, a marine park fee is issued to divers and snorkelers to keep the corals healthy. Today the sanctuary is home to more than 650 species of fish and more than 400 of the 450 documented species of corals found in the Philippines. So if you fancy swimming amongst beautiful corals and spotting a handful of sea turtles, Apo Island is a great destination for you.
Most dive resorts based in Dauin offer regular day trips to Apo Island which includes three dives, transport and lunch. We based ourselves out of Liquid Dive Dumaguete. Though not the cheapest of option around, our dives with Liquid were professionally and efficiently run and their resort campus is an amazing oasis.
If you are basing yourself in Dumaguete City instead of Dauin, either to dive or snorkel, Harold’s Mansion is a good budget option. Beware, though, that they pack the boat full with snorkelers and divers, and we heard reports of divers sharing air long before safety stops.
What: Apo Island, and the Apo Island Marine Reserve, offers a distinct set of dives from the muck sites just off of Negros’ mainland. Here you will find gorgeous steep walls with a healthy array of different hard corals and, if you are lucky, huge schools of Jacks. Friendly turtles sightings are common here. Visibility is also generally excellent at Apo, in some places more than 30 meters.
Where: Apo Island can be reached by a one-hour boat ride from Dauin or Dumaguete City located on the southeastern coast of the island of Negros in the Visayas, Philippines. It is approximately a 20 minute trike or van ride to Dauin from neighboring Dumaguete City. Flights are the easiest, though more costly, way to get to Dumaguete City on Negros. We arrived to Dauin by OceanJet ferry from the island of Cebu for 700PHP per person.
When: October to early June is the best diving season around Dumaguete and Dauin. Avoid July to September when there are strong monsoons.
How: Most Dauin and Dumaguete based dive resorts offer regular day trips to Apo Island.
Cost: We dove three Apo Island sites with Liquid Dumaguete. Day trips to Apo Island are packaged as a three-dive day including lunch and snacks for 4,800 PHP plus 300PHP in sanctuary fees.
Disclaimer: Our day of Apo Island diving was partially sponsored by Liquid Dive Dumaguete. As with everything on our blog, our opinions above are an honest account of what we experienced. As you consider your options for Dauin diving reach out to the friendly staff at Liquid (+63 035 400 3244, info