Apo Island: Swimming with Giant Sea Turtles

Beneath the lofty waves across Apo Island, I was rekindled in a world where you hear nothing but the symphony of ebbing waters. Looking down on the tranquil aqua meadows of the deep, there was not a single turtle in sight. I drifted away, listening to the sound of my own breathing, adoring the changing hues of the sea.

Arms stretched, legs spread apart, my body relaxed as I remained afloat, patiently waiting for the sea turtles to show. But the strong current shoved me forward, filling my esophagus with salt water, blocking my only source of air. I bobbed my head up, emptied the snorkel, and spat the excess liquid that I ingested.

“Darn it!” My clenched fist blasted through the water. I was not pleased with what happened.

apo island arrival

On a gloomy morning, our boat was anchored in front of the coast of Apo Island.

I remained there like a buoyant styrofoam ball, still and unsure what to do next. Like a toddler who just threw temper tantrums to her parents, I was grippling on to my orange life vest, rotating around, kicking my feet with great frustration after being teased by the Bohol sea.

Observing my friends near the shoreline of the island, I felt that urge to cool off and try once more.

Second Attempt

Tightly, I adjusted the straps of my mask and secured the snorkel in place. My chest rose as I inhaled deeply, establishing that rhythm that I lost several minutes ago – before the tantrums, before that miniature wave curl that seeped down my tube, before choking on crashing saltwater.

Inhale. Exhale. I slowly submerged my head back and gracefully glided across.

apo island clear water

Visible coral reefs even after the little drizzle of rain.

My eyes wander on the beautiful marine ecology below me. Soft corals swayed gently as the sea pushes and pulls away. From afar, a clownfish dug in deep into the anemones as a school of fish passed by. Sweetlips and angelfishes are swimming along the colorful garden of corals.

I was compelled by the teeming life-forms of the blue. Tiny shimmering fishes scatter all over like stars on a stark night. It did not matter to me then if a giant sea turtle would not grace me with its presence.

That parallel world was enough for me to say that Apo Island has indeed one of the world’s best known marine sanctuaries.

Shallow Waters

Diving Apo Island: Underwater Photography Gallery

The return of the jacks (big-eyed trevally) to Apo Island is one of the great success stories of the Marine Sanctuary. This huge school can usually be found in the deeper sections of Cogon Point. (Photo by Tommy Schultz)

Still flat on the surface, the current left me near the village, some meters away. I fought my way back to see that flourishing garden, dodging the waves as they came near. But it was too strong. Too strong that it propelled me once more to the shallow waters.

The view was too hazy that I could not see where I am headed. My arms both working its way to go on the opposite direction, but the waves gushed. Again, my snorkel was filled with saltwater that I forcefully expelled it out just like a Beluga whale emptying its blowhole.

“I should really go back to the boat before the waves become violent.” I thought to myself while struggling to take control of the situation.

Out of nowhere, I felt a firm grip on my arm. I looked to my left and saw a blurred profile of a man, pulling me near him. He began pointing to the clouded part of the water. He flicks his finger countless times and there I saw the head of the sea turtle hiding behind the murky view.

apo island turtle

One of Apo Island’s sea turtles in flight.

Closer Look

His body escaped the translucence and elegantly sailed in front of our eyes. The man pulled me closer as he hurriedly paddled to catch up. We both swam on top of the large creature. He let go of my arm and I was slowly kicking to push myself forward just to savor that wonderful moment.

“Wow! Finally!”

Two more turtles came near as the waters slowly pushed us down. They fan out their legs and effortlessly glided around like eagles soaring above the sky. I lay there restful. Extending my arm with the hopes of touching them, right there, out in the wild.

* * *

Malatapay, Zamboanguita is the jump-off point in reaching Apo Island. It is best to start from Dumaguete, the province’s capital city, and work your way down. While in the city, take a tricycle ride to the bus terminal (Southbound) – look for the label “Zamboanguita.” It might cost you Php 20-30 depending on your negotiation skills. Any amount greater than that should not be tolerated.

Once in the bus, inform the bus conductor that you want to go to Apo Island. Fare costs Php60 and be alert when you’re nearing Zamboanguita. There’s a sign on the road that reads “Apo Island” so it will be easier for you to navigate when the attendant decides to drop you off. Travel time takes around 45 minutes.

Find your way to Malatapay Market. It’s just a 15-20 minute walk away from the sign. You will then find the jetty port there as well as the Information Center.

Below are the necessary fees you need to pay before you go to Apo Island:

  • Boat Fare – Php 2000 (good for 4 passengers); Php 3000 (good for 8 passengers); Public boats are available for Php300 but you might need to wait for hours for other passengers.
    • Inform the boat-in-charge how many hours you will be in the island; or if you decide to stay the night there what time will they pick you up. Normally, the rates cover your round-trip.
  • Entrance fee – Php100
  • Sanctuary fee – Php50
  • Gear: Life Vest – Php100, Snorkeling Gear – Php200 (can be negotiated)

Please be reminded that the boat ride from the port to the island would take around 40-50 minutes depending on the sea condition. There is also no guarantee that you will arrive in the island dry. (On a personal note: The waves are very strong and even a slight turn could shower you with saltwater at an instant.) Make sure that your gadgets are stored in a dry bag or in their respective waterproof casing.

The boat will initially dock on the shore across the island. There are resorts there if you decide to have lunch there or stay there for the night. Snorkeling gears and life jackets are already available on the boat but if you want to bring your own gear, you can.

Going back to Dumaguete, just head to the road where you were dropped off and hail a bus Northbound. It flashes a “Dumaguete” sign on its windshield. Alternatively, there are jeepneys going back to Dumaguete so you can ride one back as well.

Best months to travel: Dry Season – March to June (Despite our trip being rainy and all, the marine biodiversity can still be appreciated although that picture-perfect aqua green waters could not be captured when it’s drizzling.)


  1. Joshua Cobler

    Ate Regine, this looks so cool! I’d love to try this someday 😀

    • Regine Garcia

      Hey there @joshuacobler:disqus 🙂 You definitely should. Better yet, do it when you come here to the Philippines! 🙂


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