Home AsiaPhilippines The stunning Apo Reef in the Philippines – the 2nd biggest reef in the world!

The stunning Apo Reef in the Philippines – the 2nd biggest reef in the world!

by Hanna
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Apo Reef is the second biggest reef in the world – right after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It is one of the most beautiful reefs I’ve ever seen but I must say that if you dive, you’ll get so much more out of the trip than only by snorkeling.

Where is Apo Reef located?

Apo Reef is located on the West side of Mindoro Island in the Philippines. It takes 2 hours from Pandan island with a 2-story live boat as well as from Sablayan harbor. You can also get there from Coron. If you choose to go there from Coron, you need to stay at a live boat for several days which means that you’ll sleep on the boat too.

Apo Reef has two islands around it but otherwise, it’s quite far away on the sea.  If it’s windy there’s no place other than the one island to escape the waves.  Apo Reef isn’t the easiest trip to do if you get easily sea sick. Otherwise it’s a place you should see and the best part of it is that there is no crowds there!

Pandan Island

It was a beautiful morning at Pandan Island when we left for the tour to Apo Reef!

What to expect of Apo Reef?

Snorkeling in Apo Reef was amazing and I have no regrets other than I wish I could have dived.  I was sick during my stay on Pandan Island so I couldn’t dive but I still didn’t want to miss the Apo Reef. By diving, you can see sharks and rays when snorkeling will offer barracudas, pufferfish and colorful corals as your highlights.

The trip to Apo Reef is expensive. Like really expensive! Snorkeling trip was 3600 PHP and diving is 9400 PHP from Pandan Island.  Part of the price is the environmental fee which is higher for a diver than for a non-diver. It’s not cheap but it is worth it if you go all the way to that part of the Philippines.

Pandan Island

Pandan Island

My day at Apo Reef

I went on this trip with Mariposa Diving company which has its office on Pandan island. My first feeling was really good since the lady in the dive shop was enthusiastic when she told us what the reef is like. In the morning we had to leave pretty early, around 7 am already, because it takes two hours to reach the reef.

The start of the day was good. We spent time on the open-air top floor of the boat and talked with the other people on the tour. There were also mattresses where we could sleep a bit if we got tired. We also got a cold chocolate bar before the first snorkel/dive which gave a good energy boost before going into the water.

School of fish at Apo Reef

School of fish at Apo Reef

The first downside was that I noticed that there were only me and my travel partner who were snorkeling. The others were there to dive. What happened was that we didn’t get any briefings of what to see underwater or much else about the location. The only thing we were told was that we will drop you off here and collect you back from another point. I tried to ask about all the things that we could see there but the divers rushed into the water and we didn’t get any information.

The first snorkeling was awesome despite the lack of information and thanks to myself. It’s good that I’ve worked in a diving company in Thailand so I was able to spot some of the fish and show them to my travel friend too. The best of the snorkel was the corals and the amazing colors!  I’ve never seen such colorful corals in my life and the amount of fish was amazing! The only trouble was an aggressive triggerfish that ended up chasing us at one point of our snorkel.

The second snorkeling went really well too and we saw a huge barracuda! There were also a lot of cool new fish species and several big pufferfish! The reef wasn’t as colorful as the first one but still a beautiful one.

Apo Reef

Beautiful sea views near the Apo Reef!

When things started to go wrong

The third snorkeling sight was the one where everything went wrong and it showed the unprofessionalism of the company too. Before going into the water I tried to ask what would be the best way to do the snorkel and what to see underwater but I didn’t get any instructions even though I really asked for them. They again just dropped us in the water and we tried to manage.

For starters, we could only see dead coral – a lot of it. After snorkeling some time we were able to find some live coral but nothing special. At that point, we noticed that there is a very strong current that will be pushing us further away from our boat. First, we let the current lead us forward until we hit a school of plankton.

Unicorn fish at Apo Reef in the Philippines

Unicorn fish!!

Plankton stings really hurt and we tried to locate our boat. We saw that the boat was really far away, where we had left, so we had no other choice than start swimming against the current. I would say that I’m a pretty good swimmer with the fins but the current was so strong that I really struggled swimming against it.

I was losing strength at the same time when the plankton kept on stinging me. It was when I spotted a couple of jellyfish when I really gathered my last remaining power and reached the boat finally. I was exhausted, angry and hurt from all the stings. And to top it all off, NOBODY came to ask how was our snorkel or if we are okay.

Apo Reef

Coming back from the trip to the Apo Reef.

Should you visit Apo Reef?

I think you should definitely visit Apo Reef because it is stunning! If you are a diver, go diving there! I really wish I could have done it as a diving trip instead of snorkeling because the divers saw so many amazing creatures there like sharks and rays. However, the reef is stunning and it will be an amazing experience whether you’ll be diving or snorkeling. Just don’t do it with Mariposa diving and you’ll enjoy it a lot more.

Hope you get to visit the amazing Apo Reef one day!

If you are looking to add Coron to your Philippines travel itinerary, read more here!

Red Horse beer

Proper beer after the day at sea!

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