By Iphraim T. Cabristante
Over 650 species of fish and 400 species of corals.
Groups of gentle sea turtles that live not too far away from the shore ready to greet tourists.
A city of clown fish where kids can find Nemo and see him live in flesh.
And most of all, the priceless peace and quiet synced with the soothing sound of rolling waves from the tranquil sea.
It’s all in Apo Island, a small, peaceful piece of paradise found off the southeastern tip of Negros Oriental, roughly 25 kilometers (or more than an hour away) from Dumaguete City.
Of late, the place has become a diving and snorkeling destination and an ideal vacation getaway for both local and foreign tourists, and this can be credited to the undying efforts by the people who live in the island, who are composed of around 500 to 600 families. No wonder diving magazine Sport Diver declared the island as one of the 100 top diving spots in the world. But believe it or not, these efforts originally weren’t for the tourists.
“People in the island have the heart to protect the environment not for tourists, but because they want to have improved lives and to have better fish catch,” Rene Juntereal, dive shop manager of Apo Island Beach Resort and an avid diver himself, tells The FREEMAN. True enough, the island’s status of being a tourist favorite only came in second, because Apo Island is mainly a marine sanctuary now widely recognized by the world’s scientific community. The plan was initiated by Silliman University marine biologist Angel Alcala sometime in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Eventually it caught the attention of foreign tourists, with a big slice of it coming from the so-called “Clownfish City” located in the southeastern part of the 12-hectare paradise.
From either taking a bus, boat or plane to Dumaguete City, the easiest route to this destination is a bus or jeepney ride from the capital to the Malatapay Market in Zamboanguita, known for its delicious servings of fish tinola. After getting off the market, you can ride a motor boat to Apo, which takes around 30 minutes. You might possibly get wet during the ride, so preparedness and keeping all your valuables like cameras and cellphones is a must.
A big rock formation (fondly called “The Rock”) will greet you upon arriving at Apo Island. Aside from diving in the 11 different diving spots around the island to see the gorgeous corals and fishes, you can also try snorkeling to see the green sea turtles that live underwater, and they can be usually found only a few feet away from the shores of the town area. If you’re in for the walk of your lifetime, you can try trekking the Eco-Trail, a 45-minute trek from the lagoon avenue to the view deck on the southern tip of the island, or the Lighthouse Trek, which takes you to the highest point of Apo where you can see both a modern solar-powered lighthouse and an old abandoned one.
If you plan to stay the night or two in Apo Island, there are a number of hotels and beach resorts located both inside and outside the paradise. Rene, however, says that Apo Island Beach Resort is the most ideal place to stay there because it is situated in a secluded cove. As for the locals in the island, Rene says: “They’re used to tourists, so they are very friendly. They’ll leave tourists, especially foreigners, on their own, unlike in Boracay where the locals sometimes hassle visitors.” Apo is also known for its delicious seafood, ranging from the traditional kinilaw to certain types of sea cucumbers.
What makes Apo Island a must-go for a vacation? “It’s the fact that it’s still real,” Rene says. Unlike Boracay, the island is covered with strict marine regulations that keep it from being exploited by business. The sincere beauty of its underwater world and the warm attitude of the locals towards tourists make one’s stay in Apo hard to forget.
Are you in for some candid, natural fun? Pack your bags now and spend a day or two in Apo Island.