Oh, Dumaguete. How I love you so. And everything gets better when you get to swim with the turtles of Apo Island.
A Bit About Dumaguete
Dumaguete is a very unassuming province in Negros Occidental, which is approximately an hour flight from Manila. The city has a lot of claims – retirement capital of the world, best healthcare, best university, best diving. I don’t know about the first three, but Dumaguete is one of the best diving experiences I’ve had in the country.
I’ve been to Dumaguete thrice: once for work, and twice to dive, and there is just so much to talk about! For this, let’s talk about turtles.
Apo Island, not to be confused with Apo Reef in Mindoro, is an island off the coast of Zamboanguita, Dumaguete. Zamboanguita is a one-hour drive from Dumaguete Airport, and Apo Island is a 45-minute boat ride from Malatapay Port. Here’s a better way to explain it. I know, that’s a lot of traveling, but stay with me!
Swimming with the Turtles of Apo Island
My turtle experience happened in 2013. I just got my Open Water certification then, and Dumaguete was my first dive trip outside the comfort zone of Anilao. I went through some challenges with accommodations on the island (more on that later), but when I finally got myself settled, the first order of business was to see the turtles.
Apo Island is very well known for the sea turtles, and they have A LOT of them here. Having been a sanctuary for 30+ years, the environment around the island is just bursting with life and color. It’s not a nesting ground, but Apo Island is a feeding ground for females, which is why they are such in abundance.
There are two species that thrive in Apo Island – the Green Turtle, normally brown, but are named after the color of the fat beneath their shell; and the Hawksbill Turtle, identified by their pointy beak, which is used to cut off chunks of hard coral. Honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference when I got there, so let’s keep the photos un-captioned.
The best part? You don’t need to dive to see them. They stay in the shallows, and all you need to do is walk down a few feet from the shore and dip your head into the water. That’s it. And you see SO MANY of them. It’s seriously unbelievable. While they’re easy to spot, they swim around a lot, and can sometimes venture into deeper water, so don’t rely on your bodily skills alone. Get a pair of fins and float around with them.
Snorkel or Dive?
Notice how awesome my photos are? I use a Go Pro Hero 3 White, and it doesn’t produce the best underwater photos. And during the time these photos were taken, I hadn’t gotten a filter yet, so these are raw images. That’s how shallow the water is, and that’s how easy it is to see them.
Yes, they’re pretty. Yes, they’re awesome. They’re not easy to catch, but it’s not impossible, but please, please do not touch. I can only imagine the stress they go through when tourists are around, so chasing after them will definitely be even worse. You don’t want to be responsible for the disappearance of these turtles, do you?
Getting to Apo Island
For this particular post, I’ll talk about the first trip, which is when I stayed right on Apo Island.
To be completely honest – don’t stay there if you don’t have to.
The island is beautiful, but electricity is cut off by 6PM. It’s total blackness, and there is absolutely nothing you can do. It can also get pretty hot, and September wasn’t a bad month.
There are three choices for accommodations on Apo Island. The most expensive one is Apo Island Beach Resort, which is expensive so I will skip that.
I first booked a stay at the nightmare that is Liberty Lodge mainly because they offer boat transfers with their accommodations. Without this, you’ll have to wait your turn at the Malatapay Port, and boats have no regular schedule. If you’re lucky enough to have gone in a group, then it’s easier to convince the boatmen to make the trip. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until the boat gets full.
Liberty Lodge tricks you into thinking that they’re well-reviewed, but that’s because the Trip Advisor page they advertise is that of Apo Island. If you check on Agoda, you won’t be too impressed.
So what was wrong?
Long story short, they’re downright rude. First of all, they forgot to pick us up. THEN, when we were finally picked up an extra hour later, we arrive at the resort where there was absolutely NOBODY.
When Liberty herself finally showed up, she got mad at me for being impatient at the reception. I stormed out and canceled my reservation, and promptly got a text message from her saying how stupid I was to walk out because I had very little options on the island. I hate her.
A Pleasant Stay at Mario’s Homestay
I already read about Mario’s Homestay before I got to Dumaguete, so I knew I had somewhere to go when I stormed out of Liberty. It was just a few steps away from Liberty, but on higher ground and farther from the beach. I called him and, to my horror, he wasn’t sure if he had an available room for me. STILL, he invited me over to this Homestay to offer lunch. The whole ordeal with Liberty was so frustrating, I ACTUALLY forgot to eat. And that doesn’t happen very often.
Because good things happen to good people, one of Mario’s guests canceled, and a room opened up for me. WOOHOO! It was a very simple fan room, but huge and just cost me Php 800 per night. WHAT A STEAL! You can find all the rates here. Despite the simplicity of the place, they also offer dive courses and fun dives. At the time, all their equipment was new, which earned them 100 points in my book. He ALSO offers transfers from Apo Island to Dauin, so everything was just perfect.
I told Mario about my experience at Liberty, and he laughed it off. Apparently, he wasn’t supposed to be fully booked that period, but all his guests at the Homestay were frustrated guests at Liberty who walked out as well. I like it when I make good decisions.
Don’t get me wrong – Mario’s was great. The island is almost perfect. It’s just so inconvenient. Between figuring out how to get there and dealing with absolutely no electricity for 15 hours, it wasn’t the most ideal experience.
Zamboanguita and Dauin are lined with resorts that all offer day trips to Apo Island anyway, so I think that would be a better idea. Unless you’re into pitch darkness and eerie silence, of course, then night time at Apo Island would be perfect.