Apo Reef: A DIY guide to a spontaneous solo trip!

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Disclaimer: This blog post was originally written for my own self-justification and self-satisfaction. Before I went on this trip, I didn’t have plans to start a blog. So excuse me if I lack convenient information and/or photos.  

It’s summer and it was a long weekend! And as usual when you plan with friends, they cancel at the last minute (even though it’s sad, I got used to it, which kind of makes it more sad huhu). But since the start of 2017, I’ve decided to not let myself be held back by such little inconveniences, and so this happened:

Yep, this happened!

I only had two days to prepare and plan for this trip, and my destination was not even finalized (other candidates were Caramoan, Palaui and Romblon) until I got off work that Thursday afternoon. I thank the all-knowing internet for giving me guidance through and through not. 

I pushed through even though I had tons of doubts, and was scared, and was all alone, and though I am a girl(!). I still went even though the people I’m supposed to contact according to blogs were not responding. Also, my original plan which is to ride the supposed-to-be-very-convenient Dimple Star Bus failed. Their website said that the first trip to Sablayan will leave at 5am in Cubao. I arrived at their bus station in Ali Mall around 4 am, but the guard said that the first bus is yet  to arrive at 7am. (I tried calling them one day before, but there was no answer). Luckily, all hope is not lost! I did the more commonly used route, which is also cheaper:

  1. Bus to Batangas Port (Php 175)
  2. RORO to Abra de Ilog (Php 275 + Php 30 terminal fee)
  3. Van to Sablayan route (Php 220)

The above trip took almost 12 hours due to delays on the RORO and because, take note, it was not true that there is a ferry that goes to Abra de Ilog every hour!

View from the RORO before departure

Aside from the delay, everything else was smooth. Oh! I forgot I was scammed the moment I got off at the Batangas Port. My conscience forced me to buy Php 300 worth of pasalubong that aren’t even worth the price. Also, I’m not even halfway to Apo Reef and I’m already buying pasalubong (whut)?! Be careful of seemingly friendly locals!

So anyway, I arrived in Sablayan at around 5 pm. I didn’t immediately go to the tourism office because, drumroll… I got lost (haha) and I assumed offices close at 5pm! Also, some van drivers actually don’t know where the tourism office is. This one blog said it was “at the sports complex of Sablayan.” So I told the driver that the tourism office is near “the sports complex of Sablayan.” I was told that I got off too late and need another van ride back. Luckily for me and my system, I was too tired. I checked in at the nearest sign of a hotel/hostel/inn/guest house my eyes could see. I discovered the next day that the tourism office was just a Php 10 tricycle ride away (around 10-15min). And the supposed “sports complex” was just a mere basketball court surrounded by several landscaped (?) trees, plants and other vegetation. I could accept the term “park” or “plaza” for what I saw, but not “sports complex”! Not in a hundred years (considering the state of this country)!

Back to the nearest hotel story (sorry I got sidetracked), I checked in to Sablayan Adventure Camp (+639395698399). They were fully booked, but they kindly accommodated me just for one night. My pocket suffered a lot. They gave a poor, young, solo traveler a Php 1200 fan room good for 3(!) pax, and I strongly believed (during my sleep) that my poor mental state that day was taken advantaged of, but they’ve been kind so I forgive them, and hey, my Apo Reef adventure became possible because of that hotel (please read on while I crii).

When I went to the tourism office the next day, all Apo Reef tours were already fully booked until the next month. Apo Reef is classified as a Natural Park, hence it’s a protected area. All tourism activities are being regulated by the local government. They only accept up to 100 people to camp overnight. Although I begged and sadly insisted that I was traveling alone and would be willing to join a group who would also be willing to accept me, they were very strict. Advance bookings are needed! And here are the legit and official contact numbers! The famous ate Norie may not be answering your calls and texts because you’re disturbing her personal phone (based on actual experience, hehe).

Sablayan Municipal Tourism Office
amazing[dot]sablayan[at]gmail[dot]com
+63 998 546 5917 | +63 915 995 3895
+63 43 458 0028


I squeezed what remains of my good luck and went back to the hotel. They also offer Apo Reef and Pandan Island Tours. They are accredited by the LGU and has pre-registered a large group of 24 pax for an Apo Reef day tour the next day. Unfortunately for them but not for me, only 16 of those 24 arrived. So I grabbed a slot, and yey, my ultimate unplanned solo DIY Apo Reef adventure continued for the next three days (omg)! 

This is a strong, independent woman. Tested yet to be proven.

ITINERARY (without most of the unfortunate events) PLUS SOME TIPS:

Day 1

4:00 AM Arrived at Ali Mall, Cubao Bus Port (Go early because there’s a long line of waiting passengers and you may not be able to ride the first bus if you go a little later.)

5:00 AM Bought bus ticket to Batangas Port. The new bus port, which looked like an airport opens at this time. Just go to the ticket counter (there are 3-4 lines bound for Batangas Port), and you can choose the first bus leaving or whatever bus line you prefer. It’s a unified ticketing system which is very convenient. It’s also very new, so you might encounter some errors. Double check your ticket before leaving the counter.

5:30 AM Bus left Cubao.

8:00 AM Bus arrived at Batangas Port. There were still no RORO tickets for Abra de Ilog at this time, so I had an expensive breakfast that’s not worth the place and the price.

9:30 AM Bought RORO ticket to Abra de Ilog, paid for terminal fee, waited, and waited, and waited. Buy your tickets earlier because the RORO is supposed to leave at 10AM. I was just taking my time (or not).

11:00 AM Finally boarded the RORO and luckily, it left immediately.

2:30 PM Arrived at Abra de Ilog and boarded a van to Sablayan immediately (terminals are outside the port, you can’t overlook them).

5:00 PM Arrived at Sablayan Van Terminal, rode a tricycle to Sablayan Adventure Park (got ripped off for Php 50, when fare should only be Php 10).

5:30 PM Checked in at the hotel, and played at the beach happily even though I was alone, until I stepped on some jagged stone that caused some bleeding and serious pain that drove all my happiness away.

7:00 PM I had dinner, and talked to other tourists who helped me a lot in the next few days.

Day 2

9:00 AM Breakfast

10:00 AM Checked out of hotel and went to the tourism office.

11:00 AM I sadly went back to the hotel and waited for the group who kindly accommodated me; lunch

1:00 PM Start of  Pandan Island tour aka unlimited snorkeling (I went with a group who booked with Alt3rnate Route). I rented snorkeling gear from the hotel (Php 150 per day and it’s clean, they clean it immediately after you return them). You can also rent at the tourism office for a cheaper price they say. 

6:00 PM Back at the hotel, checked in with new friends (Yey! Thank you for adopting me). Wash up.

7:00 PM Dinner, etc. etc.

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Hammocks and swings are everywhere!


Day 3

5:00 AM Call time for Apo Reef Day tour (Bring your own snorkeling gear, they rent out dirty ones at Apo Island. Ew!)

7:00 AM Boat left hotel (The hotel is beside the beach, and boats can load and unload from there.)

10:30 AM Arrived and registered at Apo Island

11:00 AM Guided snorkeling at Apo Reef. I don’t recommend this activity especially for those who have underwater cameras because you have to hold onto a rope while a boat is pulling you when you do this. If you have a camera on one hand, you only have one other hand to grab the rope (unless you have more than two hands). It caused some arm pain and strain since it took quite a long time.  It also made me dizzy although I was underwater. If you still want to try this, go in front. Bubbles from the people in front might disrupt your lovely view if you’re at the back.

XX:XX PM I no longer cared about time because first, I felt nauseous from the guided snorkeling. Second, the island was too beautiful to care about anything more in the world. But, we had free lunch (c/o hotel) and rested a bit, and then explored the island. There were many things to see. Read other blogs but don’t be deceived because this has been long and I’m too tired to write about them one by one. Go and see for yourself!  😅

XX:XX PM Free snorkeling! Yay!

3:00 PM We had to go back earlier than planned because we encountered a slightly major boat malfunction, otherwise, the sun might set while we’re still at sea (and that’s not good according to the boatmen).

6:30 PM Arrival at hotel. Wash up. Dinner. etc. etc. I’m supposed to go back to Manila because, drumroll… I’m over my budget! And also, I want to lie all day long in my bed the next day, but my new friends insisted that I should just go with them the next day.  I am so gullible, and can’t think straight at night, and kind of owe them a lot (haha) soI stayed for the night.

Achievement unlocked: touchdown at Apo Reef.

Not in picture: sea turtles (yes, in plural form), Dory in various sizes, brain corals, other fish and corals I can’t id, and a beauty that can’t be captured by a camera.

Day 4 

I don’t believe this! (Staying for another night means more expenses. Opting to rest on the long way home should be just fine.)

6:00 AM Call time

8:00 AM Van departed from hotel

11:00 AM Arrival at Abra de Ilog.  They told me that the RORO schedule was changed from 12nn to 2PM. I wasn’t able to verify the source though.

1:30 PM Boarded the RORO. I met some familiar faces and they offered me a ride home since we would be going the same way. Yay! I met them at the hotel on my first night and they’re from the Funtastic Philippines FunGroup on Facebook. Check them out!

5:30 PM Arrived at Batangas Port, Dinner at a random mall

9:30 PM Safely arrived home! Yay!

MORE TIPS:

1. Plan your trip ahead. Although this spontaneous trip was an adventure in itself, I wasn’t able to do almost half of what’s on my bucket list. I prepared myself for an overnight camping at Apo Island and brought a blanket, an overnight survival kit and a lot of food, but sadly, unplanned adventures don’t always go your way. I was just lucky that despite my misadventure, everything still went well.

2. Bring your own tent if you can. It’s cheaper. Also, Sablayan Adventure Camp has a “camp” on its name for a reason. Figure it out. You can also cook your own food there, they have grills and stove all over the place. Their food is usually good for 2-3, and is expensive if you’re alone.

3. There are other, maybe cheaper places to stay at Sablayan mainland. Explore the town proper. Tricycle fare is only Php10 a ride.

4. Camping at Apo Island should still be the best. Watch the sunrise, the sunset, and the moonrise. Beach bumming at the island would also be well worth it.

5. Note to self: snorkeling only lets you see this tiny bit much compared to diving wherein you get to experience a whole new world. If scuba diving is too expensive, there’s always skin diving.

6. Bring your own water bottle and get refills at the hotel.

7. I’m really ashamed of my expenses so I won’t post the total breakdown here. Maybe I could tell you if you’d ask me in private though. Lol. This was a 4D3N trip (April 28-May 1). My 3rd night and my last day was very unnecessary because there was really nothing to do (if you don’t count hanging out with new friends hehe). We tried to look for pasalubong, but the pasalubong centers were weirdly closed on a holiday. I recommend to cut your expenses by going home at night. It’s also cooler because the RORO is not air-conditioned and there would be fewer passengers. I think Php 4,500 would be more than enough for a 3D2N DIY trip including all the activities I did, food for the entire trip, accommodation and travel fare. That is, if you won’t get into trouble. 😅

8. Kuya Rudy (+639292942236) is an Apo Reef tour guide. Everyone who goes there needs a guide (they know all the good snorkeling spots, they can take your underwater photos for you, they can be your lifeguard, and also I think(!) it’s sort of a policy). If you are booked through the tourism office, a tour guide will be automatically assigned to you or your group. But if you won’t go through them, you could directly ask kuya Rudy. He can do the tedious tasks for you such as pre-registering at the tourism office, and whatnot.

9. For solo travelers, don’t be afraid to start the conversation. It’s cheaper to join a group, so force yourself to socialize. If you don’t feel very welcome, find a more friendly group. People travel to meet other people too, you’ll eventually fit right in.

10. For first time solo travelers, if you think something is not right, speak out. Assert your rights. Don’t be scared just because you’re alone on a foreign land.

11. For first time solo travelers, have fun in your lonesome! A tripod and a timer is your best friend. 😉

This photo is an example of what your photographer

tour guide can take. Thanks kuya Rudy!

#Goals spotted. 😅
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Author: Maderu

Don't let me let you down.

1 thought on “Apo Reef: A DIY guide to a spontaneous solo trip!”

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