South of Manila and west of Mindoro Occidental in the Sulu Sea, the snorkeling off Apo Reef is well-known for its massive, boat-accessed reef formation. Located in the Luzon region, Apo Reef is the largest contiguous reef in the Philippines and the second largest in the world. Apo Reef shouldn't be confused with the main Apo Island snorkeling site, which is located so...
South of Manila and west of Mindoro Occidental in the Sulu Sea, the snorkeling off Apo Reef is well-known for its massive, boat-accessed reef formation. Located in the Luzon region, Apo Reef is the largest contiguous reef in the Philippines and the second largest in the world. Apo Reef shouldn't be confused with the main Apo Island snorkeling site, which is located southeast of Manila in the Bohol Sea. Unfortunately, there is a small island at Apo Reef called Apo Island which adds to the confusion.
The reef falls within the Apo Reef National Park which protects 27,469 hectares of the Sulu Sea. Apo Reef is actually a large atoll, which is the remains of an ancient volcano. It forms a dual lagoon system divided by a narrow channel running east-west, that forms a healthy habitat with 400 fish species and 500 coral species. The water depths range from 2m to 40m deep. While snorkeling Apo Reef, you'll probably notice that the coral formations have been pretty battered by a recent string of typhoons. But there is still plenty of marine life to enjoy. During Apo Reef snorkel dives, you may encounter dolphins, tuna, sea turtles, jacks, white-tipped reef sharks, black-tipped reef sharkes, parrotfish, wrasse, barracuda, spotted pufferfish, gray sharks, tiger sharks, scalloped hammerhead sharks and manta rays. The coral formations are habitat to sponges and sea fans.
At this boat-accessed snorkeling spot, the park now restricts the reef to 100 persons per day maximum, so make sure you are on a registered charter boat trip. There is a mandatory park fee that was last reported at 1300 pesos. The best Apo Reef snorkeling can be found off the locally known Apo Island (look for the lighthouse), where you'll typically find sea turtles.
To reach the boat-accessed Apo Reef, there are several options. The best option, but least popular, is a live-aboard boat where you spend 3-5 days at the reef (such as Rags II Liveaboard). The alternate option, but most popular, is a guided snorkel boat for the day from either Mindoro Occidental or Coron (sometimes called ferry boats, but not the literal interpretation). The day boats are a 3.5 hour trip each way to the reef. Typically, it is a 16 hour trip from Manila to the boat ports, so it's quite an extensive trip to get to Apo Reef. The most popular access point is from Sablayan port where the reef is only 40km due west. It is also only 52km from Busuanga, but you'd better come by speed boat.
The Philippine archipelago consists of over 7,100 islands stretching 1,840km and presents a snorkelers paradise. The warm, crystal clear waters are a haven for diverse marine life. With visibility up to 60m, the waters of the surrounding Pacific Ocean, Celebes Sea and South China Sea are habitat to 400 species of coral and over 2,000 species of fish including sharks, rays and turtles.
Overall, the Philippines are divided into the three main tourist regions, from south to north, of Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon. Each region has numerous tropical beaches and shallow reefs. The best time of year for snorkeling in the Philippines is the cool and dry months of December through March. The months of June to October are the rainiest months and are known to have typhoons.
To reach the Philippines from other countries, most people fly into Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) located on the south side of Manila in the Luzon region. It is served by 30 international airlines. Alternately, there are five other smaller international airports including Mactan-Cebu International Airport (CEB) in Lapu-Lapu City (serving Australia, Singapore and Japan), Davao Airport (serving Indonesia and Singapore), Clark Airport, Subic Airport and Laoag Airport. Once in the Philippines, the main inter-island airlines are Cebu Pacific Air and Air Philippines. In addition to inter-island airlines, many of the 7,100 islands are interconnected by small ferry companies (usually very crowded). Recently, a newer high-speed SuperFerry has started to connect some of the islands and is known to be less crowded.
Overall, Apo Reef is the 22nd most popular snorkel dive spot of all 30 snorkeling dives in Philippines.
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