By Gael Hilotin for Yahoo! Travel
For most beaches I know, a thing is true in daylight but at the end of the day it becomes a lie, except for one island... Apo Reef. At first sight though, Apo Reef is like any other white sand beach in the Philippines. Nothing extraordinary, huts tucked in the island surrounded by tropical trees and one huge cabana where the rangers orient the tourists about this protected island.
But our weekend beach camp slowly unveiled us the pulchritude of this world renowned island located in Sablayan, Mindoro Occidental in the Philippines. The beach turns green and bluish farther down the horizon. The white washed modern lighthouse added more drama to the tranquil surroundings and pristine waters. Rock formations are clustered at the edge of the island adorned with verdant foliage.
Here are some suggested activities to enjoy your stay on the island:
Diving in Apo Reef
In Apo Reef, diving is not a requirement, but with an island considered as an underwater wonder of the world, you will regret it if you don't dive!
Apo Reef National Park is Asia's largest atoll-like reef and the world's second largest after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It is therefore not surprising that it is considered a mecca for divers.
Snorkeling in Apo Reef
But even inexperienced snorkelers like us can catch a glimpse of a magical array of coral, fish and other marine life in Apo Reef. I did not like the way they handled the snorkeling though, we were left clinging into a bamboo while a smaller outrigger boat pulled us. It was tiring, not to mention it was too deep for us to see the marine life clearly.
Good thing, the next day, we were able to snorkel freely (and not pull us with that bamboo) into a boat wreck somewhere in the midst of the sea. We swam deep under and were able to explore the rich iridescent marine life of Apo Reef.
If you are getting ready for beach camping, Apo Reef is the place to be! Sea, sand, sun, brilliant sunsets and dark skies! I miss how slow travel and camping out in this serene island makes one feel like your soul is at peace, just bumming around the island without thinking of moving hurriedly into the next destination like we normally do.
Because the island is protected, not to mention that the boat ride is quite hefty, there's not a lot of crowd here. It is like owning the island to yourselves, but with some park rangers to help you out in case you needed help in preparing your camp food. There are no camp stores within the park. Campers should bring all the food and fresh water they will need during their visit which can be bought in Sablayan town market.
Cruising in the mangrove swamp
Apo Reef has more to offer aside from its majestic marine life and long coastline of white sand and pristine waters. It is also rich in mangrove forest! Mangrove forests are helpful in stabilizing the coastline, reducing erosion from storm surges, currents, waves, and tides.
A walkway made of bamboo was built by the park rangers leading to a majestic mangrove swamp. And at its end, you will find a bamboo raft used for cruising at the mangrove swamp.
Climbing the lighthouse
They say the best place to view a beach is by either climbing up the cliff or by diving underwater. But for me, the best part of being at Apo Reef is sitting on top of the lighthouse. It felt surreal climbing the minimalist lighthouse while it teases me with the view of the mangroves.
The unassuming lonely sentinel stands in the midst of a mangrove forest overlooking the vast sea as if it owns the entire deserted island. I could see the blue sky meet the sea in the horizon and yet the world does not seem to end there.
Watching the sunset
At the end of the day, we were sitting on the sand watching one of the most beautiful sunsets our eyes have ever laid on. The sun is visible nowhere but it looks as if it is rising from an unusual direction. The sky illuminated rays of pink and tangerine curtain-like lights reminiscent of aurora borealis that could not be justified by my photo.
While on the other side, the bright bold moon is making its way up in the sky. The mood looks as if there is a war between the two gods; who will take home the crown for the loveliest scene.
My first sight of Apo Reef has taught me one important thing, that indeed the real voyage of discovery consists of not seeking new landscape but having new eyes.