Sablayan, Mindoro: Your best bet for an awesome summer getaway

April 06, 2015 Beach Camping

Our pursuit of the perfect summer getaway led us to Mindoro last week. What awaited us was a spectacle of surreal beauty, undeniably ranking among the finest offerings this country has.

Apo Reef, the second-largest contiguous coral reef globally and the largest in the Philippines, is just one gem in Sablayan's treasure trove. Pandan Island, with its rustic charm, can easily compete with the best resorts in the country, offering guests an authentic island life experience. Adding to the allure is Libao Lake, a quaint inland oasis nestled within the Sablayan Watershed Forest Reserve.

These three wonders marked the highlights of our recent vacation—a dream years in the making, weeks of meticulous planning, and hours of exhilarating travel.

The anticipation for this adventure had lingered for years. Mindoro, a haven of biodiversity with numerous endemic species and diverse habitats, had already captivated me during my initial visit in 2006. Guided by Anya Santos-Uy from Haribon, an organization dedicated to nature conservation, we explored Pandan Island and Libao River. Since then, Apo Reef had firmly secured its spot on my bucket list.

Fortuitously, a chance meeting with Mayor Ed Gadiano of Sablayan during Mamburao's Tuna-toneladang Festival reignited the call to explore Sablayan's natural wonders. 

I invited friends and we embarked on an adventure that promised not just the breathtaking Apo Reef but also the allure of Pandan Island.

To me, a good beach is one where I can lose myself in the soft sand, basking in the company of friends. Pandan Island, however, exceeded expectations—it boasted exceptional marine life that urged me to linger longer in the inviting waters.

Just look at who welcomed us to the island.

The island is accessible by a 20-minute boat ride from Sablayan. We rented a glass-bottom boat through the Sablayan Tourism Office and it heightened our experience, especially when we were delighted by the sight of a turtle.

We arranged a one-way boat rental for P 1,100.00, and the boat comfortably accommodated our group of 17 passengers.

We also paid an environmental fee of P 55.00 each. Fortunately, as guests of the resorts, we were exempted from the entrance fee.

Our accommodation included four rooms: two budget rooms, each good for two pax, for P 800.00; a spacious bungalow, suitable for two pax, for P 1,600.00; and a family house, designed for four pax, for P 3,250. We paid an additional P 250.00 each for extra passengers.

For dining, we were obliged to partake in a dinner buffet priced at P 470.00 each. While we anticipated alcohol to be pricey, we were pleasantly surprised to find that beer was only P 50.00. Woohoo!

The Family Room

The Large Bungalow

We spent numerous hours relaxing on the porch of the family room and snorkeling. As the sun began to set, we gathered on the beach to witness the mesmerizing transformation of the horizon's colors. 

As the sunset unfolded, we headed to the bar for beer, eagerly anticipating dinner. Luck was on our side that day, as one of the resort's guests hosted a party with complimentary drinks for everyone. 

Cheers to unexpected delights!

Apo Reef

The next day, we departed from the resort early to join the rest of our group and purchase provisions for the upcoming three days Apo Reef camping. 

Senen and Rovil, our guides assigned by the Sablayan Tourism Office, assisted us in these preparations, for which we paid P 4,000.00. The tourism office also organized our boat trip to Apo Reef, with a cost of P 12,000.00. This fee covered a large boat suitable for 20 passengers for three days and included a small banca to transport all our supplies.

The boat ride of over two hours proved to be absolutely worthwhile as we arrived in paradise.

The Apo Reef Natural Park comprises three islands: Apo Island, Binangaan (a rocky limestone island), and Cayos del Bajo (a flat coralline rock formation). Apo Island itself covers about 22 hectares. There is a designated campsite near the registration area, equipped with comfort rooms and water pumps expelling saltwater.

We spent two nights at Apo Island, paying P 270.00 each for our entrance and environmental fees. Our itinerary included exploring the island's lighthouse, lagoon, and, of course, snorkeling around it.

The caretakers of the island advised us to keep quiet as there are migratory birds nesting on the island. This was perfectly fine with us, as we wanted to enjoy nature in a respectful manner.

The highlight of the Apo Reef experience was snorkeling. Fortunately, the area has been declared a protected zone, ensuring that the underwater scene is vibrant and teeming with life.

We were also treated to beautiful sunsets on the island. Despite warnings of a strong typhoon, we were blessed with clear skies.

We were requested to leave the island very early on our third day, which we didn’t mind because of the looming typhoon. It was a good sail back, though, to Sablayan. We even passed by Parolang Putol for more snorkeling, which I think is part of Cayos del Bajo.

We washed up at Emilie Hotel for P 50.00 each, then had lunch at the public market. Since we had more than six hours left before our scheduled bus trip, we decided to see Libao Lake. 

We rented a joylong van for P 2,500.00 at the Dimplestar Bus Terminal. It was spacious enough for 15 pax, plus our backpacks. The tourism office arranged for our permit, and we paid P 80.00 each, which included environmental fee and entrance.

Libao Lake

Libao Lake is situated inside the Sablayan Penal Farm. It has an approximate area of 24 hectares. The name Libao is from the word libua, a Mangyan word for white lotus, which is abundant in the lake.

It was a quiet afternoon spent having snacks, exchanging pleasantries with the inmates who were there at the lakes, and, of course, taking photos. Some took naps.

It was definitely the best scene to cap our five-day adventure in Sablayan.


There are other places to see in Sablayan like the Parola Park, which is the future site of the longest island-to-island zipline in the world. The Sabalayan Museum is also worth a visit for a brief tour about Sablayan’s history and brush up on their culture. They also have beautiful murals at the park. There is one dedicated to its early inhabitants, the Mangyans, and another one on Sablayan’s history.

This is where the zipline lands

Dimplestar, with stations in Santolan, Sampaloc, and Alabang, offers air-conditioned buses to Sablayan. Seats are not that comfortable though, but it is cheap at P 800.00.

Lastly, it is best to coordinate with The Sablayan Tourism Office (09984259898, 09166831709). They are very helpful. Look for Ms. Norie. She made our trip really hassle-free.

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