In Southern Mindoro lies a place with a beautiful landscape, white sandy beaches and the biggest Atoll-Reef in the world: Sablayan. The small city situated 6 hours away from Puerto Galera also has tourism sector that is in the process of being developed. This makes Sablayan an affordable destination and at the same time a relaxed place with very few tourists. Ideal for everybody who does not like mass tourism.
Visitors coming from Puerto Galera best take the ferry to Abra de Ilog, which takes about 1 hour and costs 230 Pesos (4 USD). A bus leaves from there every tour hours. Tickets are 220 Pesos. In Sablayan there is a sufficient number of hotels and hostels. If you want to stay directly at the waterfront, you should choose the Emily Hotel . However, there is no Wifi there. Therefore I would recommend the La Sofia Hotel, which has cheap single rooms (350 PHP = 6,5 USD/night) and surprisingly fast internet.
There is nothing much to see in Sablayan Proper. Therefore you should head straight to the Tourism Center and register as a visitor. There you can choose from a variety of tours, and the staff is more than happy to help you find a group if you are a solo traveller. However, you need a little luck as there are not always a lot of visitors.
North Pandan Island
Apo Reef is the most popular tourist spot in Sablayan. However, if you do not want to spend 6 hours on a boat and are looking for a cheap alternative, North Pandan Island might be the place for you. The small island is located just 20-30 minutes from Sablayan and has two good Snorkeling spots, a clean beach as well as restaurants, bars and a resort where you can stay the night. Boats leave from the Emiliy Hotel and cost 400 Pesos (7,5 USD). On the island you have to pay the Environmental Fee of 230 Pesos (4,3 USD). For 150 Pesos (3 USD) you can rent Snorkeling gear to explore the underwater world of North Pandan.
You will not be disappointed as there are two distinct Snorkeling spots right off the coast. If you want to see large swarms of sardines and big sea turtles, you should stay near the boats on the right. To the left is an extensive corral reef which sports colourful corral gardens and an impressive variety of fish. The reef is nothing short of spectacular and does not have to shun comparisons to Moalboal or Fantastic Reef in Palawan.
To get to Apo Reef as a solo traveller, it is best to ask at the Eco Tourism Office for a travel group. One boat can take up to 13 people, and you can divide the costs of the boat, so that it should cost around 650 Pesos (12 USD). Once on the island you also have to pay the Environmental Fee of 750 Pesos (14 USD) – which is a total rip-off in my humble opinion. Of course the island is beautiful and the fee goes toward protecting it – but there is no reason for it to be 3 times the amount you have to pay at Pandan Island.
On Apo Island you can swim at the beach, take a walk through a mangrove forest to a secluded lagune, enjoy a scenic view on top of the light house and go Snorkeling at the reef. My tour provided a guided Snorkeling tour: We held fast to the boat and where pulled along, all the while marveling at the Marine wonders below us. The reef is beautiful, but not beautiful enough to justify the high costs. Therefore, if you only have limited time, I would advise you to head to North Pandan instead of Apo Reef.
Besides small islands, Sablayan also sports a scenic back-country with interesting sights. One of the is Sablayan Prison and Penal Farm. This is a prison with integrated farms, plantations and hiking trails. The concept might sound odd or outright dangerous, but for prisoners who behave well guiding tourists through the area is a way of supplementing their income.
A popular destination is Libuao Lake. There you can pay 100 Pesos (2 USD) to hire a guide that accompanies you on a hike around the lake. The trail leads through a dense forest and can get very muddy after rain. Hiking boots are therefore strongly recommended.
Hiking around the lake is fun. My absolute highlight, however, was the lunch you can buy there. The prisoners go fishing at the lake everyday and are more than happy to prepare a meal for visitors. For under 2 USD you can get freshly grilled fish with rice, soy sauße and some mangoes.
If you still have energy, you can also hire prisoners to take you to an idyllic waterfall – a popular spot for inmates to swim in.