Sablayan – my favorite spot in the Philippines! Why is it worth to get off the beaten track and visit this place? Here my experiences…

Sablayan is located on Mindoro, an island whose places don’t pop up on Philippine’s top spot list. However, Sablayan’s landscape is spectacular and gives you plenty of options for activities and adventures. Further, the town is lovely. You will find some basic tourist infrastructures with a handful of good and cheap accommodations and local restaurants. But tourism is not Sablayan’s main business. That keeps the charm of this place and you automatically dive into Salayan’s local live.

Consider visiting Sablayan if you…

  • …are looking for a lovely and relaxing place away from the tourist hot spots
  • …plan to dive in Apo Reef, one of the best dive spots in the Philippines
  • …like outdoor activities. Sablayan is a perfect base for it (see below).
  • ..go to Coron and you consider a ferry/bus trip instead of taking a flight Manila – Coron. Sablayan is a perfect place for a stopover before you continue your journey by taking the ferry San Jose – Coron.
  • …go from Manila to Boracay by bus/ferry and you don’t want to follow the standard routes.

Activities around Sablayan

A major plus of Sablayan is the variety of landscapes around. You do not only have the sea in front of you but also spectacular mountains in the back.

Diving and snorkeling in Apo Reef

One day trip or overnight

Beach view at the Apo Reef

From Sablayan, it takes around two hours to reach Apo Reef by boat. The trip is a bit pricy but worth the money. Trips can be organized by:

I booked my trip at the Adventure Camp. It was overpriced and the organization was a mess. I therefore recommend to choose one of the dive shops in the list above.

Relaxing and snorkeling at Pandan Island

One day trip or staying at Pandan Island Resort

By boat to Pandan Island Sablayan

Pandan is a lovely island a 15 minutes-boat-trip away from Sablayan. You can enjoy the island during a day trip or check in at the Pandan Island Resort. Enjoy the bar at the beach, a snorkeling trip just in front of the beach or a beach volleyball session. The dive shop at the island can organizes your Apo Reef trip or a PADI open water course.

Hike to the Mindoro Pines

One day trip or overnight

On the way to a Mangyan village

You start your hike in a small village a 45 minutes bus ride north of Sablayan. After crossing a Mangyan village, your start your steep ascent through the jungle to the top of the Mindoro Pines. The 3 hours climb is fully worth the effort, the view on the top is spectacular. I highly recommend to stay overnight. The 3 hours descent on the other side includes another Mangyan village and a bath at a remote water fall.

Hiking in Mt. Iglit – Baco National Park

Overnight trip

Mount Iglit National Park Mindoro

Your hike starts through the jungle with several river crossings. At Ranger Station 2, you either rest and prepare for an early summiting of Mt Iglit. Or you continue your hike to Ranger Station 3 for your overnight stay there. However, in both cases, you will overlook the astonishing grassland of Mt Iglit National Park. And if you are lucky you can spot some wild Tamarraw Buffalos.

Climb to the Bats-Cave

Half-day trip

On the way back from the Bats-Cave

It’s a bit of a climb… but it’s an exciting adventure to visit the Bats-Cave. The location is close to Sablayan and perfect for a half-day trip.

For a dive trip to Apo Reef, check directly at your hotel or contact the local dive shop.

For trekking adventures, go to the lovely local tourist office in town (near the Plaza). Alternatively, just ask around at your hotel for guide Rudy.

How to get to Sablayan (updated in Sep 2019)

Occidental Mindoro is off the beaten track. The reason is not at all a lack of beautiful landscapes or amazing diving spots. It’s more the location and infrastructure which keeps the tourist crowd away. However, the road conditions in Occidental Mindoro have been significantly improved in the last ten years. Further, nowadays ferry routes from San Jose to Coron or Bulalacao to Caticlan provide options for onward journeys to other destinations in the Philippines.

Sablayan how to get there map

From Manila to Sablayan by flight

  1. Take a flight from Manila to San Jose Mindoro (SJI). Currently only Cebu Pacific serves this route and there are only three flights per week (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays). Flights are leaving from Manila NAIA Terminal 3 at 6:35am (5J 513). The flight time to San Jose is around 45min.
  2. At San Jose airport, take a tricycle to the San Jose bus terminal
    Price: Negotiable (50 Pesos is a fair price) / Time: 10min
  3. Bus or minivan from San Jose to Sablayan
    Price: 140 Pesos / Time: Around 2h

From Manila to Sablayan by bus / ferry

Option 1: A direct bus from Manila to Sablayan (ferry transport included)

I recommend this option if you are already in central Manila .

Go to the bus station in Sampaloc (every company has its own bus station in Sampaloc) and take a bus with destination San Jose, Mindoro.

Departures from Sampaloc in Manila:

  • Narpin Bus Company: 6am; 11am; 5pm; 8pm
  • Ceres Bus Company: 6am; 8am; 4pm
  • Bonabi Bus Company: 9am; 7pm

In Batangas, the bus goes on a ferry (around 2.5h ferry trip) and continues its journey from Abra de Ilog to San Jose. All buses stop at the Grand Terminal Sablayan.

This option is comfortable since you have to purchase one ticket only. Further, you can keep your luggage stored in the bus. Just make sure you jump on the same bus after the ferry ride.

Price: 800 Pesos for the bus trip Manila to Sablayan (ferry ticket included) / Time: 9 to 10h

FYI: Dimple star services have been suspended in 2018.

Option 2: Bus–ferry–bus as individual parts

Recommended when arriving at Manila NAIA Airport (you avoid the traffic in central Manila):

  1. Take a Grab taxi to Alabang Bus Terminal (east of the Festival Supermall Alabang)
    Price: Around 550 Pesos, highway fee included / Time: Around 30min
  2. Catch a bus to Batangas Pier (several buses per hour)
    Price: 162 Pesos / Time: Around 2h
  3. Get on the next ferry to Abra de Ilog
    Departures from Batangas:
    – Montenegro Lines: 1am; 5am; 9am; 1pm; 5pm; 9pm
    – Besta Shipping Lines: 12am; 4am; 8am; 12pm; 3:30pm; 7:30pm
    – Starlite Ferries: 1am; 9am; 5pm
    Price: 260 Pesos plus 30 Pesos terminal fee / Time: Around 2.5h
  4. At Abra de Ilog after leaving the ferry, walk straight 100m to the bus terminal and catch the next bus to Sablayan
    Price: 220 Pesos / Time: Around 2.5h

From Sablayan to Coron by bus / ferry

  1. Bus from Sablayan to San Jose
    Price: 140 Pesos / Time: Around 2h
  2. Ferry from San Jose to Coron
    Ferry departure from San Jose:
    – Bunso Transport: Tuesdays / Thursdays / Saturdays 8am
    Price: 900 Pesos / Time: Around 6h

From Sablayan to Caticlan / Boracay by bus / ferry

  1. Bus from Sablayan to San Jose
    Price: 140 Pesos / Time: Around 2h
  2. Bus from San Jose to Bulalacao
    Time: Around 1.5h
  3. Ferry from Bulalacao to Caticlan
    Ferry departures from Bulalacao:
    – Fast Cat: 10am; 10pm
    Price: 460 Pesos / Time: 3h

Hotels in Sablayan

Here a map and description of the hotels I have stayed in Sablayan:

Hotel Sablayan Map

Paraiso Beach Resort

The resort consists of several bungalows located under palm trees. The bungalows are basic but clean and equipped with everything you need.
The resort also serves great food at a very reasonable price. If you are too lazy to go to the town center, dining at the resort is a good option.
The resort opened in 2017 and the owner is French.

Gustav’s Place

This resort is located next to Paraiso and the ambience is similar. However, Gustav’s place is a bigger and therefore also provides a slightly wider range of room options. The owner is Austrian.

For Paraiso Beach Resort and Gustav’s Place:
The resorts are located at a Peninsula and you need to cross a tidal creek. To do so, locals provide help with their boat. Alternatively you can cross the creek at the bridge near the market and walk along the beach for 15 minutes.
Both resorts overall provide a very good value for price and are perfect for budget travelers.

Adventure Camp

At the other end of Sablayan, the Adventure Camp is also located under Palm trees next to the beach. The bungalows have recently been renovated/upgraded and the room prices increased. However, with the new luxury, it’s probably still worth the money (but I didn’t try it out after renovation).

Pandan Island Resort

Pandan is a lovely island with a nice resort with budget rooms and bigger bungalows. The food is great and the bar at the beach a perfect place to round off the day.

Best time to visit Sablayan

Best weather conditions are from January to May when the risks of rain showers are marginal and the temperatures are comfortable. November/December are also fine. However, I don’t recommend to visit Sablayan during July/August/September, heavy rain stops you from doing any outdoor activities.

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