While Puerto Galera is actually a small town in Oriental Mindoro, Philippines just over 80 miles south of Manila, the term is generally used to describe the area from White Beach to Sabang. This area has been designated a Man and Biosphere reserve by UNESCO since 1973 in an effort to preserve the coral and forest reefs. The Bay of Puerto Galera is also listed by the Club of the Most Beautiful Bays in the World. Sabang beach is generally favored by foreign tourists, while White Beach is more popular with local travelers. There has been uncontrolled development since 2001 and many of the returning visitors complain of the loss of beauty in the region due to the encroachment of ugly buildings. A whole forum on Trip Advisor was dedicated to this topic.
The city holds few attractions, but the diving is considered excellent and there is also snorkeling, beaches-32 of them, a golf course, and dance clubs in the area. Close by you can enjoy forests filled with orchids, birds, fauna, and waterfalls. Famaraw Falls are only about nine and a half miles away. There is kayaking from the Alag riverbank and the little-discovered Muelle Bay, another natural harbor with shops and restaurants. There are secluded beaches and coves and trekking. If these creatures are your thing, there is also a reptile zoo.
I am intrigued by the idea of a visit to a Mangyan Village. These are a nomadic people who live in the mountain ranges of Mindoro so you have to go with an experienced guide to be sure and find them. Entire families travel by foot and live in huts so small and simple that they can be built in a few days. The Mangyan tribes have virtually no contact with the outside world.
I hope to make a stop at Tamaraw Falls just 9 miles from Sabang Beach. There are a series of small falls before a drop into the final pool. The water is very cool, but will be refreshing on a hot day.
Of course the number one attraction in Puerto Galera is the coral reefs and that is what I am here for. There are more than 30 dive sites less than 5-10 minutes from shore. Puerto Galera is also a main technical diving designation in Asia. One of our special equipment requirements for this trip was a safety sausage or lift bag on a reel. The normal size one is something I carry as standard equipment on all dives. In Puerto Galera, it is very important to use this safety device so that the boats know there is a diver below. There are no piers in the harbor, so the boats get as close to the shore as possible. Passengers disembark on a wood plank wading in knee-deep water or get carried off by a strong boatman. In other words, there will be a lot of boats in the area where we are diving. Certainly many more that we are used to.
Underwater the lift bag is rolled up until ready for use. When needed, you unroll it and inflate it manually or by using the air in your tank. The device will rise to above the surface of the water marking your location. We also use this when “drift diving”. In drift diving the boat is not tied off on a buoy, rather the captain follows the divers while watching the bubbles. Every diver consumes air at a different rate and each buddy team may come up at a different time; we inflate the sausage to draw the boat’s attention when we are about to surface.
A friend of mine is a preschool teacher and she asked me to visit her class during “fish week”. I went in a dive skin, showed them pictures I had taken underwater, and demonstrated the equipment. There favorite item was the bright orange safety sausage.
We are scheduled for up to five dives a day. This area is known for the Macro (small life) diving and photography. There are strong currents, so we will probably be drift diving. After each dive, we have a least an hour surface interval to allow for nitrogen release (a safety issue). Since all our dives will be within 10 minutes of the shore, the boat will return us to land for each surface interval. (When boat diving, surface intervals are usually on the boat, but we also gone to nearby beaches on occasion.)
Given all that diving, I am not sure how many other “excursions” I will have time for or even how much beach time we will have in Puerto Galera. I have read about the beauty of the beaches, but have also heard them described as “touristy with importunate hawkers”. Dive Mom did tell us we don’t have to worry about hunting for souvenirs; they will come to us.
Beach massage by an accredited masseuse is also recommended. To avoid any “hanky-panky”, in-room massage is prohibited. Sabang does have a reputation for “girly bars” or “go-go clubs.” Some parts of Sabang beach are considered “seedy” and at least one reviewer noted that some American (yes, specifically mentioned American) tourists didn’t seem to be here just for the diving.
Well, thats the preview. I’ll let you know what the reality is…
There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign. –Robert Louis Stevenson