February 8, 2013:
We always reckoned that Puerto Galera would be our first cruising destination in the Philippines. And for some very good reasons. First off, it’s an easy, two-day jaunt from Subic Bay with a protected anchorage located at the midpoint making for a safe, convenient overnight stop. Second, it is a protected anchorage itself. Third, some of our friends live there. And last, but certainly not least, it is one of the Philippines top diving destinations.
The municipality of Puerto Galera, known unofficially as PG, is located on a peninsula at the northern tip of the island of Mindoro. The harbour is listed as one of the most beautiful bays in the world and for good reason. We were pleasantly surprised to note that the water conditions were much clearer than we expected and there was very little garbage floating about, despite the rapid growth of the surrounding area. This has not been our experience in Subic and some other parts of SE Asia.
It has been seven years since our last trip to PG. Since then, a lot has changed and it has grown dramatically. But a lot was still the same.
The last time, we travelled by bus from Manila to the port in Batangas and then crossed on a banca ferry to Sabang (one of the barangays or neighbourhoods within PG). This time, MOKEN provided both our transportation over and accommodation while we were there.
The harbour is accessed through one of two channels, the Batangas Channel (north channel) or the Manila Channel (west channel). The Manila Channel is the recommended entrance for tall boats, as the Batangas Channel has a low hanging power line crossing from Mindoro to Medio Island and shallow reefs to be navigated.
Dutifully advised, we entered through the Manila Channel and anchored in Boquete Bay near the sand bar. Smaller boats can take advantage of moorings at the Puerto Galera Yacht Club in Muelle Bay and the club’s service boat, but given the weight of MOKEN, these were not for us. You can reach the yacht club on Marine VHF Channel 68. Their web site has great information on navigating the area and things to do once you arrive.
Provisioning in PG isn’t too challenging. Fresh drinking water is available right at the yacht club dock, which is also where we’d leave our tender for the day and take advantage of the club’s service boat when going into town.
The public market is about a 10 minute walk and a good place to stock up on reasonably priced fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood. Of course, you have to shop around as some vendors will overprice for foreigners. There is also a good supermarket near the market and an excellent, if overpriced, European deli in the same area.
Closer to Muelle Pier are two excellent mini markets for non-perishables and another deli that specializes in German imports and has a good selection of frozen meats. Gasoline is available at the Shell station about a 10 minute walk out of town or a 20 peso ride in a trike.
With our supplies replenished, it was time to have some fun. Diving is what we came for and is mostly what we did. But it isn’t the only thing to do in PG.
This was Chris’ fourth visit to PG and my second and all our diving has been with South Sea Divers. There are an overwhelming variety of dive shops to choose from, but we always stick with this shop. We’ll tell you more about the diving in a separate post.
With all the coves and bays in the area, beaches and watersports are the two major draws. Aside from diving, there is sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, jetskiing and banana boating. Being a major resort destination, there’s also a nine-hole golf course, as well as paintball and a shooting range. Or you can rent off-road buggies or explore the area by motorcycle. White Beach, Tamaraw Falls and Tukuran Falls are some of the favourite destinations. After a hard day, there are plenty of spas to choose from or you can have a massage right on the beach before a night on the town.
For shopaholics, souvenir shopping is not all the exciting. Everybody seems to have the same inventory. T-shirts, key chains, coin purses, a few carvings and the endless array of beachwear, DVDs and jewelry made from local jade and pearls.
Dining options seem to be centered on three main areas: Muelle Pier, Sabang Beach (including neighbouring Big and Little LaLaguna beaches), and White Beach. We only tried a few places and can recommend the Puerto Galera Yacht Club (try their kinilaw), Le Bistro, the Hang Out Bar (for breakfast), Badladz, Tamarind and Toko’s. Always a treat are the street foods. My new favourite sweet is turon, a banana wrapped in pastry and deep fried. How could that not be good?
It’s super easy to get around and no shortage of people trying to get you as a customer. There are three main options to get between Muelle Pier and Sabang. Most expensive is a trike at about 150-200 pesos for up to four people. Quickest is a ride on the back of a motorbike for 50 pesos. And cheapest and most comfortable by far is a ride in a jeepney for 20 pesos. As always, with trikes and motorbikes it’s important to negotiate the price before you get in. Right Bryan???
Also important for us were the availability (or lack thereof) of some of the other services we have come to depend on. Wifi is now available in most restaurants but Internet cafes are getting harder to find. Loads for mobile phones are widely available but fax machines are not. Credit cards are not widely accepted except at larger businesses and even when they are, they are subject to additional fees and outages caused by brown outs or the Internet being down. The same goes for bank machines. There are only two banks, one in Sabang and one in PG. And the one day we tried to get money, one was down and the other wouldn’t take our card. Changing money is pretty easy but rates vary. I’ve heard the rates given for traveller’s cheques are not great and they are not widely accepted.
Unfortunately, we had to make use of medical services during our stay in PG. First when our friend Richard took a spill off his scooter and then when I couldn’t shake a sinus infection. There is a rural hospital in PG with basic services and a medical clinic in Sabang with better care, but the nearest major medical centres are in Calapan, a two-hour drive south, or via banca to Batangas. It’s also not easy to find many of the medications we take for granted in Canada. There are a couple of pharmacies but the selection is underwhelming. So bring along any you might need.
Photos by Joan, Tara, Bryan, Chris and Sandra