Laid-back in Puerto
Text and Photos By Mike Jacobs
The high deck of the ferry makes an impressive grandstand as you sail into the spectacular
harbor of Puerto Galera (Port of Galleons), a natural refuge that greeted the captains of
Spanish galleons a few centuries ago. The clear azure waters are still surrounded by
tropical palm forests rising away into the hills with a necklace of native huts and boats
ringing the shores. However, the bustling little town of Puerto Galera, with its
waterfront hives of local activity and services for international vacationers now paint
the contemporary scene. A few Spanish galleons do remain, but they're deep under the water
and add to the local diving attractions.
The major activity around the harbor is the arrival and dispatch of goods, produce and
people - the type of scene I could sit and watch all day, and so do all the other visitors
lounging about the waterfront cafes and bars deliciously savoring the true meaning of
vacation. Strolling, shopping or reclining amid the colorful mayhem makes a popular break
between all the diving and snorkeling, boozing and snoozing and rock 'n' rolling available
at resorts around the local coves.
Trekking high up in the
sea-front hills reveals a view of sandy cove after cove stretching into the horizon. But
the greatest attraction of this region cannot be seen from here. Rather, it lies below the
sea. Twenty-five top-notch diving sites await those willing to take the plunge.
The nationalities of the diving instructors reflect the main visitors to the region -
Americans, Europeans and Australians. The cost of vacationing and diving here is as good
as it gets and beginners can qualify inexpensively for a three-day course. The scuba
diving season in Puerto Galera is year-round, and going under water can be a good way to
escape a rainy day.
For non-divers, the shoreline makes a delightful playground as well. Secluded family
resorts and basic beachfront huts near the night life provide lots of attractions. Coco
Beach Resort, Sabang Cove, and Small La Laguna Beach are good examples of what's in store
around these parts.
Coco Beach Resort, a
ten-minute boat hop from Puerto Galera, is owned by an Italian/Dane who loves the
Philippines. Solitude is blissful here on a private sandy cove surrounded by a hillside of
palm trees and terraced-chalets complete with most mod cons, including restaurants, a
swimming pool and a well-stocked bar from where dad can keep half-an-eye on the kids.
Sabang, three coves along, is where your terrace is likely to be set upon a narrow drab
beach amid parked boats, noisy neighbors and beach hawkers. The local "wildlife"
consists of herds of "whoopee boys" migrating between watering holes or even
lazily guzzling on moored rafts. The joint jumps to a cacophony of bars, restaurants,
discos and night clubs featuring loud music and scantily clad dancers. Here's the
destination for raucous night-time dives.
In between is Small La Laguna, where the daytime's action is mainly underwater or
recovering from the night before under a palm tree. It's a laid-back place where there's
always some camaraderie between unshaven beach bums just idling the day away.
Under the water, it doesn't
matter where you slept the night before. Either in an air-conditioned comfy bungalow at
JY3600 on a private beach or a humid hut at JY1000 on a public beach, the quality of the
reefs is the same. A fully equipped dive can be had for JY3000 everywhere. Like most
things in travel you get what you pay for, but to enjoy the best around it's hard to spend
more than JY12,000 a day, including everything.
Although the region has long been a trendy place, the original beauty and diversity of
local nature still remain tucked away from the coast. Jungle or hill trekking to a nearby
native village, a waterfall or a river with alluvial gold make good reasons to roll off
the hammock and explore. Horse-riding, mountain climbing, golf, fishing, cockfighting and
island-hopping are just a few more.
Can such a top value be true? There must be a catch and indeed there is, or else the place
would be filled with concrete blocks. Getting to Puerto Galera involves a journey after
the plane touches down in Manila, usually entailing an overnight stay in this fun-drenched
capital and an early morning two-hour air-conditioned bus ride to Batangas. From there,
one boards a ferry, the island's major umbilical cord, which unloads one and all at Puerto
Galera 80 minutes later. A Jeepney or a banqa will finally cast you away upon your beach
where the only high-rise is the noon sun encouraging you to siesta in a shady place.