It is not a secret that, When in Manila in the off-summer months, the urban dweller is plagued by sudden and constant pangs to his senses that drain him of his mood, and beg him to just drop everything, pack his bags, and just leave. And while he does want to yield to the urge, really, the problem becomes: when last-minute flights for a sudden weekend trip are expensive and not worthwhile, where do you even go?
The answer lies just two hours away from Metro Manila. For a fare of less than P300, the island of Puerto Galera, Mindoro, becomes readily available to clear the urban dweller of his life, albeit for a mere two days. Galera has, for the longest time, become synonymous to its swanky villas. But more than offering vacation abodes to families, it is likewise a perfect destination for those seeking adventure, bonding time with friends, or an intimate getaway with a romantic partner.
Here, Puerto Galera for you, whichever kind of traveller you may be. Be inspired, pack, and leave tomorrow:
Paradise for the action traveler
A visit to any Philippine island can never be without diving because of the country’s rich marine biodiversity, and a trip to Sabang is no different. The island has grown to be one of the most-visited sites for avid and amateur divers alike, because of its relatively not very commercial lifestyle and its diving spots’ proximity to the shores (less than 30 minutes away, which allows diving trips to be more frequent, and for divers to have time for breaks).
The active traveler who wishes to seriously engage in diving best head to Asia Divers, the biggest PADI-certified diving school and rental service in the entire island, and to which diving in Puerto Galera has become eponymous to. Asia Divers has become such a household name among divers that clients clamored to have them in places outside Galera. Today, Asia Divers stores can also be found in Manila, Boracay and Cebu. For the complete diving experience, a stay in the resort managed by the same people behind Asia Divers, El Galleon Beach Resort and Hotel, is recommended.
El Galleon is a luxurious 5-star resort in Small Lalaguna beach, Sabang island, with cozy cabins and suites cascading up a lush tropical hill. At the foot of the cabins is a natural pool perfectly seen luminous against the moonlit nights. The resort has a huge front yard with a sports bar and an al fresco gourmet restaurant that provides fusion dishes to both its guests and curious palates, courtesy of the French in-house chef.
A stay at El Galleon means active afternoons of diving, if one is up to the challenge. A guest can simply walk to the specialty Asia Divers diving gear rental and training center at the end of a special pier that bridges the resort and the center, and sign up at competitive rates.
When the nights fall, guests make a beeline for the resort’s treetop Point bar, where they socialize in joyous inebriation with the diving instructors and other tourists amidst plentiful drinks. When the party dies down, one can retreat to their spacious and quiet rooms atop the hill, nestled in bed and looking out into a view of Puerto Galera through a gorgeous French window framed by the tropical leaves.
A fun getaway for the hip barkada
Hidden behind the mountains of Small Lalaguna beach is, well, Big Lalaguna beach (or Big Lala, as it has been called) – a stretch of pristine waters enclosed into an arc, and isolated from the rest of Sabang. Here, tides are almost never low, promising no end to the fun that can be had in its warm tropical waters.
Topics of where to stay in Big Lala will always end up in Campbell’s Beach Resort. It is the biggest, and most famed lodgings in Big Lala, and rightfully so. Theirs is an accommodation like no other. Not only are almost all of the rooms facing the ocean; they are also perched on top of a cliff that extends far into the green waters. Add to this, its rooms’ walls, predominantly white, are disturbed only by splashes of colors from vintage American movie posters, lending more to the feeling of being in a 1940s Pearl Harbor-esque port. Seriously: Nothing beats a perfect weekend spent swimming or scuba diving with friends all day, and resting only to feast on scrumptious meals while watching a panoramic and unobstructed view of the ocean from atop the cliff.
A few steps away from Campbell’s is their scuba diving rental and instruction arm: Scandi Divers resort. It has a pool used primarily to train beginner divers, but perhaps its biggest appeal comes from its huge sky bar with the same beautiful ocean view. If getting hammered is your barkada’s cup of tea (beer?), there is no more perfect way to do so than here. Generally, more hard-core barkadas opt to stay in Scandi, while those seeking to primarily lay back and relax do not pass up a stay in Campbell’s. But regardless of which of the two your barkada stays in, one thing’s for sure: that thing you used to do called malling? You’ll never do it again.
Galera: The Lovers’ Isle
With summer so far away (and vacation leaves sparse), plenty of city couples have fallen into the trap of the boring dinner-and-a-movie dating routine, unaware that they can so easily reintroduce spontaneity in their love lives, and create new memories to bridge them through the next lean days. All it takes is a weekend visit to Puerto Galera, specifically Sabang.
Despite its partying ways, Sabang is, unbeknownst to many, also a very romantic destination. Unlike mainland Galera (reachable through Muelle port), this island has less hustle-and-bustle and fewer local residents. Without roads passable by cars (save for the road leading outside town), Sabang is essentially an intimate labyrinth of various cultures and, yes, romance.
Surprisingly, it is in the –ber months when Galera is most perfect for intimately romantic getaways. During these periods, the sun takes leave on some days and is substituted by a beautiful, almost-gothic hue that casts itself over the architectures of the town. Suddenly, the nights, though still alive with the numerous bars, are buzzing instead of hollering, and the couple will be excited to retreat to their hotel rooms instead of partying the night away.
Which is not a misfortune, really, especially if the hotels in question are strikingly beautiful, cozy, and intimate. For one, Sabang boasts of a castle (yes, a castle), that beckons you, even before you disembark from the boat, to forget all activities that involve leaving its premises. This architectural piece of art, called Tropicana Castle Dive Resort, is a literal grand castle perched on top of a hill a few meters off the shore, with towers sprawled in cascading heights, and a grandiose façade that harkens back to the old castles of Europe. To call its accommodations “rooms” will be a disservice to the artistic effort put to making them what they really are: lofty chambers befitting royalty. With medieval room elements, such as four-poster beds, tapestries, marble bathrooms, and rich carpeted floors, nights spent in Tropicana is nothing short of a preview of the honeymoon that-could. During the days, a dip in the stone pool on the castle’s peak, surrounded by grey stone posts and French windows, makes for a peaceful moment that almost needs no words to be savoured. Essentially, it is this resort, towering over the sombre town, which promises, nay, ensures your trip to be that one which will be the most memorable in you and your lover’s history.
There is, meanwhile, another grand hotel perfect for those with a more modern luxurious inclination. The Out of the Blue Luxury Villas, also in Sabang, is a 5-star hotel with minimalist-Zen architecture and interiors. They have various options for the discerning traveller, such as the Spa villa, which is nothing less of a beautiful quiet suite with relaxing warm-hued interiors and stone shower bathroom structures. Nights in this suite call for intimate dips in the Jacuzzi while enjoying a scenic view of the undisturbed horizon from the panoramic windows in your private veranda. Below, a pristine blue pool sends soft ripples of light onto the walls of the bar in the hotel’s porch. With this gorgeous setting behind any couple, the only element missing, really, will be a ring.
Whichever kind of traveller you are, and whatever you seek to find in your short getaway trip, a weekend spent in Galera will help you find it, and will spoil you to keep coming back. And with it being so close, there really is no reason to have to again suffer from the wanderlust pangs.
Puerto Galera can most easily be reached through a bus to the Batangas port, where a ferry will transfer you to the Sabang, Muelle, or White Beach ports. Fares range from P200-P300.
Photographs by Jonathan de Leon
Rediscovering Puerto Galera