Traveling on a budget and having a passion for diving quite often, unfortunately, means a backpacker must constantly balance both. Even though diving in Southeast Asia is relatively cheap many of the best locations are not. This is why somewhere along my travels I added free-diving to my certifications and not only did I save a heck of a lot of money but I am now able to dive in places that were previously inaccessible due to lack of diving facilities. In my articles I hope to inspire you to visit a few of my favorite locations and give you a little insight into what you can expect in each location. So, let's begin with why I love backpacking and diving in Puerto Galera so much and why you will too.
Sabang, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines
Puerto Galera or the Port of Galleons is famous both it's storied past and it's amazing year-round diving. It is a prime example of a location that is saturated with divers, resorts, bars, and dive shops but can be cost prohibitive to a solo backpacker during high-season (November to April). Don't let that discourage you though. If you love diving as much as I do you really must go there at least once. There are over forty dive sites including Verde Island which is considered the heart of the heart of marine biodiversity in the world. If budget is foremost on your mind the last time I was in Puerto Galera there was at least one bed-spacer hotel in Sinandigan. Otherwise hotels in the area are cheap when compared to their western counterparts but can be a bit less luxurious. Any backpacker will tell you that really doesn't matter, after all hotels are just a place to store your things and sleep every now and again. You're not here to sit and watch TV, right?
Indo-pacific catfish seen while scuba diving in Puerto Galera. Picture credits to Tony Shih
Diving in Puerto Galera
The great thing about diving around Sabang is that you can jump on a native boat and reach all of the sites in a few minutes with the exception of Verde Island which is about an hour's boat trip away. My first ever dive in Puerto Galera Bay was a spot called Giant Clams and boy it does live up to it's name. Years ago the Philippine government declared the bay a national sanctuary and began a program to develop the marine life within it. One such project they undertook was seeding these giant clams from other locations in the Philippines and now years later they are one of the highlights of the area. Diving in this part of the bay is certainly a beginner friendly experience, you can even snorkel and see the clams which are located in three to six meters of water.
Vividly Colored Nudibranch at the botton of Puerto Galera Seas. Picture credits to Tony Shih
By far my favorite site to dive in Puerto is a wreck called the Alma Jane. Located in thirty meters of water and encrusted with coral it is a beautiful spot for scuba diving and free-diving. The boat itself is about thirty meters in length and has numerous openings allowing you to effortlessly swim through with no danger of being trapped or feeling claustrophobic. It is not frequented as often as other dive sites in the area so you don't have to worry about large crowds or people scaring away the marine life. If you have an underwater camera bring it here, the depth and clarity of the water offers a great opportunity to record some memories.
Those are just two of the over forty easily accessible dive sites Puerto Galera has to offer. You can see why it has become such a popular destination for divers. But diving isn't the only thing that makes Puerto Galera a must see destination. The level of adventure and fun packed into this small town is astounding. Trust me you will never get bored there.
Beautiful corals found in the plentiful diving spots around Puerto Galera. Picture credits to Tony Shih
What to do after diving
The main town of Puerto Galera pretty much shuts down by 8:00 pm but go seven kilometers in one of two directions and you find a bustling late night scene in either White Beach or Sabang. Bars, discos, strip clubs of a sort (no promiscuous dancing or nudity allowed on the island), fire dancers, music shows, and hundreds of extremely friendly people to party with. Did I mention local beer can be found in most bars for around $1.00 a bottle and rum is cheaper than coke? Trust me you can have fun here cheap! For the more adventurous travelers there are tons of things to do. Kite-boarding and windsurfing at Elizabeth's Hideaway is an absolute blast and they offer inexpensive lessons as well. There is a place called Extreme Sports that has go karts, mud karts, a paintball course, mechanical bull, a shooting range, and an archery range where you shoot at zombies. In White Beach you can rent jet skies, go para-sailing, ride a banana boat, or play volleyball among a million other things to engage your adrenal gland. Near the Pandarosa golf course there is a zip-line and although it's not all that fast it is really awesome to sore over the tree tops with an amazing view of the bay and the islands in the distance.
Hills close to the beach provide trekking opportunities in Puerto Galera. Picture credits to Jun Acullador
If you are an avid hiker there are some breathtaking views to be had from the top of the mountain and tons of waterfalls to visit. When I was last there a friend and I walked to Tukuron Falls which is locally known as the Hidden Paradise. Following a gently flowing river into the island you encounter tourists and locals enjoying rides in makeshift carts drawn by carabao (native buffalo). After a few hours trek you find yourself at a relaxing pool surrounded by large rocks and a small yet picturesque waterfall.
Lovely sunset at Puerto Galera. Picture credits to Kai Lehmann
Another great spot to hike up to is the Mangyan village located on the side of the mountain directly behind Puerto Galera. Mangyans are the native people that once lived along the shoreline in tiny fishing villages but with the explosion of construction in the area they have slowly moved up the mountain side. These happy people are a pleasure to visit, they greet you with a smile and invite you in with open arms. Their main source of income is producing traditional woven products that are now used in most resorts, bars, and restaurants, and are often sold in town as souvenirs. Though the trek can be especially arduous for those not accustomed to high humidity it is well worth the effort to meet these beautiful people.
From stunning coral reefs to a wide variety of wrecks, waterfalls and mountains, to sports and activities Puerto Galera has it all and the night-life isn't bad either. This gorgeous paradise has more to offer than most other locations in Southeast Asia for both diving and adventure. Definitely a must visit for any backpacker, diver, or adventurer. When are you heading to Puerto Galera? Comment in the section below!