Trip Report - Puerto Galera (Philippines) May 2019

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MomZo

Contributor
Messages
167
Reaction score
118
Location
Vietnam
# of dives
200 - 499
Hi everybody.

I just came back from 8 days to Puerto Galera (Philippines), from May 25th to June 2nd 2019, and I wanted to write a trip report about this great journey to help people who would like to go there.

First, for the trip from Manila airport to Batangas, south Luzon, I chose to use a taxi as I went with my wife and 18 month old daughter, loads of luggage, and it would not have been easy to use public transportation. Quick negociation at the airport and we found a driver for 3000 PHP (58$) Around 3h trip with quite a heavy traffic to leave the capital.

We got to the pier around 9am on Saturday, and it was packed with Filipino wanting to spend their weekend on north Mindoro. I started to queue, next boat scheduled at 10:30am... Out of stock... Next boat at 12... Out of stock... 1:30pm... Ouch, not cool to start our holidays, especially with the heat and a young child with us.

Some unscrupulous people offered me few times to buy some tickets for the 10:30am ferry for double the price + a tips, and seeing that the queue can last for hours, I finally accepted their offer as it was already 10am. At the end, I paid 1200 PHP for 2 tickets, plus 100 PHP for one guy, and 120 PHP for another (real ticket price is 340 PHP, so I paid 27$ instead of 12$, but worth it)

1 hour boat trip to reach Ballatero pier m, then a 20 minute tricycle ride to get to our hotel (250 PHP, about 5$), Jalyn's resort, up on a hill midway from Puerto Galera to Sabang.

About the hotel, there was a beautiful view on the cove, 3 small but nice swimming pools, a bar restaurant and a pool. The food was good and generous, Filipino and Italian oriented. Cocktails were great too.
The room was more like a little flat, with a patio, a bench and a table, a fridge, the AC and a confortable king size bed. It was clean and pretty new, and it would have been perfect with a good signal for the TV, a working WiFi network (we stayed there 8 nights and it didn't work once...) and no construction site on the upper level which was really noisy at some point.
The Filipino staff was really nice, smiling, welcoming and cheerful, unlike the German owner who seemed to avoide as much as possible any contact with his customers.
Finally, something worth highlighting is that we paid 2700 PHP per night through Booking.com (52$) while the price displayed at the hotel was 1600 PHP (30$) quite a huge difference on a long stay... The total amount was directly taken from my bank account while I booked online so I didn't even bother talking about it with the staff/owner while we were there as I knew it would not change anything.

About diving, after some research on Google and diving forums, I chose to go with Sea Rider Dive Center, a long run Filipino owned business with excellent reputation and great value on their diving price. As I got all my gear with me, they even gave me a little discount:
> 1000 PHP per fun dive (19$)
> 1200 PHP per night dive (23$)
> 5000 PHP per boat for day trip to Verde island (96$), to share with other divers on the boat + 200 PHP per head for the marine park fees (4$)

It is possible to dive 4 times a day, 2 on the morning, 2 on the afternoon, and to top-up with a night dive.
Most of dive sites are only 5 to 15 minutes from the dive center, so we always come back between two dives for surface intervals, except for Verde day trip where SI is done close to a little beach away from the swell.
Nitrox mix was available but at the end, I didn't use it as there is a risk of downcurrent on most sites where it could be useful to breath it. I didn't want to play with that and I never really felt wrong not getting it (except once or twice where bottom time was quite short, but again, with high risk of downcurrent...)

As my wife and daughter are not divers, I only dove on the morning except for 2 night dives. I only managed to get once to Verde as there was not enough divers to share the boat fees to go there a second time.

During the whole stay, and depending on the dive sites, the visibility was about 5 to 25m, and the current was from nothing to quite powerful. I clearly expected better visibility and worth current conditions, and in overall, it was quite okay everyday to enjoy the dives.

I visited quite a lot of dive sites during my stay, and here are my feelings about the most remarkable.

1/ Canyon, Hole in the Wall and Horse Head
Canyon is a signature dive here, and even if the topography is nice, I expected the canyons to be much bigger than few meters high. I went there 3 times.
The first time, there was a powerful South-North current, a group of 6 divers (including our guide), a bad visibility... we came up in the blue with up and down current after only 30 minutes.
The second time, there was no current at all, and I was only with the guide. We visited the 3 canyons, and even got enough air to come back to the site called Hole in the Wall and to use the little swim-through next to a beautiful coral reef.
The last time, there was a moderate West-East current and we were only 2 again. We swam through the 3 canyons and finished the dive around 35m deep at horse head rock, with a huge grouper, a big trevally and a swimming turtle, just before ascending for the safety stop. A very intense dive, but too short due to no-deco dive policy.

2/ Verde island: Drop-Off and Coral Garden
Gorgeous wall on the first dive with very little current. A group of 6 divers but giving space to everybody to enjoy the place. A lot of life over there, beautiful corals, huge seafans. A turtle hanging around, big school of sweetlips, trevallies, batfish, some big groupers... A really cool dive!
For the second dive, we got to the other side of the wall, and it was packed with pristine corals and loads of reef fish. 2 turtles swimming with us, and even a banded sea snake (krait)
Really, the reputation about Verde island is not biased, and it is clearly an highlight of this trip, and definitely one of the best place I dove in my life.

3/ Alma Jana Wreck
Small wreck located in the 23 to 30m zone, with quite some current on that day. 3 big sweetlips next to the keel, and a few garden eels enjoying the flow. Easy penetration. Lots of batfish around the wreck, a scorpionfish waiting for its meal, a couple of moray eels, and even a small black ribbon eel.

4/ Coral Cove
A muck dive with many critters. To name some: pigmy seahorse, porcelain shrimp, cowfish, juvenile sweetlips with its peculiar swimming, many nudies, porcupine fish... I saw many more but I don't know their names.

5/ The Hill and Sabang Wrecks (night dives)
Night dives in Sabang are really nice.
The Hill is a muck dive site with a sandy bottom at 19m deep. We spotted a seahorse, dwarf lionfish, several small octopuses, crabs, hermit crab, crocodile fish, small pipefish...
Sabang Wrecks is another site with many small wrecks in bad condition. There is a lot of fish activity at night. I saw a scorpionfish, plenty of shrimps, a lobster, some electric clams and 2 frogfish.

6/ Dugon Wall and Sabang Point
A nice small wall following by an healthy coral reef with all the usual aquatic life. Diving is really relaxing there and we spotted a turtle, a couple of sea moths, a playful sole, and a huge school of catfish.

7/ Sinandigan Wall
An impressive wall which goes down way deeper than PADI lets us dive. I saw twice a very peculiar type of nudibranch which is very rare and endemic to Puerto Galera. It is called Ceratosoma Alleni. It looks like a pink soft coral, but we see it grey in my video (6'38") due to the depth (nearly 30m)
In general, we can find many types of nudies here, but it is usually too small for my GoPro. I also spotted a flamboyant cuddlefish and a beautiful tiny blue ribbon-eel.

To summarize, diving is really great there, with a lot of diversity, and so close to all dive centers, which allows to come back between each dive.
I found the staff from Sea Rider Dive Center very skilled, cheerful and passionate. I spent my whole week with a guide called Rico who was funny and an excellent spotter. I was lucky enough to only dive together (no other customer) half of my stay.

The very last dive was different as an event was organized by the province and all dive centers were requested to participate to a shore and underwater cleanup. I was the only customer ready to help, and with 7 other Filipino staff, including the owner, we spent an hour picking some glass and plastic bottles, cans, fishing lines, clothes.... sadly, the boat was very full at the end.

The trip back was almost okay. We booked the ferry tickets from the hotel (340 PHP per ticket + 100 PHP commission), and after a 1.5h boat trip, we grabbed a taxi which was in piteous condition (we didn't choose it...) The AC was not working and the engine was overheating, so the driver had to stop twice to add plenty of water (instead of cooling liquid) and some got into the gasoline which led to some scary misfirings on the highway... The price was still 3000 PHP (58$) but I'm sure we can find cheaper with a little more negociation.

Finally, here is the video I made from what I got with my GoPro.
I realize that I really need to invest in some more decent gear, especially a 2 hand stabilizer, as the close-up shots are sometimes really shaky as I currently hold my camera with a small stick.

If you have any question about the trip, the diving or the surrounding areas, don't hesitate to ask here and I will try my best to provide some useful inputs.

Thanks for reading this post until the end.

 
OP
MomZo

MomZo

Contributor
Messages
167
Reaction score
118
Location
Vietnam
# of dives
200 - 499
Special thanks to @Trailboss123 for his recent trip report which was really helpful. The food at El Galleon was definitely great!

Just before this trip, I bought my very first backplate wing (Xdeed Ghost Deluxe) and I have to admit I felt it was a great level up coming from my faithful travel BC (Mares F-Light), with very easy horizontal trim and a much better freedom sensation.

xDeep-Ghost-Deluxe-Wing-System.jpg
 

Trailboss123

Divemaster
ScubaBoard Sponsor
ScubaBoard Supporter
Scuba Instructor
Divemaster
Messages
2,532
Reaction score
3,520
Location
Pacific Northwest, USA
# of dives
1000 - 2499
Special thanks to @Trailboss123 for his recent trip report which was really helpful. The food at El Galleon was definitely great!

Just before this trip, I bought my very first backplate wing (Xdeed Ghost Deluxe) and I have to admit I felt it was a great level up coming from my faithful travel BC (Mares F-Light), with very easy horizontal trim and a much better freedom sensation.

View attachment 523540
Awesome to hear. I love my XDeep as well! Glad you had a great trip!
 

Trailboss123

Divemaster
ScubaBoard Sponsor
ScubaBoard Supporter
Scuba Instructor
Divemaster
Messages
2,532
Reaction score
3,520
Location
Pacific Northwest, USA
# of dives
1000 - 2499
Hi everybody.

I just came back from 8 days to Puerto Galera (Philippines), from May 25th to June 2nd 2019, and I wanted to write a trip report about this great journey to help people who would like to go there.

First, for the trip from Manila airport to Batangas, south Luzon, I chose to use a taxi as I went with my wife and 18 month old daughter, loads of luggage, and it would not have been easy to use public transportation. Quick negociation at the airport and we found a driver for 3000 PHP (58$) Around 3h trip with quite a heavy traffic to leave the capital.

We got to the pier around 9am on Saturday, and it was packed with Filipino wanting to spend their weekend on north Mindoro. I started to queue, next boat scheduled at 10:30am... Out of stock... Next boat at 12... Out of stock... 1:30pm... Ouch, not cool to start our holidays, especially with the heat and a young child with us.

Some unscrupulous people offered me few times to buy some tickets for the 10:30am ferry for double the price + a tips, and seeing that the queue can last for hours, I finally accepted their offer as it was already 10am. At the end, I paid 1200 PHP for 2 tickets, plus 100 PHP for one guy, and 120 PHP for another (real ticket price is 340 PHP, so I paid 27$ instead of 12$, but worth it)

1 hour boat trip to reach Ballatero pier m, then a 20 minute tricycle ride to get to our hotel (250 PHP, about 5$), Jalyn's resort, up on a hill midway from Puerto Galera to Sabang.

About the hotel, there was a beautiful view on the cove, 3 small but nice swimming pools, a bar restaurant and a pool. The food was good and generous, Filipino and Italian oriented. Cocktails were great too.
The room was more like a little flat, with a patio, a bench and a table, a fridge, the AC and a confortable king size bed. It was clean and pretty new, and it would have been perfect with a good signal for the TV, a working WiFi network (we stayed there 8 nights and it didn't work once...) and no construction site on the upper level which was really noisy at some point.
The Filipino staff was really nice, smiling, welcoming and cheerful, unlike the German owner who seemed to avoide as much as possible any contact with his customers.
Finally, something worth highlighting is that we paid 2700 PHP per night through Booking.com (52$) while the price displayed at the hotel was 1600 PHP (30$) quite a huge difference on a long stay... The total amount was directly taken from my bank account while I booked online so I didn't even bother talking about it with the staff/owner while we were there as I knew it would not change anything.

About diving, after some research on Google and diving forums, I chose to go with Sea Rider Dive Center, a long run Filipino owned business with excellent reputation and great value on their diving price. As I got all my gear with me, they even gave me a little discount:
> 1000 PHP per fun dive (19$)
> 1200 PHP per night dive (23$)
> 5000 PHP per boat for day trip to Verde island (96$), to share with other divers on the boat + 200 PHP per head for the marine park fees (4$)

It is possible to dive 4 times a day, 2 on the morning, 2 on the afternoon, and to top-up with a night dive.
Most of dive sites are only 5 to 15 minutes from the dive center, so we always come back between two dives for surface intervals, except for Verde day trip where SI is done close to a little beach away from the swell.
Nitrox mix was available but at the end, I didn't use it as there is a risk of downcurrent on most sites where it could be useful to breath it. I didn't want to play with that and I never really felt wrong not getting it (except once or twice where bottom time was quite short, but again, with high risk of downcurrent...)

As my wife and daughter are not divers, I only dove on the morning except for 2 night dives. I only managed to get once to Verde as there was not enough divers to share the boat fees to go there a second time.

During the whole stay, and depending on the dive sites, the visibility was about 5 to 25m, and the current was from nothing to quite powerful. I clearly expected better visibility and worth current conditions, and in overall, it was quite okay everyday to enjoy the dives.

I visited quite a lot of dive sites during my stay, and here are my feelings about the most remarkable.

1/ Canyon, Hole in the Wall and Horse Head
Canyon is a signature dive here, and even if the topography is nice, I expected the canyons to be much bigger than few meters high. I went there 3 times.
The first time, there was a powerful South-North current, a group of 6 divers (including our guide), a bad visibility... we came up in the blue with up and down current after only 30 minutes.
The second time, there was no current at all, and I was only with the guide. We visited the 3 canyons, and even got enough air to come back to the site called Hole in the Wall and to use the little swim-through next to a beautiful coral reef.
The last time, there was a moderate West-East current and we were only 2 again. We swam through the 3 canyons and finished the dive around 35m deep at horse head rock, with a huge grouper, a big trevally and a swimming turtle, just before ascending for the safety stop. A very intense dive, but too short due to no-deco dive policy.

2/ Verde island: Drop-Off and Coral Garden
Gorgeous wall on the first dive with very little current. A group of 6 divers but giving space to everybody to enjoy the place. A lot of life over there, beautiful corals, huge seafans. A turtle hanging around, big school of sweetlips, trevallies, batfish, some big groupers... A really cool dive!
For the second dive, we got to the other side of the wall, and it was packed with pristine corals and loads of reef fish. 2 turtles swimming with us, and even a banded sea snake (krait)
Really, the reputation about Verde island is not biased, and it is clearly an highlight of this trip, and definitely one of the best place I dove in my life.

3/ Alma Jana Wreck
Small wreck located in the 23 to 30m zone, with quite some current on that day. 3 big sweetlips next to the keel, and a few garden eels enjoying the flow. Easy penetration. Lots of batfish around the wreck, a scorpionfish waiting for its meal, a couple of moray eels, and even a small black ribbon eel.

4/ Coral Cove
A muck dive with many critters. To name some: pigmy seahorse, porcelain shrimp, cowfish, juvenile sweetlips with its peculiar swimming, many nudies, porcupine fish... I saw many more but I don't know their names.

5/ The Hill and Sabang Wrecks (night dives)
Night dives in Sabang are really nice.
The Hill is a muck dive site with a sandy bottom at 19m deep. We spotted a seahorse, dwarf lionfish, several small octopuses, crabs, hermit crab, crocodile fish, small pipefish...
Sabang Wrecks is another site with many small wrecks in bad condition. There is a lot of fish activity at night. I saw a scorpionfish, plenty of shrimps, a lobster, some electric clams and 2 frogfish.

6/ Dugon Wall and Sabang Point
A nice small wall following by an healthy coral reef with all the usual aquatic life. Diving is really relaxing there and we spotted a turtle, a couple of sea moths, a playful sole, and a huge school of catfish.

7/ Sinandigan Wall
An impressive wall which goes down way deeper than PADI lets us dive. I saw twice a very peculiar type of nudibranch which is very rare and endemic to Puerto Galera. It is called Ceratosoma Alleni. It looks like a pink soft coral, but we see it grey in my video (6'38") due to the depth (nearly 30m)
In general, we can find many types of nudies here, but it is usually too small for my GoPro. I also spotted a flamboyant cuddlefish and a beautiful tiny blue ribbon-eel.

To summarize, diving is really great there, with a lot of diversity, and so close to all dive centers, which allows to come back between each dive.
I found the staff from Sea Rider Dive Center very skilled, cheerful and passionate. I spent my whole week with a guide called Rico who was funny and an excellent spotter. I was lucky enough to only dive together (no other customer) half of my stay.

The very last dive was different as an event was organized by the province and all dive centers were requested to participate to a shore and underwater cleanup. I was the only customer ready to help, and with 7 other Filipino staff, including the owner, we spent an hour picking some glass and plastic bottles, cans, fishing lines, clothes.... sadly, the boat was very full at the end.

The trip back was almost okay. We booked the ferry tickets from the hotel (340 PHP per ticket + 100 PHP commission), and after a 1.5h boat trip, we grabbed a taxi which was in piteous condition (we didn't choose it...) The AC was not working and the engine was overheating, so the driver had to stop twice to add plenty of water (instead of cooling liquid) and some got into the gasoline which led to some scary misfirings on the highway... The price was still 3000 PHP (58$) but I'm sure we can find cheaper with a little more negociation.

Finally, here is the video I made from what I got with my GoPro.
I realize that I really need to invest in some more decent gear, especially a 2 hand stabilizer, as the close-up shots are sometimes really shaky as I currently hold my camera with a small stick.

If you have any question about the trip, the diving or the surrounding areas, don't hesitate to ask here and I will try my best to provide some useful inputs.

Thanks for reading this post until the end.

Nice report @MomZo and thanks for taking the time to share your report. One thing I don't regret about my trip was paying the extra to El Galleon to have them pick us up at the airport, drive us to Batangas and right onto a private Bangka directly to the resort and then back again at the end of the trip. Was so worth it!
 

Centrals

Contributor
Messages
12,406
Reaction score
4,886
Location
Hong Kong
# of dives
The OP should had taken private transfer all the way from Manila to PG. The ferry is a big issue nowadays. It was never a problem until some idiots in Marine Dept thought otherwise.
I wonder if the big grouper(54s in the video) was taken in Horse Head? If so then the operator must have confidence in him because of the depth(30m+).
No Kilimar drift?
 
OP
MomZo

MomZo

Contributor
Messages
167
Reaction score
118
Location
Vietnam
# of dives
200 - 499
Nice report @MomZo and thanks for taking the time to share your report. One thing I don't regret about my trip was paying the extra to El Galleon to have them pick us up at the airport, drive us to Batangas and right onto a private Bangka directly to the resort and then back again at the end of the trip. Was so worth it!
Yeah, I also think that next time, if I travel in family, I will also pay for the full transfer to not bother with the taxi and ferry.
 
OP
MomZo

MomZo

Contributor
Messages
167
Reaction score
118
Location
Vietnam
# of dives
200 - 499
The OP should had taken private transfer all the way from Manila to PG. The ferry is a big issue nowadays. It was never a problem until some idiots in Marine Dept thought otherwise.
I wonder if the big grouper(54s in the video) was taken in Horse Head? If so then the operator must have confidence in him because of the depth(30m+).
No Kilimar drift?
Actually, I started from Kilimar drift to Canyons on the first dive, but the current was so strong that I didn't see much on this one.
Yeah, the grouper was shot at Horse Head around 35m deep, just before ascending to the safety stop. It was the last day and I dove with the same guide all week long. Thus, he knew how I behave underwater and offered to finish the dive that deep (I can go to 40m with my Deep specialty anyway)
 

Centrals

Contributor
Messages
12,406
Reaction score
4,886
Location
Hong Kong
# of dives
Actually, I started from Kilimar drift to Canyons on the first dive, but the current was so strong that I didn't see much on this one.
Yeah, the grouper was shot at Horse Head around 35m deep, just before ascending to the safety stop. It was the last day and I dove with the same guide all week long. Thus, he knew how I behave underwater and offered to finish the dive that deep (I can go to 40m with my Deep specialty anyway)
That was most unusual for an operator to take a complete stranger(1st time visitor) for Kilimar Drift in a strong ebb! I remember many yrs ago two divers(DM + diver) were blown off the course and every available boats were sent out looking for them. The divers were eventually picked up by a local fishing boat way out in the shipping lane towards Verde. I had just arrived at a different dive shop and the frantic call(wireless) were incredible.
 
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