PHILIPPINES. Puerto Galera - a paradise island in the Philippines you DON'T have to fly to
Last weekend I spent a few days in Puerto Galera on the northern end of the island of Mindoro. It was my second trip down there and it's quickly becoming one of my favourite islands in the Philippines. Which is a bold statement considering its competition.
Granted I've only visited a handful of islands since moving to the Philippines six months ago, and they all made me feel like I'd entered some sort of Robinson Crusoe dream sequence. But Puerto Galera is particularly close to my heart. Firstly, its proximity to Manila means you don't have to fork out on a flight (a 3 hour bus trip followed by an hour on a ferry and you're there). Secondly, Puerto Galera is breathtakingly beautiful. Its many bays were historically used by the Spanish (its name translates as "The Port of Galleons") providing a safe haven for their precious fleet during stormy weather. These days those same quiet bays and beaches attract more city weary folk than war ships. Calm, blue green waters lap shores backed by soaring mountains covered in lush green forests of palms. It's completely lovely.
And on top of all that, the dive sites here have been voted some of the best in the country. The entire Philippines. A collection of over 7,000 islands with wrecks and reefs and everything in between, and Puerto Galera has some of best. I don't dive but sites such as the canyons, shark cove and the numerous ship wrecks which line the coast are known for being full of an amazing array of marine life.
Lastly there are many ways to spend your time here that don't involve the beach. Mount Malasimbo towers over the whole area and is a moderately easy climb, taking around 2-3 hours, with spectacular views from the top. The mountain is also home to the Iraya Mangyan tribe and the ascent offers the chance to interact with the community (going with a guide will help with the obvious language barrier).
I spent my days here exploring by scooter (rented for just $10 a day). The route west from Puerto Galera town is probably the best in my view, the beaches are better (and quieter) and the further you go the better the views become. Some of my favourite spots included:
White Beach - a beautiful curve of sand popular at weekends but pretty chilled during the week. It's great for swimming and water sports.
Aninuan beach - soft as you like white sand backed by mountains with a couple of low key resorts serving up tasty fresh fish and cheap wine.
Talipanan beach - as far west as you can drive, this blissfully quiet spot is the perfect place to watch the sunset. The beach bar at its very western tip is right on the sand and serves cold beer.
But the whole place is gorgeous. It's not as popular as El Nido, and doesn't have the paradisiacal kudos of Boracay, but what it does have is quiet coves, forests and mountains and a sparkling sea of blue green that never gets boring. Just a few hours from Manila and most definitely a world away, Puerto Galera has stolen my heart.
Tips: Sabang is the best place to stay if you want to be close to dive sites.
The Verandah near Big La Laguna beach serves up the best food on the island.
Avoid weekends if you can. If you do decide to travel there on a Saturday, arrive early at Batangas port as the queues can become insanely long.