The websites said that it had some of the best diving in the Philippines but, being so accessible to the capital city, we tempered our expectations. At the end of our fifth day here and 10 dives later, we are happy to say that the websites are not just hyperbole. I am sure that there are some other great spots in such a huge country but we have been suitably impressed with what we have experienced here and would not hesitate to recommend to others regardless of their diving ability or experience.
We chose to stay in Punta Galera Resort, a 15 room hotel set right on the beach and with stunning views over the water back towards the mainland, Punta Galera is a mid-range accommodation option run by incredibly friendly staff. The hotel itself is very new, only opening in January of 2017, so all rooms and facilities are in excellent condition, including the onsite restaurant, bar and small swimming pool.
Two doors down is Action Divers. Although many dive ventures here are attached to an accommodation provider, Action Divers is the only operator in the area who specialise solely in scuba diving. That, and the fact that it is run by a fellow Kiwi, was the big selling point for us and we have not been disappointed. Roscoe, the owner, has a policy of renewing his scuba gear every 18 – 24 months so all equipment is in impeccable condition. In addition, their entire staff are highly skilled, knowledgeable and, above all, extremely personable. And the dive sites have been superb!
Most of the dives are only 5-20 minutes from shore. We’ve very much enjoyed strolling from hotel to dive centre and on to the waiting boat. The proximity means that you can pop back to your hotel between dives and fill out your log book, check out the numerous street stalls and restaurants or just simply relax. Dives are scheduled daily at 9am, midday and 3pm so you can pick and choose accordingly.
The reefs are extremely healthy and have avoided dynamite fishing that has been unfortunately commonplace elsewhere in South East Asia thanks to a forward thinking government and UNESCO who put this area under a Marine Reserve protection order back in 1997. With some strong currents, the fish life is prolific and both hard and soft corals abound. And with over 30 dive sights suitable for varying levels of divers, you can stay a week and not get bored.
So far, the highlights we have seen have been sea-horses, turtles, giant frog fish, lion and scorpion fish, banded sea snakes, feather stars in an amazing array of colours, a dozen different nudibranchs, huge drop offs teeming with fish out at Verde Island and an impressive steel hulled ship wreck at 30 mtrs deep housing a proliferation of life.
But it is not just under water that Puerto Galera turns on its charm. The locals are laid back and welcoming and there is plenty to do if you want to get out of the water and head inland. There are two waterfalls nearby - Tamaraw and Talipanan Falls. Both involve short walks and give a lovely taste of the local tropical jungle. For a more ambitious hike, a Mangyan guide can take you up Mt Talipanan. It takes about four hours to get up and a few hours to get down, so start early. You can also visit the local Mangyan villages where the locals are renowned for their intricate nito weaving and wood carving.
Action Divers and Punta Galera Resort are located on Little Laguna Beach, connected by a beachside walkway to the laid back bars and fine dining restaurants of adjacent Big Laguna Beach, making both spots ideal for families or couples who want to relax. Alternatively, those who like a party should take the path a few minutes in the other direction to the exuberant nightlife of neighbouring Sabang. It’s precisely this choice and proximity, on land and in the water, that makes this such a great pick.