Main Menu
Join Undercurrent on Facebook

The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975 | |
For Divers since 1975
The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
"Best of the Web: scuba tips no other
source dares to publish" -- Forbes
June 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 45, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
What's this?

El Galleon Resort & Asia Divers, Philippines

money goes a long way (visibility, maybe) in this dive spot

from the June, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Fellow Diver:

After having had my mind blown during a week-long underwater photography workshop at the Crystal Blue Resort on Luzon, the Philippines' most populated island, I didn't have high hopes for my second week at El Galleon. After having Scott Geitler of Bluewater Photography (and founder of Underwater Photography Guide) pointing out a variety of macro critters by day and bioluminescent creatures by night, how could it get better? After seeing my first bobbit worm, I couldn't even imagine.

El Galleon Dive ResortI mention this because the September issue of Undercurrent will feature stories about dive photography courses at two Philippine resorts, so keep an eye out. My course was bliss -- nonstop photo seminars, and "blackwater" nighttime openwater drift dives led by Crystal Blue's owner, Mike Bartick. However, a terrible cough accompanied me during that week (I suspect the sick couple behind me on the flight from Seoul to Manila), so I was ready for a less frenetic pace.

Puerto Galera, a marine reserve on the northeastern tip of Mindoro Island, was close to Crystal Blue Resort, so it was easy to arrange a 90-minute transfer south by a large wooden double-outrigger, a.k.a. bangka, to Asia Divers' dock at El Galleon. But as we approached the resort on Sabang Beach, I wondered if I was wrong about a less-hectic pace. In the double-crescent-shaped harbor, scuba divers were mounting a veritable naval invasion -- one bangka after another was either unloading or loading up six to 12 divers at a time, mostly Asian, descending narrow planks from boats to wade two-feet-deep shallows to the beach. I've never seen as dense a mob of divers in one place, not even on Cozumel's most crowded shores.

Well, Puerto Galera is a top dive destination in the Philippines, so duh. Plenty of Undercurrent reader reports and travel features gush about its incredible -- and incredibly inexpensive -- reef and muck diving. I can attest to both, but I'll add that this bustling little town is one place where it's easy for people from different countries and socioeconomic statuses to regularly bump up against each other.

Even little Medio Island, separated by a narrow channel from the Sabang peninsula, was packed with people. Small homes and resorts lined its banks, and I marveled at the number of outriggers -- it looked like they had as many boats per household as we Americans have cars. Sites at Medio Island were incredibly deceptive. At Boatyard, I immediately said "boring" as I descended 60 feet to a featureless sandy bottom lacking coral and current, but once I started finning, I found a treasure trove of scattered but unusual sea life. A group of ruddy, blotched Elongate siphonfish hovered in the lee of a feather seastar. A frostfin cardinalfish hovered nearby, with big black eyes bulging from its tiny lavender-tinged body. A long, blotchy white and pinkish nudibranch with purple dots on its face (I haven't found its name "in the book") made its way across a (thankfully rare) bit of litter. I squealed into my mouthpiece when I saw an even smaller nudibranch covered in green rhinophores, like tiny blades of grass striped with white longitudinal lines. No one else was close enough to hear me banging on my tank to come over.

I felt like a mountain goat as the front-desk receptionist, who spoke great English, led me up the steep, rough-hewn, stone steps to one of the sea-view rooms, perched on a lush, high slope between the resort and Asia Divers' center. I often had to stop on the tiny balcony to catch my breath, but I savored the view of people walking below on Sabang's streets, and seagoing traffic from Sabang Beach to Verde Island and Luzon. My first thought when entering was, "Well, it's not going to get a spread in Architectural Digest," but it offered the essentials. A firm queen-sized bed with nightstands on either side dominated the main room. A mini-fridge in one corner came stocked with juice, water, candy bars, beer and soft drinks, and was topped with a hot-water pot heater and an assortment of teas and instant coffees. A roomy, freestanding wardrobe took the other corner. An in-wall air conditioner did a decent job of keeping us cool in the evenings. The toilet, sink and shower in the utilitarian bathroom worked fine; we never lacked for hot water.

Puerto Galera in Philippines - MapThe water wasn't potable, but there was plenty of filtered water in the hotel lobby. By donating a couple of bucks to the Project Aware Dive Against Debris charity, I was allowed to refill my water bottles as many times as I wanted. Another thumbsup: El Galleon has a "zero liquid discharge" treatment system that keeps all polluting effluents, including sewage and detergents, solely on its property. There were no resort grounds, per se. Most of the other 20-something rooms were in a two-story U-shape surrounding a tiny pool, with the open end facing the back of the restaurant and the Point Bar, which really rocked at night, its patrons getting a commanding view of the bay.

I enjoyed that view while sipping coffee on my balcony around 6:30 a.m., watching the town wake up. My spouse joined me at 7 a.m. in the restaurant, where the chef made me an omelet to order, but we were free to order off the extensive menu, which included French toast, Eggs Benedict and hot cakes, served with orange juice, tea, or coffee.

Allison Manis, the blonde, blue-eyed Canadian manager of Asia Divers for 20 years, gave me my orientation, walking me first to the center of action, a large deck next to two big floating docks joined to the main deck by sturdy, hinged gangplanks. She pointed out separate rinse tanks for cameras and wetsuits, open-air drying racks, shaded benches and daily roster. A locked airy room on over-the-water pilings stored gear overnight. The crew, lean locals who were full of energy, filled tanks by hoses from large compressors sitting in a nearly soundproof, air-conditioned room on shore, next to the shop, which featured a modest variety of dive and snorkeling gear. I looked forward to spending time in the air-conditioned camera room, with plenty of electric outlets and compressed air fed to each of the 15 stations, although sometimes I had to ask for empty air tanks to be refilled.

My room and full-meal plan came with four boat dives, plus unlimited shore diving, but I chilled with just three boat dives per day. After suiting up, I'd gather for the 7:45 a.m. briefing around the dive board, which spelled out departure times, dive site names, guides, divers' names, and tank and boat numbers. There was never any confusion about which boat to board, especially because dive guides always walked us to the boat. Mine was mainly filled with American and European divers. Our 30- to 40-something dive guides were Asian and some Europeans, who all spoke fluent English and were not strict about bottom time. Most dives, gentle drifts between 50 and 80 feet, lasted from 50 to 70 minutes on tanks usually filled to 3000-plus psi with a mix of nitrox of 32 or 33 percent.

Hill, one of the Philippine boat crew in his late 20s, decided to take care of me as his personal charge. He always brought on board my heavy camera rig and dive gear. I only had to glance at Hill once I'd suited up for a dive, and he'd make sure to take my camera out of the rinse tank and get it on board. Skippers and crew changed almost daily, but except for one day off, Hill took care of me for my entire stay.

An Ocean-View Room at El GalleonAsia Divers' bangkas pulled up to the floating platforms for 8 a.m. pickups and, unlike at the other resorts I saw, we boarded completely dry by walking across footwide gangplanks. Dive sites were rarely more than 10 to 15 minutes away. I backrolled in off the gunnels at Kilima, east of Sabang Beach. I could tell the healthy, lush corals would have been a beautiful sight if visibility had been better -- it was sketchy during the December week I was there, never exceeding 30 feet due to high amounts of particulate -- so I zoned in on macro sightings. A reddish Lisa's Mantis peered at me with big brown eyes speckled with white spots. I usually have trouble getting a clear image of the darting mushroom coral pipefish but lucked out here. A nembrotha nudibranch had a green-blue body with purple oral tentacles, pink rhinophores and deep velvet gills, like an expensive Victorian-era drapery. Smaller fish were on the reef, too, including scorpionfish here and there, but I don't recall seeing many huge schools, except for red anthias. Anemonefish, little puffers and wrasse were easy to spot, as were boxfish and guard gobies standing watch over their buddies, the symbiotic digging sand shrimp.

Reboarding was up a short ladder with fairly narrow treads and no handrails, but the climb was made easier because I could hand all my gear up to Hill. We always returned to the dock after the first dive, left again at 10:30 a.m., and were back in time for lunch, before the first afternoon dive pushed off at 1:30 p.m., and an occasional second dive at 4 p.m.

I learned to order lunch ahead of time (at breakfast) so it would be ready for me when I sat down to eat at noon. I had my choice of starters like bruschetta, pumpkin and ginger soup, garlic prawns, tuna sashimi, salads such as Caesar or beef, pastas like spaghetti Bolognese and fettuccini carbonara, a choice of seven sandwiches, wraps and hamburgers, plus any of the eight desserts offered at dinner. After enjoying sundowners on my balcony, I drifted down for dinner, which included 20-plus additional choices like coriander-crusted salmon, chicken mignon, pork scaloppini, a variety of pizzas, and Philippine dishes of prawns pork, fried rice and curries. House wine was 200 Philippine pesos per glass ($3.80), with imports four times that. The domestic San Miguel beer was $1.65. The restaurant only uses paper straws, not plastic.

Rating for El Galleon Resort & Asia Divers, PhilippinesBecause it was a couple of weeks before Christmas, the waterfront was lit with holiday decorations. Every night, bands of caroling children worked their way along the waterfront restaurants, serenading tables closest to the sidewalk, all holding their palms out, hoping for spare change as a Christmas present.

Sabang gets a bad rap on Trip Advisor, and I'm not going to deny that I saw my share of local women wearing short shorts and tight skirts escorting men on their arms. But my spouse and I enjoyed walking (and felt safe doing so) around Sabang, particularly because of interesting vignettes revolving around the exchange of money. On one stroll, I looked up to see a middle-aged white man on a second-floor apartment balcony, accompanied by a good-looking local woman, throwing handfuls of 20-peso notes (worth 40 cents US$ each) into the air. The kids below had a ball grabbing what they could. Then the man emerged with a pair of stocky pals, grinning and throwing more bills in the air as he walked away. In an area where the typical daily wage might average US$2.50, the money would be put to good use during the holidays.

With the chilly December water temperatures averaging 77 degrees, I was glad I'd brought my 5-mm and 1.5-mm full suits, plus hooded tunic, gloves and booties. But tiring of dives up and down the reef along the eastern side of Sabang Beach, which attracted diver invasions from other resorts, I decided on my last day to ask Maria Gonzales, an amiable guide from Manila, for some variety. After Maria cautioned us about being alert to boat traffic, we dropped 50 feet into a light current in busy Sabang Bay. A beautiful red feather star walked boldly along a coral in broad daylight, its spindly legs the longest I'd ever seen. Small yellow sea cucumbers crawled around in abundance, their weird thorny tentacles splayed out to snatch whatever morsels they could grab into their little circular mouths. Beautiful soft and hard corals were plentiful, as were nudibranchs, like a white-bodied Chromodoris michaeli with black stripes bordered in yellow, and a black, stout-bodied Phyllidiella pustulosa covered with clusters of whitish bumpy tubercles. I was stunned when coming across a giant green frogfish, well-camouflaged by algae against a backdrop of similarly mottled coral.

I'd recommend El Galleon in a heartbeat to anyone wanting to try Puerto Galera's great diving. It's centrally located to dive sites, but located far away from the nonstop commotion of other places nearby. With better visibility and warmer water temperatures (typically May and June), and, of course, the Philippines' bargain pricing, this place offers wonderful diving that's hard to beat anywhere.

-- V.P.

Our Undercover Diver's Bio: "I've been diving for more than three decades, logging over 1,000 dives, starting in the Caribbean, California and the Pacific Northwest before switching over to Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. I'm a published amateur underwater photographer, but I still have a long bucket list to check off, and at this point I'm thinking what many of us may feel: So many great dive sites, so little time!"

Divers CompassDivers Compass: My seven-night stay came to just $2,066 for my spouse and me, which included a full-board meal plan and all diving; the only extras were massages and alcoholic beverages, and Nitrox was $66 for the week . . . El Galleon's listed room prices range from $59 to $170 per night, individual dives are $34 and gear rental is $21 . . . tips came to about 10 percent of the total bill, and were put in a shared envelope . . . current was 220-volt in near-universal outlets that accepted US-type plugs . . . round-trip airfare with a one-night stop in either direction, both in Seoul and Manila, cost me $1,100 per person; I recommend the Belmont Hotel in Manila and the Grand Hyatt in Seoul, and both were close to the airports . . . U.S. dollars and credit cards were accepted . . . Bluewater Dive Travel put my package together . . . Websites: El Galleon and Asia Divers:; Bluewater Dive Travel -

I want to get all the stories! Tell me how I can become an Undercurrent Online Member and get online access to all the articles of Undercurrent as well as thousands of first hand reports on dive operations world-wide

Find in  

| Home | Online Members Area | My Account | Login | Join |
| Travel Index | Dive Resort & Liveaboard Reviews | Featured Reports | Recent Issues | Back Issues |
| Dive Gear Index | Health/Safety Index | Environment & Misc. Index | Seasonal Planner | Blogs | Free Articles | Book Picks | News |
| Special Offers | RSS | FAQ | About Us | Contact Us | Links |

Copyright © 1996-2024 Undercurrent (
3020 Bridgeway, Ste 102, Sausalito, Ca 94965
All rights reserved.