Oriental Mindoro province in the eastern half of Mindoro Island is Southern Tagalog’s primary food basket and tourist destination. The wide expanse of this land is made up of a network of towering mountains, labyrinthine caves, unspoiled waterways and captivating shores that are waiting for the brave and adventurous to come and embrace the mystery and excitement within.
Oriental Mindoro province is situated 140 kilometers south of Manila, in the Philippines’ 7th largest island of the same name. It is divided into 14 municipalities (Baco, Bansud, Bongabong, Bulalacao, Gloria, Mansalay, Naujan, Pinamalayan, Pola, Puerto Galera, Roxas, San Teodoro, Socorro and Victoria) with Calapan City in the north as the only city and provincial capital. The province’s topography is organized into two types: mountainous, rugged land in the west and flat agricultural lands to the east. The country’s 18th highest mountain, Mt. Halcon (2582 m) and 5th largest lake, Lake Naujan, are found in the province.
The province shares in the island’s mysterious history which pre-dates the arrival of the Spanish in the country. Rumors of Chin-San or “Mountain of Gold” have already been in circulation among Chinese merchants who traded with the locals a century before Magellan came to the Philippines. From these rumors came the name Mina de Oro or Mine of Gold, the name given by the Spanish to the island. The rumors still remain a mystery today – a mystery shared among the various Mangyan tribes that inhabit the area and are one of the oldest tribes in the Philippines.
But one thing is clear, there is no gold in this island. The real “gold” rests in its countryside, in the golden rice fields and thick coconut plantations, in the glowing white sand beaches, abundant marine life, lush rainforests and colorful cultures and traditions. From Puerto Galera to Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro gives you the best of both worlds — from a psychedelic beach bum lifestyle to a simple, back to basics adventure in the heartlands.
Oriental Mindoro is mainly sought for by tourists because of the Puerto Galera beach scene. Puerto Galera (“port of galleons” in Spanish), a town noted for its beautiful natural harbor, is dotted with pockets of the finest white sand beaches comparable to that of Boracay. Being situated along the Verde Island Passage (the so-called “center of the center of marine biodiversity in the world”), the town’s islands and coves hides abundant marine life in its wide stretch of coral reefs. Divers and snorkelers will have their money’s worth in the town’s seas. Hotels, resorts, bars and restaurants are lined up along the coasts of the town’s famed beaches particularly, White Beach, Sabang Beach, Big and Small La Laguna Beach. The scenic Tamaraw Falls which is 14 kms. from White Beach is accessible in a few minutes by van or jeep, or 3 hours of walk. A bridge just below the cascades gives tourists a chance to shower in its cool, refreshing water.
But aside from Puerto Galera, undiscovered and unrealized tourist attractions lie along the province’s eastern coast, from Calapan City to Bulalacao town. The capital, Calapan City hosts the annual Sanduguan Festival every May, which commemorates the prehistoric trade relations between the natives of the island and Chinese merchants, and the Mahalta Festival, a revelry which represents the entire personality of the province as symbolized by the Mangyans, Mount Halcon and the Tamaraw buffalo. All of the province’s municipalities offer their best mardi gras to be presented to local and foreign tourists alike, a reflection of the provincial government’s efforts to develop the province into the next big destination in the Philippines.
In Baco town near Calapan City lies Alibatan Island noted for its white sand beaches where seagulls, turtles and oysters thrive. Also in the same town are Aras Cave, famous not only for its stalactite formations but also for the peculiar presence of a falls inside the cave; and Mount Halcon (2582 m) which is every Filipino mountain climber’s dream challenge. The trail going up the mountain is traced by crystal clear streams and lush rainforest. On a clear day, the summit of this mountain provides a good view of the Mindoro countryside, of Batangas and Marinduque, even as far as Bicol Region. Lake Naujan, which is surrounded by the municipalities of Naujan, Victoria, Socorro and Pola is protected wildlife reserve area. Various species of resident and migratory waterfowl as well as freshwater crocodiles and sail-finned lizards dwell within its waters. Bird-watching enthusiasts, eco-tourists and sports fishermen will find Lake Naujan a treasure trove of natural richness. Pinamalayan and Bongabong town further south also has good beaches that cater to local, economy-class, tourists. Pinamalayan has a small outrigger boat service going to Gasan in Marinduque, and in Maestro de Ocampo and Banton Islands in Romblon.
For those seeking to get to Romblon or Boracay via Oriental Mindoro, then Roxas town down south is the way to go. Dangay Port in this town has big outrigger boats and RORO vessels that can take tourists to Odiongan in Tablas Island, Romblon or Caticlan, Aklan. For those who want to get a closer look at the province’s indigenous Mangyan population, Mansalay town below Roxas is a good starting point. There are various tribes of Mangyans here, particularly, Tadyawan, Hanunuo and Alangan. These tribes are being taken care of and studied by Father Antoon Postma, a Dutch missionary who has lived among them for decades and have published a number of books and articles about their culture and traditions. Another Mangyan tribe of the Iraya stock is located in Baclaran, Puerto Galera. This one is under the care of SVD missionary Father Erwin Thiel. It’s just a 30-minute walk from the town proper.
Bulalacao town at the southern tip of the province got its name from the 13 islands scattered in the seas south of it, which, according to folklore, were formed by meteors crashing down the sea from space (hence the name Bulalacao or “shooting star”). Snorkelers, scuba divers and or those who want to be their own Robinson Crusoe will be starstrucked by its splendid coves, reefs and beaches.
Why Not Go
There’s actually no reason for not going to Oriental Mindoro. After Batangas and Laguna, it’s the next best thing to Boracay that just a few miles from Manila. It also offers the best of both worlds. If you want to experience the ultimate beach life coupled with lots of partying and extreme watersports then you have Puerto Galera to go to. Otherwise, if you prefer the slow, solitude of the countryside then you can hop on a bus or jeep to go further south to see what the province has in store for you.
A Boracay-like beach scene that is accessible and worth seeing? A mysterious and rich countryside waiting for you to discover and embrace? Where else can you find that? Do I have to elaborate further?
Best Time to Visit
As heavy rains from June to November could spoil the fun with muddy roads and rough seas, the best time to go is always during the summer season from February to May. The tourism peak season in Puerto Galera is usually around the days leading to Holy Week and after it. If you don’t want your beaches crowded especially in White Beach, then go earlier or later. Going early can also save you the hassle of being stuck at ports as chance passengers. There are also a number of minor festivals to be celebrated in the province’s other municipalities during this time.
Most hotels, resorts and other forms of accommodations are situated in Puerto Galera, with only a handful in other municipalities. There is a wide spectrum to choose from, beginning with economy to first-class. A number of resorts in Puerto Galera, particularly in Sabang Beach offer tour and watersports packages to guests that includes island hopping around Puerto Galera, snorkeling, scuba diving and kayaking.
Asia Divers Scube Diving Center and the El Galleon Beach Club (Small La Laguna Beach, Sabang, Puerto Galera) has budget, poolside, seaside and penthouse rooms with air-conditioning beginning at $51 to $145 per night. They give exclusive scuba diving courses to interested guests and offer one of the best technical diving support services in Asia. Other amenities include a conference hall, beachside bar and restaurant with exquisite food choices, and Internet facilities. For further inquiries, visit them at www.asiadivers.com, email them at email@example.com or call them in their Manila line (02) 834-2974.
There is an assortment of resorts and hotels named White Beach as they are strategically located along White Beach in Puerto Galera, with most of them specializing mainly in budget accomodations. White Beach Lodge (0920-5545067) owned by Ms. Carmelita Magbuhos has rooms with airconditioning, TV, private toilets, and kitchen in some rooms. Rates begin at Php 1500-5000 per night. White Beach Resort and Hotel (0917-8258643), the mighty competition to White Beach Lodge also has airconditioned suites with personal balcony and cable TV, Internet shop, a mini bar and restaurant, a souvenir boutique, convinience store and function hall. Foreign tourists will be glad of the foreign exchange service they have as well as the laundry and pressing service. They also offer tour packages which include visits to Tamaraw Falls, island hopping, and snorkeling. Rates start at P1500-P5500 per night.
For more information on Puerto Galera accomodations, contact the Puerto Galera Municipal Tourism Council at the Town Hall thru their website, www.puertogalera.net. or contact Puerto Galera Online Services via their website, www.puertogalera.org or call them at 043-2873101 and 0905-8347688.
For accomodations outside Puerto Galera, try the following:
Microtel Inn and Suites along M.H. Del Pilar Street in Brgy. Santo Nino, Calapan City is a 3-star hotel with 50 airconditioned rooms. Rooms offer cable TV service, multi-function telephone service with NDD/IDD, Internet-ready data port, personal fridge and toilet, automated keycard security and a complimentary continental breakfast. Other hotel facilities include a coffee shop which offers a variety of Filipino and International dishes, a fitness gym and a convention center. Call their 24-hour customer service line at 1-866-765-9565.
Pinamalayan town coast is dotted with an array of resorts for local and foreign tourists, such as the Blue Wave Hotel and Resort (043-284-3399) in Brgy. Paraiso, and Bulaklak Beach Resort and Magdalena Beach Resort both in Brgy . Pili. All of these are just 10-15 minutes via tricycle from the Pinamalayan Public Market. For more information, visit www.pinamalayan.gov.ph.
Where & What to Eat
Along with excellent accomodations in Puerto Galera comes a wide range of restaurants and dining places to choose from. Practically every hotel and resort offers Filipino and international dishes thru their resident restaurants and bars.However, food connoiseurs must have a great deal of money to spend as the cost of food in the town could rise especially during the vacation peak season.
Around Muelle Port in Sabang, Puerto Galera are lines of restaurants, bars and bistros waiting for the epicurean in you. Le Bistro D’Agathe (0926-6412968) near is a highly recommend place for those with a very discriminating palate. It serves excellent pizzas and delectable French food. Hemingway Bar and Restaurant at the West end of Sabang Beach has a menu which follows the travels of famed writer Ernest Hemingway from Carribean, Spanish to Italian dishes. Others include Typhoon Restaurant, Pier Club Pizza (tasty pizzas and seafood) and Dog & Duck Pub where British traditions are kept alive on Sundays with special roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.
Oriental Mindoro’s nightlife is spotlighted on Puerta Galera. As the rest of the province’s municipalities slows down into solitude at night, the party is just getting started in Puerto Galera, especially in White and Sabang Beaches. Discos, pubs and bistros are lined up, almost encroaching in the water. Among the recommended bars and discos in Sabang Beach are The Point Club inside El Galleon Resort, Broadway Bar and Disco (which features live music), Rafael’s Rare Chords Bar (with good music, pool tables, chess sets and WiFi), and a number of girly bars wherein you can have female GROs (guest relations officers) sit with you and chat for a certain price. Along downtown Sabang are a number of karaoke bars which cater to the locals such as It’s Okay Bar, Sunset Disco, Umbrella Disco and Sabang Disco. In White Beach, the Hiyas Bar at the center of the beach serves the famous “Mindoro Sling”, the local alcoholic concoction made from various fruit juice and spirits. Other clubs include Mikko’s Bar and the Marco Polo Pub (perfect for people looking for a quiet place to drink).
My to do List
1. Of course, get in to your best swimsuit or shorts and have a splash in any of Puerto Galera’s beaches.
2. Island hopping in Boquete Island and San Antonio Island. The Bulalacao islands are also a great alternative, only farther.
3. There is this place in White Beach called Jurassic Park located at the east end of the beach. If you are looking for a quiet place to sit down, then this is the place. It’s a large karst wall with a small cavern to sit inside. To experience real solitude, climb on top of this wall (using ropes tied to tries on the side of the wall) to reach the other side. The other side has a small rocky cove devoid of the hustle and bustle of the beach.
4. Visit the Mangyan School near White Beach (run by the Ayala-Zobels) for a glimpse of the Iraya Mangyan culture.
5. Buy souvenir t-shirts, bags and sandos in Puerto Galera’s many souvenir stores.
6. Arrange with your local mountaineering society for a climb up Mt. Halcon.
7. Scuba Diving in Escarceo Point near Sabang Beach.
8. Snorkeling at Long Beach in San Antonio Island (arrange with your resort for tour packages or local snorkeling operators)
9. Banana boats and parasailing are available in Sabang and White Beach. Exhilirating and fun. This you gotta try.
Stay Away From
Going to Oriental Mindoro, especially in Puerto Galera can be quite the hassle if you’re traveling via outrigger boat from Batangas City. Outrigger boats are large motorized bancas with modified seats to increase passenger capacity. The usual capacity of these boats is around 45 to 60; but some boat operators would overload their bancas to earn more, especially during the peak season. This has been proven disastrous. Just this May 23, 2009, an outrigger boat capsized on its way to White Beach because of overloading and choppy seas. 12 died in this accident. To prevent the same accident from happening to you, know your local boat operator, especially its sailing history and safety record. Or better yet, take a fast craft or RORO to Balatero Port in Puerto Galera or Calapan City instead.
As I’ve said, food prices in Puerto Galera (as in any other tourist destination in the country) dramatically increases during peak season, so bring a lot of cash with you. There are already a number of banks with ATM machines or that changes traveller’s cheques that can help you with your money needs. Be careful of exchanging your foreign notes in dubious-looking money changers as they can give you a run for your money.
Prostitution can be a bit of a problem in Puerto Galera. While the local government allows drinking bars to have licensed GROs, licensing is not that strict and some minors can pass as adult GROs, so be careful. Not all have them have health certificates and bringing a condom might not save you as well. Those who are not comfortable to the idea of homosexuality, they’ll be surprised to find an abundance of transsexuals in the area. Before you take a GRO out of the bar, make it sure that she is what she claims she is. Or better yet, stay away from sex with strangers.
The province of Oriental Mindoro is part of the Arroyo administration’s flagship project called the Strong Republic Nautical Highway which runs from Manila to Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao. This project has greatly improved the quality of roads and transportation in the province in recent decades. From Buendia, Manila or in Alabang, Muntinlupa, you can take a bus (Jam Liner, Alps, Tritran, Green Star, RRCG or N. Dela Rosa) for Sta. Clara Port in Batangas City. From there you can take an outrigger boat for White Beach or Sabang Beach in Puerto Galera, or a fast craft or RORO for Balatero or Muelle Port in Puerto Galera. You can also go via Calapan City, which has a bigger port. From there, you can take a jeep or bus to Puerto Galera or to other municipalities down south. Travel time from Manila to Batangas is 1 ½ hours and from Batangas to Puerto Galera or Calapan it’s 2-3 hours by boat or RORO and 45 minutes by fast craft.
There is an exclusive ferry service being offered by Si-Kat Ferry Bus. They have buses just outside of City State Tower at Mabini Street in Ermita, Manila waiting to take passengers to Batangas Port. They have a fast craft, Si-Kat II, ready to bring passengers to Sabang Beach in Puerto Galera. Reservations must be made a day in advanced and a round trip ticket costs around P1400. For more information, visit them at www.si-katferrybus.com or call them at (02) 521-3344.
Epi Fabonan is a history teacher with a wide array of background on local history and geography. He loves to travel and document his adventures through photo-essays, slideshows and short films.