Review of Dive Trip to El Galleon, Puerto Galera, Philippines, May 2009
El Galleon is in my opinion the best all-around dive resort in the Sabang area. Three areas to discuss: Dive Operations, Diving, Hotel / Food.
Geographic note: the area in general is often referred to as Puerto Galera; in fact Puerto Galera town itself is about 5km from Sabang village, which is where most of the dive op/resorts are located.
El Galleon has its own dedicated dive store (Asia Divers), and it is the only dive resort nearby with its own private pier. This is significant as other dive boats load and unload from the beach in Sabang which is less convenient. Asia Divers is also a highly qualified dive store, being rated as a PADI Career Development Center: i.e. they are qualified to teach Instructors.
They offer nitrox and even trimix through their Tech Diving operation. Nitrox is commonly used all the time by most guests, and at a price of $60 for unlimited nitrox, it is easy to see why. When diving 4 or 5 dives a day every day, nitrox offers a huge benefit. I did 25 dives in 6 days, at 4 dives per day ; one day I added a night dive (for $12!) for a total of 5 that day. Day dives are scheduled 7 days a week at 0800, 1030, 1330 and 1600. Dives are always 50-60 minutes; one exception was a deep dive to 129 feet (“Fishbowl”) which naturally was shorter. Night dives are available any day upon request, even it is one person. I corralled some others for the night dive that I did, so we had a small group. The dive was scheduled for 1815 and we were back by 1930.
Nearly all divers are European so all diving is conducted in metric: meters, bar and deg C; however all instructors are “bilingual” and if your gear is in feet, psi and deg F (mine is), no worries. Tanks are yoke-mount but with DIN-convertible valves (remove a center plug to permit a DIN fitting to screw in).
Most guests at El Galleon were experienced divers, but I did see regular small Discover Scuba and Open Water classes being held also. A new Instructor Class of about 8 people was just starting while I was there, and there were 2 or 3 others who were working their way through DiveMaster, which takes many weeks. Most diving is from PI-style bangkas but Asia Divers also has a purpose-built dive boat with 2 powerful outboards. This boat is used for day trips to more distant locations, such as Verdi Island. I joined one of these trips and dove 2 tanks at Verdi. An additional charge of $25 was added for use of the speedboat, but it cut travel time from 60+ minutes to only 20.
As a guest your main responsibility is to analyze tanks in advance and write your name and mix on the tank on tape, and sign the log. These tanks are then taken to the boat and assembled into your gear for you. At the end of the day bring back just your fins and mask , etc and the main part of your gear is brought back for you. So as a guest there is no handling of your bc/tank combo required.
Hot towels are offered on the boat immediately after the dive (kept in foil in a cooler!) and towels and a fresh water shower are available as soon as you return, as well as a fresh water hose and rinse tank for gear. Hang up your wetsuit and it will be stowed away for you.
All DM’s carry SMBs, aka safety sausages (known as balloons here) which are always used at the safety stops due to the boat traffic and for locating the group after drifting.
Cameras are handled well by the boat crew. Most sites are 2-10 minutes away. There are no camera tanks on the boats but none are really needed due to the very short rides.
Summary: Professional and knowledgeable dive op., run the way it should be.
Most diving is drift diving of one form or another. Currents can be ripping, or completely absent depending on location and state of the tide. Dives might begin in one direction and reverse course in the middle according to prevailing current conditions. The boats follow the divers and pick up based on SMB deployment. Highly recommended that each buddy pair have at least one SMB between them and know how to use it, in case of becoming separated. I also carry the DiveAlert horn, and used it once when my buddy and I got separated from the group and we ended up about ½ mile away from the boat. This was well briefed ahead by the DM’s, who told us at that particular site that, due to the reduced vis, the group was almost certain to be separated.
Diving is nearly all reef diving, of the highest caliber. In my opinion this is some of the finest reef diving in the world, better than the Great Barrier Reef (an opinion shared by others I met there). Reefs are in pristine condition with hard and soft corals, plentiful fish life of many species such as wide variety of anemone fish, lion fish, trevally, tuna, fusiliers, nudis, feather stars, morays, rays, sponges, seahorses, ghost pipe fish, and on and on. Verdi Island is a phenomenal wall dive. There are also some dive sites (“Giant Clams”) offering terrific muck diving as well as, you guessed it, giant clams. No big animals; if you want those you go elsewhere (Cocos Island, Galapagos).
Water temp was 82 F at nearly any depth; we did hit a couple of mild thermoclines now and again, the other side of which it might have been (brrr) 78 F. This had me laughing at the others who complained at the “vicious thermocline”…yuk, yuk give me a break! However, I wore a 5mil and was glad of it as I was doing so much diving; I saw others in everything from just shorts, to shorties, to 3 mil full suit, to 5mil plus full hood.
It was a pleasure diving with other experienced divers. Diving was relaxed and we were free to enjoy ourselves, without watching drama unfold or having our time cut short.
Summary: Fabulous world class reef diving.
El Galleon Hotel / Food
El Galleon is located around the point from Sabang itself, on Small LaLaguna. This in itself is a big advantage in my view. All the Sabang hotels are jammed next to each other on Sabang beach and are crowded together, backing on to the village. El Galleon is much more open and spacious in its setting. The pool is small and used often for dive training (there is one corner that is about 10 feet deep). There are many types of room – I stayed in a ground floor poolside room which was quite a bit extra compared to other rooms, the advantage being no steps to climb.
Room was well outfitted with cable TV, a safe and a nice bathroom, and good AC. Bed was a comfortably firm Queen size. Laundry is done for you immediately (I turned it in around 0700 and received it back at lunch time for a very nominal fee). Free wifi is available.
Food is outstanding – the chef has a brand new state of the art kitchen and a full crew of sous-chefs. Dishes cover European, Thai, Filipino, Indian cuisine and are of uniformly high quality for an astonishingly reasonable price (typical main course running 250-350 PHP or 5-7 USD). I had the “full board” meal plan (all meals included) and actually I think this was a mistake, from a value point of view only. Looking at the pricing, I could have saved money, and had a greater selection (since I chose from a different menu that was a subset of the full menu), by paying separately instead. Even so, the total package value was amazing. I really enjoyed breakfast – sliding up to the bar in the morning and asking for whatever I felt like (toast, eggs, bacon, baked beans, omelet or whatever) was great.
Near the hotel above the dive store is the famous Point Bar. It is literally located on the point between Sabang bay and Small LaLaguna, so you can stand in the bar enjoying the breeze and look from one bay to the other. It is a friendly atmosphere and the favorite post-dive hangout. There is an amazing cocktail menu that must have 400 drinks in it. It was a favorite of mine to get a bottle of wine and have them keep it in the fridge for me – I did not even have to ask, just walk up to the bar after the last dive of the day, and they would pour a glass for me from my bottle. You run a tab for the week and settle up at checkout.
Total cost: $1200 for 7 nights, poolside room including single supplement, including unlimited day dives for 6 days (up to 24 total) and all food. This could have been as low as $854 per person if I had been in a budget room, double occupancy. Amazing value.
Summary: great hotel with outstanding food and service.
This is really a dive place. You would probably not go there if you were not a diver. There are things to do such as waterfall tours, shooting range, kayaking, snorkeling, but these are secondary to the mission of the whole place, which is dive, dive, dive. Sabang is a crazy village with tiny alleyways and innumerable bars, discos and restaurants. Beer will cost you about 60 PHP in many places – about $1.20. It is great fun and seems to keep going 24/7. If you are a hardcore diver there are any number of ways to offgas in the evening. I loved the floating bar in the bay, wave down the boat and it will run you out there. There is quite a tide in Sabang: at high tide the water comes right to the buildings making the sidewalk into a small wharf; at low tide the water is 200 yards out exposing rock pools.
Away from Sabang there are more traditional beach type resorts at White Beach and other places. I did not go there so no report. Try Tripadvisor.
PG is 3-4 hours from Manila depending on traffic; 2 hours by road to Batangas and one hour by boat. There are many many ways to do this. Probably the best combination of convenience and value is the Sikat bus/ferry service leaving Manila at 0800 and connecting to a dedicated ferry at $25 one way per person. The resort can arrange completely private transport via car and private boat for $175 one way, up to 6 people. This is the way to go if you have a group. If you don’t have a group, or prefer something in between, you can arrange a private car for about $60 one way and connect to the boat yourself for about $6. This has the advantage that you can leave on whatever schedule you like (if you don’t want to catch the 0800 bus for example). I did this and arranged a car through beeline travel (beelinetravel.com). It was prompt and reliable in both directions.
It is certainly possible to travel direct to the airport and fly out, or you can overnight in Manila. On arrival in Manila, many flights arrive late at night, so staying over is usually the way to go before traveling to the resort. However if your transfer is arranged through the resort they will meet you at any time of the day or night. I stayed over at Oxford Suites in Makati which was great value at $80 per night including breakfast. A full range of other hotel options are available from bargain basement to deluxe. I recommend asiarooms.com for best prices - the pricing varied up to $160 for the same room depending on web site used. I think now that I have been through Manila I would have more confidence to schedule the entire trip straight through without an overnight both ways, thus allowing more total time in PG.
Great value – world class reef diving – great food – cheap beer – a real fun place. A long way from the US but worth the trip.
Thanks for reading
jetlife2 at mac.com