Puerto Galera, a thriving beach resort community located in Oriental Mindoro, is best known for its beautiful white beaches, sparkling waters, and a hopping nightlife. The island is easily accessible from Batangas port, which is just a 4-hour bus ride away from Metro Manila. Its close proximity to the city, plus the many beach resorts that cater to all sorts of budget, makes it a favorite weekend destination among Filipino tourists.
Puerto Galera’s beaches may be filled with tourists all year round, but what many do not realize is that it was declared a marine sanctuary and nature center by the United Nations Man and Biosphere Program International back in the seventies. Even today, it is still home to some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world, and is in fact just a short boat ride away from San Agapito Reef, which is part of the world famous Coral Triangle.
Of Puerto Galera’s 32 beaches, White Beach is easily the most popular tourist destination, so much so that its many beach resorts, inns, and hotels are not enough to hold the crush of tourists during summer months. In fact, private homes are regularly rented out to tourists during the peak season.
With the concentration of tourists being in White Beach, it is not surprising that this is also the place to be if you are looking for the best nightlife in Puerto Galera. At night, White Beach comes to life as tourists come out in full force to enjoy the bonfires along its sandy shore, fresh food in its open-air restaurants, dancing in the local bars, entertainment arranged by the various hotels and resorts, and drinking games with Puerto Galera’s trademark drink – the “Mindoro Sling” – taking center stage.
Early in the morning, White Beach reverts to a quiet place where you can enjoy nature and almost forget the countless establishments along the beachfront as you walk along the sand or go for an early morning dip. By noon, everyone’s awake again and the beach teems with sunbathers, volleyball and frisbee players, swimmers, jet skiers, and people getting ready to ride a banana boat. First time snorklers and scuba divers show up in dive shops to get a short lesson before heading out for a fun dive, while experienced ones suit up for a short boat ride to their choice diving spots. You will also see people going in and out of tattoo shops to get a permanent reminder of their stay in White Beach, or just to have a no-regret temporary henna tattoo. Locals and genuine Mangyan tribespeople roam the beaches all day selling fresh water pearls, shirts, and other souvenir items. You can also get your hair braided or have a soothing massage right on the beach. As evening approaches, the entire beach goes quiet again for a few minutes as people pause to soak in the famous beautiful Puerto Galera sunset before getting ready for another night of fun.
There seems to be a prevalence of resorts wanting to rush new divers into an introductory SCUBA course. That is, getting students into the water in less than 10 minutes, demonstrating skills like mask clearing and regulator retrieval and expecting them to replicate these like a pro. It’s true — diving is fast becoming more commercialized but unlike other hobbies, this one presents individuals with an added risk of life; it is quite disturbing to see a number of dive resorts take huge groups of people underwater without proper preparation. It seems like all they are after is money.
It’s true. A number of dive masters employed by resorts are rather haphazard in the way they teach an introduction dive, or what is formally called a Discover SCUBA Diving Course. It happens: they get suited up, go straight into 4 feet of water and go through mask clearing and regulator retrieval. After a quick briefing on how to equalize, they’re brought underwater.
Here is a basic checklist of things to look for when enrolling in a Discover SCUBA Diving Course (DSD):
Find out what exactly you’re paying for
A DSD course is essentially chapters 1 and 2 of the book which you need to read if you’re going to take on a full diving course under PADI. If you do a quick page count, this is a total of 122 pages of reading material. A typical DSD course, if done well, will consume one afternoon. That is roughly a three to four hour session depending on the pace of your group.
Other resorts speed through the briefing in 30 minutes and get you in the water within the hour. Not only is this potentially dangerous, it’s a huge waste of your money as well. If you undergo the proper briefing procedures, the less problems you will encounter underwater.
A proper PADI authorized DSD course consists of an introduction briefing, video briefing of what SCUBA is all about including equipment check, hand signals and safety procedures. It also consists of a hands on with the SCUBA equipment on the surface, practicing of mask clearing and regulator retrieval and ear equalizing techniques. All these basic skills are practiced in the water and must be demonstrated by the students.
Only then are you taken in for a dive.
Find out the ratio of dive masters to SCUBA students
The ideal ratio is of course 1:1. A huge group doesn’t benefit much from having too many students and so little dive masters. This is because if one student encounters a problem, the DM will need to tend to him and most probably surface, leaving you, the buddy unattended. There have been situations where the group would get separated or the entire dive aborted because of one panicked diver at your expense.
Find out if the resort has additional freebies such as photos
There’s a saying among divers that “you didn’t see it unless you had photos.” At all things constant, choose a dive resort that comes with an underwater photographer.
Mind you, this shouldn’t be the dive instructor or the dive master as they are required to tend to the dive group and not be taking photos or video. As much as possible, choose a resort that can procure someone with a camera to take photos of the group.
Photo Credit: Image by wanderlass on Flickr.
Everyone probably agrees that getting to explore the underwater world, diving is one of the most fascinating things one can ever experience. With the immense diversity of marine life, dive after dive brings its own unique surprises, from the breathtakingly beautiful to the strangest sights you can ever imagine.
Despite this, many people still have a lot of reservations when it comes to SCUBA diving. A lot of these reasons, however, are based on misconceptions. Misconceptions that if people only knew the truth about would not hold them back from engaging in SCUBA diving.
Some of the most common misconceptions about SCUBA diving include the following:
- You have to be a good swimmer. One of the best things about SCUBA diving is that even those without any swimming skills can learn how to dive. You will need to learn the basics of SCUBA diving, such as controlling your depth with the “bouyancy control device (BCD)” and moving underwater with the help of fins, but unless you plan on becoming a dive master, you won’t be needing any swimming lessons anytime soon.
- There is a high risk of being attacked by sharks or stung by jellyfish. It would be a lie to say that SCUBA diving is risk free. However, recreational diving sites are chosen not just for the exceptional beauty of the reefs and diversity of marine life, but also with safety in mind. Even in dive spots where sharks can be found, the truth is that the risk from bites is very low since most sharks are really not aggressive at all. Advisories are also usually given when there is a jellyfish bloom so that you will know when and where not to dive or swim.
- You have to be certified to dive. Absolutely not! While it is advisable that you be certified if you wish to dive regularly, a certification is not necessary for occassional divers. However, if you are not certified to dive, you should make sure that you are always accompanied by an experienced dive instructor when you do dive. First time divers should also sign up for an introductory dive course to learn the basics of scuba diving before heading out for a supervised dive. Certified SCUBA divers who are out of practice are also encouraged to take refresher courses before diving again to make sure that they have not forgotten critical lessons that would ensure a safe dive.
- Diving is too expensive to try. While it is definitely more expensive than taking a dip in the pool, the increase in popularity of SCUBA diving has made it more accessible and budget friendly. Competition among dive shops has significantly driven down equipment rental rates, as well introductory dive fees. In fact, nowadays, the price of introductory dives is just Php 2500 or USD 60. A price well worth the memories you’ll take home after the experience.
So the next time you get a chance to go SCUBA diving, don’t hesitate to give it a try. Believe us, there’s a far greater danger of you getting addicted to it than there is from shark bites and other overblown fears you might have.
If you’re in Mindoro, don’t hesitate to come and visit us here at GULI diving for your first dive and to discover the beauty of our seas.
Photo Credit: Image by Jayvee Fernandez.
GULI Diving is an accredited PADI institution.
Discover SCUBA Diving USD $60.00
Open Water Course USD $450.00
Advanced Open Water Course USD $450.00
Rescue Diver Course USD $450.00
Emergency First Response USD $250.00 (with training books)
Enriched Air Course (Nitrox) USD $250.00
Dive Master Course USD $950.00 (with training books)
* additional USD $120.00 applies for E-Learning versions of courses
Hello! My name is Gus Lamy and I’m ready to take you to an underwater adventure! This blog serves as my dive log and the one stop resource for updates on what we’re doing at GULI Diving. Leave a comment, send us a text and forward this page to your friends who want to learn diving in the Philippines.
Our Email: guli.diving (at) gmail (dot) com
Our Numbers: +63915.631.1722 and +63927.931.8456