March 25, 2014

Travel Bites: Oriental Mindoro - Beyond Puerto Galera

ORIENTAL Mindoro has got to be one of the most blessed provinces in the Philippines. It is rich in natural beauty with beaches so fair and fine, an abundance of marine resources, an incredible array of tropical flora and fauna, and gushing waterfalls that make their way through lush tropical rain forests that cover its mountains.

It sits at the center of the most diverse marine ecosystem in the world—the Verde Island Passage—where close to 3,000 species of marine life have been documented.

The most popular attraction in the province is, no doubt about it, the municipality of Puerto Galera, with its white-sand beaches (White Beach and Sabang Beach) and crystal-clear water. Aside from the beach, there are quite a few other attractions there as well, as in the capital city of Calapan and the municipality of Naujan that both boast of ecotourism and historical sites.

The White Beach (Photo from
Oriental Mindoro is also home to the tamaraw, a water buffalo that is now on the endangered-species list, as well as the Mangyans, an indigenous tribe that supposedly hails from Indonesia, and has since settled in  the highlands of the province.

Located in Barangay Bancurro in the municipality of Naujan, the Simbahang Bato (Bancuro Church Ruins), is what remains of a former Augustinian priory founded in the late 17th century. After several tries, marauding Moro pirates finally overran the place, wanting to steal the church’s bell supposedly made of gold, but not finding it, they burned the church to the ground in 1824. The church, which was made of stone and coral as was the fashion of the time, was never rebuilt, although a small chapel within was established in the 1960s.  Locals apparently fear the place due to the alleged hauntings by spirits and supernatural entities. Awoooo!

Have a picnic and watch the birds feed at the Naujan Lake Natural Park, a government-managed and protected wildlife area. The Naujan Lake is the fifth-largest freshwater lake in the Philippines and hosts a number of protected fish species and migratory birds. It has been categorized as an important wetland because of its rich biodiversity, although it is a struggle to keep its environs safe from poachers and population stress.

At 8,482 feet, Mount Halcon is only the 18th highest peak in the country. Let not those statistics fool you as most mountaineers still grade the mountain as a difficult climb due to its slippery slopes and single-track trails. Located in the  municipality of Baco, the mountain is also home to the Mangyans who revere it, and endangered plant species like the Mindoro Bleeding Heart and a stick insect endemic to the province.

The climber who makes it to the peak is rewarded with magnificent views of the entire Mindoro and surrounding islands and, on a clear day, even the summit of Mount  Mayon in Albay province in the Bicol Region. At present, Mount Halcon is closed to mountaineers.

Because it is mainly a coastal province, there are numerous beaches that can be found in Oriental Mindoro, apart from those found in Puerto Galera. In the capital of Calapan, for instance, most locals go to the Suqui Beach when they want to cool off and have a swim. It is just 15 minutes away from the town proper by tricycle.

Bancuro Church Ruins (Photo from
Bongol Beach, for another, is a 2-km stretch of gray-white sand in Bongol, Pinamalayan. It is a secluded beach as it is harder to reach than most beaches, but if it’s privacy you wish, this is the place to be. From Calapan, take an air-conditioned van to Pinamalayan, then a tricycle to the beach. (There is also Melco Beach in the municipality of Roxas.)

Puerto Galera itself, aside from its popular White Beach and Sabang Beach, also holds other interesting features such as the Tamaraw Falls. Located in Barangay Villaflor, the water pours from a height of 423 feet, dropping asymmetrically into a series of little falls over an outcropping of rocks and vegetation into a pool below. A small fee is collected from those who want to picnic in the area or take a dip in the pool. From Puerto Galera, take a Jeepney bound for Barangay Villaflor—Tamaraw Falls can be seen on the side of the road.

While White Beach and Sabang Beach are where the action is, ahem, Aninuan Beach (next door to White Beach) is the choice of people who want less of the crowds. The sand is grayish-white with some smooth round pebbles and stones on the shore but the waters here are immaculately clean.

Aside from hanging out by the beach and swimming, diving is also a popular recreation in Puerto Galera because of the vast marine resources around it. If you don’t know how to dive, you can check out the numerous dive centers along the beach such as South Sea Divers (, a pioneer in the area offering reasonable fees, or the Blue Ribbon Dive Resort ( with attractive dive packages.

One of the more exciting attractions in Puerto Galera is the annual Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival held outdoors in a grass terraced ampitheater at Mount Malasimbo (about 30 minutes away from White Beach) usually between February and March. Aside from local artists whose works are featured around the festival grounds, local and foreign music acts have played at Malasimbo, mesmerizing guests with their traditional music and sacred chants, jazz, pop and chill-out tunes. During the last festival from March 1 to 3, ethno-folk artists Bob Aves and Grace Nono, reggae legend Jimmy Cliff and soul siren Joss Stone performed before an estimated 4,000 participants. (UPDATE: This year, the festival featured Swedish folk/Latino singer/songwriter Jose Gonzalez, jazz group The Robert Glasper Experiment, our very own Mishka Adams, to name a few.)

Jose Gonzalez at the Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival held from Feb. 27 to March 3, 2014. (Photo from
Dining options

When in Oriental Mindoro, one shouldn’t miss the suman sa lihiya with coco jam (steamed rice cake soaked in coconut milk and treated in lye) from Merl’s Native Delicacies (Ubas Street, Lalud, Calapan City, 043-286-7684/0916-356-6381 and 0922-847-3458). These tiny round cakes of sweetness make for a great and filling breakfast or merienda snack, as well as  a pasalubong treat for loved ones.

In Puerto Galera, one of the most popular restaurant’s is Hemingway’s Bistro (Sabang Beach, 043-287-3560/0920-2060-553) for its succulent steaks, fresh seafood and impeccable wine list. Though prices at the bistro may be on the high end, the dishes are worth every centavo. The staff are also amazingly helpful, with the kitchen eager to please diners with special requests.

Of course, what attracts many to Puerto Galera is not only the scuba diving and the white beaches, but the throbbing nightlife. Bars are aplenty here. For family-oriented and more wholesome partying, stick to the bars at the White Beach. For the rest of your wilder, baser needs, go to Sabang. Wherever you end up though, make sure you have a taste of the Mindoro sling—a rum and juice cocktail that reminds you of the refreshing outdoors of the province, with a punch of excitement.

Where to stay
In Calapan, stay at the Filipiniana Resort Hotel (, which is strategically located, with a mall and banks nearby. The rooms are wide and clean, with an expansive swimming pool.

Out of the Blue Luxury Resort (, which overlooks the Small La Laguna Beach recently received the “Best Service” commendation among Tripadvisor’s members. Bookings are efficient, with the food quite hearty and excellent, and superb professional staff. It has spacious villas perfect for a barkada getaway or a family outing, and has two indoor pools that look out to stunning views.

Getting there
Most tourists going to Oriental Mindoro take the bus to the Batangas City Port such as JAM Liner (from Cubao or Buendia Avenue/, or the Tritran Bus Lines (2124 Taft Avenue, Pasay City/ 831-4700), but make sure the bus passes the Calabarzon Expressway for a shorter trip.

From the pier, take a ferry (e.g. SuperCat) or RO-RO either to Calapan, if that’s your end destination, or to Puerto Galera. At Terminal 3 in the Batangas pier, there are designated ferries that can take you to White Beach or Sabang Beach.

If going to Puerto Galera, you can also take the Sikat Bus/Ferry service (708-96-28) from the CityState Tower along Mabini Street in Ermita, Manila.

(This piece was originally published on April 22, 2013 in the BusinessMirror.)

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