Philippines Update Report
Copyright 2015 - Ken Knezick, Island Dreams Travel
These notes are the result of another Island Dreams' repeat group trip to El Galleon Resort. In addition to my own observations and suggestions, I have included tips proffered by our guests. Immense thanks are offered to Allan Nash and all the staff of El Galleon Resort and Asia Divers. They worked overtime to insure that the Island Dreams scuba divers enjoyed an excellent group experience, both topside and underwater. Mabuhay!
EL GALLEON LODGING OPTIONS -- Due to its hillside setting, most of El Galleon's Seaview rooms are built on a ridge. These are the largest, most pleasant rooms, with a great view. But accessing them requires a climb of 70-80 steps, ascending through a lushly landscaped garden. If you are fit, or want to get that way, I encourage you to enjoy these rooms. The climb may seem daunting the first time around, but becomes easier with each trip. For a shorter walk, there are a few Seaview rooms on the front of the property, overlooking the beach. The Penthouse room, half way up the hill, includes living room, bedroom, and a spacious open-air porch. Rooms 14 and 15B are also half way up, a nice climb but easier than the primary Seaview rooms. The alternative to this fitness regimen would be the Poolview rooms. The trade-off is that these rooms are appreciably smaller, without the ocean view. For parties of three or four guests, there is also the option of a complete condomimium. These lovely multi-story units have two bedrooms, 2-1/2 baths, a loft and full kitchen and dining area. They are located north of El Galleon, up the hill and a few minutes walk away from the main resort.
DINING with FRENCH-CHEF ANTOINE -- Assisted by a capable team of local cooks, El Galleon's restaurant is headed up by Corsican-born Master Chef Antoine. No doubt as a result of this French heritage, all breads and croissants are baked fresh daily, in-house. On our meals-inclusive program, breakfast, lunch and dinner were all served buffet style. Breakfast included eggs or omelets cooked to order, ham, bacon or sausage, chocolate croissants hot from the oven, toast, butter, jam, coffee and orange juice. There is also cold breakfast cereal with milk and yoghurt, and Asian-style congee. Lunch and dinner included fresh salads, often a homemade soup, steamed vegetables, rice, noodles or French fries, and a selection of meats that included chicken, beef, pork and fish. Dessert was usually superb local mango and pineapple, plus the option of ordering ice cream. Friday was a special Indian-food night that I enjoyed very much. The servers are attentive and the pleasant alfresco, oceanfront setting helps to make every meal a relaxing experience. The restaurant is open from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm. From what I could tell, all guests seemed well-pleased with the cuisine, and my own vegetarian diet was exceedingly well served.
POINT BAR and BARREL BAR -- The Point Bar is a long-time Puerto Galera institution. Located on a small rocky point overlooking Sabang Bay, it seems to always be breezy and cool here. Evening Happy Hour offers 2-for-1 fun that applies to some unique cocktails whipped up by the affable young bartenders. It's a great place for meeting friends and telling dive lies while enjoying the sunset. If you are feeling brave, you can win bar honors and a custom t-shirt by downing a succession of bizarre shot concoctions. (Thanks, but I'll just stick with a nice, cold San Miguel beer). As if The Point was not enough, a second bar has been developed right on El Galleon's dive deck, when barrels are rolled out as tables, and beer is served out of ice chests in chilled mugs. Perfect!
DIVE BOATS -- The typical Philippines dive boat is a bangka, a narrow-hulled, wooden boat with outriggers for stability, and a small inboard engine. Asia Divers puts a maximum of six divers and one guide per bangka. While I started out a skeptic, I began to enjoy bangka diving and found them to be a suitable dive platform for the short boat rides. In a welcome nod to modernization, Asia Divers also has two excellent, new speed boats. These broad beamed, Fiberglas, 32-footers accommodate a maximum of 12 divers and two guides (diving in groups of six). The twin 110-hp Mercury outboard engines comfortably push these boats to 30 knots, fully loaded. Just don't put your sunhat and sunglasses in the overhead bin. Mine were not the only ones to blow away. All crew and captains proved to be attentive and competent, but as always be mindful of the propellers whenever you are in the water near a power boat.
DIVE PROFILES -- Of the many nearby dive sites, most are no deeper than 60 feet, with the profile moving shallower over the course of the dive. Maximum planned dive depth during our trip was no more than 90-100 feet, and then only for good reason such as the Verde Island wall or the excellent M/V Alma Jane shipwreck. So that the schedule of four daily boat dives may be achieved, maximum bottom time is 60-minutes per dive. Within that 60 minute dive time, it is strongly advised that the last five minutes be devoted to a very slow ascent and preventative decompression stops. As the profiles are perfect for it, and the cost very reasonable, I strongly suggest that you dive Nitrox here.
SHORT BOAT RIDES -- While the majority of boat trips are no more than five to ten minutes, many of the best dive sites are just a one-minute boat ride from El Galleon's pier. The one longer ride, to Verde Island, has been reduced to just 15-20 minutes with the advent of Asia Divers new speedboats. The Verde trip is a two-tank morning outing. Most all other sites, the dived boat returns to the resort between dives. It's nice to be able to visit your room, work on the camera system, or just sit in the beachfront restaurant to enjoy another cup of coffee.
DIVING VARIETY -- From the perspective of a dedicated diver and underwater photographer, one of the greatest assets of Puerto Galera diving is the remarkable diversity of diving available. Thus one resort is able to provide you with great critter diving, world-class blue water wall diving, and some good wreck dives added for good measure. On my most recent visit, dive conditions for Verde Island were exceptionally good, with calm seas, minimal current, and water visibility in excess of 150 feet. Swarming with fish hosted in healthy corals, colored in encrusting sponges and speckled with soft corals and multi-colored crinoids, I came away feeling that the reefs of Verde Island provide one of the best blue water reef dives remaining in the world today. I can't wait to dive it again.
NITROX AVAILABLE -- Asia Divers offers the option of 32 percent Nitrox. The incremental cost is quite reasonable, and the safety margin afforded by Nitrox is immensely valuable. If you have not yet completed a Nitrox course, I strongly encourage you to do so. Your personal safety and longevity as a diver will benefit as a result.
NEW PIER and DIVE SHOP -- Never content with the status quo, owner Allan Nash has completed construction of a superb new dive pier and dive shop. Built as an extension and amplification of El Galleon's existing pier, this spacious dive shop includes rapid filling stations, greatly expanded gear storage and drying racks, multiple dip tanks for dive equipment and cameras, and better dive boat docking space. This well-thought-out new facility has already proved to be an excellent improvement to Asia Divers guest services.
LA PALM SPA at EL GALLEON -- Following construction of the new pier and dive shop, the previous shop area has been redesigned into a comfortable semi-open-air Spa. Now right on property, you can enjoy excellent-quality massage, facials, manicure, pedicure, etc. I was fortunate to experience a 90-minute therapeutic massage performed by Esther. Her techniques combine all of the classic Swedish massage strokes and stretches, with the welcome addition of Thai and Balinese massage elements. As you prefer, massages can be arranged at the pleasant spa area, or in your own room. Either way, I recommend these La Palm Spa services highly, especially in light of their relatively modest cost.
WATER and AIR TEMPERATURES -- Over the course of four different stays during April, water temperature varied from 77-82 degrees F. Air temperature was in the low 80s. All in all perfectly pleasant on both counts... especially yif you bring a good 3-5 mil wetsuit and a hooded vest.
TOPSIDE ATTIRE -- Beach casual is all you need. Bathing suits, shorts, t-shirts, polos or short-sleeved travel shirts, and at least one pair of very light weight long pants. Do bring a decent pair of walking/running shoes for the strolls into Sabang town and any longer-range touring. If you don't mind getting up early, El Galleon's manager, Ms. Rhuby, leads a great one-hour power walk every morning before breakfast.
SUN BLOCK and INSECT REPELLENT -- Insects were minimal, mostly a few no-see-ums under the dining table. I defeated these tiny flying teeth simply by wearing socks and shoes to dinner. But reflected sun off the water is powerful. I recommend a good sun block for your face and a sun hat and sunglasses to wear on the boat rides.
DRINKING WATER -- It is not recommended to drink the tap water at the resort. You can buy bottles from the fridge in your room, at 40 pesos per 500 ml. Big six-liter bottles are available at the front desk for 160 pesos, or walk into town and get a six-liter jug for 80 pesos, and some extra exercise carrying it back.
THE BOTTOM LINE -- To put it simply, I felt this to be one of my most enjoyable dive trips. The variety and ease of the diving, combined with the simple comforts of El Galleon Resort, and excellent service all around, make this an exceptional dive vacation value. But don't take my word for it. Come and visit the Philippines for yourself.
New Images: Philippines Photo Gallery
What the guests are saying: El Galleon Guest Comments
Learn more about Philippines Diving: Philippines Dive Report
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Make some pictures of your own: Join Ken Knezick on an upcoming Conducted Group Tour