Philippines

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  1. Snagel says:

    Anilao/Puerto Galera Trip Report April 24-May 13, 2012
    Original Post by ChinaCat46 on ScubaToys

    Sorry for the length, bad grammer, spelling, etc. Hey I have water on the brain.

    I’ve done a fair amount of dive trips so when I say my most recent trip to Anilao and Puerto Galera(PG) in the Philippines was one of my best you shouldn’t take it with a grain of salt. When I consider the diving, accommadations, food, people(staff and dive buddies), cost per dive, travel it’s right up there. So let me discuss each one and you will see why this was an epic trip.

    TRAVEL:
    While not as easy to get to as say Cozumel it may be easier to get to Manila(MNL) then some other places in the Caribbean like St. Vincent and the Grenadines(SVD) or Little Cayman(LYB). For me it’s not just jump on a plane and I’m in Manila but I had to take 3 flights. DEN(Denver)->LAX(LA)->ICN(Seoul)->MNL(Manila). There was a 2 flight option available LAX->MNL but due to extra cost, better airline(Asiana over Philippine Air), and getting frequent flier miles I choose the 3 flight option over the amount of time it would have saved(only a few hours). Manila is also a lot easier to get to then many other dive locals in the Indo Pacific. I like diving in Indonesia but it’s easier to get Manila then just about anywhere in Indonesia I want to go except maybe Bali(DPS). But it’s quicker to get to Manila then to Bali. In my case I flew United on the DEN-LAX legs of my trip and Asiana on the rest. Asiana is right up there with Singapore Air and I’d fly with them anytime. ICN(Seoul Airport) is just about as nice as the SIN(Singapore Airport).

    I left Denver on April 24 and arrived in Manila on April 26. All my flights in both directions were on time give or take 15 mins. I had 2 to 3 hour layovers pretty much at all transit points(i.e. at ICN and LAX). I had private transport from the airport to Crystal Blue and it’s about 2.5 hour trip to the resort(in Anilao) from the airport. After 10 days I got picked up by boat from El Galleon and transported across the Verde passage to Puerto Galera(PG) or actually to El Galleon in Little La Laguna(next to Sabang). When I left El Galleon it was about 3 hours via boat(~ 1 hour) to Batangas and then private transport(~ 2 hours) to Airport. All ground/sea travel went off flawlessly save for my pick up at Crystal Blue which was about an hour late and caused me to miss the 8 AM dive. My pickup was booked for 6 AM pickup and I got picked up at 6:55 AM. I arrived just as the dive boats were getting ready to go out. I did talk them into letting me use that dive as night dive except I had to pay the $9 difference between a day dive($29) and a night dive($38). Any way all my travel went fairly smoothly. When I consider past travel experiences this one was fairly easy except for long travel times. So travel while not a piece of cake because of time involvement it was pretty painless otherwise.

    RESORTS:
    Anilao is not known for it’s dive resorts. Club O has kinda of a cult following but to me the place is an overpriced dump with great dive guides. I had stayed at Club O(cellaris) my first time to Anilao. This time I was doing a photo workshop in Anilao and the people doing the workshop had booked Crystal Blue Resort. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The place looked decent on their website and it turned out to be a great place overall. The workshop had the whole resort(I’m guessing 12-14 rooms). I shared a room with a RG(from Singapore). Nice room with AC, balcony, two double beds, private bathroom. Overall a room I’d be happy with in just about anywhere except maybe a 5 star resort. As long as the bed is comfortable and roomy and the bathroom is clean and I have hot water I’m easy to please. They also gave you 500ml of bottle water per person each day. The food was all buffet and overall good and plentiful. Did I like everything they served no but of the two or three choices they had at lunch and dinner I always had plenty of good food to eat. Soup was served at both lunch and dinner and they had quite a variety of soups and all were good. The food wasn’t as good as say Wakatobi but I enjoyed the food as much as I did the buffets I had on my first visit to El Galleon.

    PG was pretty much a known factor as I had stayed at El Galleon before. There were a few differences from last time I was traveling with friends and this time I was by myself. I opted for a budget room instead of a poolside room and as it turned out the budget room was also poolside but in an older building. The room had a nice double bed and clean bathroom so I was happy. About the only difference I noticed was I didn’t have a TV in my room which didn’t bother me as I didn’t use the TV last time I was here. Also it was the start of the low season so the resort was fairly empty. When I was last there the resort was pretty much full and all meals were buffet. This time though the only buffet was at breakfast so I was able to order anything I wanted off the menu. The food was very good and getting to make the choices is always more fun then just eating a buffet.

    PEOPLE:
    Both resorts had well trained staff who were friendly and attentive. At both places I met a number of people I will call friends in the future. I’m often asked if I’m going with friends or traveling alone. I usually say I’m going with a bunch of friends I haven’t met yet and this trip I met quite a few friends. Most of the people at the workshop were Americans but my roomy was from Singapore, there were also people from South Afica, Australia and Canada. At PG again most of the divers were American but there were a few from Europe. I’m a fairly easy person to get along with all that might seem otherwise online were I can be a sarcastic bastard. At any rate I made many new friends with both the staff and other guests and now have new friends on facebook too.

    COST PER DIVE:
    This is approximate and includes; Transportation(Air,ground and sea), accommadations, food, booze, tips, t-shirts, nitrox and anything else I remember spending money on once I left my house. It came to $80 dive so multiply that by 65 dives and you get $5200 for it all. To me anything under a $100/dive is a good deal. I think the Galapagos came to about $300/dive and some of those dives weren’t very good.

    DIVING:
    All of the above would matter little to me if the diving was only so so but the diving was 5 star. At Anilao they had 6 boats and about 4 divers per boat with a guide, captain and mate. It turned out the boat I was on mostly had 3 divers and the guide Pong was excellent. I dove with Steve and Sydney a married couple from Detroit area. Occasionally we would get a diver from another boat and we did have a fourth member Catlin(Annasea – board name) who dove with us on two days. Also there were times when Steve sat out with ear problems or Sydney took a day off because of an arm problem. I didn’t mind as sometimes it was just me and another diver with the guide and the very last dive it was just me and the guide. Also on a few dives we would have one of the two photo pros join us for some UW instruction which I found somewhat helpful. I feel I definitely learned a lot and it has taken my photography to a new level. They wanted to make you uncomfortable by trying new things. Before this trip I usually shot in either auto mode or apperture priority mode with strobe set to TTL. Now I use my Canon S95 and strobe both in mannual mode. It did feel uncomfortable at first but the more I did it the more I enjoyed it and I think I got better as the trip went on. Lots of other tips I picked up during the workshop which I will use and explore in the future.

    The diving at PG is a bit different then Anilao and there are more drift dives as well as more divers per guide. I think the max I had was 7 divers per guide in PG but that was only on a couple of dives. Normally it was 3-5 divers per guide and I had a few dives were there were just two of us with a guide. Last time I was in PG the guides seemed more like baby sitters since the resort was full and there were lots of vacation divers(one dive trip a year type). This time with less divers and most experienced the guides actually looked for stuff instead of just baby sitting bad divers. At both places I saw stuff I’d never seen before as well as many kewl stuff I always love to see again and again. I will include a critter list at the end. It won’t contain the usual stuff like butterfly fish or angel fish or wrasse or parrotfish, etc but the truly weird stuff that make these two locations special. Anilao in my mind is right up there with Lembeh Strait when it comes to weird stuff and PG being so close to Anilao also has some of these same critters.

    I did 35 dives in Anilao(7 were at night) over 9 dive days. In PG I did 30 dives(4 at night) over 7 dive days. I logged 74 hours and 3 mins underwater. Anilao had 3 day dives and a night dive and it was pretty much dive your tank. PG they have 4 day dives and night dives are extra. They run a tight schedule in PG so dive times are limited to 60 mins but I did stretch a few longer and did one night dive there for 71 mins. The water temps varied but I would say for the most part the water was 84 degrees. Some dives it was 86 and some 82 and one dive we had a thermocline and I read 77 on my computer although others say it got to 75. You would think in 84 degree water I would be warm but I wore a 3 mm full suit as well as 3 mm hooded vest and I was still cold on a few dives. I’m sure all the diving as well as going at snails pace taking pictures helped. Another thing I liked was the variety of diving. I really love muck diving but they also had some great reef dives as well. In Anilao it’s about 60/40 muck/reef with PG probably more like 30/70 muck/reef. I was there for the macro and only put the wide angle lens on for parts of two dives.

    Both places are worth a visit but since they are so close(hour boat ride) it made sense to do both and since I saw things at one I didn’t see at the other it was well worth it then just staying in one the whole time. Anilao and PG are easier to get to then Lembeh or Raja Ampat or Wakatobi and they also cost less so I will be back as this was some of the best diving I’ve ever done. I thought Indonesia had the best diving hands down but this trip made me reconsider that. I guess you just have to be in the Coral Triangle and both the Philippines and Indonesia as well as PNG have some of the most diverse diving on the planet. You Cozumel divers need to get out of your comfort zone and checkout the Philippines. It won’t cost much more then a trip to Bonaire and it will definitely blow your mind if haven’t dived the Pacific.

    CRITTER LISTjust the kewl stuff, may have left a few off)
    Lots of Nudibranchs
    Pluerobranchs, slugs, snails, flatworms
    Scorpion fish – Rhinopia(Paddle-Flap), Leaf, Ambon, various
    Stonefish
    Spiny Devilfish
    Wasp fish – Cockatoo, Spiny, other?
    pipefish – ringed, network, mushroom coral, stick, others
    pygmy seahorse red and yellow Bargibanti(sp)
    thorny and common? seahorse
    ghost pipefish – robust, rough snout, velvet, ornate
    shrimp – striped bumblebee, Tiger, Harlequin, White-Banded cleaner, Saron unid type, tozeuma, coleman, crinoid, squat(sexy), emperor, whip coral, bubble coral, peacock-tail anemone, mushroom coral(popcorn), sea star commensal(2-3 colors), banded coral, blue boxer, various unid
    mantis shrimp – peacock, pink-eared, checkered-eye, Lisa’s, Tiger
    crabs – boxer, box, orangutan, soft coral(candy), decorator, porcelain(various), sea cucumber, various unid
    octopus – blue ring(1), hairy(1), mimic(3+), wonderpus(3), many poison ocellate(mototi), many coconut, day, starry night, white-v, others?
    cuttlefish – broadclub, flamboyant
    squid – bobtail, reef
    hairy squat lobster
    pegasus sea moth
    flying gunards
    hermit crabs – various
    Cowries – tiger, common egg, various
    Frogfish – Giant, Painted, Warty, hairy
    dragnets – Fingered, various
    lionfish – Twinspot, Shortfin, etc…
    star gazer
    snake eels(~5 types)
    blue ribbon eels(blue and black)
    white ribbon eel
    moray eels – snowflake, white-eyed, Fimbriated
    bobbit worm(3)
    Comet
    Electric Fileclam(disco clam)
    Blue Spotted Ray
    Sea Snake(3+)
    Largest Helmut Shell ever
    Juvenile Sweetlips(many spotted)
    Juvenile box(?)
    Puffers & Boxfish – many types
    Flatheads – types?
    Cowfish – Longhorn, Thornback?
    Clownfish, Damsel – Many types

    Firsts: Hairy Octopus(previous Hairy I thought I saw in Lembeh was Algae Octopus), white ribbon eel, striped bumblebee shrimp, nudis, snails,
    Notable sightings: Paddleflap rhinopia, many Mototi Octopus(previously had seen one for about 15 seconds), very playful coconut octopus, mantis with eggs, boxer crab with eggs, wrasse eating eel.

    At some point I’ll have pictures to post. Will post some here and more on Facebook. I took thousands and I mean thousands(probably 5000 to 6000) so it will take me a while to wade thru them. Sure glad I don’t have to pay for film.

  2. Snagel says:

    Trip Report: Anilao and PG, Philippines 10/16-30, 2010
    Original Post by ChinaCat46 on ScubaToys

    On this trip I flew United and Asiana. I booked the segments seperately but since the two airlines have a baggage agreement I was able to avoid baggage fees by checking my bag in Denver all the way to Manila and vice versa on return although I did have to touch the bag in LA. The flights were pretty much on time except the final leg from LAX to DEN. Seems like that is becomming a habit with United. This time though it wasn’t because the flight was late the plane was there and at the gate. The problem was there was a flight late coming from Hawaii with 40 people onboard that had seats on the flight to DEN. I had never flown on Asiana before but they turned out to be a first rate airline and since they are a member of the Star Alliance I also got some nice FF miles too. Asiana is headquartered in Seoul so we flew from LAX to Seoul changed planes and then flew to Manila. Had short layovers in Seoul in both directions and I must say the Incheon airport was very nice but I still vote Singapore airport number one in my book. All in all though I would highly recommend Asiana Airlines and the Incheon(Seoul) airport for travel. From Manila we had about two and half hour drive by van to Club Ocellaris. We got picked up shortly after midnight so it was near 3am by the time we got there.

    ACCOMMADATIONS:
    We(Curt-Dallas, Steve-Tucson, Howard-Loveland,CO and myself) stayed at two different resorts(I use the term loosely) on this trip. The first was Club Ocellaris(aka Club O). Club O caters to max of 20 divers and it’s really hard to call it a resort. The rooms are at best 2 stars and the food while edible is nothing special. The big lure for Club O is they have very knowledgeable dive guides and they really cater to photographers. That being said I thought the place was overpriced. We booked two aircon rooms with full board and 4 nitrox dives a day. Club O is in the area called Anilao which is on the southern end of the island of Luzon(same island as Manila). Our second stop was El Galleon in Puerto Galera(actually Small Lalaguna right next to Sabang) on the island of Mindoro. The two islands are seperated by the Verde Island passage which for many years was considered to be the most biodiverse area in the world. That was until people really discovered Raja Ampat. That being said this area has some incredible diving and is alot easier and cheaper to get to then Raja Ampat. El Galleon is a (dive) resort and the rooms and food were more what I expected and it actually cost less then Club O. Here we had booked two poolside rooms with full board and 4 nitorx DAY dives. Night dives are extra. The rooms at El Galleon are much nicer and I would give them 3 and half stars and the food was actually quite good too. One thing I didn’t like like at El Galleon was when we went to checkout there was alot of charges to our room which we didn’t make. The bill was not very well itemized and we had to have them pull bills to show us the charges and found many things we didn’t buy. We didn’t go thru everything as it would have taken to long but I’m sure if we had we could have reduced it even more. While I enjoyed El Galleon there are a couple of reasons I won’t go back there and this is one of them. It just seemed that they were trying to pad our bill or they have a very bad billing system. Since it’s electronic I think they were padding our bill and I don’t like that. To many errors which should never have happened and the way they itemize it just says Arthur’s Restaurant(stuff from room or restaurant) or the Point Bar and not what you actually bought. For instance one charge we questioned was for 637.23 pesos(10/29) to the Point Bar. They pulled the bill and it was for room 14 and we were in room 9. How did that get on our bill? The extra diving we did was also miscalulated and they tried to charge Howard for a high pressure hose he didn’t buy as well as a night dive he didn’t do. A few errors I could handle but there were way to many for me. I know we ended up paying more then we should have on checkout but by the time we finished questioning things it was probably less then $20 to $30 each. We had them remove over $250 in charges.

    THE DIVING OPERATIONS:
    The dive op at Club O is not well run. Usually you leave from in front of the resort but due to the typhoon which had left the sea rough and choppy in front of the resort we had to take their jeepney about 20 mins to a more calmer entry point. This was for the first 3 days and since there was another group of 3 people there the first two days they went first and we went second. Needless to say by the time we got to the entry point it was well after 10am. They did let us do long(80 min) dives but with such late starts it was impossible to get our 4 dives in the first 3 days. After doing two dives we would get shuttled back to the resort for lunch(around 3 to 4pm) and then shuttled back to do a night dive around 6:30. and back to the resort for a 9pm(or later) dinner. Finally on the 4th day we were able to leave from the resort but they still got going kinda late. They said 9am but it was more like 9:30 by the time we actually would leave. There was only us 4 at the resort at this time and it wasn’t us holding things up. We would have been ready at 8am if they could have gotten their act together. Any way we would go out for two “morning” dives and get back for lunch around 2pm. Then back out around 3:30ish for an afternoon and night dive and back to the resort for an early 8:30pm dinner. We did manage to get 21 dives(Howard did 20) out of the 24 we booked but they need to get more organized. Not sure how things would run if the place was full. We did do many long dives though and there guides really know their stuff all though at times they manhandled some of the critters.

    The dive op at El Galleon run by Asia Divers on the otherhand is very well organized and things are scheduled and run on time. They do dives at 8am, 10:30am, 1:30pm and 4pm but limit times to 60 mins in order to keep a tight schedule. We did manage a few 65 min dives and most sites are less then 15mins away. We booked the unlimited dives package which allows upto 4 day dives. Ala carte dives are $29 and they charge $9 extra for night dives which are not included in the dive package. Night dives leave around 6pm and last an hour as well. We were supposed to be picked up by boat from Club O on Sunday the 24th at 6am so we could get to the resort by 7am and do the 8am dive but they were an hour late picking us up so by the time we arrived the 8am boats were going out. We got them to substitute a night dive for the dive we missed and they only charged us the extra $9 for a night dive. Other nights we had to pay $38 and Steve and I did one every night. They also have high speed(compared to bangkas) boats which was nice when we booked a two dive morning trip to Verde Island(extra $18 charge) one day. One thing I didn’t like about their operations was the guide to number of divers ratio. They usually have one guide and a DIT(divemaster in training) per group(4 to 9 divers). Fine if there are only 4 but that was very rare except on a few night dives and our trip to Verde Island. It’s hard for me to count a DIT as a guide and their guides in general are there to baby sit then to really show you stuff. They get a lot of resort divers so I understand what they are doing but our group(of 4) didn’t need to be baby sit. We generally go very slow looking for stuff and all except Howard have quite a lot of experience. As such they pretty much let us do our thing and the guide(s) went with the other divers in the group. There dive guides are made up of Brits, Aussies, Canadians and Americans and don’t really seem to know the area as well as the locals. When I was here two years ago I stayed at Atlantis Resort and the guides there were local Philippinos and they show you stuff not just baby sit. As I mentioned earlier I would probably not go back to El Galleon again this was another reason. Steve, Curt and I have done a lot of diving and are pretty good at finding things but it never hurts to have a local guide who knows the area to really help find stuff. At PG I did 27 dives, Steve and Howard 26 dives and Curt 19. Curt got sick and missed the last two days. We usually had the same guide for the first 3 dives of the day. The fourth dive and the night dive they rotate guides as most people don’t do all the dives. One guide we had twice was 50 min Josh. The dives are supposed to be 60 mins but Josh would say we would shoot for 50mins. Since we normally went very slow we got seperated from Josh and did our 60 min dive disregarding Josh.

    THE DIVING:
    Both places are fairly close and the water temps were 82-84 degrees with the vast majority of the dives 84 degree. There was evidence of coral bleaching at both areas although I’ve heard it’s much worse in other areas of the Indo-Pacific this year. BUMMER!

    Anilao:
    The diving in Anilao was good but due to the weather and the time of year I don’t think we really got to see the real Anilao. I’d ask the guides about certain critters and was told either it was the wrong time of the year or they are at such and such site and we can’t dive there right now because of the storm or currents. That being said we did dive some very nice areas both reef and muck sites and saw lots of kewl stuff. Lots of different frogfish, blue ribbon eels, crabs(boxer crab!!), cuttlefish, pipefish, squat lobsters, octopus, juvenile fish, as well as a wazoo of nudibranchs, flatworms, pluerobranchs, and sea slugs. There were plenty of different tropical fish as well but I’ve got over 700+ dives in the Pacific so I’m more interested in kewl macro then looking at a schools of jacks or butterfly fish. Anilao is known for nudibranchs and it did not disappoint in this area. I’ve seen pictures and heard Anilao compared to Lembeh Strait but it didn’t appear that way to me. I guess it was a combination of the weather and the time of year so I will have to give it another shot before I make a final oppinion but the diving while awesome did not live up to what I expected. Some of the sites I really enjoyed were Mainit, Appols Rock, Kirby’s Rock and Bethlehem(gaza strip especially). On one night dive we saw 4 differnt spanish dancers and one had emperor shrimp on it to boot. Next time I do Anilao it will be between March and June then they won’t be able to blame the weather or the the time of year.

    Puerto Galera:
    First off on the very first dive here my four year old camera flooded. It is no more. It was time to replace it and I was gonna do that after this trip any way just wish it had lasted thru the trip. This was my second visit to PG so while I do have some good shots from my last trip here there were things I hadn’t seen before(in some cases anywhere) so it was disappointing not to get pics of those things. My friend Steve did get pics so hopefully I will get some of his. He also had an extra although antique camera he lent me the last two days so I was able to take some photos there. He said I just don’t act as interested when I’m not diving with camera and I think he is probably right. I guess when I’m looking for something to photograph I search more. I actually enjoyed the diving more in PG then I did Anilao even though I expected it to be the other way around. The conditions were much better overall and we weren’t restricted due to weather where we could dive. PG is mostly reef diving but they do have a few awesome muck sites and we got a could variety of both. On one night dive we saw the worlds largest flatworm it was over a foot, also saw two big nudibranchs(over 6″) which weren’t spanish dancers, a couple of big pluerobranchs and a huge snail as well as ohter kewl critters. That night dive was excellent and except for some I’ve done in Lembeh it was top shelf. I’d put it in my top 15 night dives and I’ve done over 150 night dives. We also did a two dive trip to Verde Island. Verde Island has a brilliant wall which we dove twice and to be honest I could have dove it 10 more times. Excellent site, great fish life and stellar reef as well as some kewl nudis!

    LAST IMPRESSIONS:
    Overall I had a good time. I’m a very jaded and critical traveler/diver so sometimes I probably seem to complain more then others. All in all though the diving was very high quality and for the money very economical. When I add it all up, airfare, hotels, diving, food, booze, tips, parking, etc… it came to less then $4000 for two weeks. Since I did 48 dives it comes to a little over $80/dive and they were pretty much all good to great dives. Compare that to someplace like the Galapogos which comes in at about $300/dive and you can see the Philippines is a very good deal for very good diving. I will return to the Philippines and would highly recommend it but only if you plan to go for at least two weeks.

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