There was a time not very long ago that Puerto Galera had the unpleasant reputation as the poor, smutty relation of Philippine beaches, whose sparkling white sands and beautiful resorts were the pride of the country. It was sacrilege to mention Boracay and Palawan in the same breath as Puerto Galera, and the former’s partygoers and the latter’s luxe revelers turned their snotty noses up at the idea of actually going to this Mindoro destination. For years, Puerto Galera languished as the destination for the less-moneyed masses and the foreign tourists whose priority was to combine beachcombing with immoral pursuits, with Sabang Beach inundated with girlie bars, gay bars, and dive bars (and we’re not talking about the underwater activity).
It’s not because Puerto Galera’s beaches were less magnificent: In fact, it was, and remains to be, one of the better destinations for snorkeling and scuba diving. Its underwater biodiversity is jawdropping, situated as it is near Verde Island, the heart of the coral triangle that is home to 70 percent of the world’s marine species. A simple snorkeling trip, available even to amateurs without training, is a veritable expedition into a rich world teeming with fan corals and colorful fishes like the parrot fish, clownfish, Moorish idols, lion fish, and taklobo (giant clams), among many others.
Today, however, Puerto Galera has carved a niche no other beach destination in the country can lay claim to. It is home to the annual Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival, which happens every March, drawing an international crowd of hippies, musicians, and artists, kindred souls who appreciate it for its proximity to the National Capital Region and for its perfect setting—the lush grounds at the foot of Mt. Malasimbo. For five years running, the organizers, headed by the d’Aboville family, who has a home in Puerto Galera, have held a distinctively different celebration that marries music (past performers have included Joss Stone) and visual arts (Leeroy New) at a grass-terraced amphitheater that overlooks the bay, “renowned as one of The Most Beautiful Bays In the World”. You will find details about this amazing Music and Arts Festival at the website http://malasimbo.com
This year, for the first time ever, Malasimbo will be held over the course of two weekends (the first and second weekend of March), which is a firm testament to how much the festival, and along with it, Puerto Galera, is growing. Senior reporters Jacky Oiga and Angelo Garcia went on a two-day sojourn, and they came back bearing only positive updates about how the municipality is keeping up with the surge of tourist arrivals. According to Mayor Hubbert Dolor, the growth has been nothing but exponential, and there is a 40 percent year-on-year growth. We don’t have statistics, but that may be the biggest tourism-related growth anywhere in the Philippines. In 2013, the town reported a P6 million profit from environmental fees, collected from tourists upon arrival (at P50 per tourist). Last year, the profit literally doubled at P12 million.
This, of course, means Puerto Galera is finally on the map, and not just for the downmarket, but, as with any other destination before it, this progress may come with a price. Mayor Dolor is especially careful about this. The interests of the Iraya-Mangyans, the indigenous group of Mindoro, is protected not just by the municipality but also by the Ayala Foundation, which is building homes and educational centers on the land that belongs to the group. The Ayalas, interestingly, have a private property on Talipana Beach, the quiet part of Puerto Galera, whose serene and quiet beauty beckons to a new breed of discerning travelers.
This issue celebrates Puerto Galera, its food, its people, its beaches, and yes, its amazing turnaround as the thriving stomping ground for the country’s artists. It may not be on White Beach, or Sabang, or even in Malasimbo, but we trust, that just like we did, you’ll find your own corner of paradise here.
Special thanks to Department of Tourism—
MIMAROPA Atty. Minerva Aldaba Morada and Puerto Galera tourism officer Aileen Bareng-Pu
(reprinted from http://www.mb.com.ph/welcome-to-puerto-galera/)