Puerto Galera may be known to many as “the poor man’s Boracay,” but dig past the nightly beach parties and you’ll discover a treasure trove of natural wonders and a cultural gold mine
Written and photographed by Klara Iskra Añonuevo
Additional photos courtesy of Buri Resort and Spa
While it had its heyday in the past, during the last several years, Puerto Galera was just an afterthought to many—the Plan Z beach getaway in case everywhere else is booked or well outside the budget. But this UNESCO declared biosphere reserve and the home of the Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival is poised to make a comeback, as I discovered on a recent trip to the municipality in Oriental Mindoro.
A Private Retreat
I’ve had my fair share of Puerto Galera vacations, and since most of them were unplanned and winging it sort of trips (proving my Plan Z point), I don’t even remember the locations, let alone the names, of the places I have stayed in. But this time I stayed in Buri Resort and Spa, and I know for sure it would take quite a while for me to forget this place.
Like most trips to Puerto Galera, this one started with a road trip from Manila to Batangas. But I was quite surprised to see the van stop at Berberabe Port instead of at Batangas Pier, like I was used to. The land trip took a bit longer than usual, but since our boat transfer was private, there were no long lines nor waiting times. As soon as we had gotten everyone and everything on board and distrubuted life vests to everyone, we were off.
After around an hour, we were finally greeted by the façade of Buri Resort and Spa. Located at Sitio Dalauran, inside Puerto Galera Bay, Buri Resort and Spa is perfect for those who want to enjoy everything Puerto Galera has to offer but “come home” to a quiet and serene sanctuary at the end of each day. The 12 villas built to mesh with the natural landscape give guests a chance to relax and unwind. Since we were a large group, we stayed in several Pool Villas, which can comfortably accommodate four people. A word of warning though, some of these villas can only be reached by climbing a long flight of steps (over 200!), so ask for those located on the lower levels if you’re not willing to do a mini-workout each time you go to and from your villa.
The limited number of rooms offers exclusivity and privacy, which also means there are less people around, keeping the serenity of the place intact. During our entire stay, most of the time we had the two infinity pools, the bar, and the all-day dining restaurant to ourselves, and even if their spa is small and can only accommodate two people at a time, it was easy to schedule everyone for a massage. It was so tempting to just stay in our little cocoon of comfort, but the rest of Puerto Galera beckoned.
After the festival debuted in February 2011, Mount Malasimbo is now synonymous to Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival, which takes place at its foothills. Since then, at around March, locals and foreigners flock to the natural amphitheater to enjoy good music from both local and foreign musicians. During the day, different artworks can be admired in the same area. While the Philippines is no stranger to music and art festivals, what makes this one special is the organizers’ commitment to give back to the community that hosts the festival. Members of the Philippine indigenous communities are invited to perform and promote their crafts, while proceeds from the whole event go to reforestation initiatives in Puerto Galera.
We were there during the latter half of the year, so there were no artworks nor music when we visited. Instead, we were greeted by grasshoppers crazily jumping up with each step we took, a light breeze, and birds chirping lazily. Having attended the now famous festival before, it was different and refreshing to see the place with very few people. I resolved to attend the festival again next year, when it celebrates its fifth incarnation.
The Talipanan Mangyan Settlement
Another eco-cultural area that was part of our trip is the Talipanan Mangyan Village. We were pressed for time (since we were also to visit the Talipanan Falls, which was around a 40-minute trek away from the village), so we weren’t able learn nito-weaving with the Iraya-Mangyans (maybe we can reserve that for our next visit), but we were able to interact with the many Mangyan children running and playing around.
We also saw all the beautiful woven handicrafts created and designed by the members of the village. Made from nito grass, these products are meticulously woven in a circular motion and sometimes take up to three months to finish. This weaving skill is passed down from one generation to the next, especially since it’s a source of income for the whole village. In fact, with the help of the Ayala Foundation, some of these products can be bought in select Ayala Malls. Of course, proceeds go to the families who weave these crafts.
After a brief visit to the village, we made our way to Talipanan Falls. We were made to choose between the easier and the harder route, and since we weren’t really trekkers, we chose the easier route. The trek may have been easier than the route we didn’t take, but it wasn’t easy at all! While it started out kind of tame, going through small mounds of earth and across flowing streams (where I almost lost a slipper!) it became challenging soon enough. There were paths where we had to hold on to the roots of the trees or else we’d fall onto a deep ravine and slippery and steep trails which were impossible to traverse without the help of our guide. “This was the easier route?” I found myself asking out loud. It also didn’t help that it was hot. To top it all off, we saw several mini-falls along the way, and just when we were about to celebrate for finally reaching our destination, we were told that, no, this wasn’t what we came for, but that we were “Malapit na.”
Several “false” falls and “Malapit nas” later, we finally arrived at Talipanan Falls. It wasn’t as tall as the falls I was used to seeing, but what it lacked in height, it made up for with the cool and swimmer friendly waters. I was one of the first in our group to arrive at the falls, and without hesitation, I took off my clothes and jumped into the cool waters in my swimwear. After a long walk in the humid forest, the cold water in the falls’ basin was soothing and refreshing. Needless to say, it was worth the long trek to get there. After about half an hour of frolicking in the waters and taking photos, we made our way back to the Mangyan Village. Surprisingly, the trek back was easier and seemed shorter.
Under the Sea
Of course, a trip to Puerto Galera would be incomplete without enjoying its beaches and the marine life it conceals in its waters. Buri Resort and Spa was kind enough to take us on a snorkeling and island hopping tour. While I had been on several snorkeling excursions before, it was my first time to snorkel while being towed by a small motor boat. It’s just like how it sounds—you put on a snorkel and a mask, jump into the water, hold on to one of the outriggers of the boat, dunk your head in, and let the boat tow you as you keep your head submerged. At first, the careful me thought, “Is this even safe?” but then I was just caught up in all the natural underwater beauty (and all the fish surrounding me!) that I forgot all my worries and just enjoyed the ride.
After everyone had gotten their fill of the sea, our private boat brought us to Bayanan Beach. Most of the inland area was private and fenced off, but the beautiful beach was available for us to explore— and again, we had it all to ourselves. Our hosts were prepared with towels and sandwiches for us, which they set up in the small patches of shade available. While most everyone opted to stay out of the sun, I ran to one end of the beach to swim in its cool waters. The waves were a bit strong, yes, but as I let it toss me back into the shore, all I could think was how pleasantly surprising this Puerto Galera trip is. I’ll definitely come back, and this time it will be Plan A.
Buri Resort and Spa is located at Sitio Dalaruan, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro. For bookings, reservations, and more information, visit