It will take you around two hours to get from a bus terminal in Manila to Batangas pier, and another hour or so to take an outrigger boat out to Sabang, a popular diver’s haven in Puerto Galera. With over 35 dive sites surrounding the tiny village, it isn’t unusual for tourists, expats, and locals to take a few days off (or make the most of a long bank holiday) to make their way to Sabang, taking in the fresh, salty sea air, enjoying the sun, taking up a new hobby, as well as chatting with the locals and perma-vacationers who have come to call the island their home.
Here are five reasons to pay Sabang a visit the next time you plan a trip to Puerto Galera:
1. An Escape from the City
Looking for a weekend detox from the noise, traffic, and stress of Manila? Sabang offers a peaceful tranquility in the day and enough cold beers and interesting people at night that’ll keep your tweets and IG posts ending with #islandlife. Check in at one of the very affordable hotels (rooms start at Php 1,000/night) and take a stroll or go cove hopping (don’t take a boat, just walk). Don’t forget to stop by ABWonderdive for their deliciously thick Mango Shake (Php 150)! Once you get to the far end of the cove with the rundown building, climb the staircase up and then down again, following the path that leads to Big La Laguna Beach. I wouldn’t suggest taking a dip in any of the beaches here unless you want to shred your feet on dead coral, so if you don’t have a pair of booties to protect your feet, just enjoy the peace and quiet and lay out on the beach with a good book, your Kindle, or your iPod, and forget about time as it slowly passes by.
2. Meals That Don’t Break the Bank
While tourist destinations are usually rife with overpriced restaurants with bad food, Sabang’s more laid back vibe serves food in big portions for the Caucasian expats who have taken up residence in the area, as well as affordable local specialties. Walk back to Sabang port and look for Capt’n Greggs for a hearty English Breakfast (Php 350) – a gigantic platter of toast, bacon, eggs, baked beans, tomatoes, and a piping hot mug of tea – while taking in the tranquil view of the open sea. For lunch or dinner, take a jeep, tricycle, or motorbike and head out to View Point Bar & Restaurant, a little ways out of the town proper, to take in the view of the setting sun while tucking in to Filipino favorites like Sisig, Grilled Stuffed Squid, Crispy Pata. They also have British favorites on the menu such as Shrimp Cocktail, Steak & Mushroom Pie, and Apple Pie for dessert – not bad for a restaurant that’s practically in the middle of nowhere.
3. Explore the Coves
Sabang Village is composed of five beaches – Sabang Beach, Small La Laguna Beach, Big La Laguna Beach, Coco Beach, and Dalaruan Beach – each ensconced in their own cove. Save for Coco Beach, I don’t think you’d want to take a dip in any of the rest, as they are being used by small outrigger boats as docks after dive trips and the like. The most decent-looking beach, Big La Laguna, looks picturesque from afar, but is full of sharp coral and funky algae beneath the surface. Ouch. Regardless, each cove has its own character with little souvenir shops selling everything from wood-carved masks to huge sea conchs. But please don’t support this deplorable industry by taking one home.
4. Meet Interesting People
The little village of Sabang is a tight knit community, and the people who visit (and at times decide to stay) are divers from all over the world. Sit down at a bar or restaurant and strike up a conversation with your neighbor – who will most likely be Canadian, American, French, British, Dutch, Japanese, or Korean – who will most likely have amazing stories of their most recent dives, their most suggested dives, the best spots to dive at, and the most unusual or rarest creature they saw during their dives. That, and stories of what they do when they’re not diving, of course.
5. Get Certified!
By now, I’m pretty sure you’ve figured out that Sabang is the diving capital of Puerto Galera. Once you step off the boat, one is bombarded with dive shops left and right, and with over 35 dive sites to visit around the islands, one has no reason to ever get bored. If you’ve dived once or twice before, and either want to dive deeper, be a better diver, or simply save on dive fees, get PADI Open Water Certification at one of the shops. There are specialty shops that give instructions and conduct training in different languages (Korean, Japanese, French, and German seem to be the most popular), you have your pick of certified instructors, and best of all, the rates of most dive shops are priced reasonably – Open Water Diver starts at Php 15,000+, inclusive of manual, equipment, and certificate. If all you want to do is rake up dives, most shops offer three dives a day – 9am, 12pm, and 3pm, while others offer additional night dives.
Although Sabang may not have the prettiest beach or the best reputation in Puerto Galera (it is infamous for being its red light district after all), looking past all of its imperfections, the little village is certainly one of the most interesting ones in the area, with some of the nicest bunch of people. I have yet to work on my Open Water Diver certificate, so I will definitely be calling Sabang home a few more times this year. Diving is something I strongly recommend everyone try at least once, and with so many dive sites in the Philippines to choose from. Warning: This is a highly addictive, albeit expensive, activity – which is probably why everyone flocks to Sabang for the more than reasonable diving packages and rates!