Sabang and Puerto Galera

Our Quickie Guide to Sabang and Puerto Galera

Sandy beaches and randy women - what's not to love?

PuertoGalera

When highlighting the best cities for digital nomads and expats, we'd be remiss if we didn't also include smaller, up-and-coming destinations like Sabang and Puerto Galera. There are two types of expats who flock here. The first group is attracted to the unpretentious beach lifestyle and treasure trove of white-sand beaches and panoramic vistas while the other has, shall we say, far baser motives. Whether you're a beach-lover seeking a serene and tranquil haven or a monger attracted to pulsating go-go bars and illicit prostitution, you'll find plenty of things in Sabang and Puerto Galera to keep those devilish hands from being idle.

Getting there

Puerto Galera is one of the more accessible resort areas in the Philippines. Cebu Pacific has resumed flights from Manila to Caticlan, which is a 15-30 minute speedboat ride across the water from Boracay Island and from Cebu to Caticlan as of Feb. 24. Before the pandemic, Philippine Airlines also used to operate regular flights to Caticlan, but they have yet to resume this service. You can also fly with AirAsia, but I wouldn't wish that experience on my worst enemy (you'll be forced to board the flight in Manila's sweltering, overcrowded Domestic Terminal 3).
Alternatively, you can take a Grab or a shuttle (private or shared) from Manila to Batangas Pier and board one of the "Fast Craft" speedboats that depart regularly until 2 PM for Balaterto Port in Puerto Galera (about PHP 600-700). More information about this connection can be found here: Getting here. In order to board the fast craft, you'll need to present a valid COVID vaccination card and proof of lodging at a DOT-approved facility.
 
ATMs and currency exchange
Puerto Galera has several ATMs and currency exchange booths. As the latter charge a premium to convert your currency, your best bet is to withdraw funds at an ATM. You'll be offered an option to allow them to take care of the currency conversion - don't do this unless your bank back home charges exorbitant forex rates as the fees are excessive! If you turn left on the beach boardwalk from the main road, you'll find a convenient ATM at the Big Apple Resort. As a rule, you'll need to pay for most things with cash in the Philippines as credit cards are anathema. Many businesses simply don't accept them and the few that do will often claim they're unable get a signal or their terminals are out of order.

Visa requirements

The Philippines has the world's most liberal tourist visa policy. If you're from the US, Europe, or Australia, you can stay for up to 36 months on a tourist visa. You'll need an onward ticket within 30 days of arrival (as it can be anywhere outside the country, most people just purchase a one-way ticket to Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia or buy a throwaway ticket), but once you're there, you can simply renew your visa for a reasonable fee every two months after the first renewal in 30 days.
You'll need to go to Batangas to do this, but this is easily done via the fast crafts and public buses (or take a Grab to the Bureau of Immigration (BI) office from the pier).
There are also permanent visas available for retirees (SRRV) and foreigners with Filipino spouses, but these take time and involve copious amounts of paperwork (nothing is computerized or efficient in the Philippines). In addition, if you're self-employed and open a local bank account, you'll be subject to taxation in the Philippines (However, if you're American, the amount you pay is typically refundable on your US tax return thanks to tax treaties that limit double taxation).

Where to stay
There are about a dozen older hotel properties in Sabang that offer reasonable daily rates as well as several 5-star resorts that cater to affluent divers. However, if you're planning on staying a month or more, your money will go a lot further if you rent a cottage or an apartment. You'll find a few "For Rent" signs in Sabang if you stroll down the beach boardwalk in either direction.
If you fail to find anything satisfactory, you might consider Jack Daniel Apartments or BadLadz Beach and Dive Resort. Both have discounted monthly rates and good food at reasonable prices. However, the former is more centrally located in the heart of Sabang, with cleaner, newer apartments, better Wi-Fi, and a relaxing poolside bar. White Beach is another area where you may be able to find a monthly rental. As it's a more desirable area, you should be prepared to spend a little more to stay there. In return, you'll enjoy a far nicer beach, away from the noisy go-go bars and party-hardy atmosphere of Sabang.

Where to work
There are only a handful of coffee shops in Puerto Galera and no co-working spot. However, as of a few months ago, most of these were still shuttered due to the pandemic. In Sabang, there's a small coffee shop (not yet reopened) on the beach boardwalk not far from the Big Apple Dive Resort.
White Beach offers more options as there are two nice coffee shops right on the east end of the beach, Spices Resto Cafe and Marco's Cafe, that are popular with digital nomads. You'll also find several coffee shops between White Beach and Sabang, primarily in Puerto Galera town and by the pier.

Dining and entertainment

While it's doesn't offer the fine dining options of more established resort areas, there are several charming restaurants that are well worth paying a visit.
If you're fond of Mexican food, take a tricycle outside of Sabang to BadLadz (around PHP 100), which has the best enchiladas and tacos this side of the Rio Grande (made from imported American beef and fresh-caught seafood).
Slydogs, along the Sabang beachfront, offers relaxing views of the water from its upper deck. The frozen drinks are cheap and refreshing, and the batter-dipped English sausages are to die for.
Last but not least, if you like traditional English pub fare, make sure to pay a visit to the Beach Frog on White Beach. This is a full-service bar with a great view of the beach and reasonably-priced, hearty fare such as fish n' chips and Aussie meat pies.
If you came here to wet your willy and are expecting the same standards in the strip clubs as back home, you're likely to be sorely disappointed. There are about a half dozen discos primarily catering to Korean and Chinese tourists. The music is obnoxiously loud, the drinks are grossly overpriced, and the dancers — if you can call them that — are fully clothed at all times and about as seductive as a flock of sheep in heat. Unless you get off watching a bunch of listless, apathetic women shuffle their feet on the stage like a horde of sedated zombies, you can safely pass on this spectacle.

Sports and recreation

Puerto Galera offers a wide variety of watersport activities. While most of the dive shops are located in Sabang, White Beach is where you'll find the parasailing and jet-ski and paddleboat rentals, not to mention the floating bouncy castles and water slides!
For diving, if you're on a budget, I recommend Big Apple Divers or Capt'n Greggs in Sabang, which offer daily trips to nearby sites. For more choices and a white-glove experience, try La Laguna Villas, a 5-star PADI resort at the far end of Sabang Beach. If you're feeling really ambitious, make the day trip to Verde Island. The passage surrounding the island is an epicenter of marine diversity and offers world-class wall diving and spine-tingling currents (not for beginners or the faint of heart). However, due to the lingering effects of COVID-19 on tourism, it can be difficult to find a dive boat going there. If La Laguna doesn't have a trip scheduled, try Scandi Divers, which also offers day trips to the island.

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