Within a few hours of Manila, yet worlds away, Mindoro remains undeveloped even by Philippine provincial standards. Much of the island is wild and rugged, with some near-impenetrable hinterlands and an often-desolate coastline of wide bays and isolated fishing villages. The island, seventh largest in the archipelago, is divided lengthways into two provinces, Mindoro Occidental and Mindoro Oriental; the latter is the more developed and visited. Most travellers head this way only for the beaches, scuba diving and nightlife around picturesque Poblacion (Puerto Galera town) on Mindoro Oriental’s northern coast, but there is much more to discover on Mindoro too.
The best travel tips for visiting MindoroFew realise that Mindoro is home to several areas of outstanding natural beauty, all protected to some degree by local or international decree.
Most visitors head to Mindoro Oriental, which is more accessible and developed than its neighbour across the mountains, to dive in the marine reserve at Puerto Galera, in the north of the province.
Nearby Mount Malasimbo is also protected because of the biodiversity of its thickly jungled slopes. To the east of Puerto Galera, near the port of Calapan, is Mount Halcon – at 2587m, Mindoro’s tallest peak and a difficult climb even for experienced mountaineers.
The south of the island is less populated than the north, with few tourists making it as far as Roxas on the southeast coast unless they’re taking a ferry to Caticlan from Bulalacao.
Aside from a few intrepid wildlife enthusiasts and divers around Sablayan, Mindoro Occidental remains wonderfully undiscovered. Travellers with flexible travel plans will have their efforts rewarded with wild jungle-covered mountains, remote beaches, and maybe meetings with a few local Mangyan people along the way.
No scuba diver should miss the Apo Reef Marine Natural Park, offering some of the best diving in the world.
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Best things to do in MindoroBeaches, wildlife and some of the world’s best diving and snorkelling, there’s so much to do in Mindoro that you could never get bored. Here are the best things to do in Mindoro.
#1 Laze on the fine beaches around Puerto GaleraOne of the country’s most popular resorts, Puerto Galera (meaning “Port of the Galleons”) boasts some of the most diverse coral reef diving in Asia and gorgeous, sugar-sand beaches, as a result of which the whole area is often mobbed during national holidays.
Arriving by ferry is a memorable experience, the boat slipping gently through aquamarine waters past a series of headlands fringed with haloes of sand and coconut trees.
Brilliant white yachts lie at anchor in the innermost bay and in the background looms the brooding hulk of Mount Malasimbo, invariably crowned with a ring of cumulus cloud.
#2 Climb Mount HalconRugged Mount Halcon rears up dramatically from the coastal plain of Mindoro Oriental, 28km southwest of Calapan. At an altitude of 2586m, it’s Mindoro’s highest peak, and is surrounded by some of the most extensive tracts of rainforest on the island.
Conquering the summit is a major target of mountaineers from all over the globe, though since 2006 the trails have been officially closed. In 2013 hikes unofficially resumed, with the blessing of the local Mangyan community, though the situation remains confusing.
Don’t even think about climbing Mount Halcon alone – hire a Mangyan guide at Bayanan, just south of Calapan city.
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#3 Meet the Indigenous MangyanIt’s estimated that there are around one hundred thousand of Mindoro’s original inhabitants, the Mangyan, left on the island, who have a way of life not much changed since they fought against the invading Spanish in the sixteenth century.
With little role in the mainstream Philippine economy, the Mangyan, who divide into eight groups, subsist through slash-and-burn farming of taro and yams, a practice the elders insist on retaining as part of their culture despite the destruction it causes to forests.
You may well see Mangyan as you travel around the island, often wearing only a loincloth and machete and carrying produce for market, but if you want to actually visit them in their villages, it‘s best to go with a guide who can act as an interpreter.
You can break the ice with gifts such as cigarettes, sweets and matches, but if you want to take photographs make sure you have permission. Treks to Mangyan villages are possible in several parts of the island but the Mangyan Heritage Center in Calapan offers an in-depth introduction to the culture.
#4 See rare wildlife at Mounts Iglit-Baco National ParkThe isolated and wonderfully raw jungles of Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park are dominated by the twin peaks of Mount Baco (2488m) and Mount Iglit (2364m). It can take up to two days of tough hiking to reach the peak of Mount Iglit, while the vegetation is so dense that there have been no officially recorded ascents of Mount Baco.
There are also a number of more leisurely treks through the foothills to areas in which you are most likely to see the endangered tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis), a dwarf buffalo endemic to the island; numbers are now rising every year, and the 2016 annual headcount identified some 430 individual animals in the wild.
The Sablayan Eco-Tourism Office can advise on visits to the Tamaraw Conservation Program, known as the “Gene Pool Farm”, a small laboratory where scientists are trying to breed the tamaraw in captivity.
Apart from tamaraws, the park is also prime habitat for the Philippine deer, wild pigs and other endemic species such as the Mindoro scops owl.
#5 Snorkel North Pandan IslandIdyllic North Pandan Island, ringed by a halo of fine white sand, coral reefs and coconut palms, lies 2km off the west coast of Mindoro. In 1994 a sanctuary was established around the eastern half of the island so the marine life is exceptional; with a mask and snorkel you can see big grouper, all sorts of coral fishes and even the occasional turtle. Sharks are very rare, however.
The island is the site of the well-run Pandan Island Resort, but is open to day guests from 8am to 6pm. There’s plenty to keep you occupied on and around the island itself, including kayaking, jungle treks, windsurfing and sailing.
#6 Dive Apo ReefLying about 30km off the west coast of Mindoro, magnificent Apo Reef Marine Natural Park stretches 26km from north to south and 20km east to west, making it a significant marine environment and one of the world’s great dive destinations.
There are two main atolls, separated by deep channels, and a number of shallow lagoons with beautiful white sandy bottoms. Only in three places does the coral rise above the sea’s surface, creating the islands of Cayos de Bajo, Binangaan and Apo, the largest.
Apo Island is home to a ranger station and a lighthouse, and you can spend a magical night here in tents (turtles often lay eggs on the beach), though the experience comes at a price.
The diving is really something special, with sightings of manta rays, sharks (even hammerheads), barracuda, tuna and turtles fairly common. Most of the Philippines’ 450 species of coral are here, from tiny bubble corals to huge gorgonian sea fans and brain corals, along with hundreds of species of smaller reef fishes such as angelfish, batfish, surgeonfish and jacks.
Where to stay in MindoroWhilst there are other areas where accommodation is available across Mindoro, travellers tend to stay in and around Puerto Galera, in Calapan or on North Pandan Island.
Puerto GaleraWith direct boats from Batangas to Sabang and White Beach, there’s really little need to stay in Poblacion (Puerto Galera town); that said, if you want to escape the beach scene, there are a couple of decent hotels here.
Accommodation choices in Sabang range from small resorts to more expensive dive resort options. Generally speaking, the accommodation to the west of the main road, which is closer to the nightlife, is pricier than that to the quieter east.
White Beach is now very popular, and room prices have rocketed. It can be hard to find a decent budget room, particularly at weekends and holidays; it’s definitely worth booking in advance. Aninuan Beach has the best range of both upmarket and mid-range resorts, while Talipanan has some good budget options.
CalapanAccommodation options in Calapan don’t set the pulse racing and most are located outside the centre. Note that wi-fi at the places listed below is usually only available in public areas, such as the lobby or the restaurant, and is pretty unreliable.
North Pandan IslandPandan Island Resort is the well-run, back-to-nature private hideaway developed by the French adventurer who “discovered” the island in 1986. As well as the budget rooms, there are standard double bungalows, larger bungalows for four and family houses for up to six. During the diving season (Nov–May) the island is so popular that all rooms are often taken, so it’s important to book in advance.
Best restaurants and bars in MindoroWhilst there are other areas where accommodation is available across Mindoro, travellers tend to stay in and around Puerto Galera, in Calapan or on North Pandan Island.
Puerto GaleraRestaurants are quite overpriced in the whole of the Puerto Galera area, so be prepared to pay more than you might be used to in other parts of the Philippines. Most of the area’s resorts have their own simple restaurants, and in-hotel places are the only option at Aninuan and Talipanan.
Outside of these, there are good restaurant scenes at Sabang, though the places here are generally more expensive, and at White Beach, which has some small-scale cafés and restaurants serving simple, relatively inexpensive food.
CalapanA walk along the traffic-clogged length of J.P. Rizal St in town will take you past the usual Filipino fast-food outlets, including Jollibee, Chowking and Mister Donut.
San JoséSit-down dining options in San José principally revolve around the hotels, and of these, the best options are the restaurants at Sikatuna Beach Hotel, El Mora Hotel and the canteen at the Mindoro Plaza.
North Pandan IslandIf staying on North Pandan Island, guests at the Pandan Island Resort are required to take at least one buffet meal at the resort restaurant every day, and this is no bad thing: the chef dishes up excellent European and Filipino cuisine (try the tangy fish salad in vinegar) and the beach bar serves some unforgettable tropical cocktails.
Some of the best restaurants in Mindoro include:
- Verandah, Puerto Galera Perched high above the beach, this is the best restaurant in Small La Laguna and serves salads, excellent Australian Wagyu beef steaks and pizzas, either in the tasteful woodfurnished interior or out on a breezy terrace overlooking the ocean. There’s also a decent wine list.
- Tina’s Restaurant, Puerto Galera At the far eastern end of the beach, this is a pleasant little restaurant with chequered tablecloths, bamboo chairs and nice sea views, serving a range of Filipino, German and Asian dishes at reasonable prices, as well as breakfasts. The mango pancakes are exceptionally good.
- Akong Bakery, San José The best bakery in town is a 24hr haven of tempting aromas – fresh-from-the-oven pandesal (a soft, sweet and slightly salty bread roll) and other pastries are knocked out throughout the day for a handful of pesos.
How to get to MindoroIt's possible to fly to Mindoro via Manila, but getting a combined bus-boat ticket is the best way to get to the island.
By planeSan José airport In the south of Mindoro Occidental, the airport is served by one daily flight (1hr) from Manila with Cebu Pacific. There is no airport serving Puerto Galera.
By boatA good way to reach Puerto Galera and Sabang from Manila is to buy a combined bus-boat ticket with Si-Kat. The bus departs from their office at City State Tower, 1315 Mabini St, Ermita.
The main ferry port for departures to Muelle pier in Puerto Galera is Batangas City. There are frequent daily departures from Batangas to Muelle pier, Sabang and White Beach on large outriggers, easy to find on arrival at Batangas Port Terminal 3.
All passengers on chartered outriggers must also pay the terminal fee, and an environmental fee upon arrival.
By busThere are two direct bus routes to Mindoro from Manila (3 daily) from Ali Mall in Cubao and Pasay to San José, both via Batangas port (10hr).
How many days do you need in Mindoro?It's possible to visit the highlights of Mindoro in 3-4 days, including some time snorkeling in Puerto Galera and soaking in its nightlife, diving Apo Reef Natural Park and walking the foothills of Mount Halcon.
However, take a week. This way you can also have some beach time, visit the capital Calapan and head to the hills to experience a local way of life.
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Tips for getting around MindoroGetting around Mindoro can mean using numerous types of transport. Use tricycles and jeepneys for short journeys and buses to link to bigger towns across the islands. Here's how to get around Mindoro:
By tricycleTricycles are always available and the most convenient way to zip between the various towns and beaches in Mindoro, though drivers are notorious for ripping off tourists. Ask at your accommodation what the going rate ought to be, and once you’ve got an idea of local prices, you’ll need to bargain hard.
By bangkaYou can arrange bangkas (small dugout canoes) between just about any beach; rates will depend on how long you need the boat for and your haggling skills. Small pump boats travel between Sabang and Big/Small La Laguna beaches.
By jeepneyJeepneys shuttle back and forth between major points like Sabang and Poblacion, although these won’t leave until they are overflowing. Most routes stop running after 5pm, when you’ll be at the mercy of the tricycle drivers.
By scooter/motorbikeYou can rent scooters and motorbikes across the island.
By busIf you’re heading for Puerto Galera, many resorts will send transport to meet you if you book and pay in advance. Otherwise, there are buses that connect all major towns.
Best time to visit MindoroGenerally, the best time to visit Mindoro is during the dry season, which runs from December to May. The weather during this period is warm and pleasant, making it perfect for outdoor activities like beach hopping, island hopping, and hiking.
If you want to witness the island's festivities and culture, you might want to plan your visit during the Mindoro Day celebration, which happens every 15th of June. The festival showcases the province's unique culture and heritage through street dancing, parades, and other cultural events.
However, if you are looking to see and swim with whale sharks, the best time to visit Mindoro is from November to May, when these gentle giants migrate to the waters of Donsol Bay.
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