Puerto Galera is best known for its white-sand beaches and spectacular dive sites. Many miss the hint from its name that this quiet town in Oriental Mindoro is a historical place, having been founded by the Spanish conquistadores in 1574. Its Spanish name means “harbor of galleons” and the town itself is referred to as “Poblacion”, which in Spanish means “population” or “town.”
In the 16th Century, when the Philippines was still a colony of Spain, Puerto Galera was considered an important military haven where galleons (or ships) safely harbored. The Spanish soldiers might have enjoyed R&R along the white sand beaches and lush jungles surrounding the Poblacion.
But the Poblacion is much older than the Spanish conquest. Historical records say that Puerto Galera preceded the Spaniards and existed as early as the 10th Century. It was a strategic town for international trading between ancient Filipinos and Chinese and other merchants from nearby countries.
Today, Puerto Galera is still a safe harbor for fishing boats, ferries and ships, since no typhoons or storms have ever devastated the area. And the Poblacion is still a popular town for its tranquility, tourism, rest and commerce.
What’s so special about Puerto Galera is not really what it has but what it doesn’t have. It doesn’t have the traffic, noisy bars, smoke-belching jeepneys, overpopulated beaches, over-commercialism and hype of globalization that are present in other top Philippine tourist destinations such as Boracay, Cebu and Bohol.
The Poblacion covers a tiny area where one can leisurely stroll around from end to end. Though it is tiny, it receives thousands of visitors each year and so it offers all the necessary amenities and comforts of a modern city. It has convenience stores, shopping kiosks, wet and dry markets, hospitals, restaurants, hotels, a bank, a zoo, a Town Hall, and a golf club. It also has a handful of historical sites such as the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the Excavation Museum, Baluarte Watchtower and Marble Cross at Muelle.
The Excavation Museum is a small museum that is the main and only repository of ancient Puerto Galera treasures. It features Chinese artifacts dating back to the Ming Dynasty. This is proof that ancient Filipinos here used to trade with the Chinese. There are antique Chinese vases, jars and other earthen wares.
The Baluarte Watchtower was built by the Spanish to guard over the shores of Luna Beach, while the Marble Cross at Muelle is part of a sunken Spanish warship in 1879.
Finally, another important attraction in the Poblacion is neither an ancient structure nor a wonder of nature. Instead, it’s an old Filipino habit that never dies – cockfighting. Although not as popular any longer in the big cities such as Manila or Cebu, cockfighting is a cultural pastime that still draws big crowds. Virtually every province in rural Philippines still has regular cockfights. In Puerto Galera, foreign tourists get a blast watching firsthand the popular cockfights every weekend near Tabinay.
Puerto Galera Poblacion is a one-stop tourist destination where visitors get all the comforts of a modern city very near amazing beaches and spectacular dive sites.