A simple backward roll in November of 2003 permanently altered my perception of Philippine diving and dive travel in general. When I acquired Dolphin Scuba Center (Sacramento) almost 20 years ago, I figured out early on that the only way to stay in business was to keep my customers interested in diving. Exotic dive locations seemed the logical choice, so over the years I have taken groups both large and small to top-drawer locales such as Palau, the Solomon Islands, Thailand, the Red Sea and Papua New Guinea. When our good friend, Gordon, recommended Puerta Galera in the Philippines as our next destination, my first reaction was less than enthusiastic. I had envisioned dive sites of barren boulders dotted with a few bedraggled corals, and a reef barren of fish life. But after I spoke to a couple of divers with firsthand experience with the resort, I put together a small group of divers to test the new location.
After extensive research, I settled on a wonderful itinerary. We flew Philippine Air direct from San Francisco to Manila. For our accommodations and diving, we elected to stay at all-inclusive Atlantis Resorts. The very reasonable price includes a transfer from Manila International Airport to the sandy beach in front of the hotel. Also included was the one-week stay at the resort, three meals a day, and six days of diving, with up to four dives a day. The resort is delightful, with whitewashed stucco and natural woods set amongst palm trees that ring with the chorus of tropical birds. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, each fully equipped with both ceiling fans and climate-controlled air conditioning. There is a fully-stocked refrigerator and cable television. The staff, overseen by managing partner Andy Pope, is friendly and accommodating. There is a spacious camera room and internet availability. A sparkling waterfall accents a freshwater swimming pool.
There are two bars for socializing, one close to the swimming pool, and another located just feet from the ocean. Atlantis Resorts at Puerta Galera is a 5-Star PADI facility, so they offer a full range of scuba instruction. The open-air restaurant offers local and international cuisine, which we thoroughly enjoyed. Both the camera room and the room where our gear was stored were secure. Because customer service is stressed at Atlantis, the excellent dive crew had us set up our gear for the first dive. Thereafter we never had to touch it, as they changed out our tanks and carried our gear back and forth to the dive boats prior to every dive.
But it is the diving that really hooked me. Remember that backward roll? Well, on our first dive, we climbed into small boats and motored just about five minutes to our first dive site. I put my regulator in my mouth and splashed. When I opened my eyes, I was amazed. Just 30 feet below me was a sparkling underwater playground. In all of my years of diving, I had never seen a dive site so packed with life. Literally every inch of the rock was covered with some form of soft coral. Quite prominent in my memory was the enormous variety of pulsing xenia, in color and varieties that before I had only seen in coral identification books. Tomato anemonefish as large as my hand brazenly left their protective home to investigate my intrusion. The divemasters were superb, pointing out six microscopic pygmy seahorses, as they nestled invisibly in a gorgonian. Frogfish as big as dinner plates lumbered away from the flash of my strobes. In a patch of sand was a mimic octopus, looking for all the world like a flounder. Crawling across the bottom like a miniature bulldozer was a flamboyant cuttlefish. The variety and diversity of life astounded me. Every dive for a week produced fantastic and strange animals. On a day trip to nearby Verde Island, the gently-sloping wall was coated with thousand of shimmering anthias. Sea snakes slithered amongst the live rock, and the sparkling sunlight caressed the back of an ancient sea turtle.
Since that memorable first dive, we have returned to Puerta Galera and the Atlantis Resort with four groups, each larger than the last, as word of mouth spreads among the customers at Dolphin. This is truly world-class diving on par with famous dive destinations of the South Pacific. We will be back often and look at the Puerta Galera, Philippines, as one of the few truly world-class, undiscovered dive destinations in the world today.
For more information on Atlantis Resorts Philippines contact Gordon Strahan P.O.Box 12298 Zephyr Cove, NV. 89448 USA, phone 775-588-0500 or visit www.atlantishotel.com on the web.