5. Pandan Island Resort, Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro
Last but by no means the least, Top 5 on my list is Pandan Island Resort in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro. Forget Puerto Galera! It’s time to head Southwest of Mindoro to have this one of a kind island paradise experience. I have never heard of this place until I read about it on the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide Philippines guidebook. The place is more known for diving due to its proximity to Apo Reef. However, those who want a laid back and tranquil summer getaway, this is the place for you.
There are direct budget flights from Manila to San Jose, Mindoro via Cebu Pacific Air. From San Jose, a local bus to Sablayan would cost you PhP122 (US $2.44). If you have pre-booked your accommodation at Pandan Island Resort, airport transfers may be included. You should have enough cash to last your stay though because there are no ATM or banks in Sablayan. From Sablayan, you need to take a 30 minute boat ride for Php100 (US $2) to reach the island. The boat is docked just in front of the tourist information kiosk. If you’re lucky to catch the Pandan Island service boat buying stuff at the market, you can hitch a ride for free.
For open water divers, Pandan Island Resort is the best jump off point to Apo Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and definitely one of the best dive sites in the world. The resort’s dive shop have the boat and proper diving equipment to arrange an hour and a half trip and bring you to the largest atoll like reef in the Philippines. For hardcore divers, you may also choose to join a liveaboard safari which includes diving the Japanese wrecks at Coron, Palawan.
Once at the resort, a welcome drink of your choice would be served by the friendly French owner Dennis. He’s always accompanied by his naughty pet mynah Chili.
I was surprised to see Chili, the mynah, flying around freely but would always fly back to Dennis once he start calling. My family have taken care of at least 3 mynahs but they were never that friendly.
Sometimes his cat Mikesh and dog Mikko would be hanging around too.
For our first day at the resort, we stayed at the standard cottage for PhP1,280 (US $25.60). It was more than the usual amount we pay while backpacking around the Philippines but at that time, the budget accommodation was under renovation. We were short of cash because we weren’t aware of the lack of ATM in Sablayan, nonetheless, Dennis was very understanding of our plight that he rushed the renovation of one of the budget rooms so we can transfer the next day.
The standard cottage have 1 double bed and a single bed, all with mosquito nets. You may notice the tap water is a bit salty. Natural water resource is not available yet on the island. The resort buys fresh water at nearby Sablayan and they would give a bucket of fresh water for bath and a pitcher of fresh water for brushing teeth.
The budget rooms with 2 single beds for PhP700 (US $14) got shared bathrooms but during the lean season when we were there, no one else use it except us. All lodgings are clean and well-ventilated with rustic decor and furniture.
We didn’t waste time and went to snorkel right away around the island. The corals were very well-preserved though it’s just a few feet from the beach! We were told that as soon as opening the resort more than 20 years ago, they requested, from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, a restraining order on any form of fishing within a certain radius around the island. It was a very smart move. It was indeed one of the highlights of our stay since we skipped diving Apo Reef due to a very tight budget. On another part of the island, we were snorkeling with sea turtles! There were no corals on that area, just sea grass, but it was fun to watch at least 5 turtles feeding and swimming with us.
The restaurant at the resort offers great tasting food. The nightly buffet for PhP400 (US $8) is worth a try. Fresh fish and seafood were served with local dishes.
After a week’s worth of party and karaoke noise from Puerto Galera, where we were in before heading to Pandan Island, I appreciate so much the peace and quiet the place offers. Fireflies abound. You could hear the crickets and the waves rushing to shore before a serene sleep.