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Budget Dive Vacation to the Philippines

SmarterTravel

Author: Bill Mashek
Date of Trip: February 2016

I like to use specialty travel agents on long distance travel, mostly because they are the most knowledgeable of the area and can usually find the best prices.

I would have used a travel agency that specializes in travel to the Philippines, however, I found some incredible rates on the internet. At the time of my booking I found flights on Air China for 540/person round trip to Manila from San Francisco. Unfortunately, Air China was at best, difficult to work with so I booked my flights with Orbitz.I bought flight insurance through Orbitz, which was a joke as my travel partner had a stroke almost 2 months from our departure date and the insurance never paid. Important to note, that flight insurance you buy when you buy your tickets covers the immediate flight only, it is not travel or trip insurance. It does not cover hotels or any other part of your travel. I recommend low cost trip insurance rather than flight insurance. Pricing is all over the place so check out: www.Squaremouth.com travel insurance site. It compares prices on over 23 different companies and their policy coverage. The other option is World Nomads.

My itinerary included domestic round trip flights to Bohol. I saved over 50% by booking directly with the domestic airline (air Asia). A lot of the travel sites don’t book domestic flights in other countries and the ones that do rarely have good rates.

Travelocity, Orbitz and other hotel booking sites take a large commission on their hotel bookings; sometimes it is best to make reservation directly with the hotels. If prices are cheaper on the travel sites, you can easily negotiate lower prices.

For the diving, I checked out reviews on Trip Advisor and Undercurrent.org. I Checked prices online as well. I found a great dive operation in Alona Beach and did my diving through them. They also helped with other bookings. The operators I used were Genesis Divers and Philippine Fun Divers. I also took a free diving class through “Just one Breath” Free Diving.

After my Flight Back to Manila came the more challenging part. To get to my dive location in Puerto Gallera, I had to arrange transportation from the domestic terminal in Manila to Batangas, then ferry to Puerto Gallera. The dive shops will make any arrangement you want, this can include private transport meeting you at the Airport, driving you to Batangas and hiring a private boat to cross the channel. That package can range from 140 to 160+USdollars(6-7000+ pesos). You can take a bus for $450 pesos ($9.50US) but that can get a little complicated. The option I chose was to hire an official airport driver at the airport for 3000 pesos or approximately$ 62. They will take you directly to the port ( It gets a little confusing at the port). Once you are dropped off at the port, you will be surrounded by guys with name tags trying to be official. They will want to take you to the port and carry your bags for a very hefty tip. If you want them to do this then just say you will pay $50 pesos (or more—be specific and firm on price) for someone to carry your bags to the boat. They will more than likely go with that. Boat crossing is less than $10 us. There are other options such as Ski-Kat tours but they only leave once per day from Manila so timing can be an issue. If you want the least amount of hassles, have the dive shop make all arrangements.

Many dive shops book trips with the large resorts and like to advertise five dives per day. Ironically, all the dive operators will offer up to 5 dives per day. If you are not going to dive five times per day why pay for it!! I stayed at a great place, good location, nice AC rooms with hot showers, and the restaurant was more than sufficient for my culinary needs. The best part, It was less than ½ the cost of the expensive dive resort. Boats were similar; everyone goes to the same dive spots. For the six days I was there I saved over a thousand dollars using Capt’n Greggs operation. Maybe a few more amenities at the dive shop resort than ours but for me, not worth the substantial price difference.

Food in the Philippines is good and cheap. If you dare, the street vendors offer some great meals and are a good value. In Sabang Beach Puerto Gallera, there were a large variety of foods, from Adobo Chicken and pork on a stick, Chicken and Rice soup with hard boiled eggs, all varieties of fruits and vegetables from venders. All the restaurants I went to had a large variety of options on their menus from fresh fish, local cuisine, steaks (not a bargain) to hamburgers and fries. You have many options all of which are good but in my opinion not really great.

Travel to the Philippines can be and inexpensive and interesting travel location. It is a long trip and most flights from the West Coast arrive either very late at night or very early in the morning. You will be coming off a 20+ hour flight, so I would recommend 2 nights in Manila. All the people I met were very friendly. I felt safe everywhere I went in the Philippines, however, I kept aware of my surroundings and did not carry a lot of cash or jewelry. There is known terrorist activity in the South Island of Mindanao. So unless you have some extremely compelling reason to go there, It is not recommended. There are so many spectacular places, in the Philippines to see and experience, one might as well travel safely.

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