As one of the Top 45 Must-Visit Beaches in the Philippines, Puerto Galera has white sand beaches, clear blue waters, rich reefs for diving, a 10-minute drive to lush mountains, an alluring waterfall and various available accommodations should make this municipality among the country's top tourism spots, but it has not yet been so.
Local residents and businesses in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro are mainly sustained by the 200,000 foreign and domestic tourists every year--a mere fraction of Boracay's 1.2 million visitors.
Mayor Hubbert Dolor admits that the picturesque coastal town deserves more than to be known primarily for its rowdy, booming nightlife.
"We need... promotions," Dolor said in an interview with Philstar.com. "Ninety-five percent of our industry is anchored on tourism. We cannot afford to lose our tourists."
Tagged in 2005 as one of the most beautiful bays in the world by Paris-based Les Plus Belles Baies Du Monde club and its Verde Island Passage designated a biosphere reserve of UNESCO, Puerto Galera is not short of distinctions.
With those rare honors in mind, Dolor dreams that the ambitious tagline he attached to Galera would catch on.
"Puerto Galera, the heart of Asia ... I'm really dreaming and I would like Puerto Galera to be among the top destinations in the country. When I say top, I mean top, following global standards," he said.
Governor Alfonso Umali regrets that Boracay has surpassed the landlocked coves in terms of popularity and income when it is nearer to the capital. His government is likewise seated in Puerto Galera.
"Kami, proximity-wise, one hour [lang] from Batangas. Yung P10,000 mo, you spend it only for one day in Boracay. Dito, for one family na 'yon," Umali said in a separate interview with Philstar.com.
"For so long a time, nakalimutan 'ata yung Mindoro sa mapa ng turismo," he added.
Dolor and Umali, however, have reasons to hope. In recent years, Galera saw a new influx of tourists ushered in by the Malasimbo Arts and Music Festival held at the foothills of Mt. Malasimbo and overlooking the bay.
"Puerto Galera is again being put into the world map of tourism industry, that is why we are supporting this festival," Dolor said.
He explained how the five-day party featuring a unique lineup of local and international artists from the world of reggae, soul and world music has made Galera known not only for its beaches but for its natural features "above the waters."
Umali similarly hailed Frenchman Hubert d'Aboville (whom he called a "super man") and his family for having initiated the giant project of Malasimbo to help rebrand the island.
Besides Malasimbo, Dolor raves about another project to promote local tourism: Summerscape, a three-month series of events that centers around the bays and beaches.
"If you want to get relaxed, if you want to get away from the traffic or city life, then you go to Puerto Galera, you do some escaping," he said.