Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Fresh As A Daisy in Anilao

View from our room/balcony

This year, the Taiwanese calendar had a luxuriously long 5 day weekend for April's Tomb Festival/Children's Day. I was itching for a change of scene, and some downtime to spend with my kid. Fortunately, my landlady's mom can feed my dogs who are fine in the fenced yard, which makes going away for several days doable (even if we missed them immediately). I also have the good fortune of working with a writing teacher from Manilla and I am always picking his brain about destinations (he has been to Batangas four times, but isn't a water sports person.) He wisely advised me to change my TWD to USD and then to Philippine pisos, which I did, more bang for my buck. Every bit helps!

This was my 3rd trip to the Philippines and my daughter's 2nd. I had been to Palawan for 2 weeks back in 2001 and did some diving off of El Nido. Then 2 years ago, my daughter and I went to Bohol for 2 weeks, diving both in Panglao and Anda.  This Spring Anilao trip was my first trip not using public transport and staying at a resort- a very untypical kind of travel style for myself. I didn't have much time and I really needed some  R&R.

How to Get There: I had been checking out flights to Manilla for CNY and the prices pretty much doubled by the end of March, so I almost gave up. When I saw prices went back down again I didn't hesitate and bought a return for 2 people on Air Asia for 10,000 NT total ($300 US). Flights between Taipei and Manilla are probably one of the cheapest out of the budget airlines like Air Asia and Cebu Pacific.

Most hotels and guesthouses in Anilao can arrange airport pick-up and drop off for a fee. Mine cost about 2,000 NT each way and was totally worth it. My time was precious and I didn't want to spend it dealing with infamous Manila taxi drivers and changing buses.

The ride itself was interesting to see the chaos of jeepneys (they are fun in smaller places like in Bohol), with the congestion from so much construction. There are 3 ways to navigate to Anilao from Manila, and on the way there we went right beside the picturesque and massive sunken caldera of Taal Lake. Had I known we would have taken a different route back to the airport, I would have stopped and snapped a photo (the driver offered).

Portulano as we were leaving

Accommodation: Happily, my first choice of accommodation Portulano, was available during that April weekend (they were not for Chinese New Year.) We arrived midweek and so had the entire resort to ourselves, which was beyond fantastic. I was able to get an immediate upgrade of our room for a 10% discount, (all the rooms are sea view), to a much a bigger, more luxurious room and balcony for peanuts more than my original smaller room.


The Portulano staff were very accommodating and the "aunties" live literally live within walking distance. They were there to have a fresh pot of coffee waiting for me and the other staff when I woke at 7 and then asking us what we wanted for breakfast before they left for their home. Everything included 3 huge meals and an afternoon snack of fattening fried banana roll-ups. My kid and I couldn't finish everything (though we tried.) When more guests arrived our last day (during the weekend) meals were served buffet style.

My second choice of accommodation, had the Portunalo been fully booked was was Eagle Point, another diving resort further south on the tip. My 3rd choice Anilao Beach Buzz was more budget, backpacker, also catering to divers. Non-divers might appreciate staying somewhere near the magnificent lake Taal. (If you book these via my account we both get $15 off our next reservation.)

If you need to spend a night in Manilla (often the cheapest flights are extremely late or early as mine was)  then I recommend the Holiday Inn/Remington雷明頓酒店 across from Terminal 3 (where Air Asia is).  Our room had 2 large queens, big enough for 4 for a decent price and free breakfast buffet. Security there was intense as its a shopping/professional district. You will have to go through metal detectors and there are armed guards on every corner and street.I felt safe, but the military style security had the opposite effect on my kid.

What To Do: Portunalo calls itself a "reef house" as a reef is literally off its front porch. You don't even need to be a diver to appreciate the coral, fish and turtles. If you have your own snorkel bring it, it will save you some pocket money for renting it (about 500 pesos a day for snorkel and fins). Their boat piers have stairs leading into the water making shore dives and snorkeling a piece of cake to enter. I made sure to bring our snorkels, save a couple of bucks. We also did some SUP (500 pesos an hour) and of course they have a salt water pool (which makes diving students perfect their buoyancy) if you are too lazy to do anything else.

The diving was excellent, but we only went down 12 meters as my kid isn't certified. This makes diving much more expensive for me, paying nearly 3x as much as my dives. Next paycheck I want to start her doing her written PADI Open Water test and then have her do her diving skills at the next place we dive at it, as its more cost effective and we can go deeper.

Nevertheless, most reef life is shallow and close to the sunlight. On our first shore dive, we spent 10 minutes hanging with a languid Hawksbill turtle. There were many things to see; garden eels, giant clams, nudi branches, triggerfish, rockfish, puffer fish, clown, parrot, angel, tons of reef fish in general. There were lots of healthy looking brain, staghorn and table coral The easy dives made it possible for me to play with my new Chinese Go-Pro knock-off. I still need more practice as 90% of my photos were out of focus. I had better luck with my videos. My DM kindly lent me his red filter and attachments.

My kid is in heaven

The resort had a fabulous game room, so after a meal when we were waiting for our food to digest before hopping back into the water, we mostly played pool. There is no wifi, but my kid was having too much fun relaxing to use her phone. There was also darts, ping pong, and TV (which the staff watched during the afternoon lull).

I highly recommend copious amounts of lounging in hammocks watching the sunset, breathtaking stargazing from the balcony and open deck yoga (they have mats). I did go over budget on the dives, but it was worth it, even if we are strapped for cash the rest of April.

Portunalo is definitely a place to come back to, and its a place for families. Our room had a connecting door (lock-in ours) to the adjacent room, perfect for families.

Should you have more time, there is a trail behind the house to the highest point with apparently even more breathtaking views. There is also the option of island hopping to nearby Verde island and Puerto Galera.

With its easy access from Taipei, who knows, maybe we will go back there and have my kid do her diving certification!? Next trip to Anilao, I would really love to hike Taal Volcano and then dive and photograph the famous Twin Rocks.

Diving Costs At Portulano:
boat dive 1,750 pesos/dive [1000 NT/$34USD]       
shore dive 950/dive

night shore dive 1,100/dive
Marine Park Fees: PHP 175-250+/day for divers/snorkelers depending on location

Open Water Diver Course: 2-3 students 15,000 pesos per student, individual 18,000
2 shore + 2 boat dives 4,200 pesos
PADI paper manuel 5,500
dive gear rental 1,300 p/day

Daisy Maravilla +63 9175404257 or
Elmer Bulaqueña +632 542 3720
Last night Holiday Inn
4721.40P (2656 NT)
PHP  9,600 (TWD 5,400)
Dives (my original budget, but I paid more)

10,000 (TW 5,600)
SUP, kayak, snorkel
3,000(TW 1,680)
3800x2= 7,600 (TW 4,252)
P (TW 21,788)

A night dive in Anilao, filmed by a professional (April 2018)

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