The southernmost town in Mindoro Occidental, San José has a cluster of three pretty islands – White, Ambulong and Ilin – just off-shore. It’s notable for having an airport, and its position as a transport hub is what brings most travellers through. It’s also the place to restock on cash from the only ATMs in Mindoro Occidental.
Calapan, the bustling administrative capital of Mindoro Oriental, is a feeder port for Batangas, Luzon and – as far as most tourists are concerned – one of the stops on the bus-boat route between Manila and Boracay. It is also a good base for hiking formidable Mt Halcon and for getting to know a little about Mangyan culture.
A welcome sight after the long journey from either the north or the south, rural and friendly Sablayan sits astride the Bagong Sabang River. It has a lively market and makes a good base for several worthwhile terrestrial excursions. However, the main attraction here is Apo Reef, the country’s best dive site not named Tubbataha, less than two hours offshore.
Mt Iglit-Baco National Park
Travellers who trek to this remote area may be rewarded with a sighting of the elusive wild tamaraw, the Philippines’ endangered native buffalo. The national park is made up of sweeps of grassland (the favoured habitat of the tamaraw), Mangyan slash-and-burn areas, and forested ridges.
This unassuming coastal town is surrounded by lost coves and practically uninhabited islands ripe for exploring. Larry at South Drive Restobar organises island-hopping trips, rents out motorbikes (per day P500) and has a car for hire. Many Mangyans come to town on market days (Tuesdays and Saturdays). There is no ATM in Bulalacao.
About 40km north of San José, Calintaan is a potential launch point for both Mt Iglit-Baco National Park and Apo Reef. You could depart from Manila on an early-morning flight and be diving at Apo Reef the same morning out of Swiss-owned Apo Reef Club, which has a speed boat that can get you out to the reef in just one hour.