My emotions started to well up at the sight of the island but extreme happiness took over. My insides fluttered with joy – ah, euphoria. I drowned into a whirlpool of words. A million drifted through my open mind but none escaped from my very mouth. My lips turned into an upward curve instead that only God knows how long it was like that. I was just staring, lost in the reverie – grateful for the moment, amazed by the incomparably pure and unspoiled beauty. So this is Balabac.
|How mornings are like in Onuk Island
I hankered to run barefoot and feel the fine sand on my feet, the salt and warm waters on my skin. I bathed in the sun that was shining bright into my whole being. I turned and soaked myself in to the spectacular reality in front of me – a canvass painted with a vast and endless horizon of teal, cerulean to azure shades of the clear skies and the ocean. I stood there for a long time feeling the moment, wrapped in a sultry summer mood that I have always craved for. The wind and the little waves coming ashore were mellifluous. In the islands’ humble nipa cottages, await the care takers of the island and boatmen with genuine smiles and untold stories. Balabac is a reality straight out of my daydreams and I wished it would never end.
Balabac is a far flung municipality located at the southernmost tip of Palawan. It is largely inhabited by a cultural group called Molbog
who speak of their own language but are also fluent in Tagalog. The islands of Balabac have recently gotten into everyone’s travel bucket list but only a few could make it primarily due to its geographical location. It is nearer to Sabah, Malaysia than in Puerto Princesa City and is not as accessible as any other tourist destinations in the province like Coron, El Nido and Puerto Princesa City. This could also be observed with the goods that can be bought in Poblacion as these are more on Malaysian products than local ones. The expense that it would mean is another factor. Since it is far and the points of interests are also at a distance from one another, the means of transportation would cost a lot, too. Regardless, a lot would still brave and endure the trip and experience the marvelous Balabac.
|Mansalangan sandbar is said to be longer than the beach of Boracay Island
How to get there
From Manila to Puerto Princesa City
1. Fly to Puerto Princesa City
There are no direct commercial flights to and from Southern Palawan but in Puerto Princesa City only. Airlines such as Cebu Pacific Air, Philippine Airlines, Royal Air and AirAsia have several flights daily from and to Puerto Princesa City.
2. Fly directly to the island’s airstrips
Two of the more or less 30 islands of Balabac has an airstrip. This include Candaraman island and Bugsuk island. These serve as a landing for small and private aircraft.
3. Sail from Manila to Puerto Princesa City
M/V St. Francis Xavier departs every Friday at 7:00 PM from Manila with few hours layover in Coron then sails straight to Puerto Princesa City. It also arrives at around 6:00 to 7:00 in the evening the next day.
How to Go to Balabac from Puerto Princesa City
Traveling to Balabac requires almost a day in transit as land and sea travel from the Puerto Princesa City to the southernmost of Palawan takes more or less 10 hours. Going to the town proper or to any of its many islands may have two jump offs: Rio Tuba or Buliluyan Port in the town of Bataraza. The pick up point shall be clarified and communicated with the boatmen and tourist operator to avoid the hassle.
1. Puerto Princesa City to Rio Tuba Port (for DIY travelers)
a. From the airport or sea port, take a cab or tricycle going to San Jose Terminal.
b. From San Jose Terminal, Puerto Princesa City, take a van going to Bataraza Terminal. Fare is at Php 350.00 and the trip takes four to five hours. Some van operators travel directly from Puerto Princesa City to Rio Tuba. The trip takes five to six hours with the fare ranging from Php 450.00 to Php 500.00. First trip is usually at 4:00 AM. Last, trip on the other hand, is around 5:00 PM depending on the passengers.
c. If getting dropped off at Bataraza Terminal, transfer to a van going to Rio Tuba. The trip takes less than two hours and the fare is at Php 150.00.
d. from Rio Tuba, take the passenger boat that travels at noon time (usually around 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM) to Balabac. The sea travel takes three to four hours. Fare is at Php 450.00.
2. Puerto Princesa City to Buliluyan Port (for Balabac Joiner Tours)
a. From Puerto Princesa City, take a van going to Bataraza. Fare is at Php 350.00.
b. From Bataraza, transfer to another van going to Buliluyan Port. This will take a travel time of an hour or two with Php 150.00 fare.
*There are no passenger boats traveling from Buliluyan Port to Balabac. Consequently, Balabac island tourist operators prefer to pick up the guests from that port.
Tip: For a less hassle trip from Puerto Princesa City to Rio Tuba or Buliluyan port, you may contact Kuya Popoy (mobile: +63 920 3206 567). He can arrange the trip and pick the guests up from the airport or from the hotel.
The islands of Balabac can be best explored by hopping into a boat which has to be rented from the locals. Small boats can fit in five to seven persons in which rates usually starts at Php 5,000.00 – Php 6,000.00 a day still depending on how many tourists will be accommodated. You may contact Sir Motet Sanson of Candaraman Island, Balabac Palawan
at +63 939 3637 676 or +63 915 7340 809. The biggest boat in Balabac can carry up to 30 persons. For its boat rental, you may contact Engr. Ronald (The Yellow Drybag Adventures)
at +63 917 8683 558. Boat rental rates do not include environmental fees, food and accommodation.
Sir Motet Sanson of Candaraman Island Tours offers boat sharing at Php 1,500.00 to Php 2,000.00 per head on a daily basis with a minimum of 6 persons inclusive of food and hopping into three islands.
|The clear blue skies over the teal waters of Onuk Island
|The Starfish sandbar of Candaraman Island
Things to do
1. Swim into its crystal clear waters
2. Beach bum into the pristine beaches with the finest and whitest sand
3. Go on an island hopping activity
4. Swim with turtles and watch the dolphins, sting rays and Balabac crocodiles (if you’ll get lucky)
5. Admire the mangroves in some islands
6. Snorkel, dive and freedive – bringing your own equipment is highly suggested
7. Shop for Malaysian products in Marabon
8. Visit the century-old Cape Melville Lighthouse
9. ‘Mangawil‘ (traditional way of fishing)
10. Catch the gorgeous sunrise and sunsets in the islands
11. Experience the Molbog
|The island of Onuk and its famous stilts
Where to Stay
There are no luxury hotels in Balabac town proper but simple lodging houses. Among the most recommended are the following:
1. JD Lodging House
Address: Brgy. 3, Poblacion, balabac, Palawan 5307
Mobile number: +63 939 937 7948
2. MLK Lodging House
Mobile number: +63 939 517 6161
Mobile number: +63 916 679 3993
There are also campsites and basic accommodation in Candaraman Island, Punta Sebaring and Onuk Island. These three islands offer room accommodation with pillows and mattress. Electricity is run by generator; therefore, scheduled. Generators are turned on in the evening til 6:00 AM the next day. Water is supplied by deep wells. The waters in Onuk Island, on the other hand, is delivered from Poblacion. Thus, guests are suggested to conserve resources.
The following are the accommodation rates in Candaraman Island:
1. Day Tour rate – Php 100.00/ head
2. Overnight stay rate – Php 200.00/ head
-Tent rental is at Php 200.00 good for two persons
-Room rate is at Php 200.00 per head
|One of the most photographed spot in Onuk Island
The following are the accommodation rates in Onuk Island:
1. Day Tour rate – Php 1,500.00
Food is not included in the said rate. It is mainly just the entrance fee to the island.
2. Overnight stay rate – Php 3,500.00
Overnight stay rate includes food and accommodation. Take note that the room accommodation is on a reservation basis. There are only few rooms, mattress, pillows and blankets in there and communicating with its staff and caretaker is necessary. If unsure, you may bring tents instead and pitch at the sandy area of the island to avoid hassle.
Sample 4 days 3 nights Balabac Itinerary
Be told that this 4 days – 3 nights itinerary include almost two days of traveling from Puerto Princesa City to Balabac v.v. Three days would be the most ideal (though it isn’t really enough) to explore some of the islands of Balabac. The itinerary below works for a Balabac Joiner Tour – a time and money saver way to travel to Balabac. A DIY trip would be best enjoyed if 5 days would be allotted for it as it may involve waiting for the vans and boats to be filled with passengers. This itinerary also suggested accommodations to be in the islands rather than in Poblacion.
DAY 1: Arrival at Puerto Princesa Airport
08:00 AM – ETD to Buliluyan Port to Balabac
12:00 NN – lunch stopover
2:00 PM – ETA Buliluyan Port/ Change to swimming attire
2:15 PM – start of island hopping (Tangkahan Island, Patawan Island, Candaraman Island)
5:00 PM – ETA Candaraman Island/ sunset watching
6:30 PM – wash up/ set up camp
8:00 PM – dinner
9:00 PM – firefly watching/ star gazing
11:00 PM – lights out
DAY 2: Onuk Island Overnight Stay
5:30 AM – watch the sun rise
6:00 AM – visit Candaraman’s Starfish Sandbar
7:00 AM – breakfast/ prep up
8:00 AM – Start island hopping tour
9:30 AM – Camiaran Island
10:30 AM – ETD to Onuk Island
11:30 AM – ETA Onuk Island
12:00 NN – lunch
1:00 PM – snorkel in giant clams area, swim with turtles
5:30 PM – sunset watching
6:00 PM – wash up
7:00 PM – dinner
8:00 PM onwards – free time
DAY 3: Island hopping tour
5:30 AM – watch the sun rise (NOT TO BE MISSED!!)
6:30 AM – breakfast
8:00 AM – break camp/ pack up
8:30 AM – ETD to Sicsican Island
10:00 AM – Sicsican Island
12:00 NN – lunch
3:00 PM – Canabungan Island
5:00 PM – back to Candaraman Island
5:30 PM – sunset watching/ swimming
6:30 PM – wash up
7:30 PM – dinner
8:30 PM onwards – free time
DAY 4: Sandbar and Island hopping tour
5:30 AM – watch the sunrise
6:00 AM – breakfast/ break camp
7:00 AM – ETD to Mansalangan Sandbar
8:30 AM – Mansalangan Sandbar
11:00 AM – Punta Sebaring
12:00 NN – lunch
1:00 PM – ETD to Buliluyan port
2:00 PM – wash up
3:00 PM – ETD to Puerto Princesa City
9:00 PM – ETA Puerto Princesa City
Note: Some tour operators allow customized island hopping; meaning, they consider the guests’ preferences regarding the islands to be visited. It just needs to be agreed and well-established prior to the trip. Other islands that shouldn’t be missed include Comiran, Secam, Ramos, Mangsee, Bugsuk, Sibangkok, Semanahan, Salingsigan, Patungong and others that are left unexplored.
|The pristine beach of Sicsican Island
Estimated budget in the suggested 4 days 3 nights itinerary is around Php 11,000.00 inclusive of van transfers from Puerto Princesa City to Buliluyan port v.v., accommodation in the islands (Candaraman and Onuk Island), food, entrance fees to the island and a few contingency. Airfare is not included.
An amount of Php 100.00 is collected in every island that is visited during the tour except for Onuk Island. It is a privately owned island by the Mayor and his family that has been opened to the tourists. If you’re a part of a Balabac joiner tour, these fees are already included.
|Mansalangan Sandbar is nothing but pure beauty
|If there’s one thing that worry me a lot about Onuk Island, it’s their sewage treatment. In the morning when the tides get low, the smell from the sewage gets so strong and algae started to develop on the other side of the stilts where the sewer is. I hope the management and the owners would pay attention to it so as not to spoil the beauty of the island.
Tips in Traveling to Balabac
1. The best way to save when traveling to Balabac is to join a tour or large groups with people whom you can split the expenses with most especially with the boat rental.
2. Signal is sporadic in the islands. Smart has mobile network reception in some islands including Onuk and Candaraman Island. Globe Telecom network signal becomes weak to nothing as you approach Rio Tuba.
3. There are no ATM, malls in Balabac Town proper and Rio Tuba. There are only small stores, canteens and groceries.
4. There are no stores in the islands of Balabac. If you decide to camp, might as well buy all the necessary stuff before you embark on the trip. Buy snacks that will get you through as well as the trips are indeed long.
5. Extra care has to be taken when traveling to Punta Sebaring as there are sand mites (locally known as nik-nik) and sting rays around the area. Thus, bringing insect repellent is necessary.
6. Expect basic accommodation. Staying in the island overnight also means conservation of resources such as electricity (gas, actually because it is run by generators) and water as these are not abundant in the area. Bringing of power banks is necessary for charging your gadgets as the generators are mainly used to provide light in the island.
7. Be mindful of what you’re wearing when in Poblacion. It is a Muslim area therefore wearing revealing clothes is a taboo.
8. It is advisable to bring your own gears such as mask, snorkel, fins and SCUBA diving equipment. They don’t have gear rentals in the islands. Bringing of such is highly suggested as the marine life of the islands of Balabac is a great stunner.
9. Bring your own toiletries, towels and first aid kit with personal medicine. You can also bring ear plugs or earphones, neck pillow and blankets. These stuff will save you from a lot of stress and hassle.
10. Bring dry bag and waterproof case for your cellphones. You might not want to get your important stuff soaked and swimming in salt water with you.
11. Sunscreen is necessary. Beach bumming and basking in the sun is fun. Sunburns and skin cancer are not. Also, use reef-friendly sunscreen.
12. If you have food restrictions, might as well buy your food considering your preferences too prior to your trip. They usually serve sea food, fish and chicken in the island. It is very seldom that they will serve pork and beef.
13. As much as possible, refrain from using products and consuming goods in a single-use plastic container.
I am very certain that my photos do not give justice to the real thing. A couple of times, I’ve taken a photo of a spot but it never looked the same way as what my eyes could see. It just saddens me that few trash are washed ashore in some of the islands from the nearby community. If you happen to see them, even not in Balabac, join me and a growing number of concerned travelers in the beach clean up. An hour or two wouldn’t hurt; not even a loss. Let’s all do it together for the greater good.
2022 COVID-19 Balabac Travel Update
The town of Balabac is said to be open to fully-vaccinated tourists this January 2022. For updates and travel requirements, you may contact the Local Tourism Office.