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Travel Guide: Balabac Palawan

Balabac; Palawan; Travel; Guide;

Tell me it's normal to keep things to yourself, to be selfish and childish for places you want to be your own paradise. At least, tell me I'm not the only one. Because in this post, I'll try my best not to keep things for myself. Even if travel guides are not my priority, I want to share what I know to people who are planning to visit this hidden gem. Ready?


We'll talk about Balabac Palawan, and how you must be prepared.

Balabac is composed of islands on the southernmost part of Palawan. Unheard for most but it doesn't stay behind the popular ones. In fact, for me, it has one of the most beautiful islands I've ever set foot on. I've never been to many but I'm marking its place right now, the next ones would need to work harder. ;)

How did I heard of this place? From Google Images. I was searching for another place to discover after I visited Port Barton (another off beaten path). There it is with the iconic long stilts and wide sandbar, instantly, it changed my plans. Off to Balabac I said!


TRANSPORTATION

Coming from Puerto Princesa, one would need to travel by land all the way down Rio Tuba where the boat to Balabac Island stops. This boat also passes by Bancalaan where one can also take aside from Rio Tuba. This land travel takes about 6 hours! But at night it can drop down to 4 hours.

The land travel is through a van which are located at New Market/San Jose Terminal in Puerto Princesa. Some vans can pick you up at the airport or hotel. It costs around Php 400.

Rio Tuba; Balabac; Palawan

Van Operators: Puerto Princesa to Rio Tuba and v.v.

Kuya Jerry
0927 705 5910 / 0946 260 6260

Jun
0905 713 6474

Hajija Transport
0909 724 0847 / 0909 559 8634

Some vans don’t take you to the port area, but to the town proper. From there, you need to take a tricycle (will charge Php 100.00) to get to Brgy. Rio Tuba where the port area is. On the other hand, going back to Puerto Princesa, vans lined up at the Rio Tuba port to get passengers.

Balabac; Palawan; Rio Tuba
@ Rio Tuba
The next leg of the travel is by public boat. Log your name at the public boat the moment you arrive so you are counted, but be sure to board on time since they really won't verify the names of each boarding passenger, they'll just use the list for the count and for records (when the unwanted happens). It'll cost Php 350 and will take 4 hours. Yes dear you may want to catch some sleep here, but the wooden chairs are not your butt's friend.

For the schedule, the boat only leaves once per day at 8AM, but it can be late 11AM. I am not sure myself what's the exact departure time but to be sure, be there as early as you can because locals can fill up the boat easily especially on weekends. The same goes for the boat from Balabac to Rio Tuba. Of course, their schedules are dependent on the weather so check it first. 

The long ride will end after reaching Balabac with that 4 hours of not-so-smooth ride. This sea is open and harsh most of the time. But if you are going to Onuk Island, you'll say hi again to this sea and spend 2 hours at most. Talking about Onuk Island is another story.

Read: Day 2 at Onuk Island

There are two ports in Balabac by the way, the BCI where it is a challenge to go down from the boat because it’s like the end of a hill and another port where the usual jetty can be seen. When the waves are rough the boats usually dock at BCI.



ACCOMMODATION

If you'll travel to Balabac at night, you'll probably need somewhere else to sleep than wait at the port, even if it's just 4 hours get it! Unfortunately, Rio Tuba's port is for locals that's why there are no waiting areas or proper shed. You'll just risks your lives with dengue if you stay there. That's what I originally planned because I was 'nagtitipid', but I eventually stayed at White Heaven Lodge in Rio Tuba as advised by the driver. Sure enough, I got some sleep and Rio Tuba's port is really 'malamok'.

You might also want to stay at Puerto Princesa at night then leave by 3am, you'll catch the boat by 8am. In my case it left around 11am. Ahaha

Rio Tuba

White Heaven Lodge
Walk-in PHP250/night, Fan Room, Shared T&B 
The bathroom is the usual probinsya bathroom, so set your expectations.


Balabac

There's no hotel in Balabac Island, only lodging houses. Per night stay can be as low as Php 200 and maximum of Php 500. I've stayed on one of the most accommodating owners I've ever had -- Sing and Swing Lodge.

The owner Kuya Johnny is so friendly he picked me up at the port even though I won't check in that day. He might have got my dates wrong. HAHA

Balabac; Palawan
Streets of Balabac

Sing and Swing Lodge
0917 596 1991 / 0939 937 7984
PHP 300.00 for a Fan Room, Shared T&B

The rooms are newly built you can still smell paint. Fan room and shared bathroom in my case. The room is clean and pretty spacious considering it's just one bed. Bed sheets are clean and I never felt hot inside the room. I think the only problem would be the noise, since the first floor (I'm on the second) has a multi-functional room, it can be rented out for celebrations that would bring the singers and comedians out there. Plus on the terrace is the TV where some neighbor adults gather to watch. But it’s free for every guest to use, just put insect repellent for mosquitoes.


MLK Lodging House
09395176169



ACTIVITIES

Balabac is not yet known to many so the activities may be limited. The tours can be done in the same number of days that you traveled to get here. Haha Still, the islands and other tours here are captivating you would want to stay longer.

balabac; Palawan
Last day of the island life

Island Hopping
Having many islands, the Balabac Group of Islands is the main attraction on the south of Palawan. Many islands are untouched, has clear blue waters and fine white sand - the ingredients of a paradise. These islands are an hour apart from each other and the sea will be tricky, so please understand if the tours are a bit pricey. 

Here are some of the islands:

Onuk Island - pronounced as Onok, this small island is owned by politicians in Balabac. The island has a wide circular sandbar on one end and a couple of coconut trees on the other end. The island is pretty small compared to the neighbouring islands but it has a wonderful view of both sunrise and sunset. Plus the owner put a house on stilts which makes it open for staying guests. It has proven its place when a photographer won a National Geographic contest with Onuk as the winning piece and I can’t explain any further why I was captivated by Onuk, see it for yourself here.

Candamaran Island - one of the most sought after island in Balabac Group. This long and big stretch of island will give you multiple faces. One will give you a wide area to run with tall coconut trees in the inside. The other will make you feel lost in an island. These are just a small part of Candamaran Island that I saw, there's absolutely more, I just don't know if the owner will allow.

Balabac; Palawan
As the sun is setting @ Balabac Palawan

Canibungan Island - a long stretch of island where starfishes lie abundantly on its shore. Locals can sometimes be seen having a picnic on its graciously spaced area of coconut trees. 
Mansalangan Island and Sand Bar - Another private island which is open for tourists. The sand bar lies open on the sea. One side has rough waves, while the other one was relatively calm. Nothing much to see, and the sea's too open to swim in. If I'm to come back here, I'll do cartwheels.

Pink Island (Comiran Island) - Pink beach is a more suitable name for its sand mixed with crushed red corals giving the pink color. 

Punta Sebaring - a vast beach on the southern tip of Bugsuk Island. This beach is where island hopping usually stops for the night. With its looooongggg (I can't elaborate more) area anyone can pitch their tents. The sand is the best among the Balabac Islands - this is what a guest in Onuk told me. It is fine as a powder and smooth like corn starch. You can view one of the best sunrise and sunset in this island. Problem is, this place is too far from Balabac mainland, but if you can reach Onuk, you can definitely reach this one.


Inland Tours:

Balabac; Palawan
Melville Lighthouse at Balabac Palawan

Melville Lighthouse
No entrance fee
From Balabac port, the lighthouse is 2.5 hours away by motorcycle. It can also be accessed by boat. The lighthouse first operated in 1982 but as with any other lighthouse story, devices were stolen and later got out of operation. This was later declared as National Historical Landmark. Two words: cute, scary.

Indalawan Falls 
Php 10.00
A tall and secluded falls which lies inside a dense forest. Indalawan Falls is two hours away from Cape Melville. Locals go here to have a picnic, and I'm always in awe to see them hike like they're walking in a park.

Indalawan Beach
Located near Indalawan Falls, this beach is included in the tour packages offered in Balabac mainland. 

Pilandok Watching
Consider it a night out to watch the nocturnal Philippine mouse-deer that are found in Balabac.


Others:
Fort Culina

Balabac; Palawan
On the way back from Indalawan Falls


ON BUILDING YOUR ITINERARY

To give you the freedom to plot it out and fit your schedule, I'll give the following:

Note: Some tour organizer provides the van and boat service from Puerto Princesa to Balabac and v.v. so the following might not be applicable to you since the schedule is already provided.

If you’re going by the public boat:

To catch the boat going to Balabac, which only run once a day, make sure to be at Rio Tuba in the morning. So it's either you spend the night at P.P. then leave early morning and be on time for the boat, OR spend the night at Rio Tuba then catch the boat by morning with a tricycle.

If you catch the boat, you'll surely arrive at Balabac around 3PM. You can either start your island hopping (some tour operator does it) or spend the night at Balabac.

The following days will depend on your preferred number of stay and/or activity. The inland tour can be done on a half day. 

If you're going to book for a return flight, the later the safer, say 7PM onwards. This is because you can spend a whole morning for your travel back to Puerto Princesa and just be on time for your evening flight. Yes, all travel done in one day. Note that the public boat (emphasis on the lack of 's') from Balabac to Rio Tuba only run once a day and in the morning.




OTHER TIPS

When is the right time to visit Balabac?
Summer - March to May, because waves are kinder during this season.


Should I go with a tour or rent a boat?
Island hopping is definitely better to be done in a joiner-tour because it is cheaper. And the only difference with renting a boat and doing private tour versus the joiner one is the choices of islands. I got the impression that the number of islands that you can visit are just the same because the proximity of the islands are not easy to maneuver, they're far from each other.

Balabac; Palawan
Meeting another solo tourist

Are the private islands open for island hopping?
Yes and not always yes. Candamaran and Canibungan are open while Onuk Island is a difficult one. If you plan to include this when going for an island hopping package, ask the operator first because not all packages include this one (reason being the operator don't get permission to the owner - RUDE!). Better yet, get the package from Onuk Island owner itself and ask them to tour you on the neighboring islands - with an additional small fee of course. But going on a tour package will still make the expenses cheaper.


What type of island hopping tours are there?
There are 2d1n and 3d2n island hopping tours. The Melville Lighthouse is sometimes included on the 3d2n depending on the weather. Also, some tour packages include the van and boat transfers from Puerto Princesa Palawan to Balabac, and v.v so you'll just need yourself and everything will be taken care of.


Do you have contacts for island hopping tours?
Kilometer Zero PH

Kuya Fidel - Boat Operator
0995 933 3321

For Onuk Island:
Sir Toto Astami - owner
0928 827 2367


How 'bout for inland tours?
I don't have any contact number since I only asked the lodging owners to find one for me. Just ask where you're staying and they can arrange it for you. I paid PHP700 by the way.


How much are the tours?
As of writing, the joiner tour for island hopping depends on the number of people that will push through, so the more joiner, the cheaper the price. The cheapest that I asked was about 2000/day (3D2N or 2D1N), if the group is 7 or more. However if you're alone it can go to PHP 3500/day. There's no standard price since tourism is not yet of a big thing in here. Make arrangements and you'll probably get the price that you want.

For Onuk Island, since I availed their own package and didn't go for a joiner tour, it costs PHP 5000 for the first night, then PHP 500 for the succeeding. I added PHP 200 for a half day island hopping. Of course food, boat transfer and lodging are covered. Sir Toto will cook for you.


Is it safe to travel? 
One reader asked me through email if it is safe to go to Balabac. I can't say it is totally safe, since my colleague told me they were accompanied by a soldier when they did Island hopping (no sugarcoating here), and one Rio Tuba resident gave me an emergency contact number, but I didn't have problems or threats from terrorists or rebels when I went there and I'm not the only solo tourist who visits Balabac. Proceed with caution, but Balabac is a peaceful town the locals themselves are protective and aware of new faces - proven right when they gave me those stares. 

Balabac Palawan


Things to bring?

  • Bring insect repellant and snacks, the long road will make you hungry. 
  • Bring a water bottle. Some stores in Balabac doesn't sell bottled water.
  • Pack up all the power bank that you have when you go island hopping.
  • You know the beach essentials.
  • Network signal is good for Smart subscribers, Globe is almost nonexistent. 
  • When you do inland tours by motorcycle, wear light pants to cover your legs. 
  • And oh, the airlines are strict when it comes to baggage allowance on my return flight.


What else ? Practice LNT (Leave No Trace)
As always, Balabac is not exempted from waste problems. When I went to Onuk, it is notable that the island needs frequent cleaning. The same goes with the other islands where I've been, plastic cups and wrappers are planted like for days you wouldn't notice it at first. Let us help by not leaving our trash behind and not taking anything! - except trash - the owner would gladly allow you. :-P


LASTLY

You might cringe on the number of hours it will take to get to Balabac. I understand, it's given. Not all people have the luxury of vacation leaves, and I am one to complain. However, the relaxation that I got was equally rewarding. The tiring long hours of travel was all worth it. The memories I made in Balabac are what's left, and if not because of Google Images, I wouldn't have that. 

Thank you internet for showing me paradise.


That's pretty much it! You can always drop down your questions on the comment box for whatever I missed.

For now, need to sign-out.
Bye,
Balabac Series


To check out other post for this series, click here: Balabac Palawan Series

Glens

Glens is a full time Systems Developer and part time wanderer. On weekends she's mostly at home watching series, anime or anything of her interest. Sometimes, she can be seen backpacking or hiking. But she can ditch that over comfort food and bed weather.

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