Balabac, Palawan: P6,935 to paradise

Balabac Palawan travel guide feature

Yes, a DIY Balabac Palawan itinerary and travel guide!

Last year, Hali and I were exchanging stories with a 60-year-old fellow traveler, who then told us we should visit Balabac, Palawan. For the uninitiated, Balabac group of islands is a relatively unknown summer haven for backpackers seeking unspoilt beaches and preserved local culture. It is located at the southernmost tip of Palawan and is just a few hours away from Sabbah, Malaysia.

Along with five other friends, Hali and I ventured here on the first week of March for our first summer escapade (and also Hali’s xxx birthday celebration — he said age isn’t important).

To give you an idea of what awaits you in Balabac, Palawan, see some of the highlights from our trip in this gallery. You can see the rest of the islands in Balabac we’d been to here.

It was a bit challenging to arrange a DIY vacation to Balabac because, aside from Lakwatsero’s guide to Balabac, there is very little material in the Internet about this municipality especially with regard to island hopping prices and contact details.

 5-day Balabac Palawan itinerary and expenses

I would like to credit a good acquaintance, Johnry, for sharing this Balabac Palawan itinerary along with a detailed list of expenses. Most expenses listed herein are reasonable even for a solo traveler, except for the island hopping rate, which is P7500-8000 for 2 days.

You don’t necessarily have to island hop for P8000. If you’re on a budget and have no one else to go with, you can just visit nearby islands — Onuk, Candaraman and Sicsican, for about P1500. Going to Punta Sebaring costs an additional P500.

The costing that accompanies this itinerary is for 2 people.

Day 1
5:00 – 5:15PM From airport, ride trike to junction 1 (P50 per trike)
5: 15 – 6:00PM Multicab to San Jose terminal (P15)
6 :00 – 6:30PM Dinner
6:30 – 10:30PM Travel to Rio Tuba (P300 each for van)
10:30PM Check in at White Heaven Lodging (P250 room for 2 pax)

Day 2
7:00 – 8:00AM Ride tricycle to pier, breakfast on stopover (P50 each)
10:30AM – 2:30PM Boat ride to Balabac mainland (P350)
2:30 – 2:45PM Register at tourism office in the municipal hall
2:45 – 3:00PM Check in at lodging (P400 for 2 pax per night)
3:15 – 5:00PM Balabac mainland tour via motorcycles (no fixed amount, gave P100 each)

Day 3
Island hopping (Melville lighthouse, Camiaran, *Onuk, Candaraman, Sicsican Islands)

Day 4
Island hopping (Ramos, Canabungan, Nasubata Islands)

Day 5
04:00 – 04:30AM Wake up call
04:30 – 05:00AM Walk toward pier
06:00 – 10:30AM Boat ride back to Rio Tuba (P350 each)
10:30 – 11:15AM Trike to San Jose Terminal (P20 each)
11:15 – 12:00PM Lunch
12:00 – 17:00PM Van travel back to Puerto Princesa City (P300 each)

Transportation cost:  P1210 each
Accommodation cost:
 P725 each
Island hopping cost
: P8000 for 2 days (P4000 each)
Food and miscellaneous fees: P1000 each

TOTAL COSTS: P6935 each for 2 people

You can see the full list of islands you can explore in Balabac here.

Planning a budget-friendly Balabac Palawan itinerary

As you can see from the Balabac Palawan itinerary above, travel and accommodation expenses are cheap. Even fresh seafood and cooked meals are low priced. Eateries sell meals for as low as P45 a plate with one rice. This is why I only allotted a budget of P1,000 for food. Again, it depends really on how big your appetite is, so adjust accordingly.

Island hopping is the only costly item in the Balabac Palawan itinerary and expenses above, though it is still reasonable considering the distance of the islands from each other.

Alternatively, there are select travels and tours that offer island hopping in Balabac, Palawan. The ones I know of are:

Rates depend on how many days you’d spend in Balabac. If you’re going to avail of a packaged tour, you also need to gather more companions since there are a minimum number of participants per event.

We originally planned to avail of one. After computing possible expenses and consulting with the rest of the group, we decided to do the trip DIY. A DIY trip is the more cost-friendly option.

Hali and I went here along with four travel companions, and we spent about P5000-6000 each for a 6-day trip.

If your return flight from Puerto Princesa is scheduled at 7PM onwards, you can make your Balabac Palawan itinerary as short as 5 days. However, I recommend extending your trip to 6 days and staying for at least 3 days in Balabac to fully explore this southern summer paradise in Palawan.

Getting to Balabac, Palawan

I’m just going to add a few notes since I’ve already written the directions above. Make sure to read the tips below! Especially those related to food.

All in all, it will take 2 days from Puerto Princesa City to commute to Balabac, Palawan. Going back from Balabac to Puerto Princesa will take at least 1 day.

From Puerto Princesa to Rio Tuba

In San Jose Terminal in Puerto Princesa, you can ride either a bus or van going to Rio Tuba. I’m not aware if there are fixed schedules for the public vehicles, but when we got there the last bus was to leave at 7PM and the van, at 6PM. Commuting via van is faster since there are lesser stopovers. We opted for the van, but we still waited for other passengers to fill in the remaining seats.

It’s safe to be at the terminal at around 5-6PM to make sure you won’t miss a ride to Rio Tuba.

Normally, there is only one schedule for the boat via Rio Tuba-Balabac route. A boatman told us they make a second trip depending on the number of passengers, but I get the impression that this rarely happens. The schedule of the boat changes; ask the front desk at the White Heaven Lodging (or other accommodations if you’ve found one) about the boat schedule for the next day.

The tricycle fare from the lodging to the pier is only P20 per person. The reason we gave P50 each is we asked our drivers to make a stopover for breakfast and wait for us. We were led to a large eatery called GB that serves delicious beef stew with rice noodles (which is a must try, take my word for it). I just don’t want you guys giving out P50 per person when the pier isn’t really that far.

Rio Tuba to Balabac

Based on blogs and accounts of fellow travelers, the boat enroute to Balabac usually leaves at around 12 noon, but in our case, the boatmen started loading passengers at 9AM and then left immediately when all the seats are taken.

The passenger boat makes a few stops. You’re about an hour away from mainland Balabac after you pass by Bancalan Port. The port in Balabac looks less amazing, but hey, you won’t really go there to hang out in ports, right.

Bancalan Port in Palawan
You know you’re nearing mainland Balabac when you pass by Bancalan Port. (Photo by Hali)

Similarly, there is also one schedule for the boat leaving Balabac to Rio Tuba, at 6AM in the morning. The boat is either docked in the unloading pier or VCI, depending on the sea level.

Balabac Palawan itinerary: Contact information section

Accommodation:

JD lodging (Sing and Swing lodge): 0910 662 0073
– P400 per night for 2 pax
– P250 per night for 1 pax

MLK lodging: 0939 517 6169
– P400 per night for 2 pax

Other contact details:

Ate Bebeth, Balabac assistant tourism officer: 0949 424 1605
Kuya Onyok/Boboy, boat operators: 0936 398 8961
Kuya Fidel, boat operator: 0999 561 4998
Kuya Jerry, shuttle service Puerto Princesa City – Rio Tuba: 0927 705 5910/0946 260 6260

Update as of March 2017:

As per Blissful Guro, you can contact this point person to secure your visit to Onuk Island: Ronald Astami, 0935 155 6264.

As of February 2017, Onuk Island has been opened officially to the public. There’s a new hefty rate for a day tour, covering the boat ride and lunch, which is P5000 per head. A discounted rate of P3000 per head is available for those in a group. The management of Onuk Island has their own service boats. Service to other islands is excluded.

Accommodations and boat rides

For any query regarding accommodation and island hopping prices, you can contact Ate Bebeth. There are more available accommodations in Balabac, Palawan, than listed here and other boat operators as well.

We stayed at JD lodging for the duration of our trip. The rooms are surprisingly spacious. The restrooms and shower stalls are for common sharing but clean and regularly maintained. The electricity in the whole Balabac group of islands is up until midnight only, but you can request for the generator to be turned on during the night in JD Lodging for P300 per night (all rooms covered).

During our boat ride to Balabac, I chatted with Kuya Fidel whom I found out also offers island hopping tour for a cheaper rate. However, since Kuya Boboy has been my contact ever since preparing the itinerary and I’ve already reserved and confirmed the date for our island hopping with him, we pushed with the latter’s services.

Kuya Boboy and Onyok were very helpful, cooked our meals (mostly fresh seafood) when we were island hopping and chatted with us on our night drinking sessions. Their sister, Ate Lorna, was also a great help. She accompanied us to getting a permit for our supposed visit to Onuk Island and helped prepare our packed lunch for island hopping the next day. If you see her, ask her to show you a cheap eatery where you can get delicious rice meals. We were suki at this eatery, but the cook merely laughed when we told her we’d recommend her place in our blog.

P.S. If you decide to get the services of Kuya Boboy and Kuya Onyok, please tell them Hali and I say hi. 🙂

If you happen to find this eatery, don’t forget to request a tauban dish (a type of large squid common in the area).

Balabac Palawan itinerary: FAQ Section

I’ve added this section as an update. Ever since posting this Balabac Palawan itinerary along with its accompanying articles, we’ve been drowning in inquiries, and though the attention is flattering, sadly I can’t keep up with all the messages.

When is the best time to go to Balabac, Palawan?

As far as I know, summer is the best time to visit here. Anj of Kilometer Zero PH clarifies that ber-months are still good, but during the amihan season (from December to February) the waves can get particularly rough.

For those asking if it’s okay to visit on a specific week on a specific month on a specific year, please refer to news on weather updates instead.

Is it safe for foreigners to visit Balabac, Palawan?

Now this is a tricky question to answer. I don’t want to answer a simplified yes and give false confidence or a simplified no and completely scare off foreign guests. I haven’t actually thought about this until after I received an email asking for security issues in Balabac.

This is from our experience: When we were there, we didn’t feel any tension or presence of threat. We also saw foreign travelers in the island. In fact, I had the impression that whereas local tourists are still oblivious to the existence of Balabac, it is already known among foreign backpackers, at least at the time of our visit. After receiving the said email, I researched and found out that there are indeed warnings about visiting this location and, in general, in the southern parts of Palawan due to the presence of rebel groups.

If you ask me, I’m going to say, yes, it’s pretty safe, but I do not have the official say on this. For safety precautions, take heed of travel warnings, particularly for foreign tourists. For other safety concerns, please contact Balabac’s tourism officer (contact given above).

Alternatives to Balabac, Palawan

Balabac isn’t the only nice destination in Palawan, it’s just the most remote and possibly the only left that isn’t commercialized yet. There are other established tourist locations you can visit.

Puerto Princesa offers its own island hopping and scuba diving adventures. El Nido and Coron are world-known vacation spots, famous for limestone karsts and clean lagoons. There are also low-key destinations in Palawan that offer a quiet time off, such as Port Barton.

Setting expectations straight:

Objective blogging and environment consciousness

I was really happy with the way our planned turned out. However, I would like to just use this opportunity to talk about objective travel blogging.

Balabac unfortunately has a garbage problem. I noticed this when we were when doing a short habal-habal tour in mainland Balabac and when we visited Camiaran and Canabungan Islands. There seems to be lack or minimal environmental maintenance. Possibly this is because Balabac is yet to be recognized as an official tourist destination, not to mention that most islands are home to residential communities.

When we were waiting idly for the sunset in Canabungan Island, my good friend Kit and I talked about how this was never mentioned in blogs featuring Balabac, Palawan.

Either this is a recent issue or bloggers simply didn’t write about this. Highlighting the good features of a location is key in travel articles, but I think it’s misleading to exclude important details. Local blogs are especially prone to this: highlighting the good, posting the best pictures and conveniently not writing the bad to draw in more readers. I understand that selective portrayal is usually the case for personal social media accounts, but blogging entails a greater responsibility especially since blogs are read by a greater public.

Hopefully, as the local tourism in the municipality grows, there will be more effort to clean-up the potential tourist islands in Balabac.

Afterword

I would like to thank everybody who’d been helpful in answering my queries and giving me necessary contact details for creating this Balabac Palawan itinerary and also to our boat operators Kuya Onyok and Boboy and Ate Lorna.

Of course, I’d like to thank my companions as well. I appreciated how everybody observed punctuality. If we agreed on a 6-AM call time the next day, everyone would be up and preparing at 5:30AM. (Respect for other people’s time is sadly not that common even for travelers nowadays.) Also, there was a lot of laugh trips and fun conversations all throughout our vacation.

Candaraman island in Balabac, Palawan
Summer is for beaches and friendships. See you soon guys! (Photo by Hali)

Of course, I’m not going to forget greeting my beloved, Hali, a happy, happy xxx birthday! Half of the fun in traveling is being with you.

 

Don’t forget to watch our summer experience in Balabac, Palawan, in this video:

 

Note: This is our official entry to Pinoy Travel Blogger’s 2017 year-opener carnival, which can be found at Filipina Explorer.

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Travel guide to Balabac islands in Palawan, Philippines

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49 Comment

  1. jasmine says: Reply

    i see…i’ll bring my 7yr old girl and little bit worried when it comes to camping for 2-3 nights(as offered by tour companies) your blog/article really help me to decide to do balabac on our own instead of getting a tour … thank you so much

  2. Jasmin joy Villalobos Taneza says: Reply

    Hello Ms Kath.. fellow traveler here, enlighten me please, you don’t need to camp on those islands you mentioned,? on your day 2-4 you stay in balabac and do the boating every day from thereon?
    salamat

    1. Yep. At the end of the day, we’d go back to the inn in mainland Balabac. I think it’s possible to camp in some of the islands but ask your boatmen to be sure.

  3. Joan says: Reply

    Hi! My friend and I are planning to visit Balabac this March. More specifically, Onok Island is on the top of our list. However we were astounded to find out that they now charge 5000 pesos per head (entrance fee and meals included) just to visit this island. And that’s on top of the usual rate of 2000 per person per day Island hopping (3 islands per day). We tried to call diff boat operators and all have the same rates. Umm do you think it’s worth the price to still visit onok?

    1. Waaa? Who are you referring to, exactly? Last time we were there, there was no entrance fee to Onuk Island. It’s a private property of the mayor and he used to just let visitors see the island. Did the mayor impose the new rate?

    2. I just got an update and included it in the guide. Yes, the rate is now P5000 per head for a day tour in Onuk Island including lunch. Really pricey. I think I’ll skip on that. It’s not a 5-star hotel. But still depends on you.

  4. Fred says: Reply

    Hi Kat,

    Thanks for this detailed post. I just bookmarked this page for our future trip.

    Quick question though: how the network coverage? Is there at least 3G?

    Thanks,

    Fred

    1. Yep, but signal was intermittent so most of the time we just didn’t bother with our phones. Not sure how it is now. 🙂

  5. Judy says: Reply

    hub and i are planning (well, im the one planning actually.he simply tags along 🙂 ) to go to balabac before end of january(20-24) from our northern palawan trip. considering the cost to get there and get back to puerto, kailangang magtipid…i really hope we may makasabay kami para mas mraming maka share sa island hopping. thank you so much for all the infos. they are a huge help.

    1. If you’re on a budget I suggest just limiting your island hopping to the nearby islands – Onuk, Candaraman and Siksikan. It will cost you about P1500. Punta Sebaring is 3 hours away from mainland Balabac, for an additional P500.

  6. Hi Zaida! I’m traveling solo to Balabac on Nov.20-24. You might want to come with me. Send me an email at fatimalim03@gmail.com 🙂

  7. Ana says: Reply

    We will be in Palawan again in April and we have already been to El Nido & Coron , we want do this area now. We’re foreigners so hope its not difficult to organise by ourselves

    1. Hi Ana. We’ll probably go back next year, too. I hope you’d drop by again after your visit and let us know how it went. We get a lot of messages from foreign tourists asking the same thing and it’ll be a big help. 🙂

  8. Thank you for sharing your Balabac experience. Would explore on November and cross fingers for good weather.

    Cheers for more travels!

  9. Zaida says: Reply

    Hello,

    I will travel novermeber 18-28th to Palawan. I plan to fly into Manila and then el Nido as the flight is one hour ish. Stay there for 3-4 days to island hop. From there fly back to Manila and then fly into Puerto princess and see if for a day if that. Then head to a tour to hit balabac island and island hope there to onuk and candarman. Is this enough time is there anything you can suggest. I may do a 5 day info you provided. Do I need the mayors signature to visit onuk? Thanks!

    1. Hi Zaida, you can ask your boatmen to assist you in asking the mayor’s permission personally or you can send an email at least a month before. Contact the tourism office for more info on this.

  10. Eli says: Reply

    Wow… Way back I was only allowed to stay in Rio Tuba. If I was just stubborn enough I would’ve discovered the place as well! Nice post and beautiful pics, Kat and Hali 😀

    1. Kat says: Reply

      Anong meron? Security issues?

  11. Thank you for a very Informative write up, it is certainly good to know what one should expect to see since some bloggers tend to overrate.
    I enjoyed and read all your blogs about Balabac.
    Cheers to more safe and fun travels.

  12. She says: Reply

    Hi! May I know if the rates of the tour are per boat or per person? There might be just two of us so I wanna know if it is still affordable.

    1. Kat says: Reply

      Hi She. The rate is per boat. If you read the costing I clearly stated that with a rate of P8000, 2 people will have to spend P4000 each. 🙂 I hope that clears up any confusion.

  13. Anonymous says: Reply

    hi kat.. is it possible to tour Balabac with my 3yrs old? and balak din kc namin mag el nido eh doable ba ang balabac and el nido for 8days?

    1. Kat says: Reply

      Hi, I guess it’s okay if you’ll only island hop in nearby islands like Onuk and Candaraman and if you’ll manage to get a boat with proper roofing. Some islands are too distant kase. For example, from mainland it will take you 3 hours to reach Balabac island where the lighthouse is located.

      Balabac and El Nido is doable in 8 days, but take note that El Nido and Balabac are on opposite sides of Palawan. It’s separated by at least 10 hours of land travel and another 4 hours of sea travel.

  14. Wow! Thanks for dropping by my space recently!

    It was really hard to look for good references for a DIY sa Balabac! Kinilig ako because yours gave a great deal of info! Now I can start planning… 🙂 thanks again!

    1. Kat says: Reply

      Oh, thanks for dropping by as well and you’re welcome!

      I’d love to leave a comment in your site but there isn’t a comment option when opened in the WP reader. 🙂

      1. Yeah… you will need to open the page to leave a comment. I’ll need to look for the settings in WP Reader to allow comments.

  15. Isla says: Reply

    Thank you So much for this! I just want to ask kung dun na kayo sa balabac kumuha ng island hopping tour? Me and my boyfriend are planning to go there this August 2016 and we would like to backpack lang 🙂 Joiners are welcome!

    1. Kat says: Reply

      Hi Isla! I already contacted Kuya Boboy weeks before our actual travel date. It’s okay if you’ll go there without an arranged tour yet. Just go directly to the tourism office for assistance. I have friends who went in Balabac without contacts and they encountered no problem naman.

      1. ivy says: Reply

        hi Isla! we’re also planning to go to balabac on aug. 27-29. have you already booked a package tour? pls reply 🙂

    2. ivy says: Reply

      hi isla! we wanna join for aug 27-29, 2016. do you still need joiners? we are a couple and we’re also in need of at least 3 joiners 🙂 pls pm me if interested. thanks! 🙂

  16. Oh my! This made me envy your trip! I always wanted to go to Palawan. I will take note of this one for out future travel even if I do not know what year that would be. Lol.

  17. Madz says: Reply

    Palawan is really a local dream destination of mine.This is the first I’ve heard of this island and I hope the garbage problem will be managed asap.This is a great and detailed guide thanks!

  18. Roxane de Jesus says: Reply

    Hi, my cousin and I are planning to go on an April 16-17, 2016 trip to Balabac. Anyone interested to do a DIY with us to lessen the cost of fixed expenses like island hopping? The more, the lesser.

  19. I’ve been wanting to go to Palawan. I find Boracay too crowded. I was not aware about Balabac. It’s so prinstine! Thanks for this article I also had an idea how much to save up.

  20. The place really looks beautiful!Hubby and I will be travelling to palawan this october. I hope we can include it in our itinerary. Thank you for breaking down the expenses it will be really helpful as we always go on a budgeted trip!

  21. I really want to visit the unspoiled beauty of Palawan .. this place has always been on my bucket list and your pictures make me so eager to push my plans this year!

  22. kath says: Reply

    Thanks for sharing your unbiased review on this place! I have been hearing my grandpa mention this place (Balabac) for so long since I was a kid. I didn’t know how beautiful this place was! I am going to Palawan this summer vacation and I am definitely am wanting to include this as my side trip with my family!

    1. Kat says: Reply

      You’re welcome namesake! 🙂 I’ll consider other places though if you’re with a kid, since the boat rides during island hopping take hours and the motorized boats often used don’t have any overhead tarp to protect the boat passengers from the sun.

  23. Last time, Air Asia had again their Piso Sale, I actually want to book for Palawan however, the fairs are too expensive so I decided to book for Kalibo instead. Reading this made me again think of booking a Palawan flight. I like it that you provided itinerary for this. I am a DIY traveller also. Uhum. Thanks to this blog entry as it will be a great addition to the very little material in the Internet about Balabac as you have mentioned.

  24. Lady Anne Louise Barrun says: Reply

    I’d never thought there are other beautiful Island in Palawan. All I know is, Coron, El Nido and Puerto Prinsesa. Your post is very detailed. I will bookmark this post because I’m planning for me and my husband to have a trip on our wedding anniversary. Balabac looks breathtaking and a must see.

  25. Missy says: Reply

    I can’t believe I have never heard of Balabac, it looks beautiful. It’s great to know one can visit paradise not needing to spend a fortune. But how sad to know that it is difficult to access info on the place on the Internet and that they have a garbage problem! I hope the local authorities can address these ASAP! I hope your post reaches them!

  26. Wah! Ang ganda! Will probably visit after the election season. Mahirap na 🙂 Thanks for sharing Kat!

    http://www.projectgora.com

    1. Kat says: Reply

      Thanks for dropping by, Milet! Yep, better wait until election season is over. 🙂 I hope the newly elected officials do something to boost the tourism in Balabac as well as guarantee safety for tourists.

  27. Awesome says: Reply

    Hi!
    I’m so glad i found this post. My friend and i are going to balabac in june so i need all the help i can get to prepare our itinerary. 🙂
    Btw, you mentioned you werent able to go to Onuk? May i know why?
    Were you able to get the permit to visit the island?
    This is our main target location kasi so i would like to know if we need to get the permit before arrival sa palawan para sure and kung sino best contact person.
    Thanks in advance 🙂

    1. Kat says: Reply

      Hi Awesome! You have to personally ask current Mayor Shuaib because it is his private property. So it depends if papayag siya. There are times he even lets visitors use his boat to go to Onuk Island.

      Meron rin kasing security issue ngayon since election season (e.g., risk of kidnappings in the area etc.). This is what we were told by the asst. tourism officer.

      When you arrive in Balabac, go to municipal hall to log your names in the local tourism register and also ask if Mayor is there. Seek assistance from your boatman, alam na nila yun. 🙂

  28. Kit says: Reply

    Kat! You’ve captured our trip right on point. And I am also glad to see our beach conversation here. hehe

    I think it also calls for everyone disposing their garbage properly – travellers and locals alike. Some of the trash seemed to have washed off from the shore and in the end it all comes back to us. Garbage is a big issue I think not only for Balabac but for other places as well. Though I am also hopeful that pretty soon the local tourism office will push for efforts to preserve the beaches since they are really that stunning. 🙂

    ’till our next adventure together! 🙂

    1. Kat says: Reply

      Kelangan talaga more awareness and discipline regarding garbage disposal. Palaging yan ang problema sa local tourism e.

      Yep, yep. See you soon! 😀

  29. Ranran says: Reply

    Hi Kath.. Good to see that you’re writing “again..” Hehe.. Refer ako dito sakaling mapadpad ako ng Palawan ha.. ; )

    1. Kat says: Reply

      Hi Ranran, thank you! (Napaisip ako if I know you in person, if yes then PM mo ko here haha.)

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