Balabac has so much to offer in terms of island hopping experience. There is a total of 31 islands in Balabac, Palawan. Many of these are home to communities that constitute the 20 barangays in this municipality, and many still that offer pristine beaches for those seeking off-the-beaten summer destinations.
Hali shot too many beautiful photos of our Balabac island hopping experience, and honestly it’s very difficult to choose just a few. I would post everything here if I could.
Island hopping in the southern edge of Palawan
Of the islands in Balabac, Onuk Island is probably the most sought after. It is a private property of Mayor Shuaib, and you need to get permission from him personally to visit the islands. Ask assistance from your boat contact to talk with the Mayor. Currently, Onuk Island is off-limits to packaged tour operators. As such, the best chances of visiting Onuk Island is through going via a DIY trip.
Since we haven’t visited Onuk Island due to security issues this coming election, I’ll just focus on the islands that we’ve personally been to.
Melville Lighthouse in Balabac Island
Getting to Melville Lighthouse takes a 2-hour boat ride from Balabac mainland. We passed by a dreamy farm land with towering coconut trees and carabaos lazily grazing in the open pasture. We stopped by the caretaker’s house to log in our names. We flipped through the logbook and there were just several names listed. It seems there haven’t been many tourists in this area for the last years.
We also bought fresh coconuts from the caretaker. It was a refreshing respite from the sunny weather.
The lighthouse in Melville is an 1892 Spanish piece. It is declared as a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. It’s perhaps the most beautiful lighthouse I’ve seen, looking as if it jumped right out of a fairy tale story. Creeping vines cover the exterior of the century-old lighthouse. And this is coming from someone who, a few posts back, wrote that she wasn’t fascinated with old lighthouses.
Up in the lighthouse, there’s an overview of the Balabac Island and beaches beyond. You can also see a portion of Sabbah, Malaysia from up the lighthouse.
The Melville Lighthouse no longer functional. Instead there’s a newly constructed tower visible from where the Melville lighthouse stands. There is also another one being built beside the Melville Lighthouse, but taking photos is prohibited for security purposes.
Camiaran Island is dubbed Palawan’s pink beach. Similar to Sorsogon‘s Subic Beach, the sand in this island turns a light shade of pink when wet. As the country only has a handful of pink beaches, Camiaran Island is a favorite island hopping destination in Balabac, Palawan.
I’ve been told that there used to be a number of pawikans taking shelter in this island. If you’re lucky, you may still be able to see one for yourself.
There used to be residents in the area, but now the island merely serves as a stop for regular fishermen.
When we were nearing Canabungan Island, Hali commented how the waters near the shore look clear as that in a pool. True enough, the water was an inviting green and then turned a light aqua color when our boat docked at the shore. The white sand is soft to the feet.
Our boatmen collected woods and cooked our early dinner for us here. It was nice gorging on crabs while watching the sunset give beautiful colors to the sea. See? This is what vacation is like.
We originally planned to stay here overnight, but as the night took over, white fat sand flies started coming out. We took out repellent oils and lotions and requested that our boatmen take us to the island across, Bancalan Island, and that’s where we stayed through the night on our first day of Balabac island hopping tour.
Unfortunately though we don’t have that many photos in Canabungan Island because we spent quite a while taking photos of me, which I specifically requested from Hali for my Facebook profile picture. :p
There is a residential community in Canabungan Island. As such, there are a few trashes in its beach.
Punta Sebaring, Bugsuk Island
A large portion of Bugsuk Island is under private ownership and off-limits to travelers. (Actually, it seems that many of the islands in Balabac are privately owned, in particular by politicians.)
Still, visitors can stop by a part of Bugsuk Island: Punta Sebaring. Just make sure to ask permission from the barangay captain first and log your names in the register.
Punta Sebaring has a quiet ambiance and powder-white sand. There’s also a multitude of small starfishes hidden in the sands. We walked around the beach in sandals and observed the starfishes. Some of them are on top of each other. I was going to make a joke but nah. :p
The main beach for travelers is just across the house of the barangay captain. There are houses in stilts nearby, and white katala birds land on patches of sand where there are no people.
Going to Punta Sebaring costs an additional fee and it’s 3 hours away from Balabac mainland. It’s not usually offered on a 2-day Balabac island hopping tour because of the distance, but I suggest not missing this island.
If there’s any island among those listed here that will convince you to visit Balabac, it’s Candaraman Island. Candaraman Island has a wide stretch of sand bar that exposes itself during low tide. It has very clear waters, and tons of large starfishes can be found in the sand.
Travelers usually stay in the sand bar. The water near the shores in Candaraman Island is full of sea weeds, but the sand is still powdery soft.
We stayed in an open cottage in Candaraman Island while our boatmen grilled fishes and cooked shrimps and large prawns for our lunch the traditional way — by gathering sticks for wood. We also made a detour at the farthest end of the island to buy fresh coconuts from the caretaker for P10 each.
I recommend spending at least half a day in Candaraman Island. It’s also less than an hour away from Balabac mainland, so if you want to go back the next day it’s easy to do so.
Sicsican Island was the last one we visited in our 3-day Balabac island hopping stint. We asked our boatmen about the origins of the island’s name, but as they have answered, “Ganyan na ang pangalan niyan nung pinanganak kami.” I’m just going to assume that Sicsican Island is named as such because it is teeming with corals.
We snorkeled in Sicsican Islands and saw small groups of fishes, young jellyfishes called sperms (transparent in color and apparently immediately die when held) and sea urchins squeezed in between corals (possibly waiting for unaware victims). Where we stayed, the water was only hips to chest high.
We decided to ditch our life vest and just swim free-style. It was easier this way because the waves will pull you away when wearing a life vest, and you really have to watch where you’re going lest you want to step on some rock-hard pieces of corals.
As said, the corals in Sicsican Island are hard or stony and can easily graze the skin.
Planning your Balabac island hopping tour
If you want to make the most of your trip in the shortest time possible, you can island hop for 2 days in 7-8 islands. The itinerary normally looks like this:
First day: Melville lighthouse in Balabac Island; Camiaran, *Onuk, Candaraman, Sicsican Islands
Second day: Ramos, Canabungan, Nasubata Islands
It will cost you about P7-8,000 to tour this islands. There are also individual quotations if you want to visit select islands.
The general rule is the more islands you want to visit, the more expensive boat hopping cost is.
Most of travel acquaintances I’ve talked with followed this itinerary. Although it’s sulit, you have to be consciously aware of the time to be able to cover all islands in a span of 2 days. If you’re the type of traveler who likes to linger rather than take selfies and go, it’s better to choose only selected islands to include in your itinerary.
You can also include Punta Sebaring in your Balabac island hopping tour for an additional fee. In our case, we added P500 because it’s off the usual route and is quite far from Balabac mainland. It’s likely you’ll miss going to the other islands if you decide to visit Punta Sebaring, so a better option is to extend your stay for another day.
Of these, my favorite Balabac island hopping stops are the Melville lighthouse in Balabac Island, Punta Sebaring in Bugsuk Island and Candaraman Island.
In our case, we stayed for 3 days in Balabac. On our first day, we island hopped to Melville lighthouse in Balabac Island, Camiaran Island and Canabungan Island. Our boat operators (Kuya Boboy and Kuya Onyok) have relatives in Bancalan Island, and we were welcomed for the night. On our second day, we went to Punta Sebaring in Bugsuk Island. On our third day, we spent the whole day swimming in Candaraman Island and snorkeling in Sicsican Island.
Balabac, Palawan, offers more off-the-beaten islands than listed here. Hoping to visit every one of these one day.
P.S. You might also be interested to read about our own summer experience in Balabac and a full travel guide about Balabac, Palawan. The latter includes other details necessary for planning your own trip, including contact details. 😉
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