A guide to Balabac island hopping in Palawan

Balabac island hopping - Candaraman Island

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

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.

Canabungan Island

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.

Canabungan island in Balabac
Doing a series of personal photo-ops in Canabungan Island. (Photo by Hali)

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 in Bugsuk Island
“Let us dance in the sun, wearing wild flowers in our hair.” At Punta Sebaring, Bugsuk Island. (Photo by Hali)

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.

Candaraman 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.

Candaraman Island in Balabac, Palawan
Candaraman Island from afar. (Photo by Hali)
Candaraman Island in Balabac, Palawan
No houses in sight. We rode a boat to reach the caretaker’s hut on the other end of the island. (Photo by Hali)
Candaraman Island in Balabac, Palawan
Floating in clear heaven. Sand bar in Candaraman Island during high tide. (Photo by Hali)
Candaraman Island in Balabac, Palawan
Hello starfishes! (Photo by Hali)

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

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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33 Comment

  1. An oi says: Reply

    Could you consider discussing about safety and any issues on your visit in that prestigous island? Do they have any cultural occasions during summer?

    1. It’s generally safe but also watch out for travel advisories. Balabac has a local history of kidnapping and being a rebel hideout, along with other issues. I’m not aware of any cultural occasion but perhaps you can ask the tourism officer for confirmation.

      Read more about safey and other details here:
      http://www.taraletsanywhere.com/balabac-palawan-itinerary/

  2. T Island has the best rock formations and the perfect place to shoot landscape pictures. I roamed around the island and captured breathtaking pictures

    1. Haven’t heard of that before, though we knew there were other islands for visiting. Thanks Montoya! 🙂

  3. Anonymous says: Reply

    would it be safe to travel solo in the area? any accomodations nearby? thanks you!

    1. Kat says: Reply

      I knew a lot of people who traveled there solo… I think so, yes. I actually posted a travel guide for this. The link is above. 🙂

  4. Nina says: Reply

    Wow, photos look amazing but some of them really look like they were taken on Zanzibar. specially the Candaraman Island, identical to Prison Island.

    1. Kat says: Reply

      Really? I’ll have to google those places. 🙂

  5. 31 islands… Woe that sounds crazy and amazing. The pictures looks so beautiful. I have a soft spot for beaches in my heart i just love them. If I ever get a chance I am definitely ginna visit this place. As always you guys look perfect in all these pictures.

  6. I am ashamed to say that i have never heard of Balabac! But it looks amazing. I really liked the lighthouse and the pictures of the starfish! I would definitely consider going island hoping after reading your post.

  7. I have a friend who backpacked in Balabac and after seeing her photos, I was stunned and I felt the urge to visit the place soon.

    And your post came just in time, this is very helpful when I plan my travel. Bookmarked!

  8. I love this post about the Philippines! It is definitely on my bucket list of places to see. You have some great photos too.

  9. Ooh, I want to go! I love that first compilation of photos that has the horse and lighthouse…stunning. I love that the breeze is moving.

    1. Kat says: Reply

      Thanks, Corinne. I think you’re referring to the carabao. 🙂

  10. Reading all the lovely posts about the idyllic beaches of Philippines including this one makes us more determined to visit this lovely country at the earliest. I see that there are so many hidden gems and hope they do not lose any of their allure owing to irresponsible tourism.

  11. pswdarlene says: Reply

    Wow! Congrats for having toured some of Balabac’s islands. I wish to be able to go there one day soon too. It’s good that these places get exposure but it would be even better if we constantly remind our readers regarding responsible tourism. 😉

  12. curated1ifestudio says: Reply

    Punta Sebaring, Bugsuk Island looked absolutely incredible! I so much wish I joined you! (next time extend the invite? 😉

    I also adored how you have written at the end of your article how to plan for a island hopping tour; it’s tips like this that lack from so many travel blogging websites! Well Done, I’m looking forward to more of your work! 🙂

  13. Raffa says: Reply

    It looks like such a paradise. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful place. I really want to go to the Philipines and your post is only making me want more!

  14. Klaudia says: Reply

    Paradise is here !!! Thanks a lot for sharing this stunning post ! What a beautiful place ! These photos are amazing , makes me dream away ….

  15. WOW! Thank you for taking me to this very wonderful spot in Palawan. I’ve been planning a Palawan trip for ages but this time I will give it a go. It is very nice of you to put all the details beneficial for 1st time traveler like me. Nice photos too.

  16. Such an awesome destination! I’ve only been to Coron in Palawan. Never heard of this place before. I’ll definitely add this in my list of must-visit places in Palawan because I’ll definitely be back there!

  17. OMG!!! Ang ganda!!! I’m just waiting for my plane ticket and I was so lucky to open this. We’ll be there on May 21-25. I am so exciteeeed to experience it, too! To see this majestic island and be able to promote Philippines.

    1. Kat says: Reply

      Enjoy your vacation! There are other islands in Balabac that we haven’t explored yet, I hope you get to visit them. Nasubata Island, for instance, is a must-visit for those who want to see different species of birds. There’s also one called Mangsi Island, if I’m not mistaken, that our boatmen suggested but it’s too far from the usual Balabac island hopping route. Ask your boatmen which islands are best to visit na lang. 🙂

  18. Madz says: Reply

    Oh wow! I’m so envious! Palawan is my ultimate local travel destination! I hope this island will remain as clean as it is in your pics when I visit!

  19. I’ve been to Palawan twice but obviously there’s still much to explore including Balabac. I’ve never been there but one of my friends did and she’s really raving about it. I can see in your photos. My god it’s absolutely breath-taking!

  20. What a beautiful place! There’s so many great places in PH to visit talaga. It’s quite alarming though that some of the islands were owned by politicians

    1. Kat says: Reply

      I thought so, too. But then again I don’t know much about the background of the islands in Balabac so I can’t comment. Hopefully in the future these islands will still be available for tourists. 🙂

  21. Wow! I’ve never heard of the islands you’ve mentioned until now. Philippines is truly amazing! Anyway, I’m wondering how to go to Balabac. What commercial flight did you take to get there? Is mobile signal for major networks i.e. Globe and Smart available in that area?

    And by the way, we envy you guys that you can travel without any chaperone We’re also couple bloggers not married yet, but we’re not allowed to travel alone. How we really wish… Hahaha! We’ll stay tuned for your other posts.

    1. Kat says: Reply

      Hi Me-an, we took a flight to Puerto Princesa. I wrote directions on how to get to Balabac here, including expenses:
      http://www.taraletsanywhere.com/balabac-palawan-itinerary/

      My network is Smart and I was having intermittent signal. Our friends with Globe sims didn’t seem to have any problem, if I remember correctly.

      I guess I’m lucky with my parents that way. 🙂 Oh and I’m glad to have found another pair of couple bloggers! I only know of a few, seems couple blogging isn’t really that widespread eh.

  22. Everything looks so beautiful in the Phillipines!!! But I’m so scared of boats, so I’m not sure this kind of tour is one I could stomach – literally. I find it fascinating that people live on these tiny islands so far from a big city. There’s just nothing like this in the US.

    1. Kat says: Reply

      Thanks for dropping by Michelle! It fascinates me as well. When we were in Candaraman Island, I asked one of the caretakers about their lifestyle. They harvest food from their own farm, apparently, and has a small solar panel to light up the place at night. Other items they need they buy from the mainland.

  23. Your post is very good for the tourism in the Philippines, as well as awareness. Until this post, I never knew about these southern Palawan. These are very beautiful beaches and seem to be untouched by too much commercialism that has soured Boracay.

    1. Kat says: Reply

      I’m hoping to promote Balabac since I think it is also deserving of some tourism love and it’ll be of great help to the locals. As you said in a comment I hope that the local government will be able to keep commercialism at the minimum if the place is to be developed. 🙂

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