Yes, a Balabac Palawan itinerary and travel guide!
Last 2015, Hali and I were exchanging stories with a 60-year-old fellow traveler, who then told us we should visit Balabac. 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 in the Philippines 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 2016 for our first summer escapade (and also Hali’s birthday celebration — he said age isn’t important). (Related Read: Balabac, Palawan: A memorable summer experience.) It was a bit challenging to arrange a DIY vacation to Balabac. At the time of our trip, there was very little material in the internet especially with regards to island hopping prices and contact details.
This is a complete travel guide to Balabac, Philippines. So much has changed since our last visit. We’ve updated this post with the latest information for the current year (2019), including info on packaged tours to Balabac so you’ll have a hassle-free travel. Enjoy!
How to get to Balabac, Palawan
All in all, it will take 2 days from Puerto Princesa City to commute to Balabac. Going back from Balabac to Puerto Princesa will take at least 1 day.
Option 1: From Puerto Princesa to Rio Tuba
From Puerto Princesa, make your way to San Jose Terminal. Ride either a bus or van going to Rio Tuba. Travel time is 4 hours, fare for the van is P300 per person. Commuting via van is faster since there are lesser stopovers, although you will still need to wait for other passengers. The last schedule for the bus is 7PM and the van at 6PM. As such, it’s safe to be at the terminal at around 5-6PM to make sure you won’t miss a ride to Rio Tuba.
From Rio Tuba, you need to ride a boat to Balabac. Travel time is 4 hours, boat fare is P350. The schedule of the boat is anywhere from 9AM to 12 noon, it leaves immediately once all seats are taken.
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.
If you arrive at night in Rio Tuba, you can sleepover at the nearby White Heaven Lodging which is just near the port. From there, take a tricycle to the port (P20 per person).
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.
Similarly, there is also one schedule for the boat from 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.
Option 2: From Puerto Princesa to Buliluyan Port
Depending on your itinerary, you can also opt to travel from Puerto Princesa to Buliluyan Port instead of Rio Tuba. Travel time is 4 hours. This port is closer to some islands in Balabac, including Patunggong Island and Tangkahan Island.
5 Days itinerary to Balabac, Palawan
Here’s an updated itinerary that you can follow via PPS-Buliluyan Port.
Arrival in PPS
Check in at accommodation
2AM – Early wakeup call
3AM to 7 or 8AM – Travel from PPS to Buliluyan Port
Start of island hopping – Patonggong Island, Patawan Island, Starfish Island, Candaraman Island
Pitch tent at Candaraman Island overnight
Island hopping – Onuk Island, Sicsican Island
Overnight at Onuk Island
Island hopping – Mansalangan Sandbar, Braggie Mangrove, Punta Sebaring
Overnight at mainland Balabac
Travel back to PPS
Please note that this is just a rough itinerary. Confirm your island hopping itinerary to your boatman and customize if you want, especially if you’re in an exclusive tour.
Due to the long commute time, it’s recommended to stay 5-7 days in Balabac, Palawan.
Islands to visit in Balabac, Palawan
Here are the islands you can visit in Balabac:
- Bancalaan Island
- Camiaran Island (Pink Sand Beach)
- Onuk Island (or Onok Island)
- Candaraman Island
- Sicsican Island
- Ramos Island
- Canabungan Island
- Nasubata Island
- Punta Sebaring
- Patonggong Island
- Patawan Island
- Mansalangan sandbar or Angela’s sandbar
- Bobby’s Island
- Secam Island
- Cabcabun Island
- Balabac Island – Melville Lighthouse
The most recommended islands to see are: Camiaran Island, Candaraman Island, Punta Sebaring, Mansalangan sandbar and Onuk Island/Onok Island.
Going to the Melville lighthouse is no longer allowed (updated as of 2019).
See the islands we visited in our island hopping guide to Balabac.
How to get to Onuk Island
Onuk Island is now open to the public and can be visited as part of island hopping packages.
Packaged tours to Balabac
Boat operators now offer packages (including transfer from Rio Tuba, accommodation, island hopping and meals), so make sure to ask about the rates given your group size.
Here are the current packages offered by Kuya Boboy (updated as of June 2018), who was our tour guide:
- 2-day package – P3500 per person
- 2-day package, including day trip to Onuk Island – P4500 per person
- 3-day package, including day trip to Onuk Island – P5500 per person
- Boat rental only (good for 6-10 people) – P7000
For updated rates or specific queries, contact your tour guides directly. We try to update this guide as often as possible, but it’s best for you to confirm for yourself.
Balabac, Palawan: Contact Details
If you’ll be staying overnight in Puerto Princesa prior to your Balabac trip, you can check out the lowest prices of accommodations in PPS here.
There are more available accommodations in Balabac than listed here and other boat operators as well.
Where to stay in Rio Tuba
White Heaven Lodging
– P250 per room for 2 pax
Dewelyn Lodging House
– Contact: 0999034854
White Heaven Lodging is near the port of Rio Tuba so it’s the recommend to stay here.
Where to stay in mainland Balabac
Note: If you’re availing of a packaged tour, usually accommodation is already included. If you want to stay longer, here are places you can book:
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
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).
Boat operators in Balabac:
Kuya Onyok: 0912 399 3543 / Kuya Boboy: 0907 389 2313 (Our boat operators)
Kuya Fidel: 0999 561 4998
Kuya Motet: 0915 7340 809 | 0939 3637 676
Other contact details:
Kuya Jerry, shuttle service Puerto Princesa City – Rio Tuba: 0927 705 5910/0946 260 6260
Update as of January 2018: Ate Bebeth is no longer part of the tourism office, and I’ve removed her contact detail above.
Budget and expenses
Budget depends on the package you choose. For 5-6 days stay good for 4 people, a safe budget would be P9000-10,000 per person.
Balabac, Palawan: FAQ Section
I’ve added this section as an update. Ever since posting this Balabac Palawan itinerary and other features, 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?
As far as I know, summer is the best time to visit Balabac. 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?
I haven’t actually thought about this until after I received an email from a reader asking about security issues in Balabac.
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.
As of 2019, tourism in Balabac is growing and currently there are no further security issues in this area.
What are the things you should bring?
- Insect repellent
- Dry bag
- Flashlight and powerbank
There are islands in Balabac that are home to sand flies (or niknik), such as Canabungan Island and Punta Sebaring. As such, applying insect repellent is a must.
Bringing a drybag is of course a must when island hopping so your items won’t get wet.
Flashlight and powerbank are nice to have especially when you’re camping in an island, which as limited electricity.
What alternatives to Balabac do you recommend?
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, not to mention the world-renown Puerto Princesa Underground River. 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.
If you want to see other off-the-beaten beaches in the Philippines, we recommend setting off to Calayan Island in Babuyanes in the north.
If you want to get an idea of other great attractions, here’s a list of the best places to visit in the Philippines.
Our trip to Balabac in 2016
We’d taken this trip last 2016. During that time, there were still limited packaged tours (there were only 2 operators at that time) so we did it the traditional DIY style.
We availed of island hopping for P7500-8000 for 2 days plus P500 for including Punta Sebaring. Here was our costing:
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
Hali and I went here along with four travel companions, and we spent about P5000-6000 each for a 6-day trip.
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).
I would like to thank everybody who’d been helpful in answering my queries and giving me necessary contact details for creating this Balabac travel guide 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.) There was a lot of laugh trips and fun conversations all throughout our vacation.
Of course, I’m not going to forget greeting my beloved, Hali, a happy, happy birthday! Half of the fun in traveling is being with you.
P.S. Heading to Palawan soon?
Don’t forget to watch our summer experience in Balabac, Palawan, in this video:
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