Here’s your ultimate travel guide to Balabac, Palawan! Including a sample 5 days itinerary you can follow for your trip.
Last 2015, Hali and I were exchanging stories with a 60-year-old fellow traveler who then told us about Balabac. For the uninitiated, Balabac group of islands is a relatively unknown summer haven for backpackers seeking unspoilt beaches and preserved local culture. In my opinion, it has the best beaches you can find in the Philippines.
Balabac 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). 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.
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
The closest airport to Balabac is Puerto Princesa Airport. From there, you need to travel to either Rio Tuba port or Buliluyan port and then ride a boat to Balabac. It will take you at least a day to get to Balabac.
Option 1: Via Rio Tuba
From Puerto Princesa, ride a trike or jeep to San Jose Terminal. Tricycle fare from the airport is P120. If you walk outside the airport to the main road, tricycle fare is P70-100 per ride and jeepney fare is P12-15 per person.
Then ride either a bus or van going to Rio Tuba. Travel time is 4-5 hours. Commuting via van is faster since there are lesser stopovers, although you will still need to wait for other passengers. Fare for the van is P300 per person.
- Puerto Princesa to Rio Tuba: 4AM to 5PM
- Rio Tuba to Puerto Princesa: 4AM to 3PM
Meanwhile, the last trip schedule for the bus is 7PM. Regardless of which transport you choose, 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 P370. 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.
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.
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: Via Buliluyan Port
From Puerto Princesa, ride a trike or jeep to San Jose Terminal. Then ride a van to Buliluyan Port.
Fare is P600 per person. Travel time is 5 hours.
Depending on your itinerary, you can also opt to travel from Puerto Princesa to Buliluyan Port instead of Rio Tuba. This port is closer to some islands in Balabac, including Patunggong Island and Tangkahan Island. If you want to go straight to island hopping, it’s best go via Buliluyan Port.
When is the best time to visit
Summer is the best time to visit Balabac. As per Anj of Kilometer Zero PH, ber-months are still okay but during the amihan season (from December to February) the waves can get particularly rough.
Islands to visit in Balabac, Palawan
There are different islands you can visit in Balabac. These are:
- Bancalaan Island
- Camiaran Island (Pink Sand Beach)
- Onuk Island (also called Onok Island)
- Candaraman Island (Starfish Sandbar)
- Sicsican Island
- Ramos Island
- Canabungan Island
- Nasubata Island
- Punta Sebaring
- Patunggong Island
- Patawan Island
- Mansalangan sandbar
- Matangule sandbar
- Bobby’s Island
- Secam Island
- Cabcabun Island
- Tangkahan Island
- Timbayan Island (rock formation)
- Balabac Island – Melville Lighthouse
In my opinion, the best islands to visit are: Camiaran Island, Onuk Island/Onok Island, Patawan Island, Candaraman Island, Mansalangan sandbar, Punta Sebaring and Tangkahan Island.
Take note that the islands in Balabac are mostly privately owned, so public access may change.
As of 2019, visiting Melville Lighthouse in no longer allowed. Candaraman Island is also closed but it is still possible to visit the sandbar.
Click here to read about Guide to island hopping in Balabac, Palawan.
5 Days itinerary to Balabac, Palawan
Here’s a sample 5 days itinerary to Balabac, Palawan. You can use it as a rough guide when you visit Balabac.
Coordinate with your boatmen since they know which are the best hours to visit the islands. For instance, places such as Punta Sebaring, Onuk Island/Onok Island and the sandbars need to be visited during low tide, which changes per season.
Arrival in Puerto Princesa (PPS), buy food/goods
Overnight travel from PPS to Buliluyan Port
6-7AM Arrival in Buliluyan Port
Start of island hopping – Patunggong Island, Patawan Island, Starfish Island, Candaraman Island
Overnight camping at Candaraman Island
Island hopping – Sicsican Island, Onuk Island
Overnight camping at Onuk Island
Island hopping – Mansalangan Sandbar, Braggie Mangrove, Punta Sebaring
Overnight at mainland Balabac
Travel back to PPS
Due to the long commute time, it’s recommended to stay 5-7 days in Balabac, Palawan.
Packaged tours to Balabac
Boat operators offer packages (including accommodation, island hopping and meals), so make sure to ask about the rates given your group size.
Island hopping tours
Here are the current island hopping packages (updated as of 2019) by Kuya Boboy, who was our tour guide. The rate includes island hopping including visit to Onuk Island, meals and accommodation.
- P2500 – per day, per person/group rate
- P4000 – per day, solo traveler
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.
- Kuya Onyok: 0912 399 3543 / Kuya Boboy: 0930 9822 412 (Our boat operators)
- Ate Lorna: 0906 690 9547/0946 557 6503
- Kuya Fidel: 0999 561 4998
As said above, Kuya Boboy and Kuya Onyok were our boat operators and we highly recommend them. If you decide to get their services, please tell them Hali and I (Katherine) say Hi. 🙂 Ate Lorna is also a relative of Kuya Onyok/Kuya Boboy; she also arranges packaged tours to Balabac.
Joiner tours/exclusive tours
If you’re looking for a joiner or exclusive tour for your group, I also recommend Gala PH by JV Francisco. Gala PH arranges joiner tours to Balabac, including transfer from PPS to Balabac and vice versa, island hopping, accommodation and meals.
I went with Gala PH on my second visit in Balabac in 2019. I had a blast, food was overwhelming and overall I highly recommend them as a tour company.
Where to stay
Staying overnight in Puerto Princesa? You can check out discounted inns/hotels in PPS here.
Here are the main accommodations you can book for your trip to Balabac, Palawan.
Where to stay in Rio Tuba
White Heaven Lodging
– P250 per room for 2 pax
Dewelyn Lodging House
– Contact: 0999034854
Pring Pension House
– P300 – fan room with common CR
– P700 – AC room w/o breakfast
– P900 – AC room w/ breakfast
– Contact: 0926 5844 805
White Heaven Lodging is near the port of Rio Tuba so it’s the recommended to stay here.
Where to stay in Balabac
Here are the places you can stay at in mainland Balabac.
JD lodging (Sing and Swing lodge)
– P500 – fan room with common CR; for 2 pax
– P1000 – AC room for 2 pax
– Contact: 0910 662 0073
– P500 per night for 2 pax
– Contact: 0939 517 6169
Mely Bechayda Pension House
P500 – fan room with common CR
P250 – per person for big rooms with own CR;
Contact: 0926 404 9171
Biga-Biga Beach Resort
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).
There are also islands where you can find resorts/camping grounds. Some of these are:
- Candaraman Island
- Canibungan Island
- Matangule Island
- Punta Sebaring (Bugsuk Island)
- Onuk Island/Onok Island
If you’re availing of a packaged tour, accommodation is already taken cared of.
Things to know before you go
Here are the things you should know about before you go:
- Bring all the cash that you need; there is no ATM or bank in Balabac. The nearest one is located in Rio Tuba.
- Be prepared to go on rough backpacking, i.e., camping on islands. You can also stay in mainland Balabac, but going to/from here when you island hop might be time consuming, which is why the usual itinerary includes staying overnight in islands.
- Mobile signal is non-existent or weak in most places in Balabac.
- You can buy Malaysian goods such as mi goreng noodles as pasalubong in mainland Balabac or Sitio Marabun, a local community on stilts which you’ll pass by going back to Buliluyan Port.
Things to bring on your trip
- Insect repellent
- Dry bag
- For camping: Tent/hammock, flashlight and powerbank
- Snorkel set/fins
There are islands in Balabac that are home to sand flies (or niknik), such as Punta Sebaring. Make sure to bring insect repellent and balm for insect bites.
There’s a lot of snorkeling/freediving sites in Balabac. However, there are no rental stores in this area so you should bring your own.
Here are other contact details you may need:
- 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.
Additional: 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.
Is it safe to visit Balabac?
When we visited in 2016, we found out thru inquiries in our blog that there are security issues in Balabac. However, it is our personal experience that Balabac is safe for foreign and local tourists.
As of 2019, tourism in Balabac is expanding and there are currently no security concerns about visiting here.
Which places are similar to Balabac?
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.
Thank you to everyone who helped me in creating this guide! If you have updated information, please let us know thru comments/email so we can update this post as well.
Has this Balabac Palawan itinerary and travel guide been helpful to you? Feel free to like and share. Oh and post your comments below! 🙂
P.S. You might also be interested in these:
Here are related posts about Balabac:
Here are other places we’d been to in Palawan:
Don’t forget to watch our summer experience in Balabac, Palawan, in this video:
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