You know, I’d been to a lot of islands in the Philippines and still nothing quite compares to Onuk Island in Balabac, Palawan. It’s out of this world. If you’re island hopping in Balabac, this is the one place you shouldn’t miss.
Onuk Island (also spelled as Onok Island) is a privately owned island in Balabac, about an hour away from the mainland. It was originally featured in the winning photo of George Tapan for the National Geographic Channel. Today, it’s one of the highlights when visiting Balabac.
My experience in Onuk Island
I first went to Balabac in 2016 with my boyfriend and a few other companions. During that time, Onuk Island still wasn’t open to the public and tourists could only visit after getting a permission from the owner (at that time, it was Mayor Shuaib). Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to visit. We even extended our stay for another day (in risk of missing our return flight to Manila) but was again denied.
I always knew that I’d go back here.
This 2019, I went on a tour with Gala PH. The itinerary includes a 3-day stay in Balabac including an overnight trip to Onuk Island. To say that I was excited is an understatement.
We arrived in Onuk Island at about 2PM in the afternoon, when it was low tide. Our boats couldn’t dock in the island so we had to transfer to a smaller boat. Even then, it was difficult for the boat to go through so, at one point, several of us had to go down and help push the boat.
From our position, we could already see the crystal-clear water surrounding Onuk Island. One of the tour coordinators said it was like a giant swimming pool.
We finally arrived in the island. There were roofed structures on stilts and a camping ground on the forested area on the left. As it was low tide, the surrounding area was still a sandy beach.
Later that day, everything would be filled with water. I love this detail, I love that during high tide you can come down the stairs directly to the sea.
There are a few things you can do in the island: take a nap in a hammock, swim, snorkel.
We’d already snorkeled in the nearby reef called Roughton Reef, so we snorkeled right in front of the island next. There were few patches of corals and seaweeds where you can see fishes and giant clams.
As the night came, we walked around the island and saw blue bioluminescent planktons in the sand. I’d already seen glowing planktons on my trip to Malalison Island and Isabela, but it was my first time to see blue ones in the sand. It was an amazing experience.
There are also sea turtles in Onuk Island, but you can only see them during high tide which is usually in the morning. The sea turtles come to feed on the sea grass. I was told the sea turtles are elusive to humans and it’s difficult to swim after them. However, during high tide, you can simply stay at the deck and wait for their heads to come up for water.
At night, we had a dinner of fish and crabs. Then everyone went to sleep in hammocks or tents. I didn’t bring anything, so I simply slept in the open cottage. Thankfully, it was windy so it was easy to sleep. I even had to use my cover since the temperature dropped in the early morning.
We woke up early the next morning to see the sunrise. I would’ve wanted to stay here a little bit longer, but we had other islands to see so we packed up and went shortly after. Nonetheless, our quick overnight trip to Onuk Island is one of the best highlights of my trip in Balabac.
How to get to Onuk Island
For detailed information on how to get to Balabac, read our Complete Guide to Balabac.
You can visit Onuk Island as part of the island hopping tour. In our experience, there are times when visitors are not allowed and sometimes the island is open to guests but only for a day visit (instead of overnight stay). Make sure to confirm this with your local guide ahead of booking your tour.
The island is surrounded by coral walls. It’s beset to get here before low tide so the boat can dock on the shores. Otherwise, you will need to take a long walk or transfer to a smaller boat to reach it.
There are limited rooms in Onuk Island where you can stay overnight. You can also set up a hammock in the cottages or pitch a tent in the camping ground.
There is a common CR in the camping ground.
If you want a proper room, you can stay in mainland Balabac (1 hour away) where you can find casual resorts and inns.
Things to do in Onuk Island
Here are the things you can do in Onuk Island.
- Beach bum. Relax in a hammock in the cottages while looking at the blue ocean. Nothing beats this experience.
- Snorkel. There’s a snorkeling area in front of the island where you can see fishes and giant clams. You can also go to the nearby Roughton Reef. During high tide, you can also see sea turtles around the island. Make sure to bring your own snorkel and fins.
- Watch out for bioluminescent planktons. You can see then among the sand at night.
- Witness the Milky Way. As Onuk Island is a bit far from main towns, the Milky Way is visible here at night.
- Enjoy fresh seafood. Seafood is aplenty and cheap in Balabac! If you’re on a packaged tour, these will likely be included in your meals.
Things to know before you go
- Onuk Island is a jaw-dropping destination in southern Palawan. It’s ideal for backpackers and nature lovers. If you’re used to hotel/resort comforts or can’t live without the internet, this isn’t for you.
- There is no store in the island. Bring everything that you need when you visit.
- There is electricity from 6PM to 6AM only. During this time, you can charge your gadgets and cameras.
- There is limited freshwater stock for washing up. If there are rains prior to your visit, the water tanks may be full.
- There is weak mobile signal in the island.
Book your tour to Onuk Island
I went on a packaged tour to Balabac via Gala PH. Gala PH offers joiner tours (scheduled dates) or exclusive tours (min 10 pax) to Balabac, Palawan.
Contact: Gala PH – Facebook
Has this feature on Onuk Island in Balabac, Palawan been helpful to you? If you have any comments or questions, let us know in the comment section below!
What to read next:
Visiting Palawan? Check out the rest of our guides in Palawan:
- Ultimate Guide to Palawan
- Top Things to Do in Palawan
- Puerto Princesa: Guide to Puerto Princesa Underground River and Island Hopping in Honda Bay
- Coron: Travel Guide to Coron
- El Nido: Travel Guide to El Nido
- Balabac: Travel Guide to Balabac, Island Hopping in Balabac and Onuk Island
- Port Barton: Port Barton: Guide + 3 Days Itinerary, Top Things to Do in Port Barton and Island Hopping in Port Barton
Katherine Cortes is a 30-something freelance writer/editor. She likes beaches, snorkeling trips, and relaxing staycations (preferably with bath tubs!).