Balabac – the southernmost municipality of Palawan and a melting pot of Philippine and Malaysian race and trade. Its pristine and virgin is naturally protected by its distance from the portal of entry in Palawan, Puerto Princesa City. You would need to endure a long land and sea travel just to reach this island group that is truly captivating.
Originally should be explored by summer of 2017, but by chances, found a cheap airfare to Puerto Princesa City and booked for the month of November 2016.
Visual Route of our Island Hopping Activity:
Here is our itinerary for the two-day exploration in Balabac, Palawan in photos.
The preceding story at this link.
As the boat engine revved and mooring unchained, the excitement builds inside me, after a seemingly endless last night’s bus ride which is utterly backbreaking, and 2 and a half waiting at the port, here we are starting another ride to Balabac group of island. With the noon sun half baking the people inside, the fresh air from the sea starts to seep in and fill the passenger area, what a relief! Sir Alex told us, “This would be a long travel, better sleep if you can.” Those words I did not easily absorb to myself as I enjoyed the scenery slowly changing from a coastal community to a full verdant mountainous terrain with the sea in between us.
As the afternoon wind started to dry my eyes, I positioned myself to the boat and went to slumber. The ocean waves feels like being cradled that time we travelled and it helped on my nap.
An hour has passed after checking my watch, I can now see islands uncovering themselves from the horizon. I immediately snatched my camera from my bag and went to topload myself, note that it is 1:00PM and sheer heat of the sun is above – tanning starts now. I took snapshots of the island as we pass by them. Sir Alex and other passengers joined us. He shared some of his experiences on the islands and kept on telling the names of the island.
The islands appeared like an oasis from a desert of blue turning to emerald and turquoise. Such marveling that my eyes seemed not to blink, from afar you can see the white sand beach and utterly houseless islands. My adventurous self is shouting inside of me, I want to go there! Now!, but all I can do is wait for the ferry boat to dock in Bancalan Island.
Shortly, we are arriving in Bancalan Island, a halfway ride to Balabac Island. This is we would alight and meet our boatmen. We bade our goodbyes to Sir Alex and Mam Lorna as they continued their commute to Balabac Island, another hour worth of sea travel.
As we set foot on the platform, I instantly notice the turquoise water that surrounded it, it is so inviting that I would just hand over my bag to my travel companion and just jump to the sea, but already, Kuya Buboy and Kuya Onyok are already there waiting for us.
As we left Bancalan Island, our two-engine motor boat roared away from the port area and we are bound to our second island – Patawan Island. After approximately half an hour as our boat seemingly flew above the sea that left us soaking wet, we arrived in an enchanting inhabited island rimmed with creamy white sand – Patawan Island.
Less than an hour from Patawan Island, we arrived on a stretch of Sandbar about stone throw away from a nearby island, it is almost sunset and the white sandbar slowly blazed to yellow. Luckily, it was low tide when we set foot and the waters around are almost knee-deep. We enjoyed the sandbar by snorkeling on the other side and rest running around it. Be mindful though in running around the shallow waters as there are white few sharp white stuffs and creatures around camouflaged with the white sand.
Already inhabited, this island has houses both on land and water. As you pass by going to Punta Sebaring, you would notice the houses on stilts above the shallow waters.
Punta Sebaring, BUGSUK ISLAND
One of the major island of Balabac group – this is where you would find of the longest stretches fine white sand beach in the Philippines – Punta Sebaring.
As we arrived on the shores of Punta Sebaring, the sun started to kiss the horizon and the blue sky started to blaze deep yellow to orange.
Truly, Sebaring is one of the best beaches I have been. With the beach facing the east, expect a glorious sunrise should the day would not be overcast – which we had.
After having our dinner prepared by Kuya Buboy and Kuya Onyok, travel companion had prepared himself bonfire which he enjoyed much doing. Few moments, needed a shut eye moment to recharge myself of the whole days activity.
Alarm fired at 4:00AM, and went out to check the sky, the sky is studded with stars more than we can see in the Metro, such an amazing moment. By the way, the beach area has no electricity and running water. You have to rely with your flashlights and scoop water out from the well near the cottage area. Bugsuk Island is one of my best island experience – I highly recommend to sleep here. Warning on mosquitoes, so be ready with insect repellant.
After finishing our breakfast, we head out to the sea again to visit another island.
Less than an hour worth of sea travel from , I took nap on the boat under the 9:00 AM sun with the lifevest as my sun protection. Luckily, the waves are tame compared yesterday, we were almost smooth sailing. Kuya Onyok woke me up signalling that we are about to moor in Canabungan Island. As I peeled my eyes, another captivating island with central verdant green rimmed by wide sand with interesting driftwoods naturally decorating the shore. Crystal clear waters turning to cerulean rimmed the island and stray starfishes dotted the shallow waters. After some snorkeling over the seagrass area, we decided to move to Onuk Island.
Less than an hour and a half of sea travel, we arrived in Onuk Island, one of the best islands in Balabac and a must visit. It was near noon as we arrived and can feel the intense heat of the sun onto my skin. Never ever forget your own supply of sunblock and your permit to visit the island.
We are welcomed by the island caretakers and shared our lunch with them. I explored the shallow waters under the stilted houses and this island boasts its pristine coral garden and giant clams. The waters around it, shallow or deep, are teeming of underwater life, so be ready with your own snorkel and fins.
The island is bordered with fine white sand with a central verdant core where you can find shade against the sun. You can walk around the island in less than half an hour. There are driftwood scattered and you can see some stuff washed ashore.
It was past 3pm when we left Onuk Island, with a heavy heart, we bade goodbyes to the caretakers of the island. Truly, Balabac is worth the long travel! Despite its pristine beauty, the tranquil state it exudes has great impact to visitors.
It is past 05:00 AM, Sir Alex, the husband of Mam Lorna, is already waiting outside our homestay to bring us to the sea port in Balabac. With a heavy heart, we stepped inside his tricycle, a clear sign that we are departing Balabac island. We really had enjoyed the care of the Mortega couple for our Balabac adventure.
Before the 6:00AM Departure, we had ourselves listed with the passenger manifest in the wee hours of the morning. We bought like snacks to fill us during the 4 hour sea journey back to Rio Tuba. As waiting for the ferry to depart, I joined some of the passengers at the accessible roof and waited for the sun to pierce through the horizon. Again, mother nature never failed to showcase another glorious sunrise! .
When are you visiting Balabac? Tell me, I can share you more of my experiences…
Balabac Travel Budget
|TRANSPORTATION and LODGE COSTS for BALABAC ISLAND HOPPING|
|Jeep and Tricycle Ride to San Jose Terminal||₱44.00|
|Ordinary Bus to Rio Tuba (Roro Bus)||₱540.00|
|Tricycle ride from Rio Tuba terminal to Port||₱80.00|
|Passenger Boat Fare to Bangcalan Island||₱400.00|
|Island Hopping for Two Days||₱8,000.00|
|Lodge in Punta Sebaring, Bugsuk Island||₱600.00|
|Lodge in Balabac||₱500.00|
|Passenger Boat Fare back to Rio Tuba||₱700.00|
|Van from Rio Tuba to Puerto Princesa City||₱700.00|
|divided by 2 persons||₱5,782.00|
Travel Guide and tips in going to Balabac, Palawan
- It is quite a challenge for a DIY or Do It Yourself travel to Balabac since you have to pre-arrange your boat for the island hopping, lodging in Punta Sebaring and seek permission to visit Onuk Island. Contact Ms. Lorna Mortega at +63 946 557 6503 (Smart/Talk and Text/Sun) or +63 906 690 9547 (Globe/TM) for your convenience.
- Balabac municipality is a group of islands located below the southernmost tip of Palawan main island, be prepared with a long land and sea travel.
- Hajija Transport offers van transport at Php 350.00 per head from Puerto Princesa up to Rio Tuba port and vice versa. They have a terminal in Puerto Princesa City and beside Rio Tuba pier. Travel time is 3-4 hours and two stopovers. You can contact them at +63 909 724 0847 for inquiries and reservations. If possible, choose the seats behind the driver, this has the most leg room space. Other van services costs Php 450.00 in Puerto Princesa bound to Rio Tuba.
- Door to Door transport – that is the difference of Hajija transport with other transportation services where they will drop passenger only in their terminal or along the way. Hajija transport would ask where you desire to be dropped and they would plan their route within the city to give convenience to passengers.
- If you are really in tight budget, take the RORO Bus at San Jose Terminal and try to haggle for the Php 270.00 fare but be ready for the longer travel time. (See Bus schedule matrix below for 2016). In our case, it was almost 7 hours for the 1:00PM trip.
- Once in Rio Tuba, you will alight in the town proper which is 10 minutes trike ride away to the sea port. You can lodge in either in the town proper or near the port. Once in the port, there are food stores and groceries where you can buy your toiletries and necessities. Some Malaysian products are evident already in Rio Tuba.
- Bring powerbanks and extra batteries for your camera. There are no electricity in the islands except in some major islands like Balabac Island which currently runs from 12 noon to 6 AM the following day.
- There are lodges in Balabac town proper, at Php250.00 per person located right in front of the Municipal Hall.
- You can tour around the Balabac town through a tricycle ride or motorcycle. Luckily, Ma’am Lorna lent us a motorcycle and just spent a Php 40.00 litre of petrol. Roam around the town and nearby places and savour the simple and tranquil island life.
- There are no ATM in Balabac, but there are money transfer agents like M Lhuillier and Palawan Express, should you run out of cash.
- Passenger Boat bound to Balabac leaves at around 10AM to 11AM, in our case, departed 11:30AM.
- Expect the coastguards to inspect before it departs. In our case, they even video recorded the passengers, out of foolishness, I wave at the camera not knowing it is from the coastguard initially.
- The boat would alight some passengers in Bancalan. That is halfway through Balabac. Fare is Php 200.oo. In our case, we alighted here and met our boat operators, Kuya Buboy and Kuya Onyok, brothers of Ma’am Lorna.
- Expect interboat transfers in the open seas as the passenger boat do not pass to other islands. A rare sight for me.
- Ask and confirm if your boat operator if they have arranged your visit in Onuk Island.
|RORO BUS PALAWAN|
|Daily Bus Schedule 2016|
|El Nido||Rio Tuba||Sicud|
|4:00 AM||5:00 AM||4:00 AM|
|6:00 AM||7:00 AM||8:00 AM|
|8:00 AM||9:00 AM||10:00 AM|
|10:00 AM||11:00 AM||12:00 NN|
|12:00 NN||1:00 PM|
|200 PM||3:00 PM|
|4:00 PM||5:00 PM|
Things we missed doing and visiting
- See a live pilandok (mouse deer)
- See the waterfalls
- Visit other islands
Major islands (source: Wikipedia)
- Balabac – CHECK!
- Bugsuk – CHECK!
- Pandanan – CHECK!
- Bancalan – CHECK!
Minor islands (source: Wikipedia)
- Canabungan – CHECK!
- South mangsee
- North mangsee
- Visit Melville Lighthouse