With the clearest turquoise water and unspoilt shores, Balabac is one of the less visited destinations in the Philippines that deserves a spot on top of your travel bucket list. Here’s a quickie blog with nitty gritty details on how I reached the Balabac Group of Islands. But first, a little information muna about the place.
Balabac is a 2nd class municipality situated at the southwestern tip of Palawan province. Surrounded by the rich water of Sulu Sea, Balabac is a group of 31 islands and islets blessed with unspoiled fine sand beaches, wide sandbars and rich marine life. As per record, there are only about 40,000 inhabitants scattered around the islands. The province got much of its recent popularity after being featured by GMA’s Jessica Soho. As the show mentioned, this group of islands is our country’s last of the last frontier.
How to Get to Balabac – DIY Style
The municipality of Rio Tuba is the known gateway/commercial port with public boats traveling daily to Balabac main island where most of the community is located.
Puerto Princesa City — 6 hours –> Rio Tuba by bus + Rio Tuba — 3 to 4 hours –>Mainland Balabac by boat.
Public buses leave Puerto Princesa City (Palawan) from San Jose Terminal starting at 4AM. Fare is at P275++ for non-aircon bus and P450++ for aircon shuttle or bus, travel time is approximately six (6) hours.
From Rio Tuba, A public boat departs daily at around noon to mainland Balabac. Travel time is approximately four (4) hours and fare is P450 one-way. Please note that there is no fixed schedule of boat departure as it depends on sea condition and passenger traffic. Best to be at Rio Tuba as early as 10AM. You may also opt to stay overnight at Rio Tuba town. Basic pension houses at P 300-500/room can accommodate you.
Balabac Main Island Accommodation As recommended by a friend, JD lodging: (0910 662 0073) at P400 per night for 2 pax.
DIY Island Hopping from Balabac Mainland. To go around the sub islands, the only mode of transport is by boat. There are no public boats that go from island to island since most locals here own their own motorised boats. Chartering a small boat (4 pax-6 pax) from the locals usually starts at P5000 per day. Lodging houses can recommend this to you.
If you intend to stay outside of mainland Balabac, expect to homestay or with guided camping for a fee. It is advised that you pass by the municipality tourism desk upon arrival and have yourself registered. Small amount may be imposed to visitors in the coming months, as Balabac Tourism Board is already being put up at the moment.
Budget for 4 days 3 nights? Probably around P 7,000 to 9,000, assuming you’d share the boat rentals with 4 -6 pax.
Pre-arranged Tour Style – I Prefer this!
Considering its isolated location and limited facility, Balabac is relatively new to the tourism industry. Tourism standards are yet to be formalised. For convenience, as well as safety, I HIGHLY recommend joining pre-arranged tour to take you around the islands. A number of independent tour providers offer “island camping” packages with rides, insurance and on board meals for P 10,000 to P 12,500, 4 days,three nights. Check out Biyahe ni Josemanuel on facebook for recommendations.
What to Expect. As a relatively isolated destination, do not expect fancy accommodations and the comforts you’d find in Boracay. Balabac is more on the rough side for the adventure seekers. Clearly, it is not a destination for everybody at the moment. In addition, there are no ATMs in the Island. Bring enough cash with you; preferably small bills.
Best Time to Visit. Summer . March to May when the sky is clear and the water is calm. Imagine island hopping with a nagbabadyang typhoon…. rainy season is a no, no!
Safety. Security concerns have been raised in the past, particularly on foreign travelers (you may google these issues). As such, joining a pre-arranged group tour an advantage for safety and monitoring.
The importance of Insect Repellent Lotion. Some of the stops during the island hop have lots of mosquito and sand fleas. More to that, some parts of Balabac experienced Malaria scare last December 2017. As a precaution, bring your off lotion everywhere you go. Sleeved tops and long pants are also recommended, especially at night.
Mobile Networks. Mobile networks were said to be moderate 2G on the mainland, but most of the islands have none. Prepare to disconnect with your social media hang ups.
Toilet and Water Supply. When camping, expect the most basic toilet there is. Deep well freshwater on the islands is very limited. As such, limit your flush and bathing requirements to the minimum.
Electricity. Electricity at the mainland is said to be up to 12 midnight only. For island camping, solar power is utilised to supply only basic light and gadget charging between 6 to 10 PM.
Snorkeling. Balabac offers the best snorkling sites I’ve visited to date. You can clearly see the corals from the boat as the water is super clear and calm, hindi mo na kailangan bumaba. As a safety reminder, never do snorkeling on shallow water. Only do this when the reefs are ideally 3.0 meters away from you.
Checklist on Things to Bring
-A Lot of Sunblock (Organic/Reef Friendly Please!)
-Insect repellent lotion , moisturizing lotion, skin cooling mist spray
-Rashguard / Aqua Shoes
-Long sleeves / leggings
-Flash light / head lamp
-Powerbanks and extension wire
-Camera / Go pro (Having a drone would be perfect!)
-First Aid Kit
-Sleeping bag ,Extra food/Snacks/Canned goods if you’re going camping.
Here’s a short video blog from by Balabac Tour. Enjoy =)