BALABAC, PHILIPPINES — Long white powdery sand beaches. Sandbars. Exotic islands. Clear waters.
To say Balabac is a haven for adventurous souls is an understatement.
This town located at the southernmost tip of Palawan is not known to tourists visiting the province for several reasons.
First, most of the known tourist destinations in the province are in the northern part: El Nido, Coron, Taytay, and San Vicente, to name a few. Southern Palawan is mostly composed of either agricultural or mining towns.
Second, there’s no direct flight from Manila to the south, making it almost non-existent especially if you are not into off-the-grid destinations. Puerto Princesa, the provincial capital is five hours away from the tip-most land-connected village of Rio Tuba in the town of Bataraza, and Balabac is an island town five hours away by ferry from Rio Tuba. With its proximity to Sabah Malaysia, most of the household goods in this town have more of this neighboring country’s signature rather than that of of the Philippines’.
You could thank its distance to the main Palawan attractions though. For if not, this could have long been commercialized for its beauty, and captivating charm, comparable to other popular Palawan islands, if not better.
One Bugsuk Island’s sandbar for instance is a gem on its own. The island of Punta Sebaring is three to four times longer than the famous White Beach of Boracay. Some of its sandbars serve as the place of rituals for native fishermen-members of the Pala’wan (a group of indigenous people in Palawan) and Batak tribes here, especially during the early era, where no new businesses have founded their bases on this part of the province.
A decade ago, this writer once witnessed tribal rites here, during the height of the indigenous people’s plight to have the right to access to the areas: the islands and waters encroached by business tycoon’s Danding Cojuanco’s Jewelmer Pearl Farm. Yes, that famous Jewelmer pearls that land the ears and necks of your favorite celebrities are grown in the waters of Balabac. But let us not go that route for now. For this post, let us just tell you why you should explore the islands of Balabac.
But first, a disclaimer. Balabac is not for everyone.
If you are a city person who would rather spend time on the beaches of either Boracay or El Nido or a well-known resort by the day, and stay in your air-conditioned room at night than in a deserted island, Balabac is not for you.
Though there are transient houses and inns in the town proper, Balabac locals would encourage you to try sleeping in a tent or a non-air-conditioned rooms, if not on a hammock with the birds chirping or the waves breaking by the seashore on a remote island. No amenities. No electricities. No cellphone signal. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city life.
In short, Balabac is for the adventurous, the backpackers, the wanderers, the brave souls, and anyone who would dare explore the world without any expectations. It is best explored during the months of April and May, during the peak of summer season in the Philippines, when the sea is perfectly calm as traveling to the island town requires traveling via open seas.
How To Get To Balabac
Like going to many other known exotic jewels though, getting here is not easy. Upon arrival at Puerto Princesa City airport, you would need to travel by land for four to five hours to Rio Tuba, from which you will need to take a ferry and travel for around four hours to reach the town’s Poblacion (town center), either by a public or a private boat you can rent from Rio Tuba.
If you are traveling via Manila, exploring this side of the province requires a long journey so better allocate at least five days to a week maybe: two days to spend for traveling from and to Puerto Princesa, and the other days touring the town’s islands, and taking some night rests on the islands per se.
Mobile access here is limited, and most of the islands do not have cell sites so expect not to be bothered by anyone back home without turning off your mobile phones. You can save those instagram-able photos for later postings as well. There’s no ATM machines on the island so make sure to have enough cash with you. You would be needing around P7,000 to P15,000 cash as entire budget, depending on your activities, of course.
While Balabac is home to beautiful islands, most of them are scattered apart so consider the travel time, and the arrangement with your tour guide or boatmen.
As a word of caution, please bring insect repellent against mosquitoes as some areas could be infested by Malaria. Aside from mosquitoes, sand flies or “niknik” could also irritate you so better prepare for them.
Brace yourselves for days of eating, island hopping, swimming, and taking a lot of photos. You have all the time in the world for yourself and to commune with nature while wondering where on Earth you’ve been. We would be detailing possible itineraries in a separate post but for now, here’s a short list of must-see and must-experience parts of Balabac:
While we droll over whitesand beaches, we are of course amazed by colored ones as well so we think you would love Camiaran “Pink” Island. In terms of being pink, most travel bloggers agree that Caramian possesses the pinkest among other pink beaches in the Philippines. Surrounded by sparkling sandy shores, Camiaran offers the finest sands ready to kiss your feet. Go snorkling and admire its thriving coral gardens. Dare if you must but you won’t help yourself but use the hashtag ‘blessed’ the moment you encounter up close and personal the endangered sea turtles (Pawikans) that make the island part of its vast home. If you are to spend a night on an island, it is best to spend one at Camiaran as there’s not much mosquitoes to bother you.
The moment you set foot at Punta Sebaring Beach, you would understand why we’ve been raving about it from the beginning of this post. Around three to four times longer than Boracay’s White Beach, Bugsuk Island is home to one of the longest powdery fine white-sand beaches in the Philippines, and for a moment in your life, it is yours alone (or maybe with a few colleagues) to enjoy.
Onuk Island, though private, is another wonder of Balabac not to be missed (see featured photo). This ring-shaped coral reef/atoll is filled with sapphire blue waters that stretch up to four kilometers from end to end. There’s a tiny islet in the middle with a long sandbar that’s perfect for sun worshippers. Coordinate with your tour guide or local contact properly on how to best enjoy time in Onuk and its nearby islands.
Composed of over 30 islands and islets, you have a lot of island hopping to do while in this part of the seas. Sapphire, emerald, crystal, and deep blue. Name the colors of waters you want and Balabac is ready to offer you its many parts. From white to pink and to other colors, its beaches are ready to welcome you anytime of the day as long as you are ready to be sun-kissed (if not totally toasted) while touring its wonders. In your luckiest days maybe, Dolphins and Whale Sharks will be ready to welcome you as well.
You will be fascinated by the sandbars and the islands, that’s for sure. But in your most unexpected moments, even the sunrise and sunsets in this town offers a beauty beyond measure. Let these photos speak for themselves.
At the town proper, enjoy the view of Balabac Strait from atop Cape Melville Lighthouse, a towering Spanish-colonial lighthouse constructed in the 1800s to light the treacherous strait that separates the Philippines from Malaysia. During summer, when the skies are clear, you could just be treated with a view of the peak of Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo Island. Take note also that Balabac is not only about islands. Touring around Poblacion, pay a visit to Indalawan Falls and Indalawan Beach.
Unexplored beaches. Pristine bodies of waters. Scenic islands. Majestic sunsets. Name what nature’s wonder you’d like to experience in a day and you might just have it here.
Balabac offers an experience of a lifetime, especially for those who would dare to find some solace, outside the boundaries of the cities or the luxuries of known resorts. Whenever you feel it’s time to appreciate nature more, travel this side of the Philippines and go home with a heart full of memories and wonders.