Balabac is one of the hidden places in the Philippines that’s worth a spot at the top of your bucketlist.

These remote islands are located in the often skipped southern half of Palawan. It is so far south that Sabah in East Malaysia, Borneo Island is nearer to Balabac than Puerto Princesa.

Is Balabac worth the effort to visit? If you’re a sun worshipper, then, it’s a big yes! See the photos below to find out why travelers are raving about its beautiful beaches and island views.

Balabac has been getting a lot of attention lately in social media. So, visit soon before this paradise becomes hidden no more… before it joins the ranks of El Nido, Coron, and Puerto Princesa as the top tourist destinations in Palawan.

Getting there from Puerto Princesa takes a full day, planning a trip is not straightforward, and there are many things you need to know before going.

This detailed Balabac travel guide includes a lot of helpful tips that will help you plan a trip in “The Last Jewel of Palawan.”

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To give you a glimpse of what to expect in Balabac, here are highlights of my trip:

https://www.facebook.com/detourista/videos/743996852426760/

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How to go — Touchdown at Puerto Princesa International Airport (PPS), located 1.5 hours south of Manila by plane. The islands of Balabac are located off the southeastern tip of Palawan Island & getting there will take one whole day if you go non-stop. The first leg is the land trip from Puerto Princesa to Rio Tuba in Bataraza, which takes around 4 to 5 hours. Then, a ferry ride to Balabac Island (poblacion). The sea journey from Rio Tuba to Balabac Island takes around 4 hours. If you want to travel by public transport, you will need to plan your trip around the once daily passenger boat departure. Ferry and shuttle/bus schedules are posted on the travel tips below.

Go to Balabac to see the Philippines’ best beaches — Balabac is paradise! The islands here are, to put it simply, in a class of its own when it comes to beautiful beaches and mesmerizing sea views. They really are worth the effort (and money) to see. If you’re looking for a reason to venture to the southern half of Palawan and go off-the-grid, Balabac will not disappoint.

Spend 5 days on a trip to Balabac — Considering the long journey from Puerto Princesa, you should plan at least a 5 or 6-day trip, especially if you want to go on the public boat. The first two days and the last day are mostly spent in transit, while the rest are whole day island tours. Scroll down for a sample itinerary that you can follow.

Arranging the perfect island hopping tour is not easy — Reason #1: Many of the islands are privately owned and some of the owners have set strict rules on who can or cannot dock on their island. I’ll be discussing this in more detail later in the guide, but the takeaway is that you might have to go with different boat operators if you want to see all of the best islands in Balabac. Reason #2: The islands are spread far apart. It may take one hour or more to get from one island to the other. So, you need to manage your time well if you want to fit all the highlights in two days. If the weather is not good, you might have to skip some islands, especially those that require open sea crossings.

Visit during the height of summer — Because of Reason #2 posted above, the best time to go to Balabac is during the dry season months of April and May when the sea is perfectly calm (most days).

Prepare to rough it out — Expect basic accommodations, transport, and facilities in Balabac. There are no luxury resorts here or fancy restaurants. You have to camp at the beach if you want to stay overnight on smaller islands or stay at lodging house-type places in the poblacion. Most of the time, you will not have mobile internet access. Many of the islands do not even have cell phone signal. There are also no ATM machines, so bring enough cash to last the entire trip.

Take necessary precautions before you go — Malaria is endemic in some of the islands in Balabac. Bring insect repellent and other means to ward off mosquitoes. Consult your doctor about necessary anti-malaria precautions needed, at least 2 weeks before your trip. There are also a lot of sand flies or “niknik” in some of the beaches. Be mindful of that too. Not all islands are infested with Malaria and sand flies, but remember, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Balabac tourist spots & things to do

1. Visit Camiaran “Pink” Island  — Yes, they exist! And you can find many pink sand beaches in the Philipines. I have been to a few, including Great Santa Cruz Island in Zamboanga City and Olanivan Island in the Sarangani Islands, Davao Occidental. Camiaran has the “pinkest” beach in the Philippines that I had seen so far. This small island is totally surrounded by sparkling sandy shores, one of the finest sand in Balabac and thriving coral gardens. It’s also a frequent nesting spot of sea turtles and birds.

Camiaran “Pink” Island, in Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

Camiaran “Pink” Island, in Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

2. Enjoy snorkeling — The seas in Balabac are rich with marine life. If you want to see beautiful underwater views, the best spots are Sicsican Island and Pulau Bato (Nasubata Reef).

Sicsican Island in Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

Nasubata Reef – Pulau Bato in Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

3. See Punta Sebaring Beach — Bugsuk Island is home to what may be the longest white sand beach in the Philippines. Many travelers who have stepped foot on Punta Sebaring agree that the sand is blinding white and powdery fine, even more so compared to White Beach in Boracay. Oh, and it is it’s over 3x to 4x longer!

4. Swim at Onuk Island  — This ring-shaped coral reef/atoll is filled with sapphire blue waters that stretch up to 4 kilometers from end to end. There’s a tiny islet in the middle with a long sandbar that’s perfect for sun worshippers. Once you land on the beach, you cannot help but get awe-struck the view of the insanely vibrant waters that seem to go on and on as far as the eye can see.

Onuk Island – Roughton Island in Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

5. Go island hopping — Balabac is composed of over 30 islands and islets. Do not just visit the spots mentioned above because there are a many other beautiful beaches and sea views to enjoy here. One of the best parts of island hopping in Balabac is getting from one island to the next and feasting your eyes on sapphire, emerald, crystal, and deep blue waters. Many of the beaches are also blushed with a faint pink similar to Camiaran Island. If you’re lucky, you might even encounter dolphins that like to follow passing boats.

Turquoise waters between Canabungan and Matangule Islands in Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

Canabungan Island in Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

Mansalangan Sandbar off the coast of Byan Island in Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

Candaraman Island in Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

Patawan Island in Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

Patongong Island in Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

Onuk Island – Roughton Island in Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

6. Climb to the top of Cape Melville Lighthouse — The main island of Balabac is home to a towering Spanish-colonial lighthouse, constructed in the 1800s to light the treacherous strait that separates the Philippines from the neighboring country of Malaysia. The structure remains intact. You can go up to the top for a breathtaking view overlooking Balabac Strait. If the sky is clear, you might even get to see the peak of Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo Island.

Melville Lighthouse view, in Balabac Island, Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

Marcos at Melville Lighthouse, in Balabac Island, Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

7. Land tour of Balabac Island — If you’re staying in Poblacion, Balabac Island, there are a couple of interesting spots to visit that can be reached by land including Indalawan Falls and Indalawan Beach.

Indalawan Falls, Balabac Island, Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

Indalawan Beach, Balabac Island, Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

Where to stay in Balabac?

You can either choose to stay at the Poblacion in Balabac Island or on smaller islands. There are lodging houses available at the Poblacion, Sebaring, and Bugsuk Island. Onuk Island also offers accommodation on stilt cottages. For other islands, you may have to pitch a tent and camp on the beach. Only basic accommodations are available in Balabac. The only island that I had found worth camping is on Camiaran “Pink” Island. Otherwise, stay at the lodging houses if you want to enjoy basic creature comforts.

Balabac hostels & lodging houses

1. MLK Lodging

Budget backpacker | Poblacion, Balabac

Fan single — PHP400 / room / night

2. JD Lodging (Sing and Swing)

Budget backpacker | Poblacion, Balabac

Aircon double — PHP1,000 / room / night
Fan single — PHP300 / room / night

Where to stay in Rio Tuba?

There are a couple of lodging houses in Rio Tuba. Most of them are 10 minutes away from the pier by tricycle. If you are traveling to Balabac on the passenger boat, you may need to spend the night here for the mid-day boat departure the following day.

Rio Tuba hostels & lodging houses

1. Three K’s Pensionne

Budget backpacker | Rio Tuba

Aircon triple — PHP 800 / room / night

Balabac itinerary

Here’s a sample do-it-yourself (DIY) itinerary that you can follow during your trip. Scroll down for the budget and list of expenses.

5 days Balabac itinerary

Day 1

10am — Arrival in Puerto Princesa Airport

10:30am — Puerto Princesa Airport to San Jose Terminal tricycle transfer

12nn — Puerto Princesa to Rio Tuba shuttle

4pm — Check-in at Rio Tuba accommodation

Rest in Rio Tuba

Day 2

6:30am — Tricycle to Rio Tuba pier

7am — Start Balabac island hopping tour

Patongong Island

Patawan Island

Mansalangan Sandbar / Anjela Sandbar

Punta Sebaring Beach, Bugsuk Island

Rest in Sebaring, Bugsuk Island

Day 3

7am — Continue Balabac island hopping tour

Canabungan Island

Secam Island

Snorkeling at Sicsican Island

Candaraman Island

Camiaran “Pink” Island

Rest in Camiaran Island.

Day 4

7am — Continue Balabac island hopping tour

Melville Lighthouse

Nasubata Reef / Pulau Bato

Onuk a.k.a Roughton Island

Arrival in Poblacion, Balabac Island

Reserve a seat on the passenger ferry to Rio Tuba. Ask the boat operator if they can do this for you. The earlier, the better.

Check-in at Balacac accommodation

Rest in Poblacion, Balabac Island.

Day 5

4am — Arrival at Balabac pier. Show up early to make sure your reserved seat will not be transferred to “waiting” passengers.

6am — Balabac to Rio Tuba ferry

10am — Rio Tuba to Puerto Princesa shuttle

3pm — San Jose Terminal to Puerto Princesa Airport tricycle

4pm — Arrival in Puerto Princesa Airport

Balabac budget

To help you set a budget, here are expenses you can expect to spend during your trip.

Expenses breakdownPricePrice per person. 3 people in group.
Puerto Princesa Airport to San Jose Terminal tricycle — Charter rate per tricycle.PHP100PHP33
Puerto Princesa to Rio Tuba shuttle — Fare per person.PHP450Same
Rio Tuba hostel — 1-night stay. Aircon room good for 3 people. Rate per room per nightPHP800PHP266
Tricycle to Rio Tuba pier — Fare per tricycle.PHP50PHP17
Balabac island hopping tour 3 days — Up to 3 to 4 people. Full-board meals. Rate per group for the entire 3 days.PHP12,000PHP4,000
Onuk Island day tour — Includes boat transfer from Balabac Island. Rate per person.PHP3,000Same
Balabac hostel — 1-night stay. Aircon room good for 2 people + 1 extra person.PHP1,300PHP433
Balabac to Rio Tuba passenger ferry  — Fare per person.PHP350Same
Rio Tuba to Puerto Princesa shuttle — Fare per person.PHP450Same
San Jose Terminal to Puerto Princesa Airport tricycle — Charter rate per tricycle.PHP100PHP33
Puerto Princesa Airport terminal fee — Domestic flight. Per person.PHP200Same

Here are the budget estimates for the 5 days Balabac itinerary posted above. It includes accommodation, food, transport, and tours. Flights/airfare not included. Some meals are also not included and the first night accommodation in Balabac.

Budget estimate per person3 people in groupSolo traveler
Excluding Onuk IslandPHP 6,232PHP 14,300
Including Onuk IslandPHP 9,232PHP 17,300

As you can see, you’re really going to think twice if you want to include Onuk Island in your itinerary. It’s going to make your trip a lot more expensive. If you want to travel cheaper in Balabac, you have to go with a group.

There are a number of boat operators that organizes packaged group tours, so contact all of them first before finalizing your plans. Make sure to ask them what spots are included in the package and what additional fees are needed to visit these islands. Especially if you are visiting Onuk Island.

The island hopping rate that above is not the price that me and my travel buddies for during my first trip. I got this price from rates typically posted by other bloggers. Boat operators may ask for a higher price if you want to include the (direct) pick-up from Rio Tuba and far-away islands.

Travel tips before you go

Read below for more tips on how to plan a trip in Balabac.

How to get to Balabac from Puerto Princesa via Rio Tuba

Option #1: By public transport / passenger ferry

1. Touchdown at Puerto Princesa Airport (PPS) in Palawan.

2. Ride a tricycle from the airport to San Jose Terminal in Puerto Princesa. Charter rate is PHP100 per tricycle, up to 3 to 4 people. If you want to do this cheaper, walk to the main road outside the airport rate and ride a tricycle to “Junction 1”. Tricycle fare is PHP8 per person. Then ride a jeepney to San Jose Terminal. Jeepney fare is PHP10 per person.

3. Ride a shuttle (van) to Rio Tuba. Travel time is around 4 to 5 hours. Shuttle fare is PHP450 per person. You may have to arrive in Rio Tuba, one day before to make sure that you will catch the next day passenger ferry to Balabac.

4. Ride a passenger ferry to Balabac. Travel time is around 4 hours. Boat fare is PHP350 per person. The ferries stop over at Bancalan Island pier, found nearer to Sebaring in Bugsuk Island, and make a final stop at Poblacion, Bugsuk Island.

5. To get around the other islands in Balabac, you will need to charter a boat and organize/join an island hopping tour.

Option #2: By private transport

If you want to maximize your itinerary. Charter a private boat and arrange pick-up at Rio Tuba pier. That way, you can start your island hopping tour straight from the pier and skip the once daily passenger boat.

Rio Tuba – Balabac Island ferry schedule

There is at least one departure from Rio Tuba to Balabac every day. If there are enough passengers, there may be additional departures available. The public boats have no fixed schedule and may depart from Rio Tuba between 9 am to 2 pm.

The return boat departs from Balabac around 6 am. Reserve your slot on the passenger boat from Balabac at least one day in advance as the passenger boats tend to get full quickly during busy days. Even if you have made reservations, show up at Balabac pier as early as 4 am to avoid losing your reserved seat to “waiting” passengers.

Puerto Princesa – Rio Tuba shuttle schedule

Public buses and shuttles depart from San Jose Terminal in Puerto Princesa. There are daily trips from 4 am (first trip) to 9 pm (last trip) with one departing almost every hour.

There’s no problem finding a shuttle on the return journey from Rio Tuba since there are a lot of transport operators waiting for arriving passengers at the pier.

Balabac package tours & boat operators

There are a couple of boat operators in Balabac that you can book for your island hopping tour. Many of them offer packaged tours that include full-board meals in addition to the boat charter.

Here’s a list of boat operators that you can contact:

Kuya Mark Anthony

+63 999 470 9484 | Boat/tour operator

Rombo Balabac Adventure by Kuya Renato Principe

+63 929 140 3125 | Boat/tour operator

Kuya Fidel

(+63) 918 2571 499 / (+63) 999 561 4998 / (+63) 995 933 3321 | Boat/tour operator

Kilometer Zero PH by Kap Andong

(+63) 920 421 4583 / (+63) 926 685 9095 | Boat/tour operator

During our trip in Balabac, we booked with Kuya Mark Anthony, a former Philippine Navy guard who had just started to offer island hopping tours around the islands.

He was the only one who offered transport on a speedboat. It’s a much faster boat so we assumed that we would be able to maximize our 3-day island-hopping tour & get to visit more islands than the pumpboat tours.

We had a great time during the tour, especially the beautiful spots we had seen, and the company of Kuya Mark and the crew.

It wasn’t smooth sailing all throughout though.

Before the trip, we had asked him several times if our package already included Onuk Island. We were confident with our decision to go with him because he confirmed and said “yes.”

When we were at our first stop in Balabac, he told us that the management of Onuk had just recently strictly enforced their policy of only allowing their own boats to bring visitors to the island. And, charging a separate, very hefty price for it (on top of our package with Kuya Mark).

I felt very frustrated after hearing this because it was exactly the biggest issue we wanted to avoid. Even though we are not from Balabac, we had already known about this issue months before the trip.

Then, I asked him when we would be able to visit Punta Sebaring. He told me it wasn’t part of our itinerary. Double whammy! These two are among the most beautiful spots in Balabac.

It was very unsettling to think about not being able to visit both of them… despite us having speedboat service, 3 full days set aside for island hopping and paying 2 times the usual price on the package.

After I told him about my frustrations, he made us decide if we wanted to skip the overnight visit at Camiaran Island and push a boat journey to Sebaring instead. We had to choose one over the other because they are quite far from each other and the sea waves, at the time, were too rough, so the travel time is much slower.

The sea waves were indeed rough, which is why I really advise a visit in Balabac during the height of the summer months when the sea is perfectly calm.

Long story short, we got to visit Onuk Island and spent an amazing night at Camiaran Island. We did not get to see Punta Sebaring.

If our itinerary had been planned well from the start, we would have been able to visit all the spots we wanted to go. Maybe with this experience, Kuya Mark would have a better idea on how to organize Balabac island tours in the future.

That said, we really enjoyed exploring Balabac on a speedboat and a live-aboard Lancha/Lantsa (traditional wooden boat). He’s the only one offering this, so it’s worth asking him for the package rates.

Kuya Mark and his crew at Camiaran “Pink” Island, in Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

On a Lancha (traditional wooden boat, approaching Camiaran “Pink” Island, in Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

Our modified speed boat service in Candaraman Island, Balabac, Palawan, Philippines

Are there ATMs in Balabac?

There are no ATMs in Balabac so bring all the money you need to fund the entire trip around the islands. If you run out of money, there is a Palawan Pawnshop in the poblacion that offers Cash Card / ATM Withdrawal service. You can learn more about this on their website. You can find ATMs in Rio Tuba, but you should still withdraw cash in Puerto Princesa or before your flight.

Is it safe to travel to Balabac?

Balabac has had a history of insurgencies/security concerns, but the situation there is far from the situation in some parts of ARMM. We did not feel scared for our security the whole time we were there. The islands are inhabited by peace-loving communities, both Christian and Muslim.

I’m not saying that it is totally safe to travel in Balabac. Like any other place that you visit, travel discretely, be polite to people you meet and always err on the side of precaution.

Should I be concerned with Malaria?

As mentioned earlier, Malaria is present in some of the islands in Balabac, not all. It’s something NOT to be taken lightly, so follow precautions by a qualified medical professional.

You will need to bring strong mosquito repellent lotion/spray. Make sure DEET (N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide) is one of the ingredients. Also bring additional layers of protection including mosquito repellent made with other active ingredients (like Citronella oil), mosquito nets (mosquitero) and thick full body coverups.

If you do decide to take anti-malarial medications. The first dosage should start two weeks prior to your trip.

Is it possible to go to Melville Lighthouse by land?

Yes, this was how I was able to visit the lighthouse during my trip. Travel time from Balabac Poblacion to Melville Lighthouse was around two hours per way.

Motorcycle (habal-habal) costs P1,000 per person, round-trip including a detour to Indalawan Waterfalls and Indalawan Beach. Half of the way was tolerable paved/gravel road, while the other was literally through woodlands, on very muddy paths.

Melville Lighthouse is a lot more comfortable to visit by boat. In case you want to go by land, here’s the motorcycle driver I went with:

Jason Corona

(+63) 950 501 6180 | Balabac motorcycle driver

Is Onuk Island worth visiting?

The short answer is yes.

I asked my travel buddies the same question and we all share the same sentiment. Onuk Island is without a doubt one of the most standout islands I had seen in my life but it’s NOT the most beautiful island in Balabac, in absolute terms.

Onuk is the best for casual swimming + enjoying mesmerizing views of insanely inviting waters. The turquoise/sapphire color of the sea stays clear and vibrant for kilometers past the sandbar.

Even if you do not get to visit Onuk, you will still be able to enjoy the view of vibrant seas that are just as beautiful when you cross from one island to another, including the approach to Canibungan Island.

With regards to snorkeling, we enjoyed Sicsican Island better.

Also, the sand at Onuk’s sandbar is not the finest nor whitest. The beach at Camiaran Island and Mansalangan Sandbar has finer sand.

Yes, Onuk is extraordinarily beautiful but you’re probably not going to feel like you’ve missed out if you skip the P3,000 per person day tour charge.

If you’re willing to pay, then go for it! If you want to spend the night on the island, the overnight package is P5,000 per person.

Balabac Islands and Islets

A partial list of islands and islets in Balabac.

1. Balabac Island — The main & biggest island. Site of the poblacion / town proper.

2. Bugsuk Island — Punta Sebaring Beach

3. Bancalan Island — A usual stopover on the Rio Tuba–Balabac Island passenger boat.

4. Candaraman Island — Popular beach camping site for packaged island hopping tours.

5. Camiaran Island — Also known as Pink Island and Comiran Island.

6. Pulau Bato Island — Rocky islet located at Nasubata Reef (atoll).

7. Roughton Island — Popularly known as Onuk Island. Onuk is the name of the grandfather of the family that currently occupies the island.

8. Patongong Island — Also known as Patunggong Island.

9. Patawan Island

10. Apo Island

11. Cardany Island

12. Canimeran Island

13. Sicsican Island

14. Mantangule Island

15. Pandanan Island

16. Ramos Island

17. Canabungan Island

18. Gabung Island

19. Byan Island — Mansalangan Sandbar / Anjela Sandbar.

20. Secam Island

21. Bowen Island

22. Lumbucan Island

23. North Mangsee Island

24. Salingsingan Island

25. South Mangsee Island— The southernmost island nearest to the Philippine-Malaysia sea border.

Extra Balabac travel tips

Avoid camping at Canibungan Island — This is where we camped during our first night. We now call it “mosquito island” because of the huge swarms of mosquitoes that feasted on our skin, even though we had bathed in mosquito repellent. They were so notorious, they can bite through thin clothing! Next day, we spent the night on Camiaran Island. It was paradise! No mosquitoes! We enjoyed cool island breeze the entire night :)

Do not trash the islands — The beaches of many of the popular stopover spots in Balabac are already starting to get littered with garbage. Please do not help in making the situation worse. Most of the islands do not charge entrance fees to pay for staff to clean up after visitors. Even if they do, we should all be responsible for keeping our beaches and islands clean. Let us all help in maintaining this paradise for future generations to enjoy.

Reminders for all visitors

Dispose of garbage properly.

If you see trash, safely pick them up and dispose of them properly.

Do not touch and step on corals.

Do not collect sand, stones, and corals.

Do not pick-up sea creatures and leave it to die on the beach including starfish.

If you are allowed to have bonfires at the beach, refrain from burning your trash, especially plastics. Avoid bonfires directly over sand as extremely hot temperatures may change its appearance. Also, make sure the fire is fully out before you leave.

Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.

Where to stay in Puerto Princesa

Puerto Princesa hotels & hostels

See top rated resorts, hotels, hostels & pension houses in Puerto Princesa. Click below to check rates, discounts & guest reviews.

1. Treffpunkt 5300 Hostel

Budget backpacker | Puerto Princesa

2. Charm Guest House

Budget backpacker | Puerto Princesa

3. Subli Guest Cabins

Budget | Puerto Princesa

4. Hibiscus Garden Inn

Budget | Puerto Princesa

5. Greenspace Palawan Hotel

Mid-range | Puerto Princesa

6. Microtel by Wyndham

Mid-range | Puerto Princesa

7. Sunlight Guest Hotel

Mid-range | Puerto Princesa

8. Best Western Plus The Ivywall Hotel

Splurge | Puerto Princesa

9. Hotel Fleuris Palawan

Splurge | Puerto Princesa

10. Princesa Garden Island Resort and Spa

Splurge | Puerto Princesa

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