There are a lot of articles circulating the internet about the best islands in the Philippines or in the world, and Palawan has always been a part of those lists.
One netizen even commented that “Palawan is every beach lover’s dream destination” who regarded it as a “wonderful and magical place” referring to either El Nido or Coron –Palawan’s best—the first things that will pop into your head when someone mentioned Palawan. The two islands were the bread and butter of Palawan’s tourism for the past few years.
I’m here to give you something to rave about. Something worth putting into your bucket list: BALABAC
Only a few have heard of Balabac. Balabac is off the southern end of Palawan with only an hour or two away from Malaysia (so the local says, some of the foods and items they sell are from Malaysia) where virgin island beaches, super fine powdery sands, and impossibly turquoise water awaits you.
it was worth every single hour of the travel
not sure if this was the 3rd or 4th island we visited but this island has a semi-pink fine sands
angela’s sand bar, but as per Ate Helen this is really called MANSALANGAN SAND BAR, but one tourist named it after herself,
so I am re-branding this as Jae jae’s sand bar. Because I can. HAHA.
How to get there and travel time:
Have you ever heard of the saying “great things takes time”? Something as beautiful as Balabac will take lots of traveling hours before you can set your foot in there. 8 hours to be exact excluding idle times.
From Puerto Princesa, you need to ride a van going to Rio Tuba. The van has pillows inside which suggests that it is going to be a long ride. The van picked us up from our hotel in Puerto Princesa because Ate Helen, our tour operator is awesome like that. Her contact details is posted at the bottom of this article. Btw, we left Puerto Princesa at around 2:30 am. Yup, that early.
Travel time is approximately four (4) hours and the fare is P350 one-way.
From Rio Tuba, you need to ride the boat going to Balabac which only departs once a day. It leaves at 10 am or until the boat is full. But you need to be there as early as 6 or 7 am to secure seats. If the boat can no longer accommodate you, you’ll have to come back the next day.
The boat ride from Rio Tuba to Balabac is also approximately four to five (4-5) hours.
We got there at around 7 am and waited for the boat to be full, and for the coast guard to finish their security checks and departed at 10 am. Yes, that’s 3 hours of waiting time and 4-5 hours of travel time.
Where to Stay in Balabac:
There is no fancy resorts or accommodation there, the town only has two lodging houses. We stayed at JD Lodging House because they are the best in town. Lol.
The electricity in Balabac has cut off hours but JD lodging house has a generator so you have 24 hours of electricity.
Fan rooms= 500/day for double occupancy
Aircon rooms= 1000/day for double occupancy
Out and about:
Balabac is an archipelago of 31 islands/islets (what I read from Wikipedia at least LOL) and the only way to go in and out is by boat. You need to charter a boat to go island hopping and the price varies depends on your itinerary. The island hopping has full board meals already. We visited 5 or 6 Islands. I may have forgotten their names, but not it’s beauty.
Sand, Sea, Sky and just us — perfect!
Sputnik moment. We can’t believe how fine the sand was! Finer than Boracay!!!
Jakob, the German solo traveler we met
My major Moana moment
with my best friend (wishing Blanca, our other best friend, is here sharing this moment with us)
The highlight of our trip – Onok Island
Forget about the rest, Onok island is WHERE YOU NEED TO BE.
Going to Onok Island is a story on its own. Let me quote Kris, a solo traveler we met on our tour:
photo from Kris Guico
“Balabac Island was a dream destination I didn’t realize I had until I got there. It was quite an adventure, but the most unforgettable part is summarized in this photo: more than an hour of speed boat ride (the locally made vessel was barely 1×3 square meters in area, and vessel rim barely a foot above the water surface) with these four new friends trying to get to Onok Island. Of course splashes, and prayers, and curses for more than an hour, too. But we made it, so yey, we are still alive!
I am not saying this because the experience is still fresh. But easily, really, Onok Island is the best beach/island (and Balabac, group of beaches and sandbars) I have been to since I started traveling. Turtles, giant clams, sandbars, turquoise waters as far as the eyes can see, and the finest and cleanest white sand you can imagine. It was paradise.”
My friends says this is the real Maldives of the Philippines, contrary to those who are claiming that that title belongs to Manjuyod. At first, I agreed that this is and should be the Maldives of the Philippines but as I was browsing back and forth to our pictures, I’d like to say that ONOK ISLAND is ONOK ISLAND as it has it’s own beauty, serenity, picturesque and one of a kind experience. It is an island like no other. After all, you need all the right contact persons to get to this paradise.
Onok Island is privately owned by the Astami Family (Ex-Mayor now Vice Mayor Astami) and I want to commend them for taking traffic control seriously. They don’t just let anyone come and go. You have to make arrangements beforehand, and the entrance fee don’t come cheap, but I assure you that it is worth every penny.
Sir Toto “SB” Astami, also a public servant (Sangguniang Bayan) like his Dad Vice Mayor Astami–welcomed us with a fresh catch lobster.
2 of 3 bamboo lobsters
Too bad Wilson is allergic but good cause I ate his share. Hahaha
Once you are in Onok, you can:
- take long walks on the white sand
- bring cute outfits and take amazing pictures because every single place in the island is Instagram worthy!!!
- go swimming in the crystal blue waters
- snorkeling to watch marine biodiversities like fishes, corals and giant clams!!!
- There’s a sandbar when its low tide where you’ll see hermit crabs
- And if you’re lucky, you’ll see pawikans swimming around or walking around ready for a selfie
Didn’t I say bring cute outfits? Awra moment
Oh hello there you cute little fella
The Sputniks ready for our Giant Clam mission
the giant clams ; looking down on them felt scary (baka bumuka at higipun ako! ang laki e!!!) and magical at the same time!
I can’t believe we had the whole island to ourselves. We didn’t care that our skin is already protesting from too much sun. All five of us keeps on chanting how beautiful it is.
imagine that this bridge has petals of flowers all over it as you walk over to that cottage (probably arranged with more flowers and fabrics) in a flowy white maxi dress and saying I do to the love of your life.
OH YES. I HAVE TO GET MARRIED HERE.
But first, I need to achieve my goals so I can actually afford it. hahaha.
The right people to contact to enter this paradise:
Trust no one but Balabac’s own Queen – Ate Helen of Kinakuan Tours. Ate Helen is very accommodating, and is a joy to be around with, she treats her guests like family. She’s honest and straight forward. She even prepared Biko (sticky rice) as our dessert for our island hopping. BIKO!!! Who does that?
ang mahiwagang biko
Ate Helen knows everyone on the island from the kids up to the coast guards on duty. Most importantly, she is the key to Onok Island, as she is tour partners with Sir Toto. If it weren’t for her, we would never have met Sir Toto and have set foot to Onok.
Ate Helen can arrange everything for you hassle-free (van from PPS to Rio Tuba, Boat from Rio Tuba to Balabac, Balabac Island Hopping and full board meals, Balabac Accommodations, & Onok Island entry) just be a little patient with the delays in her reply as the mobile signal can be sporadic. Tourism is something very new and recent to Balabac, so please be patient if she can’t answer all your questions in one breath.
Contact Helen Kuan for Balabac Island hopping with Onok Island:
Helen Kuan | 0928 627 9421 | 0927 861 4166
Or if you want to go to Onok directly, contact Sir Toto “SB” Astami at 0935 155 6264
It will really depend on the length of your stay and the islands that you would want to visit. Our trip costs approx. P10,000/pax.
- 2 day Island Hopping with full board meals
- 3 nights hostel accommodations at JD Lodge
- Onok Island entry/day tour with lunch meal and snacks
- transportation (roundtrip van and boat)
- promo airfare from Cebu Pacific.
Warning: there will be others who will offer you lower prices for Onok Island entry but proceed with caution as this can be an illegal entry. Sometime ago, 4 people spoke and made reservations with Sir Toto to go to Onok but they cancelled on him last minute because someone else offered them a lower price for a day tour in Onok Island not knowing that their boatmen will still need to ask permission from the man himself.
He has already prepared for their arrival and bought all the ingredients for their catering needs for the said guests, but they cancelled. All that effort, preparations and food thrown to waste. To cut the story short, they left Balabac without seeing Onok. If you want a discount, just ask nicely. 🙂
What to remember:
The island does NOT have banks or ATM machines. Once you are in Puerto Princesa, withdraw the cash amount for your whole trip and some extra. But there is a Palawan Express money transfer where you can ask your friends and family to send you money in case you get short on dough.
Electricity has cut off hours. Good thing JD lodge has a generator so you’d have 24 hours of electricity. The A/C in the room auto shuts off at 6AM.
Mobile Data is weak. We weren’t able to go online while we were there. But a few days without the internet won’t kill you. Reconnect with nature, talk to your travel buddy, sleep early, or heal your sunburn. 😛
Our last dinner in Balabac 🙁
L-R: Dex, Kets, Me, Ms. Raya, Wilson, Sir Toto, Ate Helen, Kris
Dumating na tao, umuwing kahoy. 😀
In my book, Onok Island is Philippines’ best. Revisit your itineraries, bucket lists and beach goals, and pencil in Balabac group of Island. You may regret your sunburn later, but not the place where you got it from.
Ang ganda ng Pilipinas!!!