Exploring the paradise: Balabac in the South of Philippines

Since the year 2019, I had a dream: a visit to the breathtaking islands of Balabac. However, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that my plans had to be postponed indefinitely.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2023, an unexpected opportunity presented itself. A friend, whom I knew from Twitter, extended an invitation to join their group on a trip to Balabac. I never met her, and I didn’t know any of the other participants. But I chose to join the group to Balabac within some hours. I decided to confirm my attendance, and soon realised that I was the only Westerner in a group composed of 8 Filipinos and a Thai. To add a familiar face, I invited Maria, a trusted friend from Bantayan Island who I had traveled with before.

An impressive Sandbar in Balabac
An impressive Sandbar in Balabac

The Journey to Balabac: Our Itinerary

The travel itinerary from our tour guide arrived swiftly, revealing an adventure that was both thrilling and ambitious. I found myself as the only individual above 40 in a lively group of Asians in their 20s. Despite this, my enthusiasm didn’t wane. But let’s take a look at the package and the itinerary.

  • 2N Air Conditioned accommodation – Puerto Princesa City
  • 2N AC Room and 1N Nipa hut/tent in island camp – Balabac
  • Breakfast – hotel PPS
  • Roundtrip Airport-hotel transfers
  • Roundtrip van transfer Puerto Princesa – Buliluyan (public-shared)
  • Full board meals – Balabac tours
  • 3 days Balabac island hopping – Private
  • Roundtrip boat transfer – Balabac islands
  • Return Ferry boat (via public Ferry boat)
  • All entrances
  • Services of local tour guide

Not included where:

  • Food during land travel
  • Meals not mentioned
  • Environmental fee Php 150/ person
  • Incidental tricycle service/ porter’s fee
  • Tip (not compulsory)

Onok Island, Balabac, Philippines
Onok Island, Balabac, Philippines

A detailed look at the itinerary

1st Day – September 15, 2023

  • Arrival at Puerto Princesa airport
  • Pick up airport – service van
  • To hotel/inn accommodation (Angelic Mansion)
  • Free Time
    2nd Day – September 16, 2023
  • 3:00 – 3:30 am pick up van
  • Travel Puerto Princesa – Buliluyan Port (5-6 hrs. Land travel)
  • 8:00 – 9:00 am Tourist Registration at Buliluyan Tourist Desk
    Balabac Island hopping starts
  • The Tour starts at 9:00 to 4:00 pm
  • Island hopping, lunch and dinner serve
  • Islands to visit: Canimeran, Patonggong, Patawan Island, Sebaring camp side (Lunch at Patonggong island)
  • 5:00 pm proceed to Island camp (overnight) – Sebaring Island
    3rd Day – September 17, 2023
  • 6:00 – 7:00 am call time, breakfast to serve
  • 8:00 am to 4:00 pm – Island hopping – lunch serve
  • Islands to visit: Helen sandbar, Mansalangan sandbar, Canibungan, Sicsican (Lunch at Canibungan)
  • 5:00 pm proceed to town accommodation, spare time, Dinner served.
    4th Day – September 18, 2023
  • 6:00 – 7:00 am call time – breakfast to serve
  • 8:00 – 8:30 am Tourist registration – Balabac Tourist Desk
  • 9:00 am to 4:00 pm – Island hopping – Lunch serve
  • Islands to visit: Candaraman island or sandbar, Onok island, Giant Clams dive spot, (Lunch at Onok island)
  • 5:00 pm proceed to town proper accommodation, leisure time, dinner to serve.
    5th Day – September 19, 2023
  • 4:30 – 5:30 am Pack-up. Coffee
  • 6:00 am depart Balabac to Buliluyan Port – Boat transfer (via public ferry boat)
  • 9:00 am ETA Buliluyan Port, van transport back to PPS
  • Travel to Puerto Princesa City (5-6 hours)
  • 2:00 – 3:00 pm ETA arrive at PPS
  • Drop off: City proper/ hotel
    6th Day – September 20, 2023
  • Breakfast at hotel
  • 12:00 noon checked out time / Entrust luggage at the counter for safekeeping
  • Have leisure time for lunch somewhere and buy “pasalubong” – DIY
  • Back to hotel/inn before 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm for luggage and leaving to Airport

And the itinerary also came with a warning.

Maintain minimum health standards, be responsible travellers, respect the locals and their traditions, observe proper waste disposal, observe proper beach attires as most of the island locals are Muslims, step out of comfort zone, this is not your typical impression of travel this is adventure, lastly take nothing but pictures, and leave no trace but footprints, enjoy every moment, have fun with nature. Wearing of jewelries during island tours is not encouraged.

The experience on Balabac Island

I was excited. I expected a paradise. And let me say it in one simple sentence: Balabac is like in my dreams. It’s pure nature, but without a thousand of tourists. Often, we were alone on an island. I’m certain, this will be pretty hard to conserve. Maybe also my blogpost will bring people to this place. And I want to remind you: If you go to those islands, please be responsible. Try to integrate yourself into the culture, and bring your trash back home.

After three days in Balabac, it felt like I don’t want to leave. The people were truly outstanding, the sky was always blue, the water clean. The food we ate made me gain weight and our tour guides and boat men were just incredible. Swimming, exploring sea stars, watching turtles swimming and meeting my incredible tour group. What could be better than that?

Flying above a turtle nearby Onok Island
Flying above a turtle nearby Onok Island

My trips for traveller to Balabac

If you’re considering embarking on your adventure to Balabac, I’ve curated a list of tips to help ensure your journey is as smooth as possible. Keep in mind, this isn’t your typical five-star vacation to Phuket or Bali.

  • Safety First: You may encounter a fair share of warnings about safety in Balabac. I heard about crocodiles, rebel groups and thief’s. While I, personally, felt safe throughout my trip, I must emphasise that Western travellers should not venture alone or visit towns without a knowledgeable tour guide.
  • Trustworthy Tour Operators: We entrusted our journey to “Wanderer – Travel and Tours” and “ATX Travel and Tours“. A special shout out to ATX owner Jhai Sunio who took exceptional care of us. The service provided by the boat crew and our tour guide was close to perfect. A hearty thank you to them!
  • Packing Essentials: Travel light but smart. Essential items include a dry bag, extra power banks, cameras/cellphones, swimwear, a long-sleeved rash guard to protect from sunburn, snorkelling gear, insect repellent, toiletries, sunglasses, caps, sunscreen lotion, personal medication such as anti-dizziness pills, a first-aid kit, extra food, and plenty of water for personal consumption.
Flying above Sicsican island
Flying above Sicsican island
  • Prepare for Off-grid Living: Anticipate up to three days without cell network and two days without electricity. You might get opportunities to charge your devices intermittently, but the availability of the generator can be unpredictable.
  • Group Travel: If possible, travel with a group of 8-10 people to maximise enjoyment and security. Take heed of your guides’ instructions and stay informed about your itinerary. Remember, respect for the local culture and environment is paramount. Don’t be that tourist! Be a responsible traveller.
Baby Turtles on Onok Island
Baby Turtles on Onok Island

Concluding my Balabac experience

Is Balabac the best place I ever visited? It’s hard to say. I visited places like Krabi, Ko Phangnan in Thailand. I was also in Bantayan, Kalanggaman, Siquior and Bohol in the Philippines. I’m total, I visited 35 countries. But I left Balabac full of happiness. The place is seriously a paradise and very on the top of my favourite ever visited places.

My travel family on Onok Island
My travel family on Onok Island

But it’s also about the people. I could say a hundred words about my travel family. But pictures can tell better than all of my words. Kiko, Kenn, JC, Aim, Maria, Kathleen, Jel, Pao and of course Babygirl Gray: ❤️ Thank you all! It was awesome. See you again, in one year in Siargao.

The video series ‘A Journey to Paradise‘ is online now on YouTube. Read more about it here in my blog.

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