When it made a buzz on the net, I thought of BALABAC as yet another overrated destination that is heavily advertised among travel bloggers and influencers; but my 4-day visit around this 30-group of islands at the southernmost part of Palawan proved me wrong.
On my visit, my eyes were wide open with astonishment at the pristine beauty that its blinding white sandbars and impressively azure waters bring. They were inexplicably majestic and a quintessential canvass of a natural wonder. Balabac has the best beach islands that I have visited in the Philippines in a long shot.
I can go on, string together words to express my wonderment about this quite elusive gem at the tail-end of Palawan, but it helps that I also share some photos in the order based on how they showed out during my close to week-long trip.
So here are the top 10 island attractions in Balabac rank from 10 to 1:
TOP 10: BANCALAAN ISLAND
Bancalaan island serves as one of the two receiving ports from Rio Tuba (which takes for about 2 and a half hours of boat trip to reach from mainland; the other port is at Balabac proper) and also one of the few islands around Balabac that have a considerable number of populace (almost 30% of the population in Balabac comes from Bancalaan). Owing to these facts, the island might get easily dismissed as a stopover before kicking off an island hopping adventure. However, Bancalaan possesses the many good qualities that other top beaches in Balabac have. It has fine, white sands and clear, shallow waters.
Spend a little time at Bancalaan port and enjoy a beautiful scene of locals rowing their locally made boats called “kiring kiring”, a puppet boat reminiscent of “faluwa” of Batanes. If you want to stay longer in the island, perhaps for a day, try to visit the small community of Tabodniayo which masters the art of making woodships and colorful, native mats.
TOP 9: SICSICAN ISLAND
Sicsican island is one that has rugged, wild yet powdery, soft shores. But what beauty it lacks on the surface, it makes up for with its underwater scenes. The island has a naturally good reserve of coral gardens perfect for snorkeling. One side of Sicsican is fronted with stilted huts for tourists to rest after a tiring swimming activity.
Sicsican island is relatively narrow and can be crossed over from one side to another for about 15 minutes through its forest. One thing to note though, the island is not well-maintained as there’s only few locals living in the area. So don’t get shocked when you see bits of trash drifted on its shores. It will be good if you help in picking them up as I did. 🙂
TOP 8: PUNTA SIBARING 1
Barangay Sibaring lies at the south portion of Bugsuk island which nestles two dreamy, white sandbars: Punta Sibaring 1 and Punta Sibaring 2.
Punta Sibaring 1 is enveloped with floury white sands that are overgrown with mangrove trees at its center. The jade-green waters that ring around its reef crawls lazily as the tide rises, which add up to the already dozy feel of the island. To my surprise, the heat of the sun around this area doesn’t hurt the skin and the humid air just breezes out gently as it leaves the place.
There is a lone hut near the mangrove area which makes for a good place to rest if you want to chill a little longer.
TOP 7: CANDARAMAN ISLAND
Candaraman island is one of the larger islands that are confined with a long strip of sugary shore and of little depth water. Its proximity to other island attractions in Balabac and with its fully-provisioned campsite areas make Candaraman a good base for island hopping.
The camping areas are maintained by the Sanson family. They offer tents, cottages, and homestays for guests who want to stay overnight. Bathing is not a problem as there is good water supply in the island; there is also a bath area with 5 toilets, and electricity is made available through a generator. When it comes to network connectivity, Candaraman Island enjoys a good signal strength for both Globe and Smart networks.
The west-facing beach at Candaraman near the docking area offers a perfect vantage point to capture the sunset.
TOP 6: CANIBUNGAN ISLAND
Canibungan (or Canabungan) Island is 2.7 kilometers long and is covered of patches of creamy white sand that is easy on the feet. It is threaded with Agoho and palm trees which add up to the soothing charm of its verdant surface. Underneath its clear turquoise waters is a powdery seabed of sand decorated with colorful coral formations fit for snorkeling and free-diving.
The island of Canibungan is situated less than 30 minutes to some of the island attractions in Balabac including Punta Sibaring of Bugsuk Island. Like Candaraman, it also offers a site for camping and has stilt cottages making it a good stop for lunch time. Be wary of the handful of flies in the area which can be annoying as you eat.
A caretaker collects a fee of P100 per person which gives access to one side of the island. The other side is owned by a different person and access to it may require for another fee.
TOP 5: CANDARAMAN SANDBAR
Come low tide, the five unnamed sandbars near the coast of Candaraman Island expose themselves to visitors. Along with it are spattering starfish which beautifully creep through the fine-grained soil that envelopes its long sand strips.
Tourists may hop from one sandbar to another when the tide is low, or frolic around its light bluish-green waters when the tide rises. Careful to not stress out the starfish. Never throw them out to the water or pick them up for more than 3 minutes.
TOP 4: PATAWAN ISLAND
The small island of Patawan, which can be circumnavigated in 10 minutes, is one that has pink-tinged sands because of the presence of red organ pipe corals in the area. Like the rest of Balabac islands, its clear waters are only few inches deep and its seabed are splattered with soft sands that feel slushy on the feet.
The island takes the shape of a waxing crescent if viewed from the top; on its shores are uprooted trees and driftwood that make for a creative backdrop in your Instagram moments. A major portion near its center nestles a small cluster of pandan trees that provide a relaxing air as you bask in the glory of sunny, summer days.
Patawan Island is privately owned. Visitors need to pay P100 to grant access to the area. Of late, construction of stilt cottages has been on going to provide guests with shelter and a good place to eat.
TOP 3: MANSALANGAN SANDBAR
Mansalangan is one of the longest sandbars in the Philippines – quite a fascinating hallmark that teases visitors of its stunning charm. Truly, Mansalangan holds together an expanse of creamy white, powderlike sands that are engulfed with shallow waters glowing steadily in radiant light.
In your visit, dock at the tip of the sandbar and run to the other end; feel how smooth the soil as it cushioned through your feet, sense how cool its waters, and imagine how stretch out the sandbar as you approach to its end.
Mansalangan sandbar is best visited on a low tide during a full moon to get a glimpse of its full extent.
TOP 2: PUNTA SIBARING 2
On a personal note, Punta Sibaring 2 has the most refined sands in all of Balabac islands. It’s too powdery that your feet would naturally sink as you step on the sand whether its a wet or dry surface. For this very reason, the shores of Sibaring is often frequented by stingrays as it make for a good hideout while they rest. Stingrays are venomous creatures; although docile, they can become reactive and may whip their tail as defense against any moving threat. Hence, it is customary for boatmen to check any sightings of stingray on the sands using their paddle before allowing guests to get down from the boat.
Except at the near end of the sandbar, much of Sibaring is privately owned and guests are expected to pay an entrance fee of P100 which already covers access to the island if you plan to stay overnight as camping is allowed in the area. Make sure to lather an insect repellent if you plan to lay flat on the sand for a longer period as the island is infested by bloodsucking sand flies.
TOP 1: ONUK ISLAND
Onuk (or Onok) Island is often the most hailed and talked about among all islands in Balabac, which comes as no surprise. The island is engulfed with white, floury sands that extend to a 5-meter wide reef where sightings of green sea turtles and pink dolphins await. Its waters are disposed with cylinders of light as it shades change from fluorescent to deep blue. To me, Onuk Island is the very example of a top-down tropical paradise.
Onuk is pretty established compared to the rest of the islands. It has makeshifts and stilt houses that are bridged by a long, wooden boardwalk. There is also water and electric supply. The entire island is owned by a prominent politician in Balabac. Of late, day use for P1,500 and overnight stay for P3,000 per person are permitted but only for guests who made a prior arrangement through their tour operator.
Furthermore, Onuk Island has a rich eco-marine system. While here, don’t forget to check the giant clam sanctuary located at the shallow waters few meters from the tip of the boardwalk or the large pelagic fish under its 80 feet ridge.
Note: Globe cellular network has good signal strength around Onuk Island, while Smart has none to weak.
If you are looking for a comprehensive travel guide, check out my separate blog which has contact information for tour operators and guides among others: BALABAC BUDGET TRAVEL GUIDE.
Here are a few takeaways and red flags that I would like to share if you plan to go to Balabac group of islands:
- As far as my experience goes, all of these Balabac islands have soft, powdery sands and clear, azure, swimmable waters so it’s not hard to choose which to visit in case you only opt to stay for a day or two.
- Balabac is not a place for DIY travelers. You need to travel around the islands with the help of a trusted tour operator as sea swells in this area can become big and rough particularly during the monsoons, and going in and out of the islands can be challenging especially on a low tide considering that most have wide, shallow reef. My 4-day island hopping adventure was made possible with the help of Kuya Motet Sanson and his team: Kuya Al (boat captain) and Kuya Ricky (his brother). I highly recommend that you contact them as they know the islands very well and can provide direct land transfers from Puerto Princesa to Rio Tuba. They have a good reputation around Balabac and can coordinate easily with the caretakers of Onuk Island in case you want to pay a visit whether for day use or overnight. Reach them out through these numbers: +63 915 734 0809 or +63 939 363 7676.
- The islands in Balabac are too distant from each other, hopping to one island can take an hour or more so load an overflowing amount of patience and prepare to be tired. I highly suggest that you visit not more than 3 islands in a day to fully enjoy the attractions.
- Traveling around Balabac is weather and tide permitting. Plan your visit and manage your expectation as your target destination may change depending on weather and tide conditions. The ideal months to go island hopping is from early April to August at the aftermath of northeast monsoon when waters are mostly at peace. The -ber months are the worst season to travel as this is when sea swells go tough.
- There are four islands that allow camping: Punta Sebaring, Candaraman, Onuk and Canibungan. If you opt to go camping, it’s best that you bring your own tent for comfort.
- For most of the tour operators, food is included in the tour package. However, if you are a picky eater, make sure to notify ahead your tour guide of the food that you can or want to eat.
- Bring a sunblock, waterproof your things and lather your skin with insect repellent at night time to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
- Most of the islands have network connectivity with 1 to 2 signal strength, but have zero data connectivity.