I’m not a fan of keeping such beautiful wonders to myself so lemme share to you a happy place where the time stops and everything is so pristine that all you could think about is how really nice our country is. So have you heard about Balabac?, the place where dolphins and pawikans are just so normal that people consider them as friends. And oh, those blindingly white sand beaches that is so deserted that you could run freely and no one would even bother.
It took us two full days from Manila to reach this secluded island and it’s all worth it.
|Onuk Island, Balabac, Palawan|
Julius directly coordinated with the Local Government Unit and they assisted us all throughout this trip. When we got to Puerto Princesa City, we met with Mayor Shuaib Astami and his daughter Fatima and discussed about our plans on exploring the town of Balabac. Reports on unauthorized tour operations on some islands, specifically Onuk Island, were also discussed. The local authorities have been stringent on accepting tourists on the said island after hearing reports of some unauthorized collections by different tour operators (there are no entrance fees, environmental fees or any other fees that are imposed by the local government).
Onuk Island, for instance, has been receiving guests for years now and the owner (Mayor Shuaib Astami) never collected anything for accommodation and food for long-staying guests. No fees are collected for daytrips as well as long as you coordinate with the ‘right’ people regarding your trip.
In our case, we discussed our itinerary and places of interest to the in-charge (Ma’am Lorna Gapilango, MSWDO, LGU, Balabac, Palawan) and Mayor Shuaib Astami (with the help of some locals), they helped us arrange everything.
|Thank you so much Mayor Shuaib Astami and Ma'am Lorna Gapilango!|
How did we get there?
Balabac is located at the southernmost tip of Palawan. This second class municipality is composed of more or less 30 islands and sandbars (some of which are uninhabited). It took us two full days on the road (sky and waters too) just to reach this paradise.
|the only passenger ferry boat heading to Balabac|
Our flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa was at noontime. Fatima told us that the only trip for the passenger ferry ride to the town of Balabac (From Rio Tuba) leaves at around 10:30-11:30 a.m. We stayed in Puerto Princesa for the night and left at around 4:00 a.m. to get to San Jose Terminal where shuttle vans and buses are stationed. We were specifically looking for a ride going to Rio Tuba in the town of Bataraza (our jump-off point to Balabac).
|air-conditioned shuttle vans Puerto Princesa - Rio Tuba v.v.|
We immediately saw an air-conditioned van heading to Rio Tuba, we hopped on and a few minutes before five in the morning, we’re off to Rio Tuba (400-450 pesos each person). The scenic ride lasted for 4 ½ hours. Upon reaching the terminal at Rio Tuba, we looked out for a tricycle that would bring us to the port (20 pesos each person).
Arriving at the port, we learned that the only passenger ferry going to Balabac will be leaving before noon which means we had two hours and so of lull time. We decided to have an early lunch somewhere and wait on the docking area so that we could immediately hop on the boat in case they decided to let us in.
We killed time on a shaded hut on stilts with some kids who seemed to be busy with their pastime – fishing. Armed with their baits, nylon strings and hooks, they waited patiently for their first catch of the day. And they didn’t have to wait that long, one by one, they showed off their catch to everyone. They’re just the cutest!
|anyare mga kuya?|
After some 2 ½ hours of waiting time (which we didn’t totally feel because of the cute kids), we finally boarded the ferry boat (350 pesos each person). At 11:30 a.m. we left Rio Tuba and headed to Balabac. I managed to sleep soundly in spite of the crowded ferry.
|define clear waters|
At around 4:00 p.m. we arrived at the first stop, the Bancalaan Island (a barangay in Balabac). Some passengers got off here while others who were heading to Balabac's main island loaded the ferry. Just one more hour and we’ll be getting to our destination.
We reached Balabac at 5:30 p.m. We went to our point person right away and discussed with her our plans. With all systems in place, we started the journey by exploring Onuk Island (overnight), a daytrip to Punta Sebaring Island, and then the town of Balabac (two nights).
Going back to Puerto Princesa was quite easy. The only ferry boat going to Rio Tuba (350 pesos each person) leaves at around 6:00 to 7:00 a.m. depending on the volume of the passengers and/or the situation of the waters. In our case, the ferry left at around 7:00 a.m., arrived at Bancalaan Island to pick up more passengers at around 8:00 a.m. and finally reached Rio Tuba Port at 10:30 a.m. A tricycle can be rented out for 80 pesos going out of the port to the town, but if you’re in a group of four, you could share the fare and pay only 20 pesos each person for the ride.
There are regular bus and shuttle van trips (400-450 pesos) from Rio Tuba to Puerto Princesa. Travel time is more or less 5 hours. At San Jose Terminal, you could rent a tricycle going to downtown at 100–150 pesos. You may also opt to ride a jeepney (just like what we did) for 13 pesos each person that brings you to downtown.
The next posts will feature the town of Balabac and some interesting islands; you have to see those, believe me!
*Contact updated February 2017*
Balabac, Palawan, Philippines
Point Person - Ronald Astami
Contact Number: (+63) 935.155.6264