This was a trip that brought us to islands and sandbars based on where the tides took us. I never realized that sea navigation was a complex structure of reading tides and that it will take years of experience to understand it. We sailed each day anticipating where we were headed and what visual wonder we would discover. This is Balabac – the untouched and pristine beauty at the edge of the Philippines.
Balabac is a municipality located south of Palawan that sits near the borders of Sabah, Malaysia. The municipality is composed of 44 islands scattered in the waters bordered by the West Philippine Sea and the Sulu Sea. The group of islands was once known as “Balagbag”, a Filipino term that means scattered, because the islands were scattered in the area.
Let me set on a disclaimer at this point. The two-part blog that I am writing is an injustice to Balabac. My words and captures are not enough to describe the beauty that these islands hold. This is my futile attempt to share with you the most memorable trip that Asher and I had so far to a destination that goes beyond the word “amazing”.
There is so much to cover in our 4-day trip so I opted to break it into two parts so that you can get to appreciate Balabac’s beauty. I am sharing with you the beach spots from 7 of the 44 islands that we covered during the trip on this blog. All of these beach spots, except for one, have remained untouched by commercialism which added to its charm. Having said that, welcome to the islands of Balabac, Palawan!
They say that the first impression lasts and Balabac did set a high standard as soon as we started our island tour. Patunggang Maliit is a small island about 45 minutes away from our jump-off point. It was exciting to watch the island come to life with its clear waters and white sand shores as we approached it. Stepping onto its powdery white sand got everyone excited to explore the island.
After enjoying breakfast by the beach, we roamed around the island a bit more. A caretaker is in charge of the beach and he has all this beauty to wake up to every single day. I would love to be in his position. On one side of the beach is an abandoned stilt structure which made the seascape more dramatic. Fallen trees left in its place can add up to the drama of our captures. While some of our companions started enjoying its waters, we opted to just enjoy the peaceful ambiance of the island.
Patunggang Malaki / Tangkahan
A short trip across the waters from Patunggang Maliit will bring you to Patunggang Malaki or Tangkahan. The island is a lot bigger than the first and it offers a longer shoreline. The island is inhabited and its main attraction is its powdery white sand shores. We were told that we can walk to the other side for dramatic shots with bent coconut trees.
Since we stayed on the other side of the cove, we opted to stay within the area and enjoy the cool waters of the beach. It was refreshing to take a dip when the sun was high up the skies. The beach remains untouched so fallen trees and shrubs are left at the spot where they fell. The contrasting deep blue and turquoise colors of the sea make a perfect backdrop for beach shots.
Silom-Silom Mangroves / Barungos
Rippled sand bars sculpted by the water’s movement was the attraction of Barungos. The fine sand felt soft as my feet sunk into its wet fine sand. The morning sun was enough to show us the beauty of the mangrove forest along the shoreline. Everyone was out of the boat in no time trying to capture the perfect spot for a picture while Asher was already swimming in its clear waters.
Among all the beach spots that we visited in our 4-day exploration, Silom-Silom was unique because of its mangrove forests and its fine white sand shores. The trip to the mangrove was a treat as this was the side of Balabac where mangrove forests thrive. It reminded me of Cagbalete but it was a lot more pristine and untouched.
I seriously think that when God created the world, He matched the millions of stars in heaven to that of the stars under the sea and Balabac probably has the biggest concentration of these sea creatures. We were sure to catch a glimpse of at least one or two starfish with every stop that we made.
Just 30 minutes away from our campsite is an island that is frequented by guests and locals – Canabungan Island. The first thing that you will notice as you approach the island is its clear waters. We got excited staring at the coral formations and patches of white sand under the clear turquoise waters on this side of Canabungan.
As we docked along its shores, our eyes were treated with white sand shorelines lined with coconut trees while our feet were treated with the soft powdery texture of the sand. In no time, everyone was out of the boat exploring and enjoying the cool waters of the island.
On one side of the beach, our group discovered a school of starfish near the shore. Asher had a grand time counting the underwater stars while I tried to capture the moment. Of course, we could not miss out on having our pictures taken with these amazing sea creatures. You can also get a treat with its underwater scene a few meters from the beach.
Candaraman Island was our home during our four-day #BalabacAsyon. Our campsite was located on the western side of the island that gave us our everyday dose of watching the sunset. It was nice that Kap Andong’s crew always brought us back to the campsite just in time for us to admire the amazing sunset. I have to say that the play of colors of Balabac’s sunset had a calming feeling that made everyone happy and was a due reward to end the day.
The sunset is not only attraction of Candaraman Island. The shorelines of the western side are dotted with fine white sand that is not only pleasing to the eyes but was also soft to the feet. We enjoyed walking along the beach and enjoying the sand on our feet as we tried to find a new spot where we could enjoy the sunset.
A few meters away from the shoreline are rich underwater corals where you can swim and snorkel however we were not able to try it out when we were there. But that is not the only “treasure” of Candaraman Island. On the northern and southern side of the island are attractions that I will be sharing with you on my next #BalabacAsyon blog.
Oh… did I mention that Candaraman is one of two islands that has its own airstrip?
Patawan Island is another favorite beach spot of mine and it stands out among all the white sand beaches. It may seem like the “usual” white sand beach from afar but once you step into it powdery sand shore, your eyes will be given that slight tint of pink sand. We docked on the island at around noon and the white-colored sand really stood out. But with the right viewing angle, you will get to see the light pink color.
Patawan is a small island and you can circumnavigate it in 10 minutes. I did and enjoyed strolling around the island barefoot as the powdery white sand cushioned my feet from the ground heat. As Asher enjoyed the clear and cool waters of the beach, I enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere that Patawan offered.
Just like other uninhabited islands, there were fallen trees that dot its shoreline that proved to be a good dramatic backdrop for our pictures.
Just a few minutes away from the mangrove forests of Silom-Silom is a beach that is also another favorite beach spot in Balabac. The beach boasts of clear turquoise waters and fine powdery white sand that rivals that of Boracay. The beach and the mangrove are part of a 14-hectare property privately owned by a local resident of Balabac that was handed down to them by their forefathers who were early residents of Balabac.
The beach and its surrounding areas have remained undeveloped as Kuya Helvin is still working with Kapitan Andong in developing his property as a future campsite for tourists. We enjoyed sharing stories and eating lunch while others enjoyed taking a quick nap under the shade of its trees. One side of the beach have rock formations that you can also explore while the other side boasts of a natural bridge that connects the main island to a smaller island on the horizon. I will be sharing more details on the smaller island on my next blog.
POST TRAVEL NOTES:
Honestly, I have made the conclusion that our 4-day #BalabacAsyon was a complete summer experience already. It was a trip that COMPLETELY satisfied my cravings for a great summer experience. In fact, our supposed plan to explore another part of Palawan was set aside because we simply enjoyed every single minute that we spent exploring Balabac. I guess, all of us would agree that we could not ask for anything more except that we want to head back there again next year. That is a hint!
Balabac Group of Island is a treasure trove for any traveller. It is a destination that you would not mind spending the whole day under the sun and heading home two tones darker. Its beauty, untouched by commercialism as of now, is an experience that you would hold close to your heart dearly. It is like an unpolished diamond where you have seen it in its raw form before it gets polished.
Balabac is more than just island that were scattered around the sea. It is a place that I would say “binalagbag ang natatanging kagandahan” (its beauty was scattered around).
Getting there: Going to Balabac is a total of 10 hours of travel by air, land, and sea from Manila. In our case, we opted to join one of the organized trips of Kilometer Zero PH. I highly recommend their group as the trip was very fun, organized, and extremely safe. And with Kap Andong at the helm of the trip, you are sure to get a lot of great sites and insights. You need not worry about anything once you step inside their van.
The flights to Puerto Princesa and your pre and post-trip accommodations are the only things that you need to work on.
If you want a full and satisfying #BalabacAsyon experience, you can reach Kilometer Zero PH here.
Shout-outs: You can also follow us on Instagram: @marc7del, @asher7del, and @thetravelingdada for more of our travel visual stories.
I would like to give a huge shout-out to Hull and Stern for keeping the Viajerong Pinoy’s stuff dry during our island hopping activities with our personalized Hull and Stern dry bags.
Here is another huge shout-out to Lifeproof Asia for keeping the Viajerong Pinoy’s phone units safe and dry while the Punong Viajeros were taking photos above and under Balabac’s waters.
You can also follow @viajerongpinoy on Instagram to discover the beauty of the Philippines from the eyes of our fellow Pinoy travelers.
The big waves were relentless as we headed back to mainland Batangas. I informed everyone about the waves but I guess being on board the boat that go head-to-head with the big waves spelled out the difference between expectations and reality for a couple of our companions. It took us an hour longer to head back as if the island wanted us to stay just a bit more within its embrace. It wanted us to keep pressing for our luck at Fortune Island.
Once known as the “it” place of Manila’s high and mighty, Fortune Island now stands in beautiful disarray as a quick beach destination off the coast of Nasugbu, Batangas. Interestingly, the name of the island contradicts the misfortunes that happened on the island and its surrounding areas. Apart the closure of the luxury resort after 11 years of operation, the surrounding waters were also the sites of 3 shipwrecks – the San Diego Galleon that sunk in 1600, the MV Melody Cristy that caught fire and sank in 1995, and the MV Princess of the Orient that sank in 1998.
At present, the resort facilities that once accommodated Manila’s affluent society has been left at the mercy of nature. The stretch of white sand is still there to enjoy together with remnants of the resort’s architectural highlights that now serves as a huge come on for off-beat travelers.
We rolled the dice and definitely got lucky discovering the four aces of the island.
Ace of Diamond: A Photographer’s Playpen
The prime attraction of Fortune Island are the Grecian structures along the cliff side of the island. The structures have deteriorated after the resort closed down subjecting it to natural forces. The “deterioration” give a natural touch to the ruins. It is the most photographed area of the Fortune Island and has become its poster image. In fact, the ruins is the major come on of the island.
Since it is the most photographed area, there is a huge chance that you will have a hard time looking for that window where the area is clear of visitors. But with a bit of patience and luck, you will be rewarded with a great backdrop for your captures.
There are other areas in the island that you can also play with your camera. The rock formations below the Grecian structures offers a good full view of the island while the cliff behind it offers a great view of the blue waters behind this was infamous island.
Ace of Spade: A Huge Playground to Explore
Getting your feet onto the white sand shores of Fortune Island is an adventure in itself and the adventure continues on within the island. Kids and the young-at-heart can make sand castles by the beach and enjoy the cool breeze. The wind from mainland Batangas is strong and flying a kite by the beach is possible. Too bad that I did not bring one.
If you are up for a hike, you can hike up the hill where the lighthouse is located. You can head up to the top of the hill of the island to get a 360-degree view of the island and its surrounding areas.
The cliffs at the back of the island is a great place for adrenaline junkies. One can try to test their wits by jumping off a cliff that is about two floors in height into the clear and calmer waters of the Fortune Island. The area also serves as a docking area for boatmen when the waves get rough at the beach front.
The adventures that you get on the island prepares you for the adventure of conquering the big waves when you head back to Nasugbu so get ready to ride.
Ace of Clover: A Place Where Peer Pressure is Acceptable
Fortune Island is a great weekend escape for the “barkada”. Like what I have said earlier, getting to and from the island is an experience in itself that would have everyone in the peer group talking and chiding with each other. It is a great weekend road trip escape that will definitely get you to bond with friends in a very fun and entertaining way.
The island does not have much tree cover so make sure that you bring a tent with you. It will also serve as a good shelter from the sun’s heat if you are afraid to get a tone darker. In my case, I prefer enjoying the summer sun while sitting comfortably on an inflatable lounge. If your peers are up for it, you can also spend a night on the island but be forewarned though that there are no restrooms or showers on the island.
While everyone is at it, get the booze out and start sharing stories over a couple of cold beers. You can also fresh seafood from the locals that they will be more than happy to grill for you. Grilled fish and a cold beer are a great combination over shared stories. You see, in Fortune Island, it is never too early to get a little tipsy. That is if you brought in enough drinks to be shared around.
Ace of Heart: Sand, Sea, and Sun – Just Perfect!
At the end of the day, Fortune Island gives you the complete ingredients of a great summer weekend. It is a beach destination so it is best enjoyed with the beach chill vibe – the survivor way. I enjoyed getting a bit of a tan just watching the waves hit its shoreline. Interestingly, the waves at the beachfront were simply wild that taking a dip was also exciting – getting smashed by its cool waters.
I love the fact that I could just hang around with friends and enjoy watching the day pass by. I mean there is nothing more to do in Fortune Island but to simply hang out and enjoy the beach scene. We had the sand, we had the rough waves of the sea, and we had the sun. It was simply a good day to be at the beach.
Post Travel Notes:
It is interesting that what you see in the pictures of Fortune Island just shows you a part of its landscape. It is a huge island where you do not have to fear getting lost because it is easy to find your way back. Again, everything in the island is experiential – getting there, going around, and leaving. I guess it is the experience that really caps off the memories that you make in Fortune Island.
It is a good quick escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. The rustic ambiance of the island make it unique despite the lack of facilities. Too bad though that the island was not able to maintain the facilities of the once flourishing resort but I guess it is also its main draw at this time. Funny though that the Fortune Island that was once the playground of the country’s rich and famous is now an attraction among “normal” Filipinos.
In the way that I phrased it to a friend, Fortune Island is where the normal Filipinos are enjoying the leftovers of the country’s elite. It was their loss, anyway.
Getting there: Our group opted to take a road trip to Nasugbu, Batangas via the CAVITEX and passing through Naic and Ternate. Once in the vicinity of Nasugbu, you can proceed to Fortune Island Resort where you can pay for the fees and rent a boat to the island.
Alternatively, you can opt to take a bus to Nasugbu, Batangas. Once in Nasugbu, you can take a trike to Fortune Island Resort.
You can reach Fortune Island Resort at +639155047166.
Budget Allocation per head: Php1500 per head for 8 pax.
As a traveler, I have always believed that the people that you meet will always have a role to play in your travel experiences and, in some cases, your life. These people can be as mundane as your hotel receptionist who will make you realize that strangers are willing to go beyond their call of duty just to get the right directions to get you to your destination. Or it can be as important as your child who ends up to becoming your travel buddy. In the same way, that we play a part in somebody else’s travel and it is just a matter of whether you play the good part or the bad.
It is also interesting that you also get to meet strangers that share the same passion as yours and that you end up sharing ideas like good old friends even if it was your first time to meet or, in my case, we have just been friends virtually.
As I was preparing for a four-day island trip that we have planned since last year, I got more excited with the idea that we will be doing a side trip that would give us the opportunity to reach out to young Filipinos in this far-flung community that we are heading to. It was because of this minor shift in our itinerary that I got to talk with one of the organizers, got to share ideas, and discovered a common ground when it comes to our thoughts about the need for a sustainable tourism program for local communities.
The past years have seen the rapid growth of local tourism in the Philippines. The power of social media platforms and the entry of budget airlines sparked interest in exploring the country’s beauty that is a lot easier to one’s pocket. A beautiful snapshot of a rustic destination can go viral if it goes to the right “hands” in social media. A local’s “secret” then becomes a “discovery” and you can expect travelers of different sorts flocking to see this latest attraction.
It is great to see, that with the renewed attention that Filipinos give our local destinations, Philippine tourism is no longer boxed up to Boracay, Bangui Windmills, the Philippine Eagle, or the Tarsier. Who would have thought that there is a cheaper way to enjoy El Nido? Or that there is more to Baguio City than its cool weather and strawberries? Not to mention, the huge potential in economic gains for the locals of the community. I have seen how communities responsibly adapt to the sudden attention given to their places. Tali Ti Amianan in San Juan, La Union is a good example. It is a local community effort that converts used clothes, collected as garbage from their shores, into creative bracelets handmade and sold by the locals.
Unfortunately, most communities, even local government units, are not equipped with the right mindset and skills on how to address the influx of tourists. The opportunity to earn more outweighs the potential environmental damage of these tourist activities. You cannot blame the locals’ attitude because it is an opportunity for them to provide something better for their families.
I remember having to lecture locals in Calaguas Island about calling the attention of their guests to throw their garbage at designated areas. I was appalled to witness a young lady from Manila leave the wrapper of her chips on the sand when the garbage bin was just three steps away from her! A local went on to pick it up and throw it at the bin. When I asked him why he did that and not call the attention of the guest, he was afraid to sound rude and feared that she might not go back or recommend the place to her friends. The incident had me doing an impromptu lecture about the need to protect their place and it starts by teaching their guests about discipline.
The sad truth is that local government units need to implement programs that put emphasis on sustainable tourism for its communities. A lot of our tourist destinations, especially the new ones, get abused by both tourists and locals because there are no concrete plans in place on how to find a balance between tourist influx and environmental care. Too many times, we see communities just accepting guests to the detriment of nature. All in the name of revenue.
There are cases where LGUs understand their role and put into play a concrete action plan on not only providing a viable source of income for its communities but to ensure the sustainability of this income source. This is what we all need to focus on as the country’s tourism industry starts to mature and we need to understand that this is not only the role of the LGU. Local travelers are at the forefront in making locals understand that sustainability is more important than just cashing the business in.
I have been around the Philippines to actually see the realities that a lot of common Filipinos face. I have also seen how blinding opportunities can be for locals that they set aside the long-term. I have to do my part as a traveler.
I have shifted from being a “checklist tourist” to becoming an immersed traveler. I have learned to haggle “smart” for the prices of services and produce that local’s offer that would be equally beneficial. I have learned to practice being a responsible traveler who behaves like a guest rather than a privileged tourist.
And if given the opportunity, share my knowledge to locals on how they can make things better and more sustainable for their families and communities.
In the end, this new source of livelihood called tourism, if sustained, can be their hope for alleviating their families from poverty.
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Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.