The Long Way to Onuk Island

onuk island balabac palawan philippines

Gone are the days when it's free to enter Onuk island. The articles I’ve read online say that guests used to secure a permit in the tourism office and hire a boatman to get there. Because of the approval process, not everyone's lucky to see Onuk, they say. But on March 2017, the island was opened to the public with a fee of 3,000-5,000 pesos per person. Visitors must contact the owner of Balabac directly. No need to reach out to tour operators as he himself gives the approval.

In case you haven't read anything about Onuk yet, Google Earth “Roughton Island”. It's that small, turquoise island found at the southernmost tip of Palawan. And by actually comparing its topology from a normal island, you would know what kind of beauty to expect.

The rest of this entry is about the beautiful Onuk island and the level of effort we took to get there (that’s butt-coma if I may put it in fewer words).

onuk island balabac philippines

onuk island balabac philippines

The journey started at San Jose Terminal in Puerto. After disembarking the van that took us to Puerto from San Vicente, we immediately went to the RORO bus bay bound for RIO TUBA. We left at around 5:30pm and travelled for 6 hours. Brooke’s Point is the landmark if you’re already halfway the trip- it’s where the largest pearl in Philippines is kept. We reached the empty bus station of Rio at 11.30pm. 

Since the ferry to Balabac Island only leaves in the morning, we had to find a lodging that night. Just a few meters away from the bus station, we stayed the night at White Haven Lodge. Few words: it's the worst inn that I've ever been to. The mattress had big bed bugs, the sheets, toilet and sink, even the towels were all dirty. Because we were so tired that night, we just slept and didn't bother to complain.

The registration for the passenger boat starts at 6:00am. You have to be early to secure a seat, but the boat usually leaves at 10am. Total travel time to Balabac mainland is 4 hours, with 1 stop in Bancalan Island. You must hire a tricycle from the bus terminal to get to the port. Travel time is around 20 mins.

onuk island balabac philippines

onuk island balabac philippines

There's nothing to do in the port. No sight-seeing. No fancy restaurants, just a few local eateries. And there seems to be a major garbage problem in this part of Palawan. There were plenty of trash in the water, some are already stuck on the stilts. Also compared to Northern Palawan, personally, I felt like the locals are not that friendly as most people gave us "a look" like we're not welcome. No warmth at all. Or maybe, it’s just me.


Once the owner has confirmed your visit to the island, prepare 3,000 pesos for a day tour or 5,000 pesos for an overnight stay. The rates may change because the owner allows guests to haggle for a lower rate.

Onuk is one of the most beautiful islands that I’ve seen in the Philippines. No doubt about it. But it's also the most expensive that I've been to if I consider the island’s amenities. Here’s a list of what’s included in every guest’s stay:

1. The payment includes a return trip from Balabac town to Onuk. Guests will ride an open speedboat. If you intend to leave Balabac at noon time, wear something long to cover your skin from direct sunlight. Onuk’s speedboat is also a little slower compared to usual speedboats, so prepare for longer sun exposure.

corals of onuk island balabac philippines
Beautiful corals welcomed us on our approach to Onuk Island

2. OMG! They'll serve you a large platter of big, fat lobsters, crabs and shrimps for lunch. The serving was too big, we can’t finish it in one seating. It's also the best lobster plate I've had in years! The owner said that they used to have lobster fences in Onuk, but he didn't tell us why they stopped farming lobsters.

3. A complimentary island-hopping to Candaraman and Mansalangan Sandbar. BUT, you can only avail it at the owner's discretion. He may or may not allow the guests to visit the other islands depending on the availability of the boat, bad weather conditions or for whatever reason. Just make sure you give them a heads up.

mansalangan sandbar balabac philippines
Mansalangan Sandbar

4. A small boat can be borrowed to go snorkeling to the coral garden or "the lagoon" as they call it. You can also swim to the area where the giant clams are. I haven’t seen them personally. But according to Kalash, they are probably 2 meters wide, each! The owner said that his father used to farm clams when he was younger.

onuk island balabac philippines

5. Pawikan encounter! The owner can request the staff to catch a pawikan so guests can see one up close. They also let the turtles lay egg in Onuk so there’s a chance to see their hatchlings too. The staff will return the pawikan to the sea eventually. They don't hold the turtles in cages.

onuk island balabac philippines

6. If you stay overnight, don't expect a luxurious accommodation. If there are other guests, expect to sleep on a floor mattress. Some of the windows and door knobs were broken. The toilet is not ensuite and fresh water is limited. Also, the electricity is powered by a very small solar panel. Therefore, you can't expect it to run 24 hours. There’s no phone signal in the whole island.

7. Of course, an unobstructed view of the pristine and raw beauty of Onuk. You can circle the entire island in less than 30 mins! There’s a sandbar that shows up when it’s low tide.

onuk island balabac philippines

We contacted the owner directly and agreed on 3,500 per person fee for an overnight stay. He told us that we can checkout at any time the following day. We thought that this was a pretty good deal than not seeing Onuk at all. I still wished it’s free to see the island! We arrived in Onuk around noon time. Had lunch. Snorkeled to the giant clams. Set up our hammock under the stilts. Asked the boatman to give us a ride to the sandbar (still within Onuk) for the sunset. Had dinner. Drunk beer til late night. Slept. We thought of leaving the island around 3PM, so we planned on visiting Candaraman island and reserved other activities for the next day.

The following day, we woke up early to explore the rest of the island. Onuk IS ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS! The sand was super fine and the waters were very calm and blue. It’s picture-perfect. We returned to the barracks around 7.30 for breakfast. Food was oka-- Oooops, it was the same food from our dinner last night! But no worries. Also, more sunset photos below!

sunset onuk island balabac philippines

sunset onuk island balabac philippines

sunset onuk island balabac philippines

sunset onuk island balabac philippines

After breakfast, the staff told us that we have to leave the island at 3pm 9am and we CANNOT visit Candaraman island anymore. Because, “Masama po ang panahon,” according to the boatman. But the sun was shining bright :(

And poof! Before we know it we were already in Balabac town around 10am, looking for a cheap accommodation.

The Long Road to Onuk in A Nutshell

  • RORO bus ride to Rio Tuba ➜ 6 hours / ₱277
  • Trike ride to port ➜ 20 min / ₱100 / trike
  • Wait time at the port ➜ 3 hours
  • Boat ride to Balabac ➜ 4 hours / ₱350
  • Boat to Onuk ➜ approximately 35 mins
So yes, the total distance we traveled by land to get to Onuk is approximately 400 KM. 6 hours by bus, 3 hours sitting by the port, 4 hours boat ride to Balabac, 1 hour boat from Mansalangan Sandbar.

That's 14 hours to paradise.

Love you, Onuk.

onuk island balabac philippines

Your turn, guys! Have you been to Balabac? Looking for something that I missed to write about? Hit them in the comments :)

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