I have been receiving a lot of messages from foreign and local travelers who want to visit Balabac but are nervous because of the existing mindset that it is not safe there. As someone who has traveled there four times accompanied by other Pinoy and international adventurers (yes I travel balabac in groups), I will attempt to answer this tricky question.
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What are the risks of visiting Balabac?
The primary aspect that makes Balabac the Last of the Last Frontier (or the Last Paradise) of the Philippines is its geographic location. Situated at the southernmost part of Palawan, this group of islands shares its border with Sabah, Malaysia, therefore possessing similar astonishing ocean characteristics as that of the latter. This location is the same thing that puts it at the bottom of many’s must-visit list because it is located at Sulu Sea. Ting! Yes, that’s right. On the other side of Sulu Sea is Jolo, Sulu where PH army continues to battle against bandits.
The second and less threatening factor is that Balabac is known for its saltwater crocodiles. Although I never saw any crocs during my 4 visits, I don’t discredit the fact that they are spotted at the mainland.
Another concern is Malaria. It is normal for wise travelers to check this so I always get asked especially by foreigners if they should take anti Malaria shots. The answer is a safe no. The Malaria breakout happened in mountainous Mainland Balabac. The islands we listed as highlights are safe from Malaria. Even in the monster mosquito-infested Canabungan island is safe from Malaria, but we don’t really camp there after experiencing how notorious and numerous the mosquitoes there are.
The last 2 concerns (crocs and malaria) are addressable by skipping the mainland. But how can you visit Balabac by skipping Balabac mainland? Read until the last part of this blog for the answer.
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Stargazing means a different thing in Balabac. These starfish usually hangout at sandbars. Yes, they too want some sunbathing, don’t you judge them. Just that this picture was taken during hightide 🙂 Get starstruck in Balabac this summer! Visit Balabac Palawan this Feb 2-5! Open to solo, couple and small group joiners. Check our IG story highlights for complete details and other schedules. @balabacpalawan
Is Balabac Still Safe?
These are the same concerns that I had when I was planning for my first trip to Balabac. Despite these “risks”, there has been zero tourist assault in Balabac until now. So I didn’t allow myself to miss out on this hidden paradise just because others said it is dangerous.
Think with me. The entire Palawan has the Sulu Sea on the east. In fact, even the world-famous Tubbataha reef which we proudly offer to international divers is in the midst of Sulu Sea. But how come only Balabac gets the negative connotation of being near to bandits? It may be because there are Muslim communities there, but it is not right to judge them as a threat. In fact, we have always visited a Muslim community there named Marabon where we buy Malaysian products for pasalubong. Guess what? They don’t look harmful to us, even to our foreigner guests.
If crocs freak you out, then simply skip the areas where they are frequently spotted. Where are they usually spotted? At the coastal areas of Brgy Poblacion in Balabac mainland. During the previous 4 visits, we didn’t actually set foot in Balabac mainland because aside from being far, the only thing that we could visit there is the Melville Lighthouse, which we are not allowed to climb anyway.
Travel Balabac the Safe Way
Based on my experience, I (and my groups) have never felt threats of terrorism and crocs. The only thing that could really bother you is the weather. We have also been staying in Punta Sebaring, an island owned by Palawan Governor. He has deployed his men to watch over his property which makes them additional security for those camping in Punta Sebaring beach. Aside from that, our guide and boatmen are known and trusted by the governor, which kind of makes them untouchable by other people in Balabac. Given that, here are my tips for those who want to visit Balabac but are worrying about safety.
1. Travel with a trusted local guide, someone who is esteemed by other people in Balabac.
2. As much as possible, travel in bigger groups. This doesn’t just make your expense cheaper, it also gives you added peace of mind. But if you really have no choice but to travel as a couple or small group, just make sure your trip is coordinated by trusted locals.
3. If you are afraid of crocs, just skip Balabac Mainland, which would require you to hire a private boat from Rio Tuba or Buliluyan Port which will let you visit the islands right away, instead of riding the passenger ferry that could only take you to mainland.
4. Although weather can be unpredictable, you can still choose the less windy months of December to January. Safe months to visit in terms of waves is March to November.
5. Although there is no threat of Malaria, sand flea and mosquito bites are still itchy, so make sure you have
If you still have worries, let us know through the comments below and will try our best to answer. You can also follow @balabacpalawan on Instagram to see latest photos from guests in Balabac.
If you are visiting Palawan on a budget, you can read our 2-week backpacking Palawan guide for traveling Puerto Princesa, Port Barton, El Nido and Coron.