Onok Island Itinerary

3:50:00 AM

Onok Island: Checked! In a perfect world, after a nap you could just go down a ladder and swim in the ridiculously clear sea. 

A little over three months ago, I crossed off an item in my travel bucket list-- Onok Island. Being there was so surreal. Half the time, I couldn't believe we actually made it. (Related: Road To Onok: The Nitty Gritty) And the other half, I spent napping on a hammock in a stilt cottage perched on the beach. Easily the best nap I have ever had in this lifetime!

Onok Island is a privately owned small piece of land situated within the Balabac island municipality in Palawan. The island came out in public light when a shot of Onok by George Tapan won National Geographic's Best Photo of 2011. Since then, a lot became interested to go too, including me. This post is an attempt to give you a guide on how to get there using the same itinerary my best friend, G, and I did.

Sample Itinerary



Important: Before hauling your backpacks to Balabac, make sure to ask for permission from the owner, Mayor Astami and his family. I won't put the contact number of the tourism officer here because we had a bad experience dealing with the officer. I wouldn't want to put you in that position, if I can help it.


Edit: Contact Ate Beth instead at +639494241605. She's a newly appointed tourism officer and she's very nice. Ask her for the Mayor's permission to go to Onok.


Expenses

Before I go into the specifics of the itinerary, I have listed the expenses starting and ending at the Puerto Princesa San Jose Terminal. Every Peso that went out of my wallet is listed here. Duo traveler means traveling with another person, making some of the expenses divisible by two. Solo traveler, on the other hand, is how much it would cost if you have no one to split the cost with. Lastly, the optional snacks wasn't divided into two since it was my personal stash AKA I can't function without snacking!



Notes

1. The electricity in Balabac only runs up to midnight. After that, you're on your own. Plan your night (and gadget charging) accordingly.

2. There are no ATMs and banks in Balabac. Your credit card will be useless there. Bring a sufficient amount of cash. However, I did see a branch of Palawan Pawnshop Express Pera Padala, in case this is information you need to know.

3. In Balabac, all mobile networks have intermittent signal, but Globe is the better option. Smart tends to be out of service in some parts of the town. As for data, it is next to impossible to post on Instagram during day time. I was able to send one text-only email, and that was it. Once people are already asleep, say at 2AM to 4AM, that's your window. Post 'em Instagram pics!




4. Oddly enough, the Globe signal is strong in Onok Island. (And yes, you can post IG pics there. But you'll also find nature doing the miracle of keeping you away from your gadgets. You'll see!)

5. Dress appropriately. Balabac is a very conservative Muslim community. (I wore G's shorts because my longest shorts were still too short. And I did tiptoe on wearing a bikini in Onok. As soon as I saw we were the only people on the beach, I quickly removed my coverup.)

6. Waterproof everything. I have read blog posts saying their boat overturned on the way to Onok, so better be safe than sorry. Put your gadgets in a dry bag and your bags in a big plastic bag.

7. There is no electricity in Onok. I believe they have generators for special events but you will need the mayor's permission to use it.

8. In Onok, there is a cottage with several rooms and mattresses that can be used by guests, should you request to stay the night.




Day 0

8:30 PM - 9:00 PM - Go to San Jose Bus Terminal
PHP 275/pax. No aircon. Look for the Roro Bus bound for Rio Tuba. (Click here for the photo)

9:00 PM - 2:20 AM - Travel time
There will be quick stopovers to get/drop-off passengers and for toilet breaks.


Day 1

2:20 AM - 2:30 AM - Scout the area for lodging/rest houses 
White House Lodge, PHP 250 per room. No limit of people per room. Walking distance from Rio Tuba bus terminal.  

2:30 AM - 7:00 AM - Rest
Charge cameras, cellphones, powerbanks


Hotcakes with a LOT of margarine for breakfast. Not in photo: 3 pieces of big turon with langka
7:00 AM - 8:00 AM - Breakfast
Walk around Rio Tuba to look for food and buy bottled water for the ferry ride

8:00 AM - 10:30 AM - Free Time
Yes, there's a lot of wasted time because of the bus-ferry schedule conflict. You can use this time to walk around the *red earth and reflect, or maybe go directly to the port of Rio Tuba and idle the time away with the locals. For us, we spent this time waiting for the heavy rain to stop pouring.

*Balabac is red-soiled because it is rich in nickel


Chubby kid G doing his thing at the boardwalk. #whereisg

10:30 AM - 10:45 AM - Ride a tricycle to the port
PHP 20/pax

10:45 AM - 12:00 AM - Board Ferry
PHP 350/pax. Fare to be paid inside the boat, during transit. There is only ONE ferry traveling from Rio Tuba to Balabac every day. If you miss this one, you'll have to wait for the next day. This explains why we took the night bus, instead of the early morning bus to Rio Tuba. The morning bus will get to Rio Tuba almost the same time when the ferry departs.


Feeling badass. Rode the top load of the ferry in the open sea

12:00 PM - 4:30 PM - Travel Time
In case the ferry fills up fast with passengers before noon, it will depart earlier too.

4:30 PM - Arrive in Balabac
Ideally, this is when you'll look for the boat that will take you Onok. At 4:30 PM, there's still time to ride before the sun sets. Supposedly the tourism officer will help you get in touch with the owners. If you are cleared to go to Onok, give the boatman money for gas, buy the necessary food, snacks and drinks, and set sail. This is what we initially planned; to spend the night in Onok. There are cottages on the island that you can use free of charge. But due to circumstances beyond our control, we had to resort to Plan B.


PLAN B

B for Balabac. 


4:30 PM - 5:30 PM - Free time

We used this time to look for the tourism officer, who was not in the office during office hours. Also took this time to walk around the quaint municipality.

5:30 PM - Find a lodging house
MLK Lodging House, PHP 400/fan room. No A/C rooms.
MLK Lodging House is about a 300-meter walk from the municipal town hall. Contact Number: 09395176169
It is a very small town. Everyone knows everyone. So when we asked for a decent place to stay the night, we got pointed to this recently opened lodging house owned by Ate Leotes Ladan. We placed our bags and went outside right away to find dinner.


Eatery was inside a nipa hut. There were two long tables and a blaring radio.
5:30 PM - 6:00 PM - Dinner
Cost: PHP 66 per person, including softdrinksWe were famished. There was only a handful of eateries in the area so we went to the one closer to the municipal town hall, right across the basketball court. For the first time, I experienced paying more for vegetable than for the fish dishes. Then, I remembered I was in a town where fishing is the primary source of livelihood. The softdrinks, we had to buy from the nearby sari-sari store.


I walked through the maze of wooden planks until I reached this part. I sat there to watch the beautiful sunset. 

6:00 PM - 6:30 PM - Watch sunset
Because I am very cheesy, and watching the sun set is one of the most beautiful things in the world.  

6:30 PM - 6:00 AM - Free time; Sleep
There's nothing much to do there. By 7PM, the stores will close and it will be pitch dark outside. Do your grocery shopping before then, so everything's ready to be hauled to Onok the next day. Best thing to do at this point is to sleep really early so you'll be sound asleep when the electricity cuts off by midnight.


DAY 2 

6:00 AM - 8:00 AM - Look for boat to Onok Island
It must be because most locals in the island are on Smart/Sun network, and in some areas the signal cannot reach them, as the reason why this section has two hours allotted to it. Because we don't have a way to contact the boatman or the tourism officer, we had to go to the pier by 6 AM and wait there until they eventually showed up.



8:00 AM - 9:00 AM - Boat to Onok
It will take a small pump boat an hour to get to the island. Bigger boats will slash off a good amount of time, but it will also mean double the gas. Please also note that these boats are very small. They don't even have what we call katig in Tagalog. You will be advised not to be rowdy as to not overturn the boat. The waves were calm but the water will splash on you and your belongings so don't forget to waterproof everything!

9:00 AM - 11:00 AM - Onok Island

Finally, Onok!!!




My first 30 minutes went on like this:
- Hurriedly changed out of my wet clothes and into my bikini and coverup
- Ran to the beach
- Took photos
- Took videos

The next hour and a half, I spent napping only to be woken up by G because the island caretaker and our boatman served us lunch.


11:00 AM - 12:00 PM - Lunch
It was freshly caught fish from the ocean and food we brought with us that they cooked for us! Amazing! Coke na lang kulang!

12:00 PM - 2:00 PM - Nap/Explore/Nap

Self-explanatory

2:00 PM - 2:30 PM - Second Lunch
I just woke up and could not believe it when I saw the caretaker bring in a second set of lunch. KALOKA! Again, freshly caught fish cooked two ways. And there was squid too! The fish's bones were color pink, you guys! Were we eating pang-aquarium fishes? 



2:30 PM - 6:00 PM - Swimming
Real swimming, not just pagpapa-cute sa beach. It started with quick dips, and then G decided to teach me how to swim. I was able to do basic swimming drills, and then some.

So there, basically your day is up to you. Do whatever you want to do.

Onok is said to be "a lot better than the Maldives" according to people who have visited both. While I haven't gone to the Maldives yet, I will go on record to say that this was the best beach I have been on, and I'm a Palaweña so that has to count for something.


Racing the sun. Our boatman didn't have a flashlight and the waves were getting wilder as it got darker.

6:00 PM - 7:00 PM - Boat ride back to Balabac Island
Because the tides were switching around this time, it would be risky to take the boat back at a later time. Something about the pump boat hitting the corals if you leave during low tide.

7:00 PM - 8:00 PM - Dinner
We went back to the eatery for dinner and talked nonstop about how enchanting that experience was.

8:00 PM - 5:30 AM - Rest at the lodge
PHP 400/room. At first, we said maybe we could rough it out and just sleep at the port. But because the port was too dark and we wanted to shower, we checked in again at MLK Lodging House.


Day 3

5:30 AM - 6:00 AM - Go to pier; Board the ferry to Rio Tuba
PHP 350/pax, payable during transit.

6:00 AM - 10:30 AM - Travel time
There is only ONE ferry bound for Rio Tuba. If you miss this one, you'll have to wait until the next day.

10:30 AM - 10:45 AM - Ride a tricycle to the shuttle terminal
PHP 25/pax. I'm not sure why it costs more. We were too tired to ask.

10:45 AM - 11:00 AM - Quick breakfast inside the shuttle

There were no places selling breakfast, so we ended up eating bread, biscuits and chips from the sari-sari store.

11:00 AM - 4:30 PM - Shuttle van to Puerto Princesa
Self-explanatory

4:30 PM - San Jose Terminal
Back in the city!!!

I tried my hardest not to be as chatty as usual, which is why I also made the separate post for the unforgettable experiences we encountered on the way there. For questions and clarifications, feel free to message me below. I'd be happy to help. Enjoy your trip to Onok! It will be a good adventure, I promise!

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