Balabac Island and Melville Lighthouse

img_1005.jpg Balabac Island Palawan

Balabac is the southernmost island in the Palawan archipeligo. Few tourists venture here because there is almost no infrastructure to support visitors.

The Melville lighthouse standing watch on the lonely south coast is the last thing you see if you are headed to Borneo.

img_1052.jpgIt takes around 4 days from Puerto Princesa to get there and back provided the weather is cooperating.

If not you might be stranded down there for a couple of weeks.

You can catch a boat to Balabac from Riotuba on the southern end of Palawan Island.

Mellvile Lighthouse Philippines

I opted to take along a motorbike. It costs 300 peso per person and an additional 300 for the bike.

The boat leaves around 2pm and arrives after dark in the town of Balabac on the north side of the island.

There are rooms available above the Sing and Swing karoke house for 200 peso per nite.

img_0984.jpgAll rooms come with mosquito nets. (use them – this is one of the few areas in the Philippines that has a high malaria risk!)

South of Nara and Quezon on Palawan – it is considered to risky area for malaria and dengue.

img_0985.jpg My friends boatman was down with malaria at the time so one of the other guys filled in and brought me to the southern end.

Some people told me that it was possible to drive to Agutayan on the south side but others suggested that the trip would take 7 hours provided the road was not too deep with mud, in which case it would not be possible.

I went by boat.

img_0994.jpg I wanted to get down to the lightouse for no other reason than to look across the Straights of Balabac towards Borneo.

This area is filled with small time and big time smugglers and the occasional pirate vessel so it makes for an interesting adventure.

img_1000.jpg I was closely interrogated by the Philippine naval intelligence and was supposed to meet with Lieutenant Carenza in the morning but chose to head out of town instead.

It was a bizarre encounter because he and his men surrounded me as I emerged from the cr behind the Sing and Swing Karaoke lounge.

They were convinced that I was on a recon mission and wanted to coordinate efforts with my office.

img_0990.jpgIt sounds a little weird but this area is the back door to the Philippines so navy intel, army intel, and the PNP keep information on everything going on in this part of the world.

I didn’t want to have my travels restricted nor did I want to start a file on myself that would follow me indefinitely in the Philippines.

Melville Lighthouse

img_1041.jpg Balabac island is mountainous, in contrast to most of the other islands in the area which are flat and loaded with coconut trees.

The jungle is thick and lush and has pilandok roaming about. These tiny deer are not easily seen because they are hunted diligently and stay out of sight. They are said to be delicious.

Melville Lighthouse in Palawan Quite a few of the residents speak Malay and enjoy conversing with you in that language. For the most part the locals are leery of strangers because a lot of shady operators do business here and people don’t want to get involved with things that don’t concern them. It is simply a matter of survival.

It takes 2 hours by fast boat to get to the south side of the island. There are a some dangerous reefs down there that have claimed a number of ships.

img_1007.jpgSome day this area might open up to dive operators but at this time it is not feasible.

The old Melville lighthouse has been retired and a solar powered model has taken up the guard.

Bbalabac-balabac-palawan-018alabac IslandĀ  – revisited Nov 2009

MG, Cheryl, and I did a quick trip to Balabac a few months ago. We took the pumpboat from Rio Tuba and stayed 2 nights on the island.



balabac-balabac-palawan-011Bulad, or dried fish from Balabac has a well deserved reputation for being amongst the finest in Palawan. Cheryl landed up getting 6 bags of the stuff for her Mum in Nara.

Always take care to keep dried fish in a separate plastic bag because the smell will never get out of your clothes if you put it in your pack.



balabac-balabac-palawan-012MG and Cheryl relaxing on the balcony above the Sing-n-Swing Karaoke. This is the only place to stay in town.

balabac-balabac-palawan-020balabac-balabac-palawan-021Sing-n-Swing Karaoke

balabac-balabac-palawan-008Malaria and filiraisis are both found in Balabac. Most people use mosquito nets

balabac-balabac-palawan-009Malaria does not concern locals as much as filariasis, which is uncurable and causes body parts to swell to grotesque proportions.

It is also called elephantitis in some places.

balabac-balabac-palawan-002This is one of the main roads on Balabac.The mud on this island has no grit and is very slippery after rains. Most people get around by boat because it is so much easier.

Locals recommend using a bit of caution in the back country at this time – a band of MILF fighters fled to the interior of Balabac after a battle with the army on a nearby island.

Melville Lighthouse – Balabac Island

Oct 30, 2007

48 responses to “Balabac Island and Melville Lighthouse”

  1. ello

    we are students. oure plan is, to find a nice place on a beach, rent a bungalow and a boat(diving) and have a nice time….. we was travelling before in thailand, laos, malaysia, indonesia and india like backpackers. allways we was trying to learn samethink about the kultur and the people of the land!!! it is a dream since a long time- THE phillippins!!! )) ollaaaaa

    same friends of us the are travell since 2 weeks on the phillippins. the are arround apo island, negros, siquijor…… the told us, very nice beaches, amazing landscape, friendly people but expensiv and a lots of tourist….. the are travell since a year, coming from india, so mabye the are a bit sensitive;)

    we are looking for a place with very nice beach, amazing landscape, friendly people but with less tourists…..

    first idea was to hit palawan. i hat a look on google earth. and found the a group of island in the south part of palawan, bugsuk island, balabac island. its incredible looking. perfect for flyfishing. big flat areas everywhere!!! but i hardly found any informations?!?!?

    next place was: Cagayan island(Boliungan). its between Palawan and negros. close to the tubbataha reefs. it is hard to get there, how to get there?? whats going on over there?!?! many questions, i know.

    thanks a lot!!!!!!!

    greets and just the best from austria
    max and kathi

    ps: its freezing and a lot of snow here, time to go

  2. i’m from Malaysia I want to know pugai balabac?

  3. to tq: just like dp said, there is no commercial transportation from Malaysia to
    Balabac or vice versa, but on the other hand there are merchants plying from Kudat or Labuan to Balabac or Rio Tuba and you can try it. Regarding immigration, the nearest is in Brooke’s Point but sometimes immigration officials are standing by in Rio Tuba, Bataraza.
    . . . reneprince

  4. Attention: PNP Balabac, Palawan
    Sir, I would like to know if there’s development in the murder case of my brother Dodong, who was brutally murdered by three suspected residents of Brgy. Sibaring, Bugsuk last April 11. Please let me know if there was really an investigation made and a follow-up. As I understand sir, the killers are still on the loose. Please give me an update on this matter. I am asking concern citizens of the municipality of Balabac and the Brgys to please help us solve this case and coordinate to the nearest PNP personnels. Thank you so much . . . Rene (brother of the deceased).

  5. To: Reneprince.

    Please send me an email and explain what exactly happened. What is the full name of your brother Dodong? What was he doing in Sebaring? I used to leave in Bugsuk Island and still know some people there. I know Bugsuk is a private island owned by the Cojuangcos.

    Ed C.

  6. Ed C.

    Are you from Bugsuk Island? I need to know some details about the island. Is there a way you can email me at bulthaup36 @


  7. hi.. its really great to get some info around the island of bugsuk.. im so interested of palawan amazing beauty can u help me to find a place there but not expensive for a local tourist? beside bugsuk is there any bayan that can speak malay?


  8. Hi.
    I am planning to fly into malaysia and do some scuba diving/marine biology research in kudat (malaysia). very interested in the smaller islands and their biodiversity off at the end of palawan … as you have talked about. Is is a big problem getting from malaysia to thos islands by boat and avoiding all the immigration headache ? just going for a few days, maybe a week. Do not want to fly into palawan and then travel so far out to those islands. What is the best way to go straight from malaysia to that area – and then back, without to much of a headache ? is it possible to hire or pay a boat/private boat/private driver? any suggestions ? thank you.

  9. Hi. Thanks for your reply. Can i fly straight to puerto princesa and thru immig there or do i need to fly to manilla and then back to palawan island? such a headache! just trying to avoid to much headache and short on time also. can it be done…. from kudat-malaysia to balabac or is it completely impossible ? or to the other islands in the area ? without too many problems ? thanks

  10. i have been in balabac for 4 yrs.that was 1998…i haven’t return till now.i was planning to have a vecation there…can someone tell me anything that’s been goin on there that i need to know.any danger perhaps?

  11. long will it take me to reach rio tuba from puerto princessa airport?

  12. Hi dp, my wife and i( shes pinoy) were looking at buying land in Palawan, we have been there twice now and have been north but never south of P.P.C.. We are in contact with an R.E agent over there and he has beach front land for sale in Sofronio Espanola. I understand the inforstructure is poor there but this is fine we dont plan on living there for another 10 years or so but would like to build in the meantime. Is this a nice place.. we tried searching, but can not fine any info on the area.. We found info on Brookes point and this looks really nice. Any info on this area would be great.. thanks and regards

  13. Dave wharfe,

    Information on Sofronio Espanola you can contact the Municipal Tourism Office in Sofronio Espanola on this mobile number 0926-304-8395


  14. Thanks for the # MG will give them a call…. cheers

  15. Thanks dp for the reply,
    are you familiar with the mangsee island, palawan? by the way, is there any regular boat trip to agutayan from balabac proper?

  16. Hi dp,

    The trip from Puerto Princesa to Rio Tuba, how long did it take you on a motorbike? How were the road conditions?


  17. Hi. I am preparing a research proposal on dengue in Palawan, particularly involving tourists and other non-residents. I would appreciate it if the readers can put me in contact with these individuals. Advanced thanks

  18. Dear Dutchpickle,
    I really enjoyed reading your articles about balabac. I am a mountaineer and enjoy travelling. As you know, I will be in Palawan this Nov. 20, 2010 and opted to travel south down to Brooke’s Point. The moment I read your article I decided to go as south as Balabac.
    How long will it take from Brooke’s Pt to Balabac? I have a very limited time in Palawan. Just a matter of 3 days. will I be able to be back on time at PPC for my flight? That will be on 22nd?

  19. I’m planning to visit phili again between January / March, i have been to palawan before but am interested to go to the south, time is not really a problem so i dont mind the long journey. I would like toknow if there is snorkeling possiblities on balabac and nearby islands, would i need to hire a boat and if so is it possible? or is there reef close to the shore? Also i like bird watching, are there good bird watching opportunities there?



  20. I am into Lighthouses and I am off to Puerto Princesa this coming weekend. I was considering going to Melville. Thanks to your post I realized how far it is from Puerto Princesa and how dangerous it can be. *sigh*
    Every time I travel in a place I try my best to visit the Lighthouse there. Looks like I will have to pass on this one :(

  21. after balabac island anong island an malpit na sakop ng malaysia?

  22. to Ornel ate,

    Mangsee Island is the last island of Balabac Municipality situated in eastern part. if you wish to go there pls drop by at Poblacion balabac and i will assist you going to that island. this island barangay of balabac are using two currency, the Philippine peso and Malaysia ringgit. Try visit Balabac and i will sure u will enjoy the adventure there.

  23. For Michael Watt, Jr . . . I have a friend in Balabac whose name is also Michael Watt . . . could this be your relative or your father?

  24. For Mr. Dutchpickle: We are selling our property in Bugsuk Island, Balabac. You can see some photos on my FB account . . . (Punta Sebaring). . . Thank you so much.

  25. Balabac is an island populated by a 80% are Muslim and 20 Christian,,,this place is far fro the mainland of palawan,,,it is almost 9hours travel from city of Puerto princesa,,,4-5 hours from Puerto princesa city to Rio tuba by means of land transportation and 4-5 hours from Rio tuba to balabac by means sea transportation with pump boat passenger,,,,this place is nice for living because a lot resources can found in this place. the main problem in this area is ‘peace in order situation’ ….

  26. Hi Dutchpickle,

    There appears to be a large inland lake or sea inlet on Bugsuk island. Is this an area of interest / outstanding natural beauty ? Also, is this area safe i.e have there been any kidnappings of locals or foreigners ?

  27. I went to Balabac in August (last month) ,there is still no other place to stay than the Sing and Swing which doesn’t seem to swing much by the way . To go from Balabac to Puerto it took us 10 hours ; the bangka was supposed to leave at 6 am ,it didn’t leave before 7.30 , arrival in Rio Tuba around 11 _12 , a tricycle to the shuttle stop then a shuttle direct to Puerto with a stop for lunch , everything normal ,the sea was perfectly smooth(prices: pumpboat 350 , tricycle 50 , shuttle 450 ) , the owner of the Sing and Swing travelled with us all the way to Puerto , so we didn’t waste any time as we were in a hurry because we wanted to arrive before 4 pm ,which was impossible ;. Never be in a hurry in the Philippines and keep cool that should be your motto !!! it was very difficult to find a tricycle in Balabac , people were very friendly but some made us feel uneasy ; for example at the Sing and Swing we met a Canadian man who advised us not to stay too long ,to be very careful with smugglers , he insisted a lot on his religion ( saying he was muslim ) and on his girl friends who were much younger than him ( which is not surprising in the Philippines ) . We supposed he was staying in one of the rooms as he was having a drink in the lobby upstairs but we never saw him again … While hanging out around the town , we met some people who wanted to be our guides saying the place would be safe with them ; we didn’t go anywhere with anyone but we walked a lot . the beach was nice and we could see some monkeys along the road and a few pheasants . There is not a real restaurant but I managed to convince a lady who had a small place where she sold chicken adobo to cook fresh fish for us ( there were a few stands selling fresh fish in the street and that was perfect ) when there is no restaurant you can eat better … the nights were more difficult no more fan after midnight and then you start sweating , 4.40 am : the call from the mosq , then the roosters started singing waking up all the dogs , end of the night , but still no light, you have to go to the toilets with a torch …… that is holiday !

  28. Hi there!

    We want to visit the lighthouse next summer. I really am worried about the Malaria and Dengue risk. Do you suggest that we take anti-malaria shots first?

    Also, how much did it cost you to reach the lighthouse?


  29. Hi i’m hani, i came from mangsee island which is part of balabac palawan!

  30. Hi Hani ,
    My name’s Ha Nguyen , from Vietnam .
    I’d like to make a trip to Mangsee Balabac , I think I may go by May 2014 .
    May you give me advice?

    Ha Nguyen

  31. Ha Nguyan, pardon my late rely . I have out and about the past few years and am now waiting out the coronavirus epidemic in the USA.

    I do not know the Mangsee Balabac islands but they have been in the news at times for
    for illegal entry and poaching of marine products. (at least what I see on the internet.)

    sharks etc

  32. I have been to the Melville Light House on the south side of the island with my friend Barry and his boatman.

    It was an excellent adventure but keep in mind that he is an old timer and knows the ropes. His main boatman was down with malaria so we had to find a back up. Barry,’s generosity and zest for life was a rare find. We met having a few beers at the Sing and Swing karaoke bar there in the main town bar. I had checked in for the night and Barry reminded me to be sure to use a mosquito net , which I did.

    I have been to Balabac a few times and always bring a motorbike. The outback trails are indeed quite low end but I have done some pretty wild trips down there. A number of years ago there were some hold outs from MILF vs Army skirmishes holed up back there so it is not always the best place to go wandering about.

    I always base out of the Sing and Swing and every trip was an adventure.

    I was once advised that people that live there would much prefer to catch malaria than filariasis (for which there is no cure)

    anyway just use caution and precautions like bug nets, spray, and possibly coils and try not to weird out about potential bad things

    my friend Gary from Rio Tuba text me last year that a local kid got killed by a salt water croc while he was skin diving for fish , things can happen – try to reduce the risk

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