Weekend Getaway: Sabang Beach, Baler

In this post:

  • Taking the Bus from Cubao to Baler
  • Where to Stay in Baler: Cost Comparison
  • Sabang Beach Surf Rentals and Seasons
  • Budget Breakdown: 3D2N for P6000
  • Local Highlights and Travel Log

Returning from Taiwan with renewed inspiration to surf, it was only a matter of waiting for the opportune moment to revisit Baler.

In truth, I’ve been waiting for an excuse to return to Baler since my first surfing trip more than a year ago.

Back in 2017, I outlined my experience of learning to surf on a budget-friendly 5-day trip in this backpacker’s guide to surfing in Baler.

On this first solo trip, I stayed at the Go Surfari House—a few minutes walk from the beach, and got my surf lessons and boards from Nalu Surf Camp.

This time, I took a long birthday weekend to explore new spots on Sabang Beach.

So this post is both an update and a twist on the original experience—with new tips and highlights, a comparison of accommodations, and recommendations on how to make a trip for two just as—or even more—budget-friendly.

Taking the Bus from Cubao to Baler

Once again, the Genesis Joy Bus is the way to go.

I’ve been told that you can call the bus company to make reservations. However, I wasn’t able to get through to the various numbers listed online so I can’t recommend any of them here.

Since my partner and I left on a Wednesday night, we figured there would be plenty of open seats and no need to reserve. Also, trips are fairly frequent so, worst case, we’d simply have to wait.

We left our place in BF Homes Las Pinas just after 10 PM and arrived at the Genesis Bus Terminal in Cubao a little after midnight—on schedule to catch the 1 AM bus. Which was already open for boarding at the terminal.

This Joybus Semi-Deluxe costs 650 pesos per person and gets you to Baler in 5 hours.

Here are Genesis’ regular and Joybus schedules.

Joybus Schedule: Cubao to Baler

TypeFare (pesos)ScheduleTravel time
Regular aircon450-500 Every hour from 3 AM to 7:30 AM6-7 hours
Semi-Deluxe6501:00 AM and 5:30 AM5-6 hours
Deluxe73011:00 PM, 12:00 AM, 2:00 AM5-6 hours

Joybus Schedule: Baler to Cubao

TypeFare (pesos)ScheduleTravel time
Regular aircon450-500 Every hour from 4:30 AM to 3 PM6-8 hours
Semi-Deluxe6504:30AM and 11:00 AM5-6 hours
Deluxe7301:00 PM, 2:00 PM, 3:30 PM5-6 hours

Resources: Genesis bus schedule; Joybus schedule

Do note that the regular air-conditioned bus stops in Cubao but its end destination is Pasay

As always in the Philippines, travel time is subject to traffic. The overnight buses tend to be very timely and typically arrive within 5 hours, while those returning to Manila often end up in traffic and can take significantly longer.

This Joybus daily trip schedule has been posted at the Genesis Bus Terminal in Cubao

Update: It appears that the 12 PM bus leaving Baler now departs at 11 AM and that the 1:30 AM and 2:30 AM busses have been replaced by one 2:00 AM bus.

Regular buses technically go every hour but remember, it’s the Philippines. Some things run on their own time.

You can save money by taking the regular air-conditioned Genesis buses, which take you one way for just under 500 pesos per head. However, these buses stop frequently and take quite a bit longer to reach their destination.

On our way back from Baler on this last trip, we were hoping to catch another Semi-Deluxe Joybus to Cubao but it was out of commission. The regular bus we ended up taking instead was just as clean and comfortable but it took us almost 8 hours to get back to Manila.

Where to Stay in Baler: Sabang Beach

When you wander around Sabang Beach in search of accommodation, you’ll see everything from large hotels to hand-written signs advertising rooms for a couple hundred pesos a night.

Here’s a quick comparison of options on or near the beach.

Accommodations on Sabang Beach, Baler

Costa Pacifica Nalu Surf CampAliya Surf Camp & ResortGo Surfari HouseEl Dawn Surfing School
Level of LuxuryRitzyChillux Mainstream/ Crowd PleaserBackpacker Central Lokal Na 
Price rangeP6,000-40,000P2,500-11,000P2,000-6,000P500-2,000P200-500
Garden area
Surfboards and lessons
Beachfront pool
Breakfast Surf school
Fresh pandesals
Great vibe
Lovely pets
Great people
Surf school
Great deals on surfboards

Often crowded5-10 minute walk from the beachAsk for a mosquito net

I’m definitely the kind of traveler who prefers a backpacker or local vibe. I don’t want to sit inside air-conditioned concrete walls.

I’ll take the bamboo slats, the sound of the sea, and the extra couple thousand pesos in my pocket any day.

Last time I came to Baler I was traveling solo and stayed at Go Surfari House. I booked a bed in their shared dorm room via Airbnb and enjoyed my stay very much.

This time around, my partner and I got a recommendation to stay with at El Dawn—a friend of a friend’s surf school and very informal lodge.

Go Surfari House

Besides using online booking sites, you can reserve a spot at the Go Surfari House by messaging them on Facebook. A bed in the common dorm goes at 500 pesos per person per night.

They offer a nice place to chill and a simple but tasty breakfast, prepared for you by the lady of the house every morning.

You can request a Filipino-style rice meal or have eggs on toast. I recommend the latter simply because of how delicious the freshly baked pandesals are. They come from a little bakery across the street, cost 2 pesos apiece, and are certainly one of Baler’s gems.

Pro tip: Start your surf day with some hot pandesals right here, and a cup of brewed coffee from Dialyn’s Bake Shop (40 pesos in a mug, 45 to take away)

El Dawn Surfing School

The El Dawn Surfing School sits right on the beachfront, in the shadows of the uninhabited Hotel Punta Baler. 

It’s a simple hut lined with surfboards. Above, there are beds in a common space for 200 pesos per night. Behind the main hut is a row of nipa huts or kubos, where you can stay for 500 pesos per night. Just get in touch with them on Facebook.

We opted for our own kubo and the man of the house graciously put in a mosquito net for us. The hut was simple and exactly right. We even had a hammock on the veranda. At night, we could hear the waves from our bed.

Surf Rentals and Seasons

July may be a good month for birthdays but—to my dismay—it’s not quite the season for waves.

It didn’t stop us from trying though. 

We rented boards from El Dawn and got them discounted to 200 pesos per board for the whole day.

Surf camps the likes of Nalu will offer boards at 200 pesos per hour, 400 for a half day, and 800 for the whole day. In fact, these rates are pretty standard across Sabang Beach but many small surf shops will offer discounts.

The waves were indeed small but we enjoyed the opportunity to practice on such a forgiving sea. 

Another silver lining of such calm seas was swimming out into the deep for a bit of free diving and sand-sighting. We saw neither coral nor fish but the water was still beautiful.

For future reference, the waves start picking up in the “ber” months and the season stretches from September to March. 

Budget Breakdown

Thanks to a very budget-friendly stay and surf at El Dawn, we were able to make the whole trip for about 6,000 pesos. That’s roughly US $115.

Here’s a simple breakdown.

Budget for 3 days, 2 nights in Baler: 

  • Travel, by bus: P2,300 round trip for two 
  • Accommodations: P1000 for two nights 
  • Surfing, whole day: P400 for two boards
  • Food and drinks: P2,300 
  • Total: P6,000

In summary, it doesn’t have to cost much to enjoy Baler.

Local Highlights

To conclude this account, I’d like to throw in a few final recommendations and a little travel log. Enjoy!

Miscellaneous Recommendations

I’ve already mentioned the hot pandesals, which you can find on T. Molina street, just across the bridge from Sabang Beach and opposite the Go Surfari House. 

We also know that Baler’s best cup of coffee is served at Dialyn’s (because it’s not instant but brewed).

Finally, when the day is done, you can wander over to Uhuru Bar for beer, bites, and billiards.

Completory Travel Log

Day 1

We didn’t get tons of rest on the night bus. The curtains appear designed to keep out the view and let in the light of the sunrise. 

We walk from the Genesis Terminal to Sabang Beach. The first thing we do is buy hot pandesals. 

By 7 o’clock we’re on the beach. We stop by Nalu Surf Camp but the instructors aren’t there yet. At least we can use the bathroom to change into our swimming gear.

We wander up the beach from there, checking out various options for rooms and board rentals along the way. 

We end up following our friend’s recommendation and getting the kubo at El Dawn. We drop our things and then ourselves and sleep until about midday. 

In the afternoon the rain is big and the waves are small. We have a swim, a beer, another nap, a bite, a beer, another swim, another beer. But no surf. 

Eventually, we make our way through the rain to Uhuru for a game of pool. 

Day 2

One of the things I had to do once back in Baler was look up my surfer buddy CJ. He and his friends helped me out on the waves the last time I was here and introduced me to their buhay surf.

CJ is 21 and stays with his younger brother and a few friends in a little house not far from the beach. He goes to school, he says, but doesn’t seem to have had any classes this week. 

He complains about the waves being paasa, which as I understand it, refers to a false promise. 

We sit around a simple wooden table. Four small bottles of C2 are opened and each placed upside down on top of a bottle of Ginebra—a cheap Filipino gin that is also one of the world’s best selling brands of alcohol. 

Yes, it’s time for Baler’s quintessential C2 bites.

Two cups are produced. One to pour a shot into, and the other to chase it with water. The cups and a guitar are passed around. 

A motherless kitten has also made this house a home. It wants food but the only things in sight are alcohol and cigarettes. We promise to bring it eggs the next day. 

The hangover is pretty awful. 

We stay in bed late and eventually wander out for breakfast—coffee and pastries at Dialyn’s. 

The chief of police joins us at our table. We have a chat with him about Australia and Canada—which he mixes up because both have a state of Victoria. 

Also confusing are the Netherlands and Norway, and the name Arthur. The officer’s name is Huvert. 

He talks about local politics and his job of keeping the town safe. 

On our way back to the beach, my boyfriend chases down a skateboarder with a ukelele on his back and performs for a small audience in the shade of some palm trees.

After breakfast, we take our boards out to the water. Despite splitting headaches and waves of nausea, the ocean is quite enjoyable. 

The waves are small but easy to catch and great for practicing the groundwork of surfing. A few are strong enough to give a taste of that satisfying rush and because they’re breaking so close to shore we ride many of them out to the beach. 

As beginners, we’re able to play with our balance on different boards and the experience is ultimately worthwhile. 

Just as we’re beginning to feel proud of ourselves, a dog comes out and surfs the waves.

We get out of the water as the sun is hanging low and search for dinner. Then we bring eggs to CJ’s house. 

Later we sit with the guys at the El Dawn but declined the C2 bites they’re passing around. 

Day 3

We wake up the next day with time for a swim before heading out. We take our goggles and swim out to where the water is an estimated 4 meters deep. 

Diving to the bottom to touch the sand is a fun little rush. The water is cool and invigorating, the surroundings beautiful, and the swim sufficiently tiring. 

We shower, pack our bags, and make our way to the bus terminal. We grab coffee and buns along the way, get to the bus stop minutes before 11, and find that the bus we were aiming for is broken. Instead, we catch a regular bus departing at noon. 

We sit in the cool bus to sip hot coffee and munch on the chocolate and ube buns. Then we leave our bag and wander the market, following up the coffee with some cold beers. 

As the time comes for the bus to depart, we settle in for what will be a near 8-hour ride back to the city. We enjoy some beautiful views and try to ignore the terrible movies. 

When we arrive in Cubao, food is at the forefront of our minds. A live band draws us toward Dampa Sa Farmer’s Market, where we treat ourselves to freshly cooked seafood.

To wrap up the trip in a fuzzy love blanket of embarrassment, my boyfriend sneaks a chat with the band while they’re on break and—for the first time in forever—manages to catch my unsurprisable self entirely off guard. 

I hear my name over the PA system. Then they start singing.

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