Due to the long battle for peace in the southern part of the Philippines, the islands of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, where conflicts are the focus of attention, never gained the spotlight they truly deserve. Unless we open our minds, we’re still probably one of those who think that it’s never the best place to spend the next holiday.
I wrote this post not to disagree on what we hear from the news but to set it clear that this region is way too big to generalize something negative. It’s unfair and disappointing because I only received hospitality and love throughout my stay.
I saw the massive effort of the local government to really promote tourism, they encourage everyone who wanted to visit to drop by to tourism office for assistance.
Ferries are operating to get you to Basilan and Sulu from Zamboanga Port while you can choose to fly with Cebu Pacific to get you to Tawi-Tawi from Zamboanga Airport. Here I listed down some of so many hidden gems of these beautiful provinces. Enjoy!
= INSIDE BASILAN =
1. Provincial Capitol of Basilan
Take the M/V Weesam Express from Zamboanga Port to Basilan for 150php plus 11php Terminal fee (nearly an hour long). First thing you need to do is to visit the tourism office inside the provincial capitol for assistance. You can actually walk from Basilan Port to Capitol but since we do not know it in the first place, we took the tricycle for 15php each. Here, we spent half an hour asking random questions to the tourism officer. You may contact Ms. Shaheena ahead of time thru 0917 700 8741.
2. Jollibee BasilanJust outside the Capitol is the only Jollibee in the whole province of Basilan. They say that this is not your ordinary Jollibee because it’s in Basilan. 🙂 🙂 🙂
3. Malamawi BeachThe pride of Basilan and the highlight of this trip! It’s a must visit for anyone who wish to visit Isabela City. From Basilan Pier, take a boat for 5php per head per way but since we cannot wait for the other passengers to fill in the remaining seats, we have decided to rent the boat for 200php just for crossing the river. (Haha! That’s too much!).
After crossing the river, hire a Habal Habal driver for 100php to take you to the beach. And for 50php additional charge, you may ask them to get you straight to observatory deck. The view from above is breathtaking so never missed that chance!
4. (City Tour) Cabunbata Falls/ Park/ Mosque/ Church/ College
Kuya Amado from the tourism office joined us explore the city with his motorbike for Free. The not your ordinary falls for its location, Cabunbata Falls is literally just beside the main road. Motorists usually stopped here to relax, bathe and clean their bikes. This is a bit far from the city proper but worth visiting for.
Thoughts? We only have hours to experience Basilan but we’ll surely come back for an overnight stay the next time. 🙂
= INSIDE ZAMBOANGA CITY =
We spent the night in Zamboanga City before our flight the next day to Tawi-Tawi. We had our dinner in Alavar Restaurant known for their “Alavar Sauce” and “Curacha” – looks like a red frog crab found in the waters of Zamboanga and Sulu.
Vinta (lepa-lepa or sakayan) is a trademark of Zamboanga, a traditional boat made by sea gypsy Sama-Badjao. There is an annual tradition called regatta which highlights the colorful vinta sails of this tribe. You’ll find them somewhere in Great Sta. Cruz Island or the Pink Beach.
How? Terminal is inside Paseo del Mar.
= INSIDE TAWI-TAWI =
Call Ms. Fatima of Tawi-Tawi tourism office before your trip at 0977-202-7107.
Day 1 – Island Hopping
Tawi-Tawi or “Jaui Jaui” which means “Far” was previously part of Sulu. It is the southernmost part of the country and the birthplace of Islam in the Philippines. In 1380, Karim Ul’ Makhdum, an Arabian trader, reached the southern Philippines and subsequent settlements of Arab missionaries became the foundation of Islam in the region. The Sheik Karimal Makdum Mosque was the first ever mosque in the country and was built in Simunul Island.
It took us 1.5 hours from Bongao proper to Simunul Island and another 3 hours from Simunul to Panampangan so better start your day early!
Panampangan is considered as having the record of longest sandbar in the country with roughly 3 kilometers long. The stretch extends up to its neighboring Basibuli island.
This is the most expensive Island Hopping I had so far but the most exciting and educational. 🙂
Tour is 8,000php per boat plus 500php for the tour guide.
Day 2 – City Tour
Your visit to Tawi-Tawi will never be complete if you did not make it to Bud Bongao. This is a sacred mountain with lots of story to tell. 1,371 is the unofficial number of steps from the foot of the mountain to its peak. Don’t forget to bring bananas for the monkeys, their presence are everywhere thus locals consider them as guardians of Bud Bongao.
Entrance fee is 20php.
Sama-Bajau or the “Sea Gypsies” or what we called the “Badjaos” are usually found in the coastal areas of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. Due to their nomadic way of living, most of them are still illiterate and uneducated despite the efforts done by the local government to improve their lifestyle. We visited a Badjao Village in Bongao and bought some crafts made by them.
Food is life! We tried and tasted some of their local snacks in “Umbrella’s” and “Haiver Coffee Shop” where they serve the whole menu instantly, just eat what you want to eat and pay for it after. Food prices are almost the same in Manila except for sea foods. 🙂
We got invited into a Muslim Wedding since a friend of our tour guide is about to marry that day. They prepared a “Dulang” for us before heading to the bride’s home (it’s a Muslim tradition that the ceremony or “Nikah” will be held there) though based on my research, it varies largely according to tribes they belong.
Capturing the beautiful sunset in Bongao Bay is a must. Locals spare time here to unwind or just kill time with friends. A bunch of students were singing that time so I grab the opportunity to request some songs. I am very amused on how they welcome tourists and I hope that this will remain the same even after Tawi-Tawi becomes a tourism hotspot.
Other spots to visit are the Provincial Capitol, Boloboc Cave and Mosques.
I’ve been dreaming of this for a long time and everything now is a reality! 🙂 I highly recommend to visit Basilan and Tawi-Tawi but with a proper coordination with the local tourism office. By sharing my experiences, I am hoping that I gave you reasons why you should consider Basilan and Tawi-Tawi on your next travel destination!
- Go to tourism office for assistance
- A tour guide surely helps! Discovering the city thru motorbike is a lot cheaper than going on your own
- Dress properly
- I recommend “Kuya Amado” to be your personal tour guide in Basilan
- I recommend “Kuya Wadz” to be your personal tour guide in Tawi-Tawi
- Pocket money of Php 10,000.00 is more than enough to do the exact things I did
- For island hopping, it’s better if you’re in a group
- For accommodations in Tawi-Tawi, I recommend “Raiyyan’s Inn & Refreshments”
- ATMs are available 24/7
- You cannot use your credit cards
- Internet connection is ok in Isabela City but not in Bongao
For questions, clarifications or additional information you want to be added in this blog, just comment below.
(Thank You in Tausug)
Callistus B. San Diego