White sand beaches and sublime sunsets, dramatic waterfalls and lush mountains—Zamboanga Peninsula has all these and more. This emerging tourist destination has got all kinds of travelers covered from the nature lover to the culture geek, the history buff to the adventurous gastronome.

With this, it is no wonder that the region is teeming with sites that make for memorable photos. It is hard to pick just 10 given the region’s wealth of Instagram-worthy spots, but here are some that have become favorites among travelers.

1. Great Santa Cruz Island, Zamboanga City

Great Santa Cruz Island is famed for its blush pink sand which results from the blending of crushed red organ pipe corals and natural white sand. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

This island is best known for its unique pink sand resulting from crushed red organ pipe corals that blend with white sand.  

The blush pink sand is so remarkable that in 2017, National Geographic included the island on its best beaches list.

The surrounding turquoise waters teem with rich marine life making it ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling. There is also a yellow boat tour of the lagoon and its mangroves where visitors can interact with stingless jellyfish and feast on edible sea grapes (latok) freshly harvested from the waters.

The number of visitors to the island is regulated. Guests who wish to visit the island can coordinate with the Tourism Office in Zamboanga City’s Paseo del Mar at least a day in advance. 

2. Once Islas, Zamboanga City

Once Islas is a group of eleven largely uninhabited islands and islets, only four of which are open to travelers for eco-tourism. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Once Islas is a cluster of eleven largely uninhabited islands and islets. Only four of the eleven—Bisaya-Bisaya, Sirommon, Buh-Buh, and Baung-Baung— have been developed and opened to visitors since 2018.  

Over the years, the islands have become a popular eco-tourism hub with a strict Garbage In-Garbage Out policy. Visitors can engage in low-impact activities like swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and trekking. 

The islands’ immaculate white sand, gin-clear waters, verdant greenery, and the colorful Vinta sails adorning the beach fronts make excellent backdrops for photos.    

For bookings, email onceIslas@gmail.com or call (062) 975 6341. 

3. Heritage Zone, Zamboanga City 

Zamboanga City’s Heritage Zone gives visitors a peek into the city’s rich history. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

A leisurely walk around the Heritage Zone of Zamboanga City gives visitors a taste of its rich history. From the imposing Fort Pilar to its opulent City Hall, there is no shortage of IG-worthy places to take selfies with.

In between these historic structures are a smattering of other landmarks like Plaza Pershing and Pettit Barracks. Century-old Acacia trees lining the streets provide much-needed shade. 

Visitors will also get to pass by the first BPI branch in Mindanao. Opened in 1912, the branch is well preserved and is still operational. A McDonald’s branch that is located in a quaint Victorian-inspired building built in 1928 is just a stone’s throw away. 

4. Dakak Resort and Properties, Zamboanga del Norte

Dakak’s white sand beach and lush coves have made it a favorite among travelers to Zamboanga del Norte. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

A sentimental favorite among many travelers, Dakak retains much of the charm that made it the “it” place in Mindanao in the ‘90s. 

Dakak’s white sand beach is a jump off point for water activities such as scuba diving, kayaking, and banana boat riding. While its Adventure Zone offers outdoor activities such as rappelling, trekking, and rock climbing. 

The resort has accommodations that offer scenic views of the Sulu Sea and the surrounding cliffs and mountains. 

For reservations, visit Dakak Beach Resort’s official website.

5. Dipolog Boulevard, Zamboanga del Norte

Dipolog’s answer to Manila Bay, this charming 2.6 km-long esplanade rewards visitors with gorgeous sunsets over the Sulu Sea. 

The best time to go on a stroll is an hour or so before the sun sets as hawkers start setting up shop. Munch on a basket of fried chicken skin and lick on a cone of dragon fruit ice cream bought from nearby vendors while watching the sun dip over the horizon. 

6. Lapuyan Falls, Zamboanga del Sur 

Lapuyan Falls is believed by the local Subanen community to be protected by a female deity. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Secluded and accessible via a steep staircase, Lapuyan Falls seems every bit like the hidden gem that it is. The waterfall is surrounded by a thick forest which the local Subanens say is protected by a female deity.

Guests who do not wish to get themselves wet can stay on the deck overlooking the waterfalls. The deck is also where members of a Subanen performing group stage cultural presentations upon arrangement with the tourism office

A few minutes away by car from Lapuyan Falls is The Heritage House where visitors can learn more about Subanen culture and cuisine. Guests can also stay overnight at the house for a minimal fee. 

7. Pahali Resort, Malamawi Island, Isabela de Basilan

Malamawi’s stretch of powdery white sand and azure waters is one of Basilan’s most popular natural attractions. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Dubbed as the “crown jewel” of Basilan’s tourism, Malamawi’s wide stretch of powdery white sand and azure waters make it worthy of this title. 

The waves do not get too rough which makes the beach ideal for a lazy dip. Activities such as speed boating and scuba diving are available. 

The resort also has a hiking trail that leads to the island’s highest point. The trek to the top is a bit challenging but the breathtaking views of the sea and the mountains sure are rewarding. 

It is best to coordinate with the Isabela de Basilan Tourism Office prior to visiting.

8. Cabunbata Falls, Isabela de Basilan 

This towering multi-tiered waterfall just off the main road is a good spot for a picnic. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Visible from the highway is the towering Cabunbata Falls. Partly enclosed by mahogany and rubber trees, this multi-tiered waterfall affords visitors with a relaxing dip in its refreshing waters. 

An artificial platform by the catchbasin had been built where travelers can picnic or pose for photos without getting themselves wet

9. Marang-marang Floating Cottages, Isabela de Basilan

Twin cottages jut out amid a protected area of mangroves where visitors are treated to a Sama-Tausug feast prepared by a local association of Sama Banguigui women. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

These two floating cottages are located within a broad expanse of protected mangroves that is home to the Sama Banguigui people. 

Aside from the tranquil surroundings, this is a great place to try an authentic Sama and Tausug seafood spread prepared by members of the Marang Marang Women’s Association.

Not only are the dishes fresh and delicious, they are Instagrammable as well. They come in all shapes and colors and are served on top of equally colorful indigenous woven placemats. 

10. Kabug Mangrove Park and Wetlands, Zamboanga Sibugay

Kabug Mangrove Park and Wetlands serves as a layover point for as many as 37 migratory birds. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Kabug Mangrove Park and Wetlands serves as a roosting, foraging, and layover area for various migratory birds. Out of the 53 waterbird species spotted in the thick mangroves, 37 of them are migratory.

Due to the diversity of the birds that visit and settle in the area, it is becoming a popular site for birdwatchers. It also serves as an ecotourism destination that promotes environmental conservation and awareness.

Aside from birdwatching, visitors can rent a kayak or a boat. There is even an eco-brick boat made with recycled plastic bottles.

Getting there

  • Zamboanga City- As a major port city, it serves as one of the main transportation hubs of Mindanao and is easily accessible by land, sea, and air. 

There are daily flights to the Zamboanga City International Airport from Manila and Cebu via Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific. Cebu Pacific also has flights from Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, and Davao.

Daily buses from Dipolog, Dapitan, Pagadian, Ozamiz, Cagayan de Oro, and Iligan take travelers to Zamboanga City. Bus travel from Cebu and Bacolod is also possible with a RORO ferry connection. 

Ferries bring passengers every Sunday from Manila. There are also passenger ships sailing from Cebu, Dumaguete, Davao, Dipolog, Iloilo, and General Santos. 

You can reach Zamboanga City by car if you are coming from Pagadian, Cotabato, Davao, General Santos, and Surigao.

  • Dipolog, Dapitan, and Pagadian- There are regular commercial flights to Dipolog and Pagadian from Manila.

There are daily buses from Zamboanga City to Dipolog, Dapitan, and Pagadian. From Pagadian, travelers can take a bus or rent a vehicle going to Lapuyan.

  • Zamboanga Sibugay- There are no direct flights to Zamboanga Sibugay. The nearest airports are located in Zamboanga City (110 km away), Pagadian (150 km away), and Dipolog (180 km away). Ipil, the capital, is accessible by land travel roughly 3-4 hours from neighboring cities.
  • Isabela de Basilan- Access to Basilan is usually through Zamboanga City. From there, a 1 hour and 45 minute ferry ride will take you to Isabela de Basilan. The fare ranges from Php20 (student and senior citizen’s discounted fare on some conventional ferries) to P70 (first-class w/ aircon). Visitors can also take a “Fast Craft” which only takes about 45 minutes.

Another option is to travel to Isabela and from there get on a bus plying the Isabela-Lamitan route. There is a bus available every hour. 

Outsource the Planning

For a seamless trip, you may leave the planning to DOT’s accredited tour operators in Region 9:

Zamboanga City and Isabela de Basilan

(062) 991-1174 / 0917-722-6410; itraveltouristlane2020@gmail.com

09062087106; milabelrichter01@gmail.com

(062) 990-2100; knowelle_88@yahoo.com

09177103094; happycampers349@gmail.com

Zamboanga del Sur

0930-061-1690 / 0997-745-2957; mtrtravel2021@gmail.com or mtrtravelvic@gmail.com

For travel to Zamboanga del Norte or Zamboanga Sibugay, you may reach out to any of the agencies above.

Travel safely! 

All tourist destinations in the Zamboanga Peninsula have health and safety protocols in place to protect locals and visitors alike. Everyone is expected to comply by wearing face masks, regularly washing their hands, and practicing physical distancing.

To check out up-to-date information regarding local destinations that are open and the safety protocols and requirements needed for each location, you may visit www.philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel or the Google Playstore.