The Philippines is known for its colorful fiesta celebrations (festivals). Over the years, many of these joyous occasions have evolved into elaborate, multi-day festivities. These are usually dedicated to a town’s patron saint or founding, while some mark seasonal changes.
Filipinos love their fiestas so much that even the smallest barangay (the country’s smallest geographical unit) celebrates at least one every year. These revelries owe their popularity to the Pinoys’ fondness for gatherings with loved ones and their community.
With Zamboanga Peninsula or ZamPen’s rich history and culture, it’s no surprise that it has more than its fair share of these celebrations. Each of its three provinces and component city (Isabela de Basilan) has its own set of annual festivities.
These are marked with unbridled merriment and infused with deep cultural significance. Many honor the various cultures that intersect and intermingle in the region.
Fiestas in Zamboanga City
The Zamboanga Hermosa Festival or Fiesta Pilar is an annual celebration in honor of the patroness of Zamboanga City—Our Lady of the Pillar. Festivities run throughout October.
Highlights include a nine-day novena, dance competitions, Chavacano singing contests, trade fairs, fashion shows, and a beauty pageant.
The famous Regatta de Zamboanga, a race of the region’s iconic vintas, is also part of this festival. Spectators witness hundreds of vintas with their multicolored sails glide across the waters of Sulu Sea.
Zamboanga City Bird Festival is one of the country’s biggest celebrations of avifaunal diversity. This festival sees the coming together of bird-watchers, conservationists, and tourists both local and foreign. ZamPen is not only rich in endemic birdlife but also attractive for migratory birds due to its favorable ecosystem.
The festival, which happens every February, puts the spotlight on the region’s key role in the birding community while promoting environmental conservation.
Fiestas in Zamboanga del Norte
The P’gsalabuk of Dipolog aims to showcase the interplay of different cultures that form the so-called Tri-People of Mindanao—Christians, Muslims, and Lumads. P’gsalabuk is a Subanen term that means “togetherness” and aptly describes this celebration that puts peace and harmony front and center.
The main event is street dancing on Dipolog Boulevard, the city’s main thoroughfare. It culminates with a presentation showcasing the various traditional dances of the different indigenous communities of ZamPen.
It runs from the second week of May to the 1st of July.
Kinabayo is an annual fiesta in Dapitan in honor of Saint James the Greater and Moor Slayer. Held every July, it is a reenactment of the triumph of Catholicism over Islam in the Battle of Covadonga through the intercession of the Saint.
Aside from the retelling of the battle, there are sports tournaments, dance competitions, and a beauty pageant held the entire month. There is also a regatta and a parade of horses.
Dapitan is one of the few predominantly Catholic cities in Mindanao and about 95% of the 75,000 Dapiteños take part in the festivities.
Fiestas in Zamboanga del Sur
Megayon is a weeklong celebration of the solidarity of Zamboanga del Sur’s three major cultural groups: the Subanens, the Moros, and the local settlers. Megayon is the Subanen word for “unity.”
It highlights the culture and tradition of the different municipalities through dance performances. Traditional arts, crafts, costumes, and products are featured in a trade fair.
Megayon started in 2001 and is held every September since then, coinciding with the province’s founding.
Pasalamat is one of the most important celebrations in Pagadian. It is an annual cultural and religious festival held on the third Sunday of January in honor of the city’s patron, the Santo Niño. It commemorates the arrival of the image in Pagadian through a procession-cum-reenactment.
The festival usually draws throngs of visitors from neighboring provinces. It also includes a fluvial parade, trade exhibits, the Mutya ng Pagadian beauty pageant, and a carnival.
Zamboanga Sibugay’s Sibug-Sibug Festival
Sibug-Sibug celebrates the founding of Zamboanga Sibugay in February 2001, the third youngest in the country. The festival is marked with colorful street dancing with rituals representing an abundant harvest, weddings, and healing.
Highlighted in the festival is the talaba or oyster, the province’s number one product, through a kilometer-long talaba grill.
Isabela de Basilan’s Sakayan Festival
Sakayan is the newest fiesta in Isabela de Basilan, a city that is geographically a part of Basilan, but administratively under Region IX. The festival is held in April coinciding with the cityhood anniversary of Isabela.
It honors fishing, the primary livelihood of the locals, through dances accompanied by the rhythmic sounds of drums and the kulintangan, an indigenous musical instrument of Muslims.
Sakayan is the term most ethnolinguistic groups in Isabela City use to refer to an outrigger boat used for fishing and transportation of goods in that area.
- 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.
- 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 and Lamitan. 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:
(062) 991-1174 / 0917-722-6410; firstname.lastname@example.org
(062) 990-2100; email@example.com
0930-061-1690 / 0997-745-2957; firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
All tourist destinations in 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.