As a peninsular province, Zamboanga is blessed with an abundance of natural wonders. It has luxuriant mountains, white-sand beaches, towering waterfalls, and bountiful mangroves.
While most of these are still under the tourist radar for now, some are fast becoming staples of travel itineraries. A number of these destinations have strict sustainability measures in anticipation of a possible influx of tourists as COVID-19 restrictions have eased.
If you are thinking of traveling to the region, here are a few of the natural attractions you may want to consider visiting.
Pahali Resort, Malamawi Island, Isabela de Basilan
This stretch of powdery white sand is considered one of Basilan’s top destinations. The 11-hectare property is mostly developed with villas where guests can stay overnight. The resort has an in-house restaurant that has a full halal menu consisting mostly of fresh fish and seafood.
They also offer water activities like jet skiing and scuba diving. Snorkelers and divers are in for a treat as Malamawi’s aquamarine waters are rich with marine life.
Just outside the resort is a trail that leads to one of the island’s highest points. The trek rewards visitors with scenic views of the Basilan Strait and its islets.
The resort adheres to a strict three-core environmental sustainability ethos. They practice food segregation, ban single-use plastics, and have shifted to paperless transactions.
To visit Malamawi White Beach Resort, contact (+63) 975 269 7133 or email email@example.com. All visits are by reservation to limit the number of guests.
Santa Cruz Islands, Zamboanga City
The twin islands are situated on the Basilan Strait, off the coast of the city and just a 20-minute boat ride from Paseo del Mar, Zamboanga City
Neighboring Santa Cruz Grande is famous for its pink sand beach. The color is a result of naturally crushed red organ pipe corals that blend with the island’s natural white sand. Its waters are pristine and brim with aquatic life.
There is a yellow boat tour of its lagoon and mangroves where visitors can interact with stingless jellyfish and feast on latok or sea grapes freshly plucked from the sea.
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.
Once Islas, Zamboanga City
This chain of islands and islets is one of the province’s newest eco-cultural tourism destinations. It consists of 11 islands with all but four off-limits to the public. The colorful Vinta sails decked by the beach fronts of the available islands lend them a Zamboangueño vibe.
Since these four islands—Bisaya-Bisaya, Sirommon, Buh-Buh, and Baung-Baung—were opened to travelers in 2018, they have become popular among tourists looking for more eco-friendly travel.
All have a strict Garbage In-Garbage Out policy and visitors can only engage in low-impact activities like swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and trekking.
To book your trip, email OnceIslas@gmail.com or call (+62) 975 6341.
Mount Timolan, Zamboanga del Sur
With a forested landscape and rugged terrain, Zamboanga del Sur has a lot to offer to adventure seekers.
A popular hike among local mountaineers is Mount Timolan, a mountain tucked away in the mineral-rich town of Tigbao. Rising 1,777 meters above sea level, it takes about three hours to reach the summit.
From the peak, one has unobstructed views of neighboring mountains including Mount Pinukis, an inactive volcano. The summit also has a crater lake that is heart-shape known as Lake Maragang.
The mountain is known for its biodiversity. It is a habitat of the Philippine Eagle and several endemic species of the cockatoo, hawk eagle, pygmy squirrel, warty pig, and sailfin lizard. Its forests are also home to various bird and snake species, water monitors, and geckos.
Mount Pulong Bato, Zamboanga City
What makes this mountain unique from all the others surrounding the city is that it is a monolith, meaning it is made of solid rock. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) confirmed that it used to be a volcano that has been inactive for thousands of years.
Its name is partly inspired by a myth. Locals tell of a story of two star-crossed lovers, Pulong and Maryam, who jumped off a cliff in the mountain after the woman’s family disapproved of their relationship.
The monolith also goes by another name, Columbato, from the Tagalog words kolum (column) and bato (stone or rock).
Getting to the top of Mount Pulong Bato is a bit challenging, but the effort affords visitors with views of nearby Zamboanga City and its environs.
The mountain is near Abong-Abong Park, a pilgrimage site for Catholics during Holy Week. Visitors trekking the mountain will see each of the 14 Stations of the Cross of Jesus Christ every 50 meters or so.
Pasonanca Natural Park
Pasonanca Natural Park- At the heart of Zamboanga City’s vast forest is the Pasonanca Natural Park (PaNP), a 17,000-hectare protected area that provides an important life-support system not only to the unique flora and fauna that can be found within it, but also to the people of its surrounding communities.
It was only recently that researchers confirmed it has the presence of a nesting Philippine eagle, making it home to the Philippine national bird and the world’s largest bird of prey.
The Pasonanca Natural Park is a protected area established under the National Protected Area System (NIPAS) by virtue of RA No. 7586 as amended by RA 11038. It encompasses 4 watersheds each with separate catchment areas and river systems namely, Pasonanca, Ayala, Manicahan and Culinanan-Bolong
Pasonanca Natural park is the 3rd highest in the Philippines in terms of level of biological diversity. It has 70 species belonging to family dipterocarpacae and palmae thriving within the park dominated with white lauan (Shorea contorta) and Red Lauan (shorea negrosensis). An estimated 15,000 flora species is also present in the park with 50% of which are endemics, 105 out of 579 species of birds in the Philippines occur in the park, 24 out of 165 mammal species in the Philippines are also found in the park, 44 out of 82 species of amphibians in the Philippines also found in the park, 71 of 208 endemic reptile species in the Philippines can be found in the park, 77 families under class insecta were also recorded in the park.
Sungkilaw Falls, Zamboanga del Norte
Nestled amid a dense forest is this 20-foot high waterfall. Reaching the falls requires a tough hike of about 400 winding steps in the shadow of trees.
Through the efforts of the local government and Subanen communities, cottages and toilets have been constructed in the area. Trails had also been carved out for an easier trek to the falls.
Near Sungkilaw Falls is the Organization for Industrial, Spiritual, and Cultural Advancement (OISCA) forest park, a project of the Japanese government. Here, visitors can engage in outdoor sports like rappelling, Tyrolean traverse, canoeing, and swimming.
Kabug Mangrove Park and Wetlands, Zamboanga Sibugay
This protected mangrove park in the municipality of Siay is one of the nine major flyways in the world for migratory birds. The diversity of the birds in the area make it a popular site for birdwatchers.
Migratory birds from the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF) briefly rest and feed in the wetlands before completing their routes. The flyway runs through 22 countries and sees at least 50 million waterbirds including 32 threatened species fly through it.
Kabug Mangrove Park and Wetlands is also an ecotourism destination that promotes environmental conservation and awareness.
More than birdwatching, the area has kayak rentals and boat tours, including one on an eco-brick boat made with recycled plastic bottles stuffed with plastic waste.
Marang-Marang Mangroves, Isabela de Basilan
This thick network of mangroves is about a 30-minute boat ride from Isabela de Basilan’s James Strong Boulevard.
It is home to various flora and fauna and a community of Sama Banguingui, one of the ethnolinguistic groups native to the Sulu Archipelago.
A visit to the area is part of the Marang-Marang Cottage experience. Twin cottages jut out amid the mangroves where visitors can sample authentic Sama and Tausug cuisine prepared by an association of Sama Banguigui women.
Touring the surrounding mangroves on an outrigger boat gives visitors an idea of where the locals derive their livelihood and source most of their food. It also gives a peek into their everyday life as some traditional houses on stilts are built in the area.
To arrange a visit to the Marang-Marang Floating Cottage, coordinate with Isabela de Basilan’s Tourism Office before your visit.
- 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. 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; firstname.lastname@example.org
(062) 990-2100; email@example.com
Zamboanga del Sur
0930-061-1690 / 0997-745-2957; firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
For travel to Zamboanga del Norte or Zamboanga Sibugay, you may reach out to any of the agencies above.
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.