Just a ro-ro away from Zamboanga City awaits an island of culture, cuisine, and community. Isabela de Basilan is a melting pot of diverse traditions, from the colorful ornate fabrics of the Yakan in Lamitan to the golden mosaic of Sta. Isabel Cathedral in Isabela. The city under the administrative jurisdiction of Zamboanga Peninsula (Region IX).

Aside from its cultural treasures, Isabela de Basilan holds many pockets of nature, such as remote white sand beaches and tranquil waterfalls.

The island offers many experiences that can build a hefty itinerary. Here are some key stops you need to make on the island for your next trip.

Day 1: Where to stay and Isabela de Basilan

To reach Isabela de Basilan from Zamboanga City, you can ride a ro-ro (Php90) from the city’s port. The ferry makes four trips daily and takes around one to two hours for the ship to reach the island, depending on the currents.

A ro-ro en route to Isabela Port in Basilan. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Isabela is the port city you’ll enter Basilan through. It’s best to base your trips from here for quick navigation. Here are some hotels you can stay in the city:

Basilan Business Hotel

Magno Street, Isabela City

A hotel in Isabela’s city proper near the port area, if you’re looking for easy access accommodations once on the island. You can avail a Standard Twin Sharing Room for Php2,500 per night or a Deluxe King Room for Php3,000 per night. 

For more information, you can contact Basilan Business Hotel through their Facebook page or (0906) 206-4341.

Kasinnahan Hotel

Basilan Circumferential Rd, Isabela City

Another hotel in Isabela along Basilan’s Circumferential Road where you can easily explore the rest of the island. A standard suite for two is priced at Php1,700 per night, while renting a whole villa is at Php 4,000 per night, good for six guests.

For more information, you can contact Kasinnahan Hotel through their Facebook page or (0977) 077-3758

Pahali Resort

Malamawi Island, Isabela City

If you’re looking for a scenic beach view for your stay, this resort on Malamawi island would be your choice. The large island resort in Isabela offers quiet shores and a fine white sand beach.

Pahali Resort provides designated dining areas for visitors upon arrival. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Once in Isabela, an outrigger boat ride from the city’s port to Malamawi (Carbon Port) will cost Php5 per head. From Carbon Port, a habal-habal ride to the resort costs Php150, good for two passengers. For larger groups, a multicab will cost Php 800 roundtrip, good for 10 people.

Reservations must be booked in advance. An overnight stay at one of its villas will cost Php6,999, good for four guests and with breakfast included. 

For more information, you can contact Pahali Resort through their Facebook page or via email.

After dropping off your luggage at your hotel or resort of choice, you can take a quick stroll around Isabela’s streets and visit some historical sites.

Santa Isabela de Portugal Cathedral

The local cathedral is rich with history and visual splendor, with its striking architecture and colorful interiors. 

The cathedral’s sanctuary features a large mosaic of Christ surrounded by his apostles. Made with imported materials from Europe, the halo that adorns Christ’s head is made from real gold funded by donations from Spain. The cathedral’s stained-glass panels were also designed and imported from Europe.

The gold-laced mosaic of Christ found in the cathedral. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Isabela City Plaza & Plaza Rizal

Just across the cathedral are a pair of small plazas where you can lounge and view one of many local monuments dedicated to Jose Rizal in the region. Both plazas have stood since the city’s establishment in the 19th century.

Day 2: Chillin’ on the beach

Of course, you have to dedicate at least one whole day to just relaxing at one of Isabela de Basilan’s beaches. Let the sound of calming waves sweep as you relax under the sun at one of these islands, or both.

Lampinigan Island

A small residential island near Isabela with a charming community on its port shore and a quiet beach on the opposite side. Its beach features white sand, clear waters, and unique rock formations.

Trips must be coordinated with the Isabela City Tourism Office before your visit.

Malamawi Island

An alternative to Lampinigan if you’re looking for a more private beach. If you chose Pahali Resort as your Basilan accommodations, then all you have to do is step out of your villa. Entrance fee is Php600/head inclusive of food and cottage stay. Reservations must be booked in advance.

The resort also offers jet ski rental for guests. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Activities include jet skiing, snorkeling, hiking, and just lounging on the sand. Its in-house staff provides halal fare that mainly consists of fresh seafood.

Day 3: Basilan eats

Saving the best day for last, dig into the island’s spice-filled and seafood dishes. Basilan’s rich flavors come from its bountiful waters and the various cultures that have made the island their home. From sea urchins stuffed with rice to deep-fried kakanin, end your trip with a full stomach in this melting pot of an island.

Marang-Marang Floating Cottage

The scenic Marang-Marang field of mangroves houses a floating cottage where you can feast on the fruits of the sea prepared by women of the local Sama Banguingui community, all while taking in the surrounding view. (Php 500/head)

All dishes are prepared by the Marang-Marang Women’s Association. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

The seafood spread consists of dishes such as Oko-oko, sea urchin stuffed with rice; Utak-utak, fried fish cakes; Junay, spiced coconut rice wrapped in banana leaves; and Kalugmata, steamed local mangrove crabs.

To arrange a visit to the Marang-Marang Floating Cottage, coordinate with the Isabela City Tourism Office before your visit.

James Strong Boulevard

A main artery for Isabela de Basilan that connects the island’s roadways and waterways. The boulevard serves as a docking port for public outrigger boats. At night, the area lights up and turns into a bustling night market filled with street food fare, such as fishballs, lukot-lukot, and panyam. 

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; itraveltouristlane2020@gmail.com

09062087106; milabelrichter01@gmail.com

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

09177103094; happycampers349@gmail.com

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

Travel Safely!

All tourist destinations in Isabela de Basilan 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 philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel or the Google Playstore.