A world-class beauty. In 2017, National Geographic honored Zamboanga’s Pink Sand as one of the best beaches in the world. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Zamboanga City is an underrated tourist destination for those seeking a historical and cultural experience. 

The city goes by the nickname “Asia’s Latin City” due to its strong Hispanic influence. This can be seen in their regional language as locals speak Chavacano, the only Spanish-based creole in Asia.

When Zamboanga City is mentioned, the first thing that probably comes to mind would be the multicolored Vintas and Sta Cruz Island or popularly known as the “Pink Island”. But from island hopping to traditional weaving, Zamboanga City offers many choices for outdoor, gastronomical, cultural adventures.

So if you’d like to explore Asia’s Latin City for a week, here’s an ultimate guide of what to discover, where you can stay, shop, dine, and relax.

Day 1: Get to know Zamboanga

Marcian Garden Hotel’s Superior Twin Room. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Marcian Garden Hotel
Governor Camins Avenue

Five minutes away from the airport, you may drop off your bags at Marcian Garden Hotel. It provides accommodation for as low as Php 3,920 per night.

The hotel marries Spanish and Moroccan themes in its 60 suites and rooms with interiors that resemble the colors of Zamboanga. Also, Marcian Garden Hotel has its bar and restaurant named Hermosa Jardin, and their drunken chicken is a must-try.

Garden Orchid Hotel
Governor Camins Avenue

Garden Orchid Hotel. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Another hotel option that is three minutes away from the airport is Garden Orchid Hotel. This classic hotel has been welcoming tourists for almost three decades and is considered to be the city’s biggest lodging boasting 205 rooms furnished in warm earth tones.

Garden Orchid Hotel. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

The hotel cafe offers “Immunity and Energy Boosting” smoothies. These are blends of pineapple, ginger, cucumber, water spinach, and banana for Php 100. 

Garden Orchid Hotel offers seasonal package rates for as low as Php 2,250. So best to follow their Facebook page for promo announcements.

Heritage Zone Walk Tour

Fort Pilar is Zamboanga’s major landmark and symbol of cultural heritage. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

The best way to get to the heart of Zamboanga is to walk along the historical places that shaped it. See Zamboanga’s most iconic sites and landmarks through a two-kilometer walk tour at its heritage zone.

You may start at Zamboanga City Hall, a century-old structure completed by the United States Federal Government in 1907. The building is still functional up to this day and has been listed as a National Historic Site.

Here, you will get to appreciate Antillean architecture, which is a mix of American construction and Hispanic design. The contractors had to tweak the building’s framework to fit the country’s humid climate. 

Along the way, curious travelers will be able to pass by other landmarks such as Plaza Pershing, Pettit Barracks, Century-old Acacia Trees, even Zamboanga’s first school, hotel and bank.

The final stop will be at Fort Pilar Shrine or Real Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza (Royal Fort of Our Lady of the Pillar of Zaragoza). This is a Spanish fortification established in 1635 that houses Our Lady of the Pillar.

Inside Fort Pilar is the regional branch of the National Museum that exhibits the province’s cultural artifacts. The museum is open every Tuesday to Sunday and offers two visitor sessions, 9 A.M. to 12 P.M and 1 P.M. to 4 P.M.

Day 2: Discover the charm of Once Islas

Once Islas is Zamboanga’s new eco-cultural tourism destination pronounced as “on-se” or eleven in Spanish. Once Islas consists of 11 islands and islets that are located at Barangay Panubigan and Barangay Dita.

Four out of eleven islands namely Bisaya-Bisaya, Sirommon, Buh-Buh, and Baung-Baung are only the ones that can be visited by tourists. 

Every island is worth exploring at Once Islas. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Since all spots are still highly protected by the local tourism office, you will definitely appreciate the pristine white sand beaches that dazzle against the sunlight and emerald waters.

Travelers may island-hop, trek at the majestic rock formations, swim, kayak, snorkel from 7 A.M. to 3 P.M. You may also avail of meals prepared by the community residing within Once Islas for only Php 300 per head.

The meal is loaded with fresh coconut juice, rice wrapped in pandan leaves, and freshly caught seafood such as Lato or sea grapes, steamed blue crab, spider shell, grilled squid, and shrimp.

Of course, island hopping wouldn’t be complete if you don’t get fruits as desserts. You may choose from pineapple, watermelon, and mangoes.

Schedule your trip via email at OnceIslas@gmail.com or by calling (062) 975 6341. You may also visit their Facebook Page Turismo Local de Zamboanga for the Booking and reservation details. The Island Cruise Ferry’s fee is good for 9 people and costs Php 2,000.

There’s an entrance fee of Php 100, Environmental Fee of Php 100, and Php 300 Guide Fee for every group of 9 tourists.

Day 3: Fall in love with Zamboanga’s Pink Sand Beach

Sta. Cruz Island
Great and Little Sta. Cruz Island

Zamboanga’s jewel and most famous destination, the Great Sta. Cruz Island is known for its blush pink sand that comes from pulverized bright red organ pipe coral.

These corals get washed up on the shore and blend with the fine white sand, giving the beach a pinkish hue. This unique attribute placed Great Sta Cruz Island on National Geographic‘s 2017 list of 21 Best Beaches in the World.

Swim, snorkel, scuba dive or simply bask in the beauty of Great Sta Cruz Island. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Beside Great Sta. Cruz island is a mangrove and marine life sanctuary where guests can go on a Yellow Boat Adventure. This is an eco-tour that allows tourists to get first-hand experience of harvesting Lato or sea grapes, as well as interacting with Upside Down jellyfish.

The mangrove forest is also home to some endangered bird species such as Far Eastern curlew, White-vented whistler, and Beach stone-curlew.

Across Great Sta. Cruz Island is Little Sta. Cruz Island. A highly protected sanctuary for sea turtles that developed a sandbar over the years. The sandbar is composed of chalky white sand mixed with crushed seashells and corals.

Little Sta. Cruz Island’s sandbar. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

However, tourists are not allowed to swim and may only do picture taking for 10 minutes at Little Sta. Cruz Island, as the local government discourages any activity within its vicinity to avoid water contamination.

Great and Little Sta. Cruz Island is open every Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday to Thursday from 7 A.M. to 2 P.M.

Boat rental is at Php 1,000 good for 10 people. There is also an entrance fee of Php 20 and terminal fee of Php 5 per tourist.

Tours and activities within the island can be arranged and requested by calling +63 905 601 6316 or by sending a message via Protected Area Management Office’s Facebook page. 

Day 4:  Meet Zamboanga’s finest weavers

Yakan Weaving Village
Upper Calarian, Labuan – Limpapa National Road

The Yakan Tribe, considered to be one of the finest weavers in the Philippines, resides in this quaint two-hectare village which is also open to the public.

Tourists will get to appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into the tribe’s intricate weaving process and even have the opportunity to take home statement pieces and souvenirs such as earrings, wallets, bags, and table runners.

Tennun is the Yakan word for woven cloth. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

The items and garments can range from Php 100 to Php 6,500 depending on the pattern woven and textile length.

Day 5: Explore the taste of Zamboanga

Sir Kyle’s Satti House
710 Gov. Ramos, Street Sta. Maria Road

Get a taste of Zamboanguenos’ unusual breakfast at Sir Kyle’s Satti House. Satti de Zamboanga or Satti Ayam is Zamboaguenos’ spicy way to kick off their mornings. It’s composed of beef strips on sticks served with Tamo or sticky rice soaked in a bowl of thick spicy sauce.

Have you had a spicy breakfast? Try Zamboanga’s Satti Ayam. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

A single order of Satti is at Php 38. You may add a piece of grilled chicken leg at Php 65 or Isaw (grilled chicken intestines) for only Php 5 per stick.

Sir Kyle’s Satti House is open as early as 3 A.M. and closes before noon.

Hacienda de Palmeras Hotel & Restaurant
Pasonanca Road

It’s neither Halo-Halo nor Fruit Salad. It’s Zamboanga’s famous dessert, the Knickerbocker.

Knickerbocker is a refreshing summer treat. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

This dessert is a healthy fusion of fresh fruits such as banana, mango, watermelon, apple, pineapple, gelatin cubes, traditionally topped with homemade strawberry ice cream. Being an icon, travelers may find this across the city but Palmeras is where Knickerbocker originated.

Get a taste of this Zamboanga delicacy for Php 110.

Alavar Seafood Restaurant
173 Don Alfaro Street

A must-try Seafood restaurant in Zamboanga best-known for its Curacha con salsa de Alavar, a dish composed of deep-sea crabs with special Alavar sauce made from coconut milk, curry, and other spices.

Alavar Seafood Restaurant is recognized as one of Zamboanga’s fine dining restaurants that started as a humble family carinderia in 1979.

The famous and sought-after Alavar sauce is a family secret concocted by owners Miguel and Teresa Alavar.

Never leave Zamboanga without getting a taste of Curacha con salsa de Alavar. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Tourists may get a taste of Curacha con salsa de Alavar in different order sizes. Medium at Php 1,500, Large order at Php 1,600 while Extra large is at Php 1,700.

The restaurant also offers Grilled Seafood Platter at Php 1,055. This is good for 3 to 4 people.

Day 6: Time to buy pasalubong!

Canelar Barter Trade
Barangay Camino Nuevo 

Canelar Barter Trade is Zamboanga’s pasalubong center where tourists can buy souvenirs and low-cost imported items from neighboring countries, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Each stall offers a variety of souvenirs such as malong, scarves, shawls, Indonesian textiles, dresses, bags, imported Malaysian noodles, chocolates, as well as locally made Zamboanga keychains, ref magnets, and more.

Get your wallets ready. Canelar offers affordable Zamboanga souvenirs and low-cost imported items shipped from Malaysia and Indonesia. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

This pasalubong center is open from Monday to Saturday 8 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. Canelar Barter Trade Center is at the city center, two kilometers away from Zamboanga International Airport.

Day 7: Relax before your flight home

Sky Gym
LM Hotel, Don Toribio Street

A packed itinerary can be a bit tiring, but Zamboanga’s still got you covered if you wish to relax and stay fit.

LM Hotel’s Sky Gym, a 3-story fitness club complete with a sauna and a-la American Ninja Warrior obstacle course named The Hexagon is open for tourists and walk-ins.

The building has different areas catering to all types of workouts such as CrossFit, weights, cardio, and even a dance studio.

Sky Gym’s walk-in rate is at Php 150 while cross-training rate is at Php 350. They offer unlimited usage of The Hexagon at Php 150.

Relax and improve blood circulation at Sky Gym Sauna for only Php 300 per person. Discounted rates apply if guests will drop by as a group. 

Paseo del Mar

If you’re the type who loves sunsets, take a stroll along Paseo del Mar, one of Zamboanga’s beautiful parks, facing Santa Cruz and Basilan Islands.

The best time to visit is at least an hour before dusk as the weather will not be too hot and the streetlights will definitely build a romantic ambiance afterward. 

Take a pause and relax at Paseo del Mar’s boardwalk. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

There are small shops, restaurants, and food carts along Paseo del Mar, perfect for when you wish to take a break at the park benches and have a quick picnic with your friends and family.

How to get to Zamboanga City

Zamboanga is clearly the south’s one-stop-shop for stunning natural sights, vibrant culture, preserved Spanish-era architecture, and fantastic cuisine.

Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and AirAsia Philippines offer direct flights from Manila (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) to Zamboanga International Airport. The flight to the province can take about 1 hour and 45 minutes.

The easiest and cheapest way to explore Zamboanga City is through jeepneys and tricycles. You may also book tours in advance. 

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!

Explore Zamboanga City responsibly by making sure that you comply with the province’s health and safety protocols, such as wearing face masks and practicing social distancing.

Ensure that you have acquired travel authority at https://s-pass.ph/ prior trip. Bring a copy or screenshot of this along with your vaccination card and valid ID upon arrival. 

For the latest travel information about Zamboanga, you may visit their official website or Facebook page. You may also review updated safety protocols and requirements on Philippine destinations at www.philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel