Useful Chavacano Phrases for Travelling in Zamboanga City

If you’re heading for Zamboanga City, it pays to pick up a few Chavacano phrases to help you get immersed in the local culture. It is one of the widely spoken languages in the region, co-existing with Bisaya, Tausug, Yakan, and Tagalog. 

Fort Pilar Shrine in Zamboanga City. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

We’ve compiled the following phrases and words below to help you navigate the destination easily. But we’ve also thrown in a little bit of Chavacano history—why it has Spanish flair—and how the language is used in the region today at the end. 

More than learning the language, it is also important (and interesting) to know how Chavacano came to be. Enjoy!

Phrases for greetings/showing courtesy

  • Hello – Quetal? (Kumusta?) / Quidao (Take Care)
  • Good morning/afternoon/evening – Buenas Dias! Buenas Tardes! Buenas Noches!
  • Thank you/Welcome – Muchas Gracias! De nada!
  • Excuse me/Sorry – Dispensa kumigo 
  • How are you/I’m good, thank you – Quetal ya tu? / Bueno, gracias
An aerial view of Fort Pilar. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Phrases for asking directions/traveling/lodging

  • Where is the nearest… – Onde puede incuntra…
    • Toilet? Donde esta el bano? / Donde esta el casillas?
    • Gas Station? – con el gas station? / Onde puede compra  gasolina? (Where can I buy gas?)
    • Police Station? – estasyon del pulis?
    • Hospital/Pharmacy? – hospital/ farmacia?
    • Hotel? – hotel?
  • How do I get to [location name?] – Paquilaya yo puede llega na? (literal: how do I arrive at?
  • How much is the fare to  [location?] – Cuanto el pasaje para na [lokasyon]?
  • May I have my change? – Puede yo saca mi sinsilyo?
  • Stop, please. – Para anay. Pabor.
  • I would like to book a room/ – Quiere yo man reserva/saca un cuarto
  • Do you have rooms available? – Tiene pa oste maga cuarto?
  • What time is check-in/check-out? – Cosa hora tu man check-in/check-out?
  • Travel Safely! – Tiene cuidao! (literal: take care!)
Wares sold at the Yakan Weaving Village. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Phrases for buying/ordering

  • How much is this? – Cuanto este?
  • May I buy [amount] of this? – Puede yo compra ansina cantidad de [item]?
  • Do you have this in a different size? – Tiene oste mas grande (bigger)/mas jutay
  • (bigger/smaller) mas jutay (smaller)?
  • I would like to order, please. – Quiere era yo man order./ Puede yo man order?
  • May we remove [certain ingredient] – Puede oste kita con el [certain ingredient] from the dish, please? na diamon comida, favor?
  • The dish is sweet/sour/salty/etc. – Dulce/Agriu/Salaw el comida.

Phrases for asking help/emergencies

  • May I ask for help? – Puede yo pidi ayuda?
  • What time is it? – Cosa ya hora? / Cosa hora ya?
  • I’m lost/I need directions – Perdido yo/Necita yo direccion.
  • I am sick/injured – Malo yo ta sinti./ Irido yo. (I have a cut)
  • I lost my phone/wallet/bag – Ya perde di mio phone/wallet/bag

Other fun phrases/words to learn 

  • Counting in Chavacano – Uno, dos, tres…
  • Time/Dates in Chavacano – Hora (time)/ Pecha (Date)
Rainbow Mosque in Zamboanga City. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

A Deeper Look into Chavacano 

Chavacano’s roots run deep within the region’s history. Floraime Oliveros Pantaleta from the Ateneo Center for Culture and the Arts of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University (AdZU) describes the Chavacano as a mingling of the languages of laborers, traders, and colonizers within Zamboanga City. It was one of the major trade centers in Mindanao during the Spanish occupation. 

Chavacano is a Spanish Creolle. [Its] supposed origin goes back 386 years to the time when the Fortaleza del Pilar (more popularly known as the Fort Pilar) was established in what we now call Zamboanga City,” she says. 

Pantaleta notes that whatever language the Spanish, Sebuano, Tausug, Lutaos, and other peoples in the region used to communicate during the occupation eventually developed into what Chavacano is now. She notes that there is still a lot to say and learn between Chavacano’s origins and current use.


Real Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Today, Chavacano figures into the region’s educational system, literary production, and festivities. It is taught in the basic education curriculum; it has its own festival, the Dia de Fundacion de Chavacano, every June 23rd; and there are even music festivals, quiz bees, and film festivals, all to encourage creative production in the language.

Pantaleta herself has been part of this movement: not only has she been able to translate an English story into Chavacano (through the Sari Sari Storybooks project), but she has also published a Chavacano poem and its English translation in a literary journal. 

But there is more work to be done, she admits. “There are wins but we also still want to bridge a disconnect with readership because some of these materials still do not rebound back to the community.” 

“We are not certain that our educational institutions somehow benefit from them through use in classrooms,” she adds.

Fort Pilar entrance of the National Museum in Zamboanga City. Photo by Playground Films PH courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

She also says that the challenge is to encourage native Chavacano and even Tausug speakers to create works of art that stem from their own motivations, not by outside institutions who simply want to showcase token representation of the language. 

“I would say there is also creative energy among the young ones in the region, not just the Chavacano speakers but from those who speak Tausug as well, that needs to be cultivated,” she notes. 

More importantly, Pantaleta wants to reframe how we think of Chavacano—she thinks of it not as a colonizer’s language, but a language borne out of the local population’s willingness to learn Spanish despite the colonizer’s unwillingness to do so. 

“There were very practical reasons for the birth of this creole, to be able to communicate despite political and cultural barriers. Language was consequential for trade and labor in those days,” she adds.

“We usually privilege affinities with the colonizer, but Chavacano is ours, not theirs. Languages borne from colonization are not the colonizer’s languages. We do not need Chavacano to be standard Spanish. It is its own language.”

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