Zamboanga is a highly urbanized city in Mindanao and the third largest in the Philippines. One of the cities heavily influenced by the Spaniards during the colonial period, Zamboanga became the main headquarters of the Spanish colonizers in 1635 and a revolutionary republic when the Americans arrived. From the Chabacano-speaking (Chabacano is a Spanish-based dialect) locals to the historic structures reminiscent of Spanish rule, the city is known as "Asia's Latin Country."
When visiting Zamboanga, you shouldn't miss Fort Pilar. If only its stonewalls could talk, it would narrate in detail its rich history—built by the Spaniards in 1635, withstood countless attacks from invaders, rebuilt by the Jesuits, occupied by the Americans, and later on by the Japanese until it was taken over by the Philippine government after the Second World War. The fort also has a museum with exhibits showing the history and culture of Zamboanga and Mindanao.
Another famous destination in Zamboanga is Pasonanca Park, perfect for those who wish to enjoy the tranquility of nature. The historic park was built by the Americans during the early 20th century. It boasts botanical and butterfly gardens, campsites, swimming pools, tree houses, and a museum.
Zamboanga is also the home of the Yakan people, an indigenous tribe in Mindanao known for their beautiful woven items. Their fine creations such as cloths, bags, garments, mats, and purses are all available at the Yakan Weaving Village. Aside from shopping, you can also watch the Yakan women weave together the colorful and abaca fibers using traditional ways in the village.
The most convenient way to travel to Zamboanga City is by air. From Manila, travel time only takes about one and a half hours. Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific have several daily flights from Manila to Zamboanga.
Another option is to travel by sea to Zamboanga City, though it takes two days (28 hours). 2GO Travel has weekly trips from Manila to Zamboanga City.
How to Get Around
Tricycle is a common mode of transportation when in the Zamboanga. There are also jeeps available to take you from one place to the other. You can also rent vans especially if you are traveling with a big group.
What to See
Zamboanga City is called “Asia’s Latin City” because of the numerous Hispanic influences you’ll see around like the language and the landmarks. It also has impressive natural wonders and a colorful culture that visitors need to see and experience for themselves.
Built in 1905, the Zamboanga City Hall is a sight to behold because of its bahay na bato style which was popular during the Spanish colonial period. Right in front is Zamboanga City’s version of the Rizal Park.
The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, also known as the Zamboanga Cathedral, is just a couple of blocks away from the Zamboanga City Hall. The present cathedral is notable for its modern architecture and its marble sculpture of the Immaculate Conception, which was created by Philippine National Artist for Sculpture, Napoleon Abueva.
Another landmark in Zamboanga is the Real Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza, or Fort Pilar for short. It was once a military defense fortress built by the Spanish government in the 17th century. It is now an outdoor Catholic Marian shrine as well as a regional branch of the National Museum of the Philippines.
There is also the Taluksangay Mosque, which was built by Hadji Abdullah Maas Nuno in 1885. The mosque is considered as the oldest mosque in Western Mindanao and the first center of Islamic propagation in Zamboanga.
Escape the city and enjoy the company of nature as you enjoy a visit to Merloquet Falls. It is the perfect place to enjoy a refreshing dip in the cool natural waters from the cascading falls. Near the falls is a picnic area where locals and travelers can lounge and commune with nature.
Merloquet Falls can become very crowded, especially during the weekends. Fortunately, there are other falls to visit such as Dulian Falls and Busay Falls.
For the more adventurous travelers, you can go spelunking at the Victoria Pader Cave. The trek to the cave is an adventure in itself, which involves 20-minute uphill and downhill hikes. Once in the cave, you can go to the nearby watering holes and plunge into its fresh water pools for a relaxing experience.
Another natural attraction to visit in Zamboanga is the Great Santa Cruz Island. It is known to be the only pink sand beach in the Philippines. The color comes from pulverized red organ pipe corals.
Though not exactly a tourist spot, Rio Hondo Village is an ideal place to visit if you want to immerse yourself in the way of life of the Muslims. The houses are mostly built on stilts, which makes the village all the more interesting.
The Pasonanca Natural Park is yet another place in Zamboanga where you can find that much needed peace and quiet. The park is full of trees and flowering plants. There are also some public pools, a tree house, and a butterfly park.
Paseo del Mar is Zamboanga’s “best nightlife district.” It has open slate rocks where visitors can sit and marvel at the setting sun at dusk. At night, the place becomes a colorful spot in the city where you can enjoy great food and live entertainment. In the wee hours of the morning, the paseo is also an ideal place for jogging and other fitness activities.
The Yakan Weaving Village is where you can find quality handwoven products to bring home either as souvenir or pasalubong to your loved ones. You can also watch the villagers as they weave their creations the traditional way.
Events and Festivals
The Hermosa Festival, also known as Fiesta Pilar, is one of the oldest festivals in the country. It is also one of Zamboanga’s highly anticipated events, which is held in honor of the Our Lady of Pilar, the patroness of the province. Every October, the city holds numerous concerts, sports events, trade fairs, song festivals, colorful parades, and street dances.
Where to Eat
Palmeras Restaurant is a must-visit for every foodie visiting Zamboanga City. The restaurant serves mouthwatering Filipino dishes. The highlight of the restaurant, however, is its dessert called knickerbocker—similar to halo halo but made with fresh fruits, gelatin, and a scoop of strawberry ice cream.
Another favorite dining spot in Zamboanga is Jimmy’s Satti Haus. This hole-in-the-wall is famous for its beef skewers with their home-made sweet and spicy sauce. Meanwhile, Alavar’s Seafood Restaurant serves delectable seafood paella, ribs, ginataang hipon, and even a platter with the fresh catch of the day. But their best seller is the curacha—spanner crabs steamed to perfection and served with Alavar’s signature sauce.
Babuh Hana’s restaurant is also a must try. It serves native Tausug dishes like mee goreng, tiyulah itum, and grilled piyanggang manok. Aside from knickerbocker at Palmeras, Tsokolate by Linfood along Valderosa Street is another recommended dessert. Also, don’t forget to try their best seller, pianono.
Fare: PHP 3,000.00++
Roundtrip air fares from Manila to Zamboanga City can go for as low as PHP 3,000.00. Take advantage of seat sale promos so that you can score the best bargain.
If you’re planning to travel by sea, a one-way trip from Manila to Zamboanga is around PHP 1,600.00. From Cebu, the boat fare is about PHP 1,000.00
When in Zamboanga, the base fare for a jeep ride is PHP 7.00. Meanwhile, the minimum fare for tricycle starts at PHP 40.00.
Food: PHP 200.00 to PHP 250.00
Dining options in Zamboanga City are also relatively affordable. With a budget of PHP 200.00 to PHP 250.00, you can already enjoy a full meal in most restaurants.
Shopping: PHP 20.00 to PHP 1,000.00
Key chains and ref magnets range from PHP 20.00 to PHP 50.00 apiece. Yakan cloths are priced at PHP 300.00. You can also purchase miniature vintas for your home, which usually costs PHP 1,000.00.
Accommodation: PHP 500.00 to PHP 4,000.00
There are lodging facilities throughout the province that suits every budget. Backpackers and budget travelers can avail of an overnight stay at a hostel for only PHP 500.00 per person. There are also hotel rooms offering full amenities and services for PHP 4,000.00 a night.
Activities: PHP 150.00 to PHP 1,000.00
Spelunking at the Victoria Pader Cave will require PHP 150.00 for entrance fee. For diving, the fee for the basic course costs about PHP 1,000.00. You can also ride a vinta for only PHP 50.00 per person.
Other Fees and Taxes: PHP 20.00 to PHP 50.00
A small amount of PHP 20.00 to PHP 50.00 should be enough when leaving tips. Restaurants already include a service charge in your bill so tipping is optional when dining.