One of the must-do activities in Tawi-Tawi is climbing Bud Bongao. “Bud” means mountain, so its name means the mountain of Bongao.
At 342 meters above the sea, Bud Bongao is the highest peak in the municipality of Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. It’s also considered a sacred mountain. Local legend says that two of the followers of Karim ul-Makhdum, the Arab merchant who came to the Philippines to spread Islam, are buried in this mountain under tampat rocks (shrines).
Today, Bud Bongao serves as a pilgrimage site for both Christians and Muslims who wish to pray, meditate, ask for blessings from God or Allah or heal the sick. It is also a popular attraction for tourists who visit Tawi-Tawi, as the peak offers a grand view of the mainland and the southern sea.
Another noteworthy thing about Bud Bongao is that it is the only mountain in the country where a foreign land (Malaysian Borneo) can be seen. This is possible when the sky conditions are clear.
Aside from these, the mountain is also a point of biodiversity. It’s considered one of the last remaining moist forests in Sulu.
Our trek to Bud Bongao
Our group decided to climb Bud Bongao in mid-afternoon, so we can watch the sunset at the summit. Our guides Kuya Lads and Kuya Ben took us to the registration area, where an officer asked out to fill out a form and gave us a short talk about Bud Bongao.
The trail to Bud Bongao is already made, with 1700 concrete steps that lead to the peak. There are cottages along the way that serve as rest stops.
To prepare for hike, we bought a plastic of bananas, water and snacks.
The trek started easy enough with alternating flat and ascending steps. A dog from earlier also decided to follow me going up. After about 10 minutes me and Ja got left behind while the rest of our group trekked continuously.
We encountered several monkeys along the way. Our bunch of bananas easily got depleted. A few were given or snatched by the monkeys, the rest were eaten by my companions although none of them admitted who did.
I almos gave up half-way up. I thought I wouldn’t make it to the summit. I was the last one in the trail; even the dog got impatient and left. However, I already climbed too far to go back. Also, one of the monkeys chased after my water bottle so I had no choice but to ran up the stairs.
I passed by the tampat rocks and the century-old tree. Finally, I was able to catch up with Ja and one of our guides who served as the sweeper. The dog was also there waiting for me.
After more than an hour of trekking, we finally reached the summit where the rest were waiting. There was ample time before sunset, so there was enough light for us to take photos. From there, we could see a part of the mainland including the bridge that connects parts of the province and the Sanga-Sanga airport.
We waited for the sunset and then decided to trek down before it got too dark.
On our way back, each of us tied a long leaf in the trunks of the trees and made a wish.
Our trek back was considerably faster. However, it was still challenging. My knees were shaking half-way down the climb, since gravity is a pusher and I had to restrain myself from continuously falling down. We were all so tired when we reached the registration area. I bid goodbye to my dog guide. We rode back via tricycle to the house of Ate Sidang, where a scrumptious dinner of seafood and local dishes awaited us.
Travel Guide to Bud Bongao, Tawi-Tawi
How to get here
From Zamboanga City, take a local flight to Sanga-Sanga Airport (Tawi-Tawi). From the airport, you may charter a tricycle to Bud Bongao. Fare is about P100.
In our case, we visited Bud Bongao as part of our land tour in Tawi-Tawi.
Bud Bongao is open to visitors from 5AM to 4PM.
Here are the fees (updated as of November 2019):
- Entrance fee: P20 per person
- Guide fee: P500
We already had local guides, so we didn’t avail of a guide from the registration area. However, if it’s your first time, it’s best to get one so you wouldn’t get lost along the way as there are trails leading to other peaks. This is also to support to the local community in Bongao.
Trekking Bud Bongao
Here are some basic info on trekking Bud Bongao:
- Bud Bongao is composed of 6 peaks: Bongao, Pajar, Sibutu (summit, 342 MASL), Simunul, Tambisan and Tinondakan.
- There are about 1700 concrete steps from the base to the summit. The climb takes 45 minutes or more, depending on your pace. Trek difficulty is 3/9.
- Along the way, you will encounter local monkeys (long-tailed macaques).
- You will also see various sites such as the tampat rocks and a century-old tree. There is also an area where visitors tie up leaves in the trees, as there’s a belief that this will make their wish come true. Note that plastic knots are not allowed.
Things to know before you go
- There are stores beside the registration area where you can buy water and snacks.
- Make sure to bring lots of bananas to feed the monkeys. Also, secure your belongings since the monkeys may grab your things, especially the ones in plastic bags.
- You may also want to bring treats for the dogs who go with tourists to the peak of Bud Bongao. I wish I brought something for the sweet doggo who climbed and waited for me during our trek. (All we had at that time were chocolate bars.)
- Carry your trash with you.
- Remember that Bud Bongao is a sacred mountain so be respectful during your trek. Don’t leave your garbage or pee in random points in the mountain.
Has this guide to trekking Bud Bongao been helpful to you? If you have any questions or comments, let us know in the comment section below!