One of the things you shouldn’t miss when visiting Sulu is island hopping. This province is home to several pristine islands which are perfect for beach lovers!
We spent our first day in Sulu on the boat. We explored 3 islands in Panglima Tahil — a municipality with a small population. These islands are Lahat-Lahat Island, Silungan Beach (Bubuan Island) and Rahmat Dive Resort (Bangas Island).
Here’s our experience + guide on island hopping activity in Sulu so you can get here too!
Our island hopping experience
After our arrival in Jolo Port, Ms. Cathy from Jolo Tourism Office greeted us. We had breakfast near the port and waited for our military escorts to come. The escorts arrived a bit later than expected, so the start of our tour was delayed.
We dropped our bags at our accommodation in Peacekeeper’s Inn and bought food in the market. Once back in the port, we took group photos with everyone including the military escorts which we’re told are required for reports to the tourism office.
We then went to our first stop: Lahat-Lahat Island.
Lahat-Lahat Island is about 30-45 minutes away from the port. It is also known as Bukitkat by locals and Graveyard Island by tourists because it serves as the resting place for the Sama and Badjao.
Lahat-Lahat Island has a beautiful shore filled with fine, white sand that turns pinkish when wet. The water is a clear turquoise, but if you explore the island you will see different shades of blue.
Our boat slowly approached the island and I was immediately amazed by its beauty.
We decided to check out the burial grounds first. It’s interesting to see the burial custom of the people in Sulu. The tombs of the young are marked with wooden artifacts, while the rest are secured within open huts. Sometimes clothing can be seen hanging in the huts. Apparently, the relatives of the deceased would bring the latter’s favorite clothing to the tomb and rip it to shreds so it wouldn’t be stolen.
From there, we walked towards the other side of the island where there are small mangrove shrubs and driftwoods, which our guide told us is a favorite IG spot of tourists. We spent a short time there taking photos and then back to where our boat was dock, where the water is deeper and better for swimming. The current here was strong though, so it’s ideal only for good swimmers.
Silungan Beach (Bubuan Island)
Bubuan Island is another beautiful island in Panglima Tahil. In fact, the local government has it marked as centerpiece to its tourism efforts.
From afar, Bubuan Island looks like a private luxury resort. I’m not exaggerating — that was my first impression. There were cottages lined up along the shore and a boardwalk at the end of the cove.
This is where we had our lunch of grilled seafood.
It was too hot that day and I was already sunburnt from our island hopping trip in Tawi-Tawi so I opted to stay under the shades and just appreciate the beach.
There is also a snorkeling area filled with healthy corals in Bubuan Island, although we did not have time or equipment to explore it.
Rahmat Dive Resort (Bangas Island)
Our last stop is Rahmat Dive Resort in Bangas Island. Similar to the previous islands we visited, the beach here is also crystal clear with a green tint.
There are various activities in Rahmat Dive Resort including snorkeling, diving, kayaking, ziplining and rafting at the mangrove forest on the other side of the beach. It’s a popular swimming getaway among locals in Jolo especially on weekends.
During our tour though there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the resort, except for locals. We climbed the stairs (about 100 steps) to the viewdeck above where we can see the entirety of the beach.
Afterwards, my travel companions chose to have fun in the diving board while I swam near the shore.
We actually wanted to spend a longer time here. Unfortunately, our guide told us we could only stay there until 3 or 3:30PM because of rough waves later in the afternoon.
With our hearts filled with the amazing beauty of the islands in Sulu, we set off back to Jolo to prepare for our town tour the next day.
The islands in Panglima Tahil has a great potential for tourism, especially considering their natural beauty and proximity to Jolo Port.
That saying, here are some issues I observed during our tour:
- Waste management. Boat operators need to be properly trained by the tourism office about sustainability. During our tour, we noticed that they would just throw their trash in the ocean. Sadly, this issue isn’t limited to our boat operators. It seems to be a community-wide problem in the province.
- Safety. We were safe during our tours in Sulu and that was our experience. However, military escorts are still required during tours which implies that there is still a security risk.
Again, the islands in Panglima Tahil are some of the best I’ve seen in my travels across the Philippines. I’m looking forward to getting back here and to see how it is cleaned up and developed further with sustainability in mind.
How to get to Sulu
For a detailed guide on how to get to Sulu, read our Travel Guide to Sulu.
The jump-off point for the island hopping is the main port in Jolo City, which is also your point of arrival if you take the ferry from Zamboanga City.
Island hopping tour in Sulu
The tours are handled by the Hadji Panglima Tahil Tourism Office. Make sure to book in advance.
You can visit these islands in Panglima Tahil
- Lahat-Lahat Island
- Bubuan Island
- Bangas Island
- Marungas Island
Marungas Island was not included in our itinerary. It features the longest wooden footbridge in the Philippines at 800 meters long. The bridge connects the Badjao village in Sitio Likud with the rest of the municipality.
As of our visit (November 2019), boat rental is P5000 good up to 15 people. There are no entrance fees to the islands.
Things to know before you go
- Coordinate with the Sulu Tourism Office for your visit. They will help arrange your accommodation, tours and itinerary. They will also provide military escorts during your tour.
- As above, military escorts are required during tours.
Island hopping tour:
- It’s best to start early, preferably at 7 or 8AM so you will have more time to enjoy the islands.
- Buy food in the market before your island hopping tour. As courtesy, don’t forget to include your tour guides and military escorts in the food count.
- Remember to carry your trash with you.
You may contact the following for your visit here:
Has this Guide on Island Hopping in Sulu been helpful to you? If you have comments or questions, let me know in the comment section below.
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Katherine Cortes is a long-time backpacker and a freelance writer/editor. She likes beaches, snorkeling trips, and relaxing staycations (preferably with bath tubs!).