Ultimate Guide to Once Islas: Island Hopping in Zamboanga
Attention, nature & beach lovers! Zamboanga City has opened a new attraction and it is great: Once Islas.
Once Islas is a new eco-cultural tourism attraction which opened to public last July 2018. It is composed of 11 islands along the Moro Gulf, which belong to the barangays of Panubigan and Dita in Zamboanga del Sur. Of these islands, 4 are opened to the public and can be reached by registering at the office of Barangay Panubigan. These are Bisaya-Bisaya, Sirommon, Baung-Baung and Buh-Buh. The first three are ideal for swimming and snorkeling, while the last one is for cultural touring.
We visited Once Islas as part of the fam trip for Zamboanga Hermosa Festival 2018. As a beach lover — you know we mostly cover beaches here in our blog — I was beyond excited to set foot in Once Islas.
Discover Once Islas with us in this post!
Our island hopping tour in Once Islas
We attended a short orientation in the barangay hall for the island hopping, and then we walked to the port where there were boats waiting for us. At this moment, I knew that it’s going to be good because even the view there was great — we were facing an island with deep-green water, lots of trees and, on the other side, a picturesque seaside community.
The first island we stopped by is Bisaya-Bisaya Island. It has pristine white-sand beach and deep-green water. There’s lots of coconuts among other trees.
I love that it’s so clean! The LGU brings garbage bags so guests won’t have to leave their litter in the island.
We trekked to one side of the island with the tour guides to see rock formations. Then we went to have fresh buko (because all great beach escapades include fresh buko).
Some people went swimming, some went kayaking. The water was nice and warm, and you can snorkel not far from the shore. There’s tons of corals and fishes, but it isn’t as lively as other snorkeling areas I’d been to. Still, it adds on option on things to do if you ever get tired of swimming.
When it was low tide, we crossed to the adjacent islet (our tour guide Errold said it’s still considered part of Bisaya-Bisaya Island) where there’s a natural pool. A little small, but perfect for that Instagram photo. (Read also: Natural pools in the Philippines)
On our way to the next stop, we saw other islands and again there were some nice views. People are usually focused on the stops, but one thing that I enjoy about island hopping is passing by unknown islands as well. Here’s one of locals picking up shells (I assume) when it was low tide.
Our second island hopping stop was Sirommon Island. Sirommon Island is known for its sand bar.
What we did first is trek for about 5-10 minutes to get to the other side of the island where our lunch was waiting — a boodle fight consisting of fresh seafood like tuna, crabs and squid as well as pako (seaweed) and fruits. Yum yum yum. It’s one of the best meals I had during our one-week trip to Zamboanga.
Sirommon Island is the best place for snorkeling & diving in Once Islas. It was, however, low tide during our visit and we didn’t bring our own snorkeling gears.
After lunch, we went back to the main beach area and stayed at the sand bar. The sand bar is home to numerous star fishes. It reminded me of Candaraman Island in Balabac. Anyway, I’m calling this Starfish Sand Bar. The water here is warm and cold in some parts. It’s also a great place to chill, I wished we had more time.
We didn’t stop by Buh-Buh Island, but we had a glimpse of its mosque.
Our last stop was at Baung-Baung Island. Again, it has white-sand beach and good for swimming. There’s also an option to trek for an overlooking view of Bisaya-Bisaya Island. The trek takes 248 steps, but it sounds more intimidating than it is — it probably takes no more than 10 minutes to reach the view deck. And the view is really worth it!
Regretfully, we were only in Once Islas for a whole afternoon — and I’d learned that currently only day tours are allowed. Even though I was able to swim, snorkel, trek, eat snacks and lunch, it still felt a little too short to spend in these pristine islands. Oh well, there’s always a next beach vacay.
How to get to Once Islas
Once Islas is located about an hour away from the city proper. Here are the commute directions:
- Head to the integrated bus terminal. From there, ride a north-bound bus bound for Pagadian or Ipil and get off at Panubigan crossing (P50).
- From the crossing, ride a habal-habal (P20) to the barangay hall, which is where you need to register.
Transfers can also be arranged by the tourism office or your travel agency.
How to book your tour
Here are things you need to know:
- Island hopping is open for day tours only, from 7AM to 3PM so make sure to get there early. Tours are open daily except Fridays.
- You need to book in advance since tourists are limited to 200 a day only.
- On your booked date, proceed to Barangay Panubigan and register at the city tourism office. From there, just walk to the port where a boat will fetch you for island hopping.
Once Islas rates
Fees are as follows (Updated as of 2020):
- Entrance fee: P100 per person
- Environmental fee: P100 per person
- Boat rental fee: P1200 to P2000 (good up to 9 pax)
- Local guide fee: P300 per group
- Cottage rental: P150 per island
- Kayak rental: P300 per hour (good for 2 pax)
Where to buy food
You can bring your own food.
If you want to ask for lunch to be included, inform the tourism office ahead of time so that it can be arranged for you. You may also buy fresh ingredients such as seafood from locals once you get to Barangay Panubigan and have it cooked in Sirommon Island for a fee (P50 per dish).
Fresh coconuts are also available in Once Islas for P25 each.
Reminders and Tips
- Bring your own snorkeling equipment.
- In respect to local’s culture, bringing & cooking of pork is not recommended.
- No alcohol.
- No bringing of pets.
- No overnight stay.
- No nudity. 🙁
Enjoy your island hopping experience in Once Islas!
You may contact the tourism office at the following:
- (062) 975 6341 / email@example.com / Zamboanga Tourism Facebook page
For hassle-free tours to Once Islas, we recommend joining a tour by iTravel Tourist Lane. Please say hello to Errold from us!
Has this Guide to Once Islas been helpful to you? If you have additional info or question, please post them on the comments below.
What to read next:
Planning a trip to Zamboanga? Here are our articles on Zamboanga:
- Travel Guide to Zamboanga City
- Zamboanga City Tourist Spots + Things to Do
- Where to Eat in Zamboanga City
- Zamboanga Hermosa Festival
Places to see in Zamboanga City:
Backpacking in Zamboanga and other places in Mindanao? Here are our guides:
Katherine Cortes is a 30-something freelance writer/editor. She likes beaches, snorkeling trips, and relaxing staycations (preferably with bath tubs!).
Hi, just wondering how are the toilet facilities in the island? Tia
Hi. There are toilets in the islands and the port. You can wash up in the port.
Natawa naman ako sa No Nudity. Sayang char! Buti strict sila when it comes to alcohols, usually kasi diyan nagsisimula ang gulo. LOL. Love your pictures, daming activities pala ang pwedeng gawin sa Once Islas. Gusto ko din pumuntaaa.
jan darren guiwan
still on my radar to set foot on this amazing mini archipelago of Zamboanga City. would really set foot here on my booked flight next year!
Ang dami pa talagang magagandang spot sa Pilipinas no?
Danica Airelle Marasigan
Nice! I’m going to Zamboanga soon to attend a wedding but I want to stay longer to explore its food and beaches. Now that you wrote about this place, I will bookmark this for future reference. After all, the name is quite remarkable! Any history behind it?
Grabe ang ganda talaga sa zamboanga. One of my fave province
Wow! The place really looks like it’s untouched. I wanna try snorkeling too! The seafood surely is super fresh, ugh sudden cravings. ♥