Ultimate Guide to Once Islas: Island Hopping in Zamboanga

Kat in Bisaya-Bisaya Island, Once Islas
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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.

Island across the port in Panubigan

Island across the port in Barangay Panubigan.

Boat for island hopping in Once Islas, Zamboanga

Boat used for island hopping.
People island hopping in Once Islas, Zamboanga

Fellow bloggers in another boat. Ahoy!

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.

Bisaya-Bisaya Island, Once Islas

Bisaya-Bisaya Island.
Beach in Bisaya-Bisaya Island, Once Islas
Kat in Bisaya-Bisaya Island, Once Islas

Soaking up the sun and salty air.
White-sand beach in Bisaya-Bisaya Island, Once Islas

White-sand beach.
Beach in Bisaya-Bisaya Island, Once Islas

It was low tide and you can walk far from the shore.
Islet across Bisaya-Bisaya Island, Once Islas

Islet across 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).

Trekking in Bisaya-Bisaya Island, Once Islas

Trekking to see rock formations.
Trekking in Bisaya-Bisaya Island, Once Islas

View from trekking area.
Coconuts and snacks in Bisaya-Bisaya Island

This is me and Princess, having a morning snack of corn and fresh coconuts.

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.

Kayaking in Bisaya-Bisaya Island, Once Islas

Kayaking in Bisaya-Bisaya Island.
Snorkeling in Bisaya-Bisaya Island, Once Islas

Snorkeling in Bisaya-Bisaya Island.

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)

Way to natural pool in Bisaya-Bisaya Island, Once Islas

Crossing our way to the adjacent islet.
Natural pool in Bisaya-Bisaya Island, Once Islas

Our friend Phil dipping in the natural pool.

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.

Random island in Once Islas

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.

Seafood boodle fight in Sirommon Island, Once Islas

Waiting for the boodle fight to be prepared.
Seafood boodle fight in Sirommon Island, Once Islas

Seafood boodle fight for lunch!

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.

Sand bar in Sirommon Island, Once Islas in Zamboanga

Sand bar in Sirommon Island.
Sand bar in Sirommon Island, Once Islas in Zamboanga
Starfishes in Sirommon Island, Once Islas

Starfishes in the sand bar.

We didn’t stop by Buh-Buh Island but here’s a glimpse of the mosque there for you.

Mosque in Buh-Buh Island, Once Islas

Mosque in Buh-Buh Island.

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!

Baung-Baung Island, Once Islas

Baung-Baung Island.
View from Baung-Baung Island, Once Islas

View of Bisaya-Bisaya from Baung-Baung Island.
View from Baung-Baung Island, Once Islas

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.

Travel Guide to Once Islas (Zamboanga)

Once Islas is a set of eleven islands an hour away from the city proper.

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.

How to get to Once Islas

To get here from Zamboanga city proper, 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). Then ride a habal-habal (P20) to the barangay hall where you will need to register. Total travel time is about 1 hour.

Transfers can also be arranged by the tourism office or your travel agency.

Island hopping tour in Once Islas


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 where a boat will fetch you for island hopping.

You may contact the tourism office at the following:

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

Optional fees:

  • 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.

Packaged tours

For hassle-free tours to Once Islas, we recommend joining a tour by iTravel Tourist Lane. Please say hello to Errold from us!

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!

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:

Places to see in Zamboanga City:

Backpacking in Zamboanga and other places in Mindanao? Here are our guides:

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  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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?

  4. Wow! The place really looks like it’s untouched. I wanna try snorkeling too! The seafood surely is super fresh, ugh sudden cravings. ♥

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