Travel Guide to Basilan Province: Mindanao’s Hidden Treasure

Stilt houses in Basilan
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Here’s a travel guide to the province of Basilan including a sample 2-day itinerary.

Before we proceed, let me tell you that this is one of the most difficult pieces I’ve written. Not because I don’t know what to write, but because I don’t know how to approach the subject properly. Due to its history, Basilan faces great security stigma and this is something that probably won’t go away soon.

In fact, whenever someone posts about it online it’s always how “I survived Basilan” or other similar sentiments. However, in my experience, Basilan is not something to survive from but a place to explore and discover. I’d tasted the delicacies of Lamitan, seen the smiling faces of children in a beach in Isabela City, talked with locals who are proud of their home.

I want to talk about how elated I felt about my trip here but at the same time proceed with caution. After all, in selected places, military escorts are still required for tourists in this province.

With that, here’s everything you need to know about Basilan.

P.S. Planning a trip to Mindanao? Here is our ZamBaSulTa Itinerary and Guide.

About Basilan

Here are some quick facts about Basilan:

  • The current capital of Basilan is Lamitan City.
  • Basilan is home to three ethnic groups: Yakan, Tausug and Chavacano. As such, the population is predominantly Muslim but there is also a significant percentage of Christians.
  • Due to high concentration of Muslims, pork and other non-halal food are not widely available.
  • The languages used here are Filipino, English and Yakan. The lingua franca is Chavacano.

Also here’s a fun fact: Lamitan City is part of Bangsamoro Region, while Isabela City is part of Zamboanga Peninsula Region. However, they are both under the province of Basilan.

Things to know before you go

It is safe to visit Basilan?

As per the tourism officers I talked with, it is safe to visit Basilan. However, it is still recommended to coordinate with respective local tourism offices prior to your visit. In particular, in Lamitan City, tours are handled by the tourism office and they will provide you with a tour guide during your stay.

Also Read: Is the Philippines safe to visit?

Reminders and tips

  • Plan your visit in advance. While walk-ins are possible, reservations are required for certain attractions including Lampinigan Island and Isabela Mangrove Forest Park in Isabela City.
  • It’s best to dress conservatively. However, swimwear is accepted in beaches and waterfalls in Basilan.

How to get to Basilan

Basilan is easily accessible from Zamboanga City. There are regular ferries and fast crafts with daily schedule in Zamboanga sea port to either Lamitan or Isabela City.

Via Lamitan City

Travel time is 1-1.5 hour. Fare is P100 per person.

  • Zamboanga to Lamitan: 6:45 AM | 9:30 AM | 12:30 PM | 3:00 PM | 3:30 PM
  • Lamitan to Zamboanga: 6:30 AM | 7:00 AM | 9:30 AM | 12:30 PM | 3:30 PM

Via Isabela City

There are several ferries bound for Isabela City. Regular ferries take 1.5-2 hours (regular P70, aircon P90 per person), while fast crafts via Weesam Express take 1 hour (P170 per person).

  • First trip: 6:45AM via Weesam Express
  • Last trip: 4:45PM via Weesam Express | 4:30PM via regular ferry

For the last trip back to Zamboanga City, I recommend getting on the regular ferry because the difference is only a few minutes and you’ll be saving about P70 each.

If you arrive at Isabela City via ferry, you will get off at Isabela Port which is walking distance to commercial establishments and accommodations and the jump-off points to Lampinigan Island and Malamawi Island.

How to get around

There are tricycles in Lamitan City and Isabela City you can use to get around.

Best Things to Do in Basilan

1. Take a dip in Bulingan Falls

Bulingan Falls is a nature attraction in Lamitan City. Although it looks small at about 30 feet tall, it stands out with its natural cube-shaped rock formations.

Bulingan Falls can be visited as part of the town tour in Lamitan City. Entrance is free. There are also cottages for free usage.

Bulingan Falls in Lamitan City

2. Explore the virgin shores of Lampinigan Island

Lampinigan Island is an underrated beach destination in Isabela City. On one side of the island is a small residental community and on the other a pristine white-sand beach where you can swim and snorkel to your heart’s content.

Lampinigan Island is about 45 minutes away from Isabela Port. Boat fare is P2500 good up to 7-10 people.

Lampinigan Island in Isabela City, Basilan
Lampinigan Island.

3. Day tour in Malamawi White Beach

Malamawi White Beach Resort is perhaps the most popular tourist attraction Basilan. Its main feature is a stretch of fine white-sand beach with turquoise water.

It’s about 20 minutes from Isabela Port. To get here, you need to ride a boat to Malamawi Island (P5 per person) and then a habal-habal to the resort (10 min, P60 per person RT).

Renting a cottage is required for day tours (P350 good up to 5 people). Entrance fee is P35 per person.

Malamawi Beach Resort signage
Malamawi Beach Resort signage.

4. Food tripping

From Lamitan City public market, you can witness the preparation and cooking of native delicacies, notably lokot-lokot and panyalam.

If that isn’t enough, you can also go on food tripping in the night market of Isabela City.

Native delicacies in Lamitan
Lokot-lokot and panyalam.

5. Visit Basilan’s Pink Beach

If Zamboanga City has the Great Sta. Cruz Island, Basilan has Langgas Island. Langgas Island is an off-beaten island with pinkish-sand shore, due to crushed red corals in the sand. It’s a popular swimming location among locals as it’s accessible and budget-friendly.

Langgas Island is located at the municipality of Maluso. To get here from Isabela City, take a tricycle to Maluso Terminal. Then ride a van to Tabuh. From there, walk towards Maluso Port. Secure a permit and then take a boat to Langgas Island.

Top Attractions in Basilan

For reference, here are the places you can visit in Basilan. Take note that some places in Basilan may still not be open to the public.

Lamitan City and Isabela City are the most visited places in Basilan.

Lamitan City

Touring Lamitan City only takes a half-day. From here, you can stay overnight in the city or travel to Isabela City or Zamboanga City.

Read about our Day Trip in Lamitan City.

Places to see:

  • City tour: public market, museum, city hall and Datu Kalun statue
  • Yakan Village
  • Lamitan City Tulips Garden
  • Bulingan Falls
  • Beaches: Palm Beach, Luksumbang, Calugusan Beach

Isabela City

Isabela City was previously the capital of Basilan until the title was transferred to Lamitan City. Isabela City is the most visited place in Basilan, as travelers often take a day tour here from Zamboanga City.

1-2 days is the recommended stay, depending on the places you wish to visit.

Read about our Day Trip in Isabela City, featuring Lampinigan Island and Malamawi White Beach Resort.

Places to see:

  • Mat-weaving houses in Barangay Tampalan
  • City tour: Mabarakat Mosque, Provincial Capitol, Santa Isabela Cathedral, James Strong Boulevard and Ukay Ukay Night Market
  • Islands and beaches: Lampinigan Island, Malamawi White Beach, Hami Beach, Sumagdang Beach, Panigayan Beach
  • Isabela City Forest Park
  • Marang Marang Mangrove
  • Cabunbata Falls

Maluso

The municipality of Maluso is easily accessible from Isabela City. From Isabela, take a tricycle to Maluso Terminal and then a van to Maluso. To get around Maluso, you can charter a tricycle.

Places to see:

  • Waterfalls: Garlayan Falls, Majayjay Falls
  • Islands and beaches: Langgas Island, Taekela Island

Sumisip

Aside from Malamawi White Beach and Hami Beach, Tinuse is one of the best beaches you can find in Basilan. It’s 5 minutes by boat from the mainland in the town of Sumisip.

Places to see:

  • City tour: Grand Mosque, Mat-Weaving Center, Sama-Badjao Village
  • Tinuse Island
  • Besse Janitla Falls
  • Bohe Linuan River

Albarka

Places to see:

  • Macalang Falls
  • Hallow Kabew

Where to eat

It’s easy to find budget-friendly eateries in Basilan.

Don’t forget to try out the native delicacies in Basilan. If you haven’t tried satti in Zamboanga City yet, this is the time to do so! There are satti restaurants you can visit for breakfast.

If you’re staying in Isabela City, you will also find a Jollibee branch near the port. 🙂

Where to stay

Here are the places you can stay at in Basilan.

Lamitan City

Lamitan Hostel is located near the public market. Rate starts at P700 per night.

There are also private resorts in Lamitan City, such as Maarena, Luksumbang, Calugusan and Dangkalan beach resorts.

Isabela City

  • Malamawi White Beach Resort. Rooms start at P2000 good for 2-3 people. Make sure to book ahead as it can get fully booked on weekends.

There are also accommodations in the mainland:

  • Sophia Hotel or Casa Rosario Pension House. Rate starts at P1000 good for 1-2 people.
  • Basilan Business Hotel. Rate starts at P2500 for a standard room inclusive of breakfast.

2 Days itinerary to Basilan

Here’s a sample 2-day itinerary to Basilan:

Day 1 6:45AM Take earliest ferry from Zamboanga City to Lamitan City
8AM – 1PM Lamitan city tour
1:30PM – 2:30PM Travel via bus to Isabela City
Check in at accommodation
(Optional) Isabela city tour
Day 2 7AM Check out of accommodation
8AM – 11AM Visit Lampinigan Island (Optional: Mangrove Forest)
11AM Back to Isabela Port/buy packed lunch
12PM – 12:30PM Ride boat to Malamawi Island and then habal-habal to the resort
12:30 – 3:30PM Enjoy Malamawi White Beach
3:30 – 4PM Back at Isabela Port
4:30 or 4:45PM Take last trip to Zamboanga City
6PM Back in Zamboanga City

Budget and expenses

Stilt houses in Basilan
Stilts community in Basilan.

Following this 2-day itinerary, for a group of 5 people, a safe budget is P2500-3000 per person.

Contacts

For inquiries, you may contact the tourism offices at the ff:

  • Isabela City Tourism Office: Facebook
  • Lamitan City Tourism Office: Facebook | Ms Jarma (tourism officer) 09264275797
  • Sumisip Tourism Office: Facebook

Do you have more information to add about Basilan? If so, let us know in the comments below!

What to read next:

Planning a trip to Basilan? Here are our articles on Basilan:

Other related articles:

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