I said it before and I’ll say it again: Mindanao has the best nature attractions in the country. This is evident in Sulu, a province filled with beautiful islands and white-sand shores that will easily put other popular beach destinations in the country to shame.
I particularly loved our island hopping tour in Panglima Tahil and our visit to Tandu Beach in Parang. To think that this is just the tip of the iceberg and there are many more places to explore! I also liked the local delicacies and dishes in Sulu, which are colorful, tasty and diverse. I have already tasted Tausug dishes in Zamboanga City, but there’s a difference in enjoying bangbang for instance in their place of origin.
For anyone who’s interested in traveling here, here’s a travel guide to Sulu and sample 2-day itinerary.
P.S. Planning a trip to Mindanao? Here is our ZamBaSulTa Itinerary and Guide.
Is it safe to travel to Sulu?
Of course, safety is the topmost concern when traveling to Sulu. Due to its history of period military encounters, Sulu receives only a minimal number of tourists per year (around 200-300 tourists per year as of 2019).
How was our experience?
We were safe and secure for the duration of our 2-day tour here. Personally, I also wasn’t worried as I saw how the tourism office prepared everything ahead of our arrival. Also, I’m an intuitive person and there wasn’t anything to set off the alarm bells in my head.
However, it’s worth noting that every time we would go out we were accompanied by military escorts as precaution. Also, there are selected areas in Sulu that are off-limits to visitors, such as Pasikul. As such, I can’t say that Sulu is 100% safe but I’m hoping that it’s getting there.
It’s advised that everyone who visits Sulu coordinate with the Sulu Tourism Office first. They will help arrange your accommodation, tours and itinerary. As per a tourism office I asked, foreigners are also welcome to visit Sulu.
How to get here
From Zamboanga City, there are daily ferries en route to Jolo (via Aleson or Montenegro lines). Travel time is 7-9 hours. Fare is P500-510 per person.
Due to the long travel hours, most tourists book an overnight trip from Zamboanga City to Jolo and vice versa. Last trip is at 8-9PM and arrival is early morning the day (5-6AM).
From Tawi-Tawi, there are also vessels from Bongao to Jolo via Siasi route. Travel time is 18 hours. Here are the schedules:
- Tuesday-Thursday at 10:30AM – 11:00AM via Ever Queen Line
- Saturdays at 10AM via Magnolia Line
There are now flights from Zamboanga City to Jolo via Platinum Skies. Here are the schedules (updated as of November 2019):
Zamboanga to Jolo:
- Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8AM
- Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8:30AM
Jolo to Zamboanga:
- Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9AM
- Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 9:30AM
Best things to do in Sulu
1. Enjoy native delicacies
For breakfast, try out a staple in Sulu called bangbang. Bangbang is a set of Tausug pastries. Some of my favorites include daral (crepe with sweet coconut filling) and palikambing (fried banana balls).
Everything will be served at your table but you only need to pay the ones you choose to eat.
2. Try the local coffee
If you’re a coffee lover, you should definitely take a sip of Sulu coffee.
Locals call it kahawa sug and it is made from robusta coffee beans. It is said that the Sulu coffee is endangered due to other varieties brought from other places including Malaysia. However, it is still readily available in coffee shops and restaurants. It is often served with bangbang and is enjoyed by locals all throughout the day!
By the way, you can also buy Sulu coffee grounds to take home for P70-75 per 1/4kg.
3. Visit the Sulu Provincial Capitol
The Sulu Provincial Capitol is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful capitols in the country. Walking distance from the capitol is the I Love Sulu signage.
4. Island hop in Panglima Tahil
The municipality of Panglima Tahil is home to some of the most beautiful islands in Sulu. During our visit, we were able to see Lahat-lahat Island, Silungan Beach (Bubuan Island) and Rahmat Dive Resort (Bangas Island). There are also other islands open for visitors.
Boat rental for island hopping costs P5000 good up to 15 people.
Read about Our Island Hopping Tour in Panglima Tahil.
5. Swim in white-sand beaches
Sulu is home to several white-sand beaches. A notable one is Tandu Beach, located in the municipality of Parang. It’s a long stretch of fine white-sand, with cottages for public use.
Exploring the province of Sulu
Sulu is home to beautiful islands and beaches. It also has interesting town attractions, including mosques and public markets where you can find local products and even traditional clothing of the tribes in the area.
For reference, here’s a list of places to see in Sulu. Currently, only a handful are open to tourists due to security issues.
- Town tour: Sulu Provincial Capitol, I Love Jolo and I Love Sulu, Cathedral, Sulu National Museum, Masjid Tulay, public market
Of course, a visit in Sulu won’t be complete without a town tour to its capital: Jolo.
The Sulu Provincial Capitol is worth mentioning due to its impressive facade. Meanwhile, Masjid Tulay is considered the biggest and oldest mosque in Sulu. As said above, you may also drop by the public market to check out local products, such as malongs and traditional clothes.
- Nature parks: Mount Daho National Park, view deck at Patikul Peak
- Others: General Bautista Monument, Danag Patikul, Royal Clan in Igasan and Bunbun, Capitol Park, Balikatan Park, Sulu Museum, GK Pagsurgpatan Village, Provincial Sports Complex
- Beaches: Mauboh Beach, Quezon Beach, Taung Beach, Buhanginan Beach, Bunbun Beach Resort
A portion of Patikul is safe, particularly Mauboh Beach which is a popular swimming area. However, the rest are still closed to tourism due to safety issues.
Hadji Panglima Tahil
- Beaches and islands: Lahat-lahat Island, Silungan Beach (Bubuan Island), Rahmat Dive Resort (Bangas Island)
- Other islands: Marungas Island, Cabucan Island Marine Reserve, Pangasinan Island, Ramos Beach
- Others: Agal Agal Seaweeds Farm, Subah Bridge to Badjao Village, Bud Bangas
One of the most common activities of tourists in Sulu is island hopping in Panglima Tahil. In a day, you can visit Lahat-Lahat Island, Silungan Island and Rahmat Dive Resort.
- Beaches: Lakit Beach, Tandu Beach
Tandu Beach features a long stretch of fine, white-sand beach with crystal-clear water. A portion of the beach is open to the public for free, while there is also a private area where a resort is to be developed.
- Lake Siet
- Seit Higad Beach
Lake Siet is another popular attraction in Sulu. The lake is heart shaped, as seen in aerial views. It’s about 2 hours from Jolo.
Where to eat
There are regular eateries in Sulu. Suggested restaurants are as follows:
- Shara’s Coffee Shop. A great breakfast option where you can taste bangbang and local coffee. It’s also budget-friendly.
- D Cousins. One of the most popular restaurants in Sulu. It serves latal or dulang, which is a set composed of tiulah itum (black soup) and other dishes.
If you missed out on these restaurants, don’t worry! You can still taste authentic Sulu dishes in Zamboanga City, most notably in Dennis Coffee Garden and Bay Tal Mal restaurants.
Where to stay
Accommodations for tourists are located inside camps.
- Peacekeepers Inn. Located at Camp Kasim, this is the default accommodation for tourists in Sulu. It is clean and neat. To be honest, it’s one of the best accommodations we had on our ZamBaSulTa trip. Rate is P2500 for 5 people (or P1000 for 1 person).
Sample itinerary in Sulu
Here’s a sample 2 day itinerary in Sulu.
Early morning arrival in Jolo
Breakfast at Shara’s Coffee Shop
Check in at accommodation
Island hopping in Panglima Tahil
Visit Tandu Beach in Parang
Jolo town tour
Dinner at D’ Cousins
Take last-trip ferry back to Zamboanga City
The Sulu provincial tourism office will help you create your itinerary. Just let them know how long you plan to stay in Sulu and any planned destinations in mind.
As per Ms. Cath (Jolo tourism office), an ideal stay in Sulu would be 3 days.
Budget and expenses
Here are the current tour rates in Sulu (updated as of November 2019):
- Island hopping in Panglima Tahil: P5000 good up to 15 people
- Town tour: P3000 good up to 5 people
- Tour guide fee: P500 per person (whole trip)*
*We were not asked for a tour guide fee, but we paid a tourism fee of P150 per person.
For a 2-day stay, in a group of 5 people, a safe budget would be P3000-3500 per person (including ferry to and from Zamboanga City, tours, meals and accommodation).
Special events and festivals
Rajah Baguinda Festival. A 3-day celebration in honor of Rajah Baguinda, who led the spread of Islam and adaptation of the Sulu sultanate government. Held every 2nd week of August.
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.
- During tours, it’s common courtesy to provide food to your tour guide and military escorts as well.
- It’s best to dress conservatively.
You can contact Sulu Tourism Office – Facebook for your visit to Sulu.
Has this travel guide to Sulu province been helpful to you? If you have comments or suggestions, let me know in the comment section below. 🙂