Travel Guide to Sulu Province + 2 Days Itinerary

Tandu Beach in Parang, Sulu
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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 wasn’t worried as I saw how the tourism office prepared everything ahead of our arrival. 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 Patikul.

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 officer I asked, foreigners are also welcome to visit Sulu.

Also Read: Is It Safe to Visit the Philippines?

How to get to Sulu

Zamboanga City is the usual gateway to Jolo (the capital city of Sulu). Jolo is also accessible via other provinces such as Tawi-Tawi.

By sea

Via Zamboanga

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).

Via 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

By air

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. Everything will be served at your table but you only need to pay the ones you choose to eat.

Some of my favorites include daral (crepe with sweet coconut filling) and palikambing (fried banana balls).

Bangbang or native delicacies in Sulu
Bangbang, a set of native delicacies.

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.

Sulu Capitol building - one of the best places to see in Sulu
Capitol.

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.

Read about Our Island Hopping Tour in Panglima Tahil.

Silungan Beach, Bubuan Island
Silulngan Beach in Bubuan Island, Sulu
Silungan Beach. It looks like a private luxury resort from afar.

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.

Tandu Beach in Parang, Sulu
Tandu Beach.
Tandu Beach in Parang, Sulu

Places to Visit in 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.

Jolo

  • 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.

Local fabric in Sulu
Native fabric called Pis Siyabit sold in the market.
Sulu Capitol building
Sulu Capitol. (Photo by Ja Mere)
Group shot at Masjid Tulay, Sulu
At Masjid Tulay. (Photo by Ja Mere)

Patikul

  • 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.

Mauboh Beach in Sulu
Mauboh Beach.

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.

Parang

  • 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.

Old Panamao

  • 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.
Latal or dulang in Sulu
Latal or dulang in D’ Cousins restaurant. A set goes for P700-800.

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).

2 Days Itinerary in Sulu

Here’s a sample 2 day itinerary in Sulu.

Day 1
Early morning arrival in Jolo
Breakfast at Shara’s Coffee Shop
Check in at accommodation
Island hopping in Panglima Tahil

Day 2
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.

Boats in Silungan Beach, Sulu
Stilt houses in Sulu
Stilt houses in Sulu.

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.
Military escorts in Sulu
One of our military escorts during island hopping.

Contacts

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. 🙂

What to read next:

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

Other related articles:

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5 Comments

  1. I booked a roundtrip ticket from Manila to Tawi-Tawi for 4 days. Do you think it’s possible to squeeze that time to include Sulu to my Tawi-Tawi itinerary?

    1. Hi Ace. Pls read the How to Get Here section. Travel time between Sulu and Tawi-Tawi via ferry is 18 hours.

  2. Thank you for this. Glad to see your blog about Sulu. I was disappointed in one of the “bloggers” i’m following when she captioned Sulu as “Badass meaning guns and blood wars”. I called her out and still defended herself.

    1. Lol which blog is it? Sulu isn’t 100% safe and only selected areas are open to visitors at the moment, but I get where you’re coming from. Sulu shouldn’t be simplified as a place for guns and bloodwars, tho it’s not the ideal destination either. Unfortunately, a lot of backpackers take pride in “surviving” places in Mindanao. This is true for Basilan also (though Basilan is actually safe and hasn’t had any safety issues for quite a while now).

  3. Thank you so much for advertising the beauty of Sulu. Very few people would go for a tour of Sulu. You are giving the place a new look with this write-up. And I totally agree with you. The area has so many pristine beaches that could give the likes of Boracay and Bohol a run for their money.

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