home Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga del Norte/Zamboanga del Sur/Zamboanga Sibugay The Great Mindanao Adventure: ZamBaSulTa Itinerary and Guide

The Great Mindanao Adventure: ZamBaSulTa Itinerary and Guide

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One of the best backpacking routes in the Philippines is the ZamBaSulTa. ZamBaSulTa refers to the Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces. It typically starts in Zamboanga City, which serves as the gateway to other provinces.

This is a great route because it allows you to experience the unique culture, history and food in Mindanao in a single swoop. The Philippines as a whole is very westernized, especially Manila and other established cities, but these places have somehow retained their rich heritage. You can see and experience it in the traditional woven products of the Yakan tribe, the bangbang (native delicacies) and latal plate (a set of Tausug dishes) in Sulu and the simple, laid-back life of locals in Tawi-Tawi. This is without a doubt one of my favorite trips in the Philippines.

So without further ado, here’s our ZamBaSulTa Itinerary and Guide.

Tips on planning your ZamBaSulTa trip

  • It’s important to coordinate with the respective tourism offices for your trip, particularly in Basilan and Sulu. Just let them know your date of arrival and planned things to do, if any.
  • Make sure to plan your work leaves in advance. This route takes as short as 7 days to 10-12 days, depending on the places you want to cover.
  • Do not rush your time. I’ve seen people do 1 day in Basilan, 1 day in Sulu, and so forth and this type of traveling is not only exhausting but also often not enough to cover every must-do activity in a given province.
  • It’s best to go with other people to share expenses with. There are activities that are budget-friendly and others not so (e.g., island hopping in Tawi-Tawi easily costs P9000 or above for a day).

Overview of Zam-Ba-Sul-Ta provinces

This is basically an overview of Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. If you want a more detailed information on each province, I included separate travel guides in each section.

You can use this as a rough guide when planning your ZamBaSulTa trip.

Zamboanga

For this purpose, I’ll be including Zamboanga City only instead of the individual provinces of Zamboanga del Norte, del Sur and Sibugay.

Your trip will likely start in Zamboanga City. This is a vibrant city where you can go on historical tours, shopping for local and imported products, food trips and island hopping activities particularly in Once Islas and Pink Beach.

If you are short on time, I recommend staying here for only 1-2 days as it’s accessible from major airports in the country.

Fort Pilar Shrine in Zamboanga City
Fort Pilar Shrine in Zamboanga City.

How to get here:

  • From Manila or other airports, take a local flight to Zamboanga.

Ideal stay: 3 days

Sample itinerary:

Day 1 –  Zamboanga city tour
Day 2 – Once Islas
Day 3 – Great Sta. Cruz Island (Pink Beach)

Major expenses:

  • Island hopping in Once Islas: P2000 plus other fees (good up to 9 pax)
  • Boat to Great Sta. Cruz Island: P1000 (good up to 10 pax)

Travel Guides: Read about our Travel Guide to Zamboanga City and Things to do in Zamboanga City.

Basilan

Basilan is known for its white-sand beaches.

Most backpackers only spend a day here to visit Malamawi White Beach Resort in Isabela City. However, I recommend staying here for 2 days so you can tour Lamitan City and arrange a permit for Lampinigan Island which you can visit alongside Malamawi Island.

Kat in Lampinigan Island, Basilan
Lampinigan Island.

How to get here:

  • From Zamboanga City, take a ferry to either Lamitan or Isabela City. Travel time is only 1-2 hours, depending on sea conditions.

Ideal stay: 2 days

Sample itinerary:

Day 1 – Lamitan City tour
Day 2 – Lampinigan Island and Malamawi White Beach, Isabela City

Major expenses:

  • Lamitan City tour: P1000 via habal-habal or P2400 via private car (good up to 5 pax)
  • Boat to Lampinigan Island: P2500 (good up to 10 pax)

Contact: Lamitan City Tourism Office: Facebook | Isabela City Tourism Office: Facebook

Travel Guides: Read about our Travel Guide to Basilan.

Sulu

Sulu features beautiful islands and beaches, so one of the things you shouldn’t miss doing here is island hopping. The rest of the places you can visit depend on the tourism office, as they will have to check the security of each destination.

The Sulu Provincial Tourism requires tourists to coordinate with them first. They will help with your accommodation, tours and itinerary. Moreover, it’s worth nothing that military escorts are required during tours.

Tandu Beach in Parang, Sulu
Tandu Beach.

How to get here:

  • The most common way to get here is via ferry from Zamboanga City to Jolo (capital of Sulu Province). Travel time is 7-9 hours. Note: There used to be a fast craft by Weesam Express plying the Zamboanga-Jolo route in only 3 hours, but it is no longer available.
  • It’s best to take the overnight ferry so you won’t waste a day in commute. The last ferry leaves at 8-9PM and arrives at 5-6AM the next day. It’s advised to purchase tickets in advance because it can get fully booked; at least in the morning on the date of your departure is fine.

Ideal stay: 2-3 days

Sample itinerary:

Day 1 – Island hopping in Panglima Tahil
Day 2 – Tandu Beach + Jolo town tour

Major expenses:

  • Island hopping in Panglima Tahil: P5000 (good up to 15 pax)
  • Car rental for land tour: P3000 (good up to 5 people)
  • Tour guide fee: P500 per head (rate is good for the duration of your stay)

Contact: Sulu Provincial Tourism Office: Facebook

Travel Guides: Read about our Travel Guide to Sulu.

Tawi-Tawi

Tawi-Tawi is my favorite stop in our ZamBaSulTa trip so I personally recommend spending as much time here as possible. It’s easy to love Tawi-Tawi because it’s very laid-back, the locals are friendly and the food is delicious. You can enjoy cheap seafood and local delicacies as well.

There are a lot of activities to do, including island hopping tour to Panampangan Island (considered the longest sandbar in the Philippines) and other nearby islands, trekking, exploring communities and more.

Sunset at Bud Bongao in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi
Enjoying the sunset view at Bud Bongao.

How to get here:

  • The easiest way to get here is to take a local flight from Zamboanga City to Sanga-Sanga Airport in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. Travel time is 45 minutes. There are also ferries available but travel time is long (18 hours).

Ideal stay: 3 days

Sample itinerary:

Day 1 – Sitangkai
Day 2 – Bongao town tour
Day 3 – Island hopping

Major expenses:

  • Tricycle for town tour: P1000 (good up to 4 pax)
  • Island hopping: P9000 (good up to 10-15 pax)

Contact: Tawi-Tawi Tourism Office: (Provincial Tourism Officer: Mobin N. Gampal) 09271840851

Travel Guides: Read about our Travel Guide to Tawi-Tawi and Things to do in Tawi-Tawi.

10 Days Itinerary in ZamBaSulTa

Here’s a sample 10 days itinerary to ZamBaSulTa.

Day 1 – ZAMBOANGA

Arrival in Zamboanga City
Check in at accommodation in Zamboanga City
Zamboanga City Tour

Day 2 – BASILAN

Check out of accommodation
6:45AM – 8AM Take first-trip ferry to Lamitan City
8AM – 1PM Lamitan City tour
1PM – 2PM Take bus to Isabela City
2:30PM Check in at accommodation in Isabela City

Day 3

7AM Check out of accommodation
8AM – 3 or 4PM Lampinigan Island and Malamawi White Beach Resort
4:30 or 4:45PM – 6PM Take last-trip ferry back to Zamboanga City
Check in at accommodation in Zamboanga City

Day 4 – TAWI-TAWI

Check out of accommodation
Take first flight to Sanga-Sanga Airport
Early check in at accommodation in Bongao
10AM – 2 or 3PM Take ferry to Sitangkai
Sitangkai tour
9PM – 4 or 5AM (next day) Back in Bongao

Day 5

Bongao town tour

Day 6

8AM – 6PM Island hopping in Tawi-Tawi

Day 7

Check out of accommodation
Take flight back to Zamboanga City
Open time / Relax / Day tour to Great Sta. Cruz Island
9PM Take last-trip ferry to Jolo

Day 8 – SULU

6AM Arrival in Jolo
7AM Check in at accommodation in Jolo
8AM – 3 or 4PM Island hopping in Panglima Tahil

Day 9

7AM – 11PM Tandu Beach
12PM Check out of accommodation
1PM – 5PM Jolo town tour
8 or 9PM Take last-trip ferry back to Zamboanga City

Day 10 – Head home

6AM Early-morning arrival in Zamboanga City
Optional: Buy pasalubong in the barter
Flight back to Manila

This is the itinerary that we followed, or almost anyway as we only spent 9 days here. We weren’t able to visit Sitangkai because we only booked for 2 days in Tawi-Tawi. However, it’s a must-see in the province so I included it above.

Budget and expenses

Sulu Capitol building
Sulu Capitol. (Photo by Ja Mere)

Your final budget will depend on your accommodation, food and activities and how many you are in the group. Following the itinerary above, in a group of 5, a safe budget would be P13,000-15,000 per person.

If you’re a solo traveler, it’s best to look for other people you can go on the trip with or inquire the tourism offices if there are other tourists on your scheduled date.

Reminders

Here are some reminders and tips for your trip in Mindanao:

  • Be respectful of the communities you visit.
  • While Zamboanga City is used to tourists, other provinces such as Sulu and Tawi-Tawi may still require more conservative clothing especially for women.
  • Don’t forget to tip your local tour guides especially if you’re sastisfied with their services.
  • Let’s spread positive experiences about Mindanao!

Quick Reference

For quick reference, here are the rest of our posts about our ZamBaSulTa Trip:

Zamboanga:

Basilan:

Sulu:

Tawi-Tawi:

 

Has this guide and itinerary to ZamBaSulTa been helpful to you? If you have any questions or comments, let me know in the comment section below.

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