A grand burst of color, life and faith — that’s the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this event, Zamboanga Hermosa Festival is a month-long celebration honoring Nuestra Senora la Virgen del Pilar (Our Lady of Pillar). It is held in Zamboanga City in the province of Zamboanga del Sur every October. The locals of the city — Christians, Muslims and Lumads gather to participate in various activities including food fests, fashion & music shows and street dancing.
For me, it’s easily one of the best festivals in Asia.
Local and foreign tourists visit Zamboanga City to witness this event, and I’m one of the lucky ones to be invited here as well! As such, I’m delighted to write about the highlights we’d witness during our 5 days visit to see the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival 2018.
Regatta de Zamboanga
Regatta de Zamboanga is essentially a sail boat competition. Locals paddle their way across the Sulu Sea in a vinta, a traditional banca with colorful sail.
Even though you’re unfamiliar with the term, I’m sure you’d already seen a vinta in photos before because it’s one of the icons of Zamboanga peninsula. To give you a bit of background, a vinta (also known as lepa-lepa) was used by the Moro and Sama-Bajau in the past, although today it has already been replaced by modern motored boats. Regatta de Zamboanga as such celebrates the history of its people through this race.
Regatta de Zamboanga is held at RT Lim Boulevard. For this year, over 270 locals joined the competition. The winners were a pair of Sama tribesmen and there was a separate recognition for the participant with the best vinta design.
Personally, it was my first time to visit Zamboanga City and was enchanted with the crowd and the unique design of the sails. Even in an archipelagic country like the Philippines with thriving sea travels, it’s one of a kind.
This year’s competition was followed by Wow Sardinas, a seafood boodle fight for the public. Fun fact: Did you know that Zamboanga City supplies over 90% of sardines to the whole country? As such it is considered the Sardines Capital of the Philippines. So not only is this meant to feed the spectators of the regatta prior (including us!), it also acknowledges the plentiful sea bounty of the city.
ZamPex, or Zamboanga Peninsula Trade Exposition, is a 3-day exhibition of local products produced in Zamboanga Peninsula. It includes everything from food, health products and herbal medicines, arts and crafts to home furniture. This 2018’s ZamPex is considered very successful and had generated P25M in sales.
We didn’t stay here for more than an hour to be honest, but it’s one of my favorite events in the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival because I adore local arts and crafts, and there’s so many featured here that made me proud of Zamboangenos. I love the bottles of sardines (a must-buy), pouches of local coffees and tablea, snacks which include familiar ones like garlic peanuts and local specialties such as lukot-lukot, woven items including tops and shoes, and so on and on… I could go on for hours talking about these.
My favorite purchase is a laptop bag with ethnic design at P350, though the lady gave it to me for P280 only. Score!
Asao Lechon Festival
Juicy, delicious meat and crispy skin, lechon is a staple in gatherings in Zamboanga, so there’s no wonder that there’s a specific event dedicated to this Filipino favorite! This year’s Zamboanga Hermosa Festival included the 3rd Asao Lechon Festival, which saw the participation of 12 lechoneros. The roasted pigs were displayed on a street parade and spectators were allowed to free taste the food. Ultimately, an award was given to the lechonero who cooked the best lechon.
We didn’t get to see the actual Asao Lechon Festival, but we did manage to drop by and see the pigs being prepared and roasted. (I was told there was one pig stuffed with seafood!)
Original Chavacano Music Festival
As its name suggests, this music festival features original songs in Chavacano, the lingua franca of Zamboanga City. Expect to see live performances as well as music videos.
This year’s theme is “Happy, Upbeat, Feel Good Music.”
I don’t understand Chavacano at all, but I still appreciated the originality and beat of the songs. Some entries made people sway, sing along or hum or tap their feet. Perhaps the only thing that could make the Original Chavacano Music Festival better is if it was held outdoors, preferably with juices or beers served. Or perhaps the city’s specialty, Zamboanga White. Anyway, it’s that kind of good music.
Mascota de Zamboanga
Mascota de Zamboanga is a fashion competition showcasing mascota, a Spanish-inspired gown worn by aristocratic women in the past. Zamboanga City, tagged “Asia’s Latin City” holds a strong Hispanic influence from the Spanish Period. This activity not only embraces this culture, it also celebrates the best local couturiers in the city.
This year’s theme was Baroque Art & Architecture, so the mascotas — always classy and magnificent — were designed with edge. I’m amazed by the intricate details and patterns of each gown. Also, the local women look stunning as they graced the runway.
As its slogan says, it’s a display of class and elegance.
Zamboanga Dancesport Competition
Zamboanga Dancesport Competition calls on paired students from elementary, high school, tertiary and open categories to dance to various beats.
The Dancesport Competition is rarely mentioned as a highlight of Zamboanga Hermosa Festival, perhaps because the participants are limited to students, but I love it. It’s one of the events that completely held my attention because the dancers are so talented, and some of them are so young!
Zamboanga Hermosa Street Dance
Zamboanga Hermosa Street Dance is the climax of Zamboanga Hermosa Festival. Like in other festivals in the country, prepare to see locals donning colorful outfits and accessories, smiles and winning moves. Zamboanga Hermosa Street Dance not only pays respect to Our Lady of Pillar, it also recognizes the diversity of its people by incorporating the attires and traditional dances of the indigenous groups of Moro and Lumad.
So basically there’s a street parade and a demonstration in front of the Zamboanga Municipal Hall, and then the contingents proceed to Paseo del Mar where the formal judging for the street dance competition begins.
If you plan to attend Zamboanga Hermosa Street Dance, prepare for the heat and charge your camera batteries because you’ll be clicking away once the parade starts.
Also, note that there are security measures held to keep this event safe: no bringing of backpacks, no wearing of caps and mobile signal is off for several hours while the street dance is ongoing. If you’re in a group, designate a meetup point for later since mobile communication will be nonexistent.
So these are the highlights of Zamboanga Hermosa Festival 2018! To get updated about the latest schedules, call outs and activities, you can check the Facebook page of Zamboanga Hermosa Festival.
Have you witnessed or participated in the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival? Tell us your experience below!
What to read next:
Planning a trip to Zamboanga? Here are our articles on Zamboanga:
- Zamboanga City: Travel Guide + Itinerary
- Zamboanga City Tourist Spots + Things to Do
- Where to Eat: Best Zamboanga City restaurants
- Zamboanga Hermosa Festival
Places to see in Zamboanga City:
Backpacking in Zamboanga and other places in Mindanao? Here are our guides:
Love festivals? Check out these festivals in in the Philippines!
Here are the festivals we’ve attended:
- Lambayok Festival (San Juan, Batangas)
- Tabak Festival (Tabaco, Albay)
- Zamboanga Hermosa Festival (Zamboanga City)
- Gapo at Palusong Festival (General Nakar)
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Katherine Cortes is a long-time backpacker and a freelance writer/editor. She likes beaches, snorkeling trips, and relaxing staycations (preferably with bath tubs!).