Ok, so I know I haven’t updated in a while and life has been kind of busy. Well, honestly, I’ve also been quite lazy. I keep saying, I want a part-time job because I have a lot of time, or I want to study something. But here I am, still watching tons of Youtube videos and binge-watching TV shows (which is actually important, too. LOL.) I still have to write a lot of pending blogs, but thought I’d talk about Zamboanga first. When I hear of Zamboanga, the first two things that come to mind are the pink beach and vintas. However, of course, I have this thought at the back of my mind that it’s a dangerous city. So when my friend Gelai sent a message on our group chat, inviting us to go with her to Zamboanga, I booked a ticket right away. We booked our tickets back in April through CebuPac for a weekend in Zamboanga in June. We had to go on different flights to Zamboanga on a Saturday but were on the same flight back to Manila on a Monday.
Day 1 (Saturday)
I came from a 10pm to 6am shift and my flight was at 11:30am so I didn’t really have time to take a nap before. I probably had an hour of lazy time in bed before getting up again to prepare my things and to leave. When I got to the airport, it was already boarding time, so I queued right away to board the bus going to the plane. Despite having the creepiest and most annoying plane experience so far (people stealing my seat, and getting seated right next to the creepiest girl), I arrived in Zamboanga earlier than usual so I was happy about that.
It’s a small airport so I was out so quickly. I walked out of the airport and waited near the mini rotunda on the main road. I really didn’t know which jeep to take so I just waited and luckily, a red jeep stopped with a sign that says AIRPORT and was telling me to get on. I asked if it will pass by Casa Canelar (which is our accommodation) and he said, yes. The fare is only PHP10 and I sat next to the driver.
Casa Canelar is not too far from the airport (around 2kms) and I was watching my location on Google Maps the entire time so I’d know where to get off. Since we had to pass the main road aka the most traffic saturated road in Zamboanga, 2km felt like a long time. It was easy to spot Casa Canelar Pension House because there is a huge sign in front and there is a Gerry’s Grill downstairs, facing the road. I would totally recommend this hotel. We initially booked City Inn Hotel but another friend of mine checked in there back in May and had some not good things to say so I cancelled that and booked here instead. We booked a triple room for PHP2655 for 2 nights. That’s PHP855 per person so it’s really not too bad. I really like the location as well cause aside from being close to the airport, it is also walking distance from KCC and a lot of restaurants. It’s a tricycle ride away from Paseo del Mar though, and the other tourist spots located in that area.
Gelai went to Basilan and Kring was coming in the afternoon on another flight so I was alone in the room. I was super hungry though, so that was my first order of business. I didn’t really want to go anywhere far so I settled with Gerry’s Grill, LOL. At that moment, anything will do. This has got to be the least popular Gerry’s Grill ever. When I was there, only one other table was occupied and during our stay there, it was almost always closed. Anyway, after having a late lunch, I took a nap. Ok, I had actually a planned afternoon, but my need for sleep got the best of me.
Gelai came back at around 6pm and Kring also arrived not too long after. We went to dinner at Family Fried Chicken, a famous restaurant here, which is only a 5-minute walk from our accommodation. Ok, it reminds me a little bit of Good Taste in Baguio because of the ambiance and it’s so family friendly. The food has a big serving and is not so expensive. I also tried Zamboanga White, which is a signature drink here. It’s a mixture of lychee and pineapple so it’s super good!
Day 2 (Sunday)
We woke up at around 5am to start preparing for the beach. We were informed that the boat dispatch will start at 7am so we left the hotel at 6am. We took a tricycle to Paseo del Mar (where the tourism office is), which set us back to PHP100 (3 pax) for a one-way trip. Ok, since it’s early, if you can grab some breakfast before going there, it would be better. We looked for an open café near Paseo del Mar before leaving so we were confident that we’ll have a place to eat while waiting but it was closed. Actually, everything in Paseo del Mar is closed during the day I think – even if Google Maps say otherwise. LOL.
We checked in at the tourism office person first, let him know that our group is present and went to look for coffee. There are stalls in front of the National Museum that are already open and they had a coffee for PHP5, you know, those vendo ones, and that is enough for us. They were also selling other stuff like rice cakes, sandwiches and burgers so we bought some for breakfast and baon to the island. After having our coffee fix, now we wait.We slept after coming back from dinner because we had an early call time for the Great Santa Cruz Island the next day.
Ok, so before getting here, a reservation is needed. If not, you’ll be considered a walk-in and you’ll be the last priority. The best way is to call the tourism office at (0905) 601 6316. They will provide a sequence number, which will then be your slot in the queue. They have pretty strict rules, you have to tell them the exact number of people in the group, if there will be an excess person on the day of the tour then that person will be considered a walk-in and can’t join you on the same boat. Those with reservation and walk-ins can’t be on the same boat, if this happens, you will pay a fine of PHP1000. Each violation has a fine, so make sure to read their rules and listen during the orientation.
The boat can fit 10 people and it costs PHP1000 per boat, so if there are 10 pax, it’s just PHP100 per person. We were joined with a group of 7 people so we were exactly 10 people on the boat. The boatmen will collect the payment on your way back to Paseo del Mar after the day tour. The island is really not that far from Paseo del Mar, it takes around 15 minutes. It reminded me of the distance of the islands (White Island and Mantigue Island) in Camiguin. You can literally see the island from the jump-off point.
As for the cottages, there are three types to choose from and for us, we chose the smallest cottage fit for 4-6 pax for only PHP100. Additional fees include a terminal fee of PHP5 and entrance fee of PHP20. Upon getting there, just choose your cottage, settle down, put on some sunscreen and even start swimming if you want. They have a staff who goes around and will get your payment for the fees and cottage, they have everything written down and will even issue you a receipt.
It’s definitely advisable to bring some food with you, but we didn’t except for water and the bread we bought at Fort Pilar, but luckily, there was an old woman who sold us a lot of crabs for PHP350. It was totally a steal! We didn’t hesitate and told her that we’ll buy it, we added PHP100 for a bowl of rice for the three of us. A few minutes later, another guy came around selling us squids an even though we would’ve wanted that as well, we already said yes to the crabs. LOL. We had our lunch at around 11am. If you don’t have drinks, there’s a store on the island and they sell bottled drinks, it’s a bit more expensive than usual but it’s fine. Royal Mismo is PHP20, it’s PHP15 in my local sari-sari store. Let’s just keep in mind that they had to charter that from the mainland so that is still reasonable.
Enough of the technicalities, Great Santa Cruz Island definitely did not disappoint. It is really a pink beach, which is because of the pulverized red corals that were mixed with the white sand. The water is very cold, so it’s perfect for a dip under the hot sun.
Enjoy a video of the calming sea
This is one of the best beach day trips I’ve had in a while. I love how it’s so organized and they don’t charge tourists so much unlike some beach destinations here in the Philippines. We literally spent just around Php328 each (100 – boat, 5 – terminal fee, 20 – entrance fee, 33 – cottage (100/3), 150 – lunch, 20 – drink) for this amazing beach trip. I guess my only suggestion though is that, since tourists are only allowed on the island until 2pm, they should probably start dispatching boats earlier than 7am. Or at least during weekends when they are fully booked. We were under the impression that we can stay from 7am to 2pm but actually, they only allow you about 4 hours on the island. We were dispatched I think before 9am and we were picked up by the boat at 1:30pm. It’s enough time though, including lunch. However, if you intend to do other activities in the island, then that’s not enough time. I think if you want to do all of those, it would be best to book a tour with a travel agency – I took this into consideration but wow it’s tooooo expensive.
We took another trike going home (same price – PHP100) and since it was super hot, we wanted to eat knickerbocker(another famous Zamboanga dessert). The stall at Paseo del Mar was closed, but it’s a good thing there’s a pizza parlor in front of Casa Canelar, Dexter Pizza,that was serving knickerbocker! Knickerbocker is a Zamboanga dessert and it has the yummiest ingredients – banana, mango, watermelon, jelly, milk, and strawberry ice cream on top. It was the best, I want to make my own!
After that, we went back to our room, washed up and got some rest. We agreed that we’ll go back out during sunset to watch vintas at Paseo del Mar and have dinner at Alavar Restaurant. But lo and behold, we were all so tired and slept in, skipping the vintas, dinner and woke up in the middle of the night. LOL. I woke up at around 3am because I was hungry. We couldn’t go out because it was still dark out so we waited until sunrise until after 5am before going out.
Day 3 (Monday)
We took a jeepney (fare: PHP10) to the City Hall because that’s where the center is and there’s Jollibee and McDonald’s, where we can have breakfast. Actually, there are 24-hour fast food restaurants near our hotel, but it’s at the opposite end and we kind of want to start our city tour right after eating so we went there instead. While waiting for either of them to open (Jollibee opened first LOL), we took photos around the plaza. Zamboanga’s City Hall is super beautiful, just right in front of it is the McDonald’s branch that is built in a colonial building – it’s so extra! Also in the area are Rizal Park and Plaza Pershing. This is also where you can find different jeepney terminals going to different areas of the city.
Fort Pilar was less than a kilometer from there, so we decided to walk. Not too far from the City Hall is the main branch of BPI Zamboanga, which is also super beautiful because it’s look likes an old house. I’m such a sucker for these kinds of houses. There’s also a museum housed in here, but it was too early at that time, so it’s still closed.
National Museum Zamboangawas still closed when we got there so we decided to go around and paid a short visit to the Fort Pilar Shrine. One of the attractions at Fort Pilar are the pigeons! There is a huge tree where pigeons live since they can’t all fit in the birdhouse located on the other side of the street. There’s a store that sells feeds for these pigeons, so people are free to feed them. We didn’t do pigeon feeding, but some boys did so these pigeons were just flocking around, and I can’t emphasize how many of them were there.
Ok, a note about National Museum. It opens at 8:30am but they are closed on Mondays. We went there on a Monday! We weren’t informed in the beginning, so we waited until 8:30am, but then another guard told us that they aren’t open for the day. We were disappointed and were about to leave but Gelai saw that a group of people was allowed in. She talked to someone who was heading towards the museum and he became our ticket to going inside. So their explanation was, they don’t allow locals to come in if they come on a Monday, but they do allow tourists who are not from Zamboanga because they might not get another chance to visit. We were allowed on the grounds and on the fort, so we were able to take some photos. The view of the city from here is also really nice.
We had a quick conversation with a local while we were in Fort Pilar and recommended Jimmi’s Satti Haus. We really planned to go there, but we wanted to have lunch at Alavar Restaurant, and we had to choose just one. Maybe next time. 😊
That concludes our city tour and just went back to the hotel afterward. Yup, another PHP100 trike to Canelar Barter Trade. It’s a 5-minute walk from Casa Canelar, which is super convenient. I bought two packs of chocolate biscuit snacks and a pack of teh tarik. I really just wanted teh tarik and now I wish I bought more than one. If you’re craving for Malaysian or Indonesian products and want to buy them at a cheap price, then this is the perfect place to go shopping. I’m not really big on giving pasalubongs to people so I don’t really buy a lot.
We had two hours to chill at the hotel before checkout and at this time, it started raining. Basically, we waited for the rain to stop before checking out to go have lunch at Alavar Restaurant. We left our bags at the hotel and took a trike to Alavar Restaurant. We really wanted to go to the main branch because we didn’t really like the ambiance at the one at Paseo del Mar. Ok, so Alavar Restaurant is actually farther than Paseo Del Mar but this trike driver just asked for PHP60 (and I felt like this is correct because the trike actually has the fare matrix which is like PHP20 per person and then you have to add PHP5 for the third person per km I think – I forgot what it is exactly). It was the last day and we just found out about it so there’s no use crying over spilt milk but damn, I felt deceived. I don’t like bargaining during trips because everyone needs to get paid the right amount ALWAYS but really, we should really stop scamming people, especially for transportation. All modes of transportation should have a freaking fare matrix. It is annoying. Anyway, so much for that, I’m hungry.
Ok, Alavar Restaurant looks so bougie. It looks so classy and I’m so happy we went here instead of Paseo del Mar. There was a plate of mangoes with their own bagoong alamang and we instantly devoured them. But this felt scammy. This isn’t free. We were actually surprised to see it on our bill because we really thought it was free. Like you know how some nice restaurants provide free bread while you wait for your food? I honestly thought it was like that. So I really enjoyed the food and the whole experience trying alavar sauce with everything but that left a sour taste in my mouth. We ordered the seafood platter and the wait time was just okay. I really had a very sumptuous meal and I felt like an expert in crab legs cracking after the previous day’s crab experience at the pink beach. I would still definitely recommend coming here if you ever find yourself in Zamboanga.
After lunch, we took another trike to KCC Zamboanga and just paid PHP60 this time. We decided to spend the rest of our afternoon there because it was raining and can’t really do any outdoor stuff. We wanted to actually go visit La Vista del Mar, but we felt like we’ve had enough beach the previous day so going somewhere far from the city isn’t really worth it anymore. We walked around a bit, but then saw the café where we wanted to hang out, which is Dennis Coffee Garden so we decided to go in. It is a small café and it was full when we arrived so we had to go into the waitlist. It’s not so bad cause there’s a bench outside where we stayed for a bit while waiting. Also, we didn’t even have to wait that long. We stayed in the table area where you have to take off your shoes and just hang in cushions. It’s so cute and perfect for a merienda! I know we just ate, but it was the perfect time for coffee (and some desserts). I tried the Sulu coffee and it was sooo good. I forgot what we ordered but we got one dish each so that we can try different desserts / snacks. I do have a photo though. 😊
We stayed there for more than an hour before walking back to our hotel, grabbing our bags and taking another trike to the airport. It was super traffic because it was around 4pm at that time and I feel like it’s always traffic in that area. Good thing, our trike driver knows all the shortcuts. Our flight was at 6pm and we got there at around 5pm. I had work that Monday night so I went straight from the airport. That ends our Zamboanga trip.
Overall, despite sleeping a lot, I really enjoyed our weekend trip to Zamboanga. There are a lot of places we missed, but that is one reason to come back. I didn’t feel like it was dangerous at all. There are soldiers and policemen almost at every corner. But I’m going to be honest that I felt uncomfortable with the stares that we were getting especially from men. I mean, we weren’t even dressed in a way that should be getting stares. I understand that it’s generally a Muslim city and most women are covered up so we probably stood out a lot, but it just really made us uncomfortable. By the way, I’m referring to when were doing the city tour, not at the beach. Because hello, I’m not going to be uncomfortable when I’m wearing a bikini at the beach. Nevertheless, I love Zamboanga and will definitely want to go back and try the vinta this time.
I didn’t keep track of my expenses so I really don’t know how much I spent but I’m telling you it’s really not a lot. We basically just spent our money on the room, transportation, and food. Definitely one of the cheapest trips I had.
My Instagram highlights from this trip: https://www.instagram.com/stories/highlights/18077958622055739/