Bienvenido a Zamboanga City!, dubbed as “Asia’s Latin City.” Majority of its people speak Chavacano, the only Spanish-based creole in Asia. As I walked outside the airport, I couldn’t help getting amazed hearing people speaking Chavacano.
It’s a taste of Spain here in the Philippines, a reminder of the strong Spanish influence in our country. Listening to my friend Leo talking to the locals, all I could understand was “sí.” It was the first time I felt as though I were a foreigner in my own country.
As soon as we landed, we went straight to the port to ride on a ferry bound for Basilan. Seeing Zamboanga for the first time, I kept wondering why, despite being one of the richest provinces in Mindanao, Zamboanga seems to have been left behind by other mega cities in the region such as CDO and Davao. The airport needs an upgrade. The roads and seaport need improvement. The place’s scenery and landscape seem to be living in the past. The surroundings, however, tell a lot of stories about the city’s rich history and culture.
After my three-day vacation in Basilan, we decided to stay in Zamboanga City for two days to explore it and the nearby Sta. Cruz Pink Sand Beach. Here is sample travel guide for a quick stay in the city.
What to do?
- Visit Great Santa Cruz Island
How to get there?
Take a motorized boat from Paseo Del Mar. Travel time is approximately 15-20 mins.
Boat Charge – P1,000 (1-10 persons)
Entrance Fee – P100 per person
Terminal Fee – P5 per person
Cottage rental ranges from P100 to P500, depending on the number of guests. Military presence was visible during our visit. In fact, every boat has one military personnel assigned. At first, it made me anxious, but after staying in Basilan for three days and being surrounded by the military during my visit to the white beach, I found it normal in the area.
You can do kayaking in a lagoon, but you need to pay extra. Seafood vendors offer “paluto.” Souvenir items are for sale. I asked one lady selling ref magnets if overnight stay is possible. She said no, adding that they don’t stay on the island for security reasons.
The island is a perfect place to relax since only a few people are visiting. You can have privacy. The pinkish powdery sand and the clear turquoise-green sea is perfect for a day swim. This 2017, National Geographic channel named Great Santa Cruz Island as one of the top 21 beaches in the world.
- Walk around the City
Wandering around the city gives you a feeling of Spanish ambiance. In front of their Spanish colonial style city hall is Rizal Park. As you stride to the right, you will see their vibrant public market, connected to different shopping malls. On the other side are Plaza Pilar, Fort Pilar, and Paseo Del Mar. As you walk towards this area, along NS Valderosa Street, you will see some old Hispanic buildings.
- Watch the Sunset at Paseo Del Mar
Many would agree, especially people who have been to Zamboanga, that one of the best sunsets in the Philippines can be seen in the city. This is something you should not miss
Where to stay in Zamboanga City?
I stayed at Ever O Business Hotel during my trip in Zamboanga. If you are looking for affordable, basic, clean and hotel from which all parts of the city are accessible, this is a good choice. It’s a few minutes walk to some fast food stores and malls too. Approximately 200 meters to the city hall and less than 1 km to Fort Pilar.
We got their Superior room for less than P2,000 (US$40) per night good for two without breakfast. Our air-conditioned room has two twin beds, free internet, and private bathroom.
Where to Eat in Zamboanga City?
If you want to do food trip in the city, probably the best place I would recommend is Paseo Del Mar. It’s like the bay walk here in Manila during its heyday. There are various food stalls. You can even hang out and drink while a live band is playing music in the area.
Things you should not miss are Knickerbocker. It’s like Zamboanga’s version of Halo-Halo composed of fresh fruits, condensed milk and ice cream on top. There is Lokot-Lokot, a crunchy dessert made of rice flour, sugar, oil, and water.
Something I look forward to is their Curacha or deep sea crabs. Now, when I hear the word Curacha, all I can imagine is the delicious crab of Zamboanga.
Zamboanga is a unique City. I’m glad that Zamboangueños have kept and nurtured its charms. I have high hopes that one day, like its colorful vintas, Zamboanga will be a very vibrant city and become one of the most visited places here in the Philippines.