The Pink Beach of Great Santa Cruz Island in Zamboanga City
It has almost been a decade since I last set foot in Zamboanga City, also known as Asia’s Latin City. I’ve technically been there during the stopover in one of my recent tours, but I don’t consider that my last visit to the city since I didn’t get to explore it during then, unlike my trip to Zamboanga City now.
I left early for Asia’s Latin City and traveled for one and a half hours along the dim misty sky of dawn. When I arrived at Zamboanga’s airport, I was immediately welcomed by Charles Rotoni from the Department of Tourism (DoT) of Region IX. We headed straight to Lantaka Hotel by the Sea (hotel info), where I got a hassle-free early morning hotel check-in. Afterwards, like in most of my tours, I routinely left my baggage in my room and momentarily looked around. After much wandering and thinking about how my long-awaited trip to Zamboanga would go, I met up with Charles for breakfast. Shortly afterwards, we went to Paseo del Mar, our jump-off point to the Great Santa Cruz Island.
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The boat leaving for Santa Cruz Island is located at Paseo del Mar. We met Richard Aliangan from the Zamboanga City Tourism Office when we arrived at the harbor. Richard briefed us about the trip and gave us a life vest each.
We sat on the boat comfortably and did not wait long for the trip to start. After less than 20 minutes, we already reached the Great Santa Cruz Lagoon entrance! From there, we got into another boat that would serve as our tour boat.
The entrance to the lagoon was picturesque. It was so silent and beautiful. As we sailed towards it, I couldn’t help but repeatedly utter a silent “wow” in my awe. The mangrove-covered lagoon was simply just perfect. It was as if I have entered another dimension, where there are no people, no technology, no anything, just the calm waters of the lagoon, mangroves, and migratory birds.
We weren’t five minutes away from the entrance of the Great Santa Cruz lagoon when we saw a Purple Heron. A Purple Heron inhabits marshes, lagoons, and lakes surrounded by dense vegetation. Accompanying the Purple Heron in its proud flight was a Great Heron, an Egret, and some Philippine Wild Ducks. Undisturbed by our silent oaring across the lagoon, the feathered friends continued on with their natural lives.
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Richard explained more about the mangroves as we rowed across and saw more birds. He explained that although the mangroves all look the same, they actually differ in species. He mentioned that there are species like tindug-tindug and pototan. He explained that the diversity of mangrove species helps maintain life in the lagoon ecosystem. One mangrove that we all wowed at was the 100-year-old bakawan that continues to stand the test of time in the middle of the lagoon. Its expansive trunk and branches stood dominantly in the lake as if it were guarding the place. Another wonder of nature indeed.
We rowed and wowed further across, and Richard continued to share his knowledge with us. He said that aside from the skies, the lagoon’s waters are also teeming with life. The Great Santa Cruz Lagoon is home to the stingless jellyfish, also known as the “upside down” jellyfish. The upside-down jellyfish species, which has its mouth upward on the bottom, is frequently mistaken for a sea anemone.
Richard also told us that the locals use the lagoon to produce agar-agar and lato. The former is the local name for red-colored seaweed, while the latter is a translucent green seaweed that appears to be tiny bunches of grapes. Lato is frequently served as an appetizer in local seafood restaurants and tastes best when fresh. Next time I go to a seafood restaurant in Zamboanga, I’ll definitely ask for some lato!
When we reached the end of the lagoon, we vacated the boat and rode yet another boat to our next adventure for the day—the Great Santa Cruz Island.
The Pink Beach of the Great Santa Cruz Island
Santa Cruz Island is one of Zamboanga’s hottest tourist destinations. You shouldn’t ask why. The pink coralline sands, the clear blue waters, and the clear, sunny skies, are perfect for anyone who wants to chill out and unwind. And aside from relaxing, visitors could also snorkel and SCUBA dive here. Zamboanga is teeming with life not only in the skies but also in its waters.
The color of the pink sands, we were told, comes from the powdered remnants of red organ pipe corals mixed with white sand. It’s a perfect combination, if I may say. Had there been more red organ pipe corals, this beach would have had red sands instead of pink, which, although slightly eerie, would be equally interesting!
The Santa Cruz Islands are composed of the “Great Santa Cruz Island” (where we were in), and the “Little Santa Cruz Island”. The Little Santa Cruz Island is currently off-limits to visitors, but we had the perfect view of its beauty from our rented hut.
We walked along the shore and saw how beautiful Zamboanga really is. Various species of birds flying about the sky, and we even got to see a vinta! A vinta is a colorful traditional boat that symbolizes Zamboanga. Each vinta is uniquely designed and is used for transportation and touring, too. It’s almost like the colorful jeepneys of the Philippines found in the sea.
How to get to Santa Cruz Island
You can reach Santa Cruz Island like my tour here by going to Paseo del Mar. From there, you can pay for entrance fees and boat rent. A boat costs Php 1000 and can accommodate ten passengers. The boat trip only takes 15-20 minutes, so there is no need to worry about seasickness!
Entrance fee and travel tips
The entrance fee is Php 20 plus Php 5 for the terminal fee, but after the ongoing renovation, it will increase to Php 115, all-inclusive.
Around the beach are huts for rent, souvenir and craft shops, a grilling area, and a shower area. There are no resorts on the island, and overnight camping is prohibited. The beach is open to the public only in the morning and closes at 2PM daily.
I like their strict rules and regulations there. Although it does cut your enjoyment quite short, it is nice to know that the local government is taking careful and sure steps to maintain the pink sanded Santa Cruz Island. It is also good to know that the visitors are abiding these laws as well.
I enjoyed my trip to Zamboanga City, overall. I got to see nature as close I could get. Contrary to common belief, Zamboanga City is very safe. In fact, I felt safer there than in Manila. People in Zamboanga are generally friendly. What’s more is that it had a lot of interesting tourist spots and many, many foodie places! This city is a melting pot of various cultures, religions, and dialects, but everyone is living harmoniously among themselves and with nature. Don’t let misleading beliefs and stereotypes stop you from going to Asia’s Latin City.
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Overall, I enjoyed my trip here and I can’t wait to go back!