Once Islas Travel Guide: Zamboanga’s Hidden Gem

A Tropical Paradise Waiting to be Explored

Travel Guide to Once Islas in Zamboanga City

Once Islas Travel Guide For First-Time Travelers

ZAMBOANGA DEL SUR, Philippines — During our PHILTOA Zamboanga – Tawi-Tawi Familiarization trip a couple of months back, the last but definitely the most exciting destination we visited is a new island-hopping destination northeast of Zamboanga City called Once Islas.

Bisaya-Bisaya - Once Islas Travel Guide
Bisaya-Bisaya – Once Islas Travel Guide

The tropical haven is an eco-cultural tourism destination rich with majestic rock formations, fine white sand, and pristine blue waters. It is composed of 11 islands along the Moro Gulf supervised and protected by the Zamboanga Tourism Office and taken under the care of the local community.

PHILTOA Zamboanga-Tawi-Tawi Fam Trip
PHILTOA Zamboanga-Tawi-Tawi Fam Trip

Once Islas, which got its name from the combination of the Spanish words “once (eleven),” and “islas (islands),” opened to the public in July last year, and it has since been frequented by foreign tourists and local backpackers for its natural infinity pool and beautiful spots scattered around its adjoining islets.

Travel Guide to Once Islas in Zamboanga City
Travel Guide to Once Islas in Zamboanga City
Bisaya Bisaya Island in Zamboanga
Bisaya Bisaya Island in Zamboanga

Only four islands (Sirommon, Bisaya-Bisaya, Buh-Buh, and Baung-Baung) were officially declared tourism zones by the city government and can be visited by tourists.

White sand beach in Zamboanga City
White sand beach in Zamboanga City

The remaining two islands belong to the city villages of Panubigan and Dita, while Sallangan, Simaddang, Lambang-Lambang, Baguias, Lampinigan, Kabugan, and Panganak islands and islets are not accessible yet to the public.

Local Community

The islands are mostly inhabited by the Sama Banguingui tribe, an ethnolinguistic group dispersed throughout the Greater Sulu Archipelago and southern and western coastal regions of the Zamboanga Peninsula. The Banguigui people practice the Islamic religion (they are a part of the wider Moro ethnic group), and depend mainly on fishing and seaweed farming for their livelihood.

Island Hopping Tour

Upon arrival at Zamboanga City Airport from our flight from Tawi-Tawi, we traveled by bus to Panubigan Barangay Hall about 34 kilometers away from the city center. Upon arriving at the barangay hall, we were required to register and were given a tourist briefing afterward. We were also entertained by a group of kids who performed traditional dances.

Local kids who performed traditional dances
Local kids who performed traditional dances

From the tourist center, we took a short walk towards the wharf. There are tourist-friendly and modern toilet and batch along the road for those who want to change proper swimming attire. At the wharf, we were subdivided to 9 passengers per boat, which is the maximum capacity of each tourist boat specially created for the island-hopping activity.

Island Hopping in Once Islas in Zamboanga City
Island Hopping in Once Islas in Zamboanga City

Each boat has one assigned tour guide. To create more jobs for the locals, the city government trained selected locals to become a tour guide.

After almost 30 minutes, we arrived at our first stop: Bisaya-Bisaya Island.

Approaching Bisaya-Bisaya Island
Approaching Bisaya-Bisaya Island

Like many tropical destinations that abound in the country, the Bisaya-Bisaya Island was endowed with beautiful white sand beach and majestic rock formations that dazzle against the sparkling rays of sunlight amid the greenish-blue sea. To get to its islet, one can walk on the sandy and rocky natural walkway.

Infinity pool

Also on the islet is a natural infinity pool—a rock formation filled with seawater by crashing waves. The water is warm from the heat of the sun but just enough for a relaxing dip. Visitors must be careful, though, with the rocky and slippery surfaces.

Island-Hopping in Once Islas Zamboanga City
Island-Hopping in Once Islas Zamboanga City

With a rented kayak, the tireless traveler can navigate the waters surrounding Bisaya-Bisaya.

A mosque on Buh-Buh island
A mosque on Buh-Buh island

While on our way to our next stop, Sirommon Island, our guide highlighted the only mosque in Once Islas which is located on the shore of Buh-Buh Island.

Sirommon Island was where we had a scrumptious lunch and short hiking activity. Considered one of the smallest islands in the country, Sirommon Island has a viewpoint where you can see nearby islands.

Sirommon Island in Zamboanga
Sirommon Island in Zamboanga

Unlike its neighbors, Sirommon’s beach is more laid-back, and it is an ideal place to do light outdoor activities like sand bathing, snorkeling, and swimming. There are native cottages available for those who want to have lunch and picnic on the island. The island is also known for its beautiful snorkeling sites.

We were supposed to visit other islands but we have a flight to catch in the evening and that’s why we had to cut our island hopping activity short.

Sirommon Island
Sirommon Island

Nevertheless, this island-hopping destination in Zamboanga is truly a must-visit for beach lovers and adventure seekers wanting to explore the rich tradition of the Zamboanga Peninsula and the warm hospitality of the Mindanaoans. While here, you will also discover that there is so much to see in the region, such as beautiful beach resorts, scuba diving resorts, museums depicting the history and tradition of the southern part of the archipelago, nature parks, mighty mountains and more.

How to get to Once Islas

To get to Once Islas, take a northbound bus or private vehicle from Zamboanga City proper to Panubigan. The trip should take about an hour.

Note that advance bookings must be made with the city tourism office because a maximum of 200 guests are allowed per day on the islands, and the trips are strictly regulated. The tour is from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, except during Fridays, which is considered a holy day of the week reserved for prayer and rest in Islam.

Once Islas Travel Expenses

  • Entrance Fee: PHP100.00 per person
  • Environmental Fee: PHP100.00 per person
  • Boat Rental Fee: PHP1,200.00 to PHP2,000.00 maximum of nine persons
  • Guide Fee: PHP300.00 per group
  • Cottage Rental Fee: PHP150.00 per day
  • Hiking Fee in Sirumon: PHP50.00 per person
  • Kayak Rental in Bisaya-Bisaya: PHP300.00 per hour
Tourist Orientation
Tourist Orientation

Upon arrival at the tourism center, visitors are given a detailed orientation of rules (like dressing appropriately out of respect for the local’s customs) that they have to abide while on the island-hopping trip. They can also bring their own food but are discouraged from including pork and alcohol.

Tourism Contact Info

Zamboanga Tourism Office
Address: Paseo del Mar, Zamboanga City
Telephone: +63 (62) 975-6341
Email: asiaslatincitytourism@yahoo.com

Searching for the best hotels and affordable flights? Check out our complete list of affordable hotels and resorts via Agoda or you may also see available Airbnb properties in the city.

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