Zamboanga City is the third largest city in the Philippines and is the commercial and industrial center of the south. The city is bustling with a factory district, plenty of businesses, shops and markets where you can find any goods or services you want.
Known as the “Latin City of Asia”, you’ll see Spanish influence in the city of Samboca, more so than in the rest of the country. For a while, Spanish was even the official language of Zamboanga City. The Zamboanga Nuo people are very proud of their cultural roots and heritage. You will see this reflected in food, language and architecture.
However, it is important to know that Zamboanga City does not have many foreigners or travelers as it is located near a state of conflict. The guerrillas live in the southern part of the Philippines, not far from the gem of the city. The National Guard has increased security in terms of checking identity cards and closely monitoring suspicious activity for peacekeeping purposes. Travelers tend to keep their distance lately, but if you decide to go to Zamboanga City, go with Filipinos who are familiar with the safest areas. The locals will be amazed and happy to meet you.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Zamboanga City:
1. Merlokai Falls
Some might say that the most majestic waterfall in Zamboanga City is Merlokai Falls. This natural beauty looks more like an ancient ruin that the waterfall magically decides to pass through, rather than a rock wall. This is truly breathtaking.
Surrounded by jungle, you’ll come across a cool pool fed by layers of waterfall rocks. There are several platforms below the largest part of the waterfall where you can give yourself a waterfall massage or just hang out and listen to the soothing sounds.
Who doesn’t love a casual boardwalk by the water? Paseo del Mar offers small shops, restaurants and food carts for you to browse. There’s also the pride and joy of Zamboanga City, where the dancing fountain shoots water into the air and draws every passerby for a minute or two.
From the boardwalk, you can see the large and small Santa Cruz Islands, as well as Basilan Island to the south.
Night is the best time to visit as the weather is not too hot and the lights create a romantic atmosphere. There are police patrols, so you don’t have to worry about a lot of sketchy situations.
3. Fort Pilar
You can definitely see Spanish influence at Fort Pilar, a 17th century defensive fortress built and used by the Spanish army.
On your visit, you will be greeted by a large courtyard with a wide brick road leading to the Royal Fort that looks like something out of the Alamo. Decorated with dozens of bright white stars, Fort Pilar surrounds an outdoor sanctuary for Roman Catholics who believe the Christian mother Mary appeared here many years ago.
Feel free to come here for Sunday Mass and see how Filipinos worship in Zamboanga City.
4. Rio Hondo Village
When you visit the village of Rio Hondo, you get some culture shock. The village is a series of shantytown wooden houses built on stilts over water, giving you a glimpse of how most Filipinos live below the poverty line.
Despite the humble accommodation, the people of Rio Hondo village are very friendly, especially the children who spend their days fishing in their boats and playing in the water.
Walking the long boardwalk between the houses, you will find areas and small shops where you can buy handicrafts, and you can contribute to the local economy by buying snacks and drinks.
5. Yakan Weaving Village
At Yakan Weaving Village, you can see colorful textiles made on site. You’ll likely recognize these popular textiles because you’ve seen them in the form of purses, parkas, and more while traveling in the Philippines.
There are many handicrafts to buy, such as hand-carved Basilian Pillars, satchels, scarves and textiles to take home as souvenirs. You won’t find price tags on these items, so be prepared to haggle that will please both you and the supplier.
6. Paso South Carolina Park
A natural paradise in downtown Zamboanga, you can easily spend a full day at Paso South Carolina Park.
Most tourists come to visit the picturesque Zamboanga Tree House built in 1963. Climb the stairs to enter, as you dream of living a treehouse life.
For your kids, however, the main activity will be the Pasonanca Kiddie Pool, which features tall waterslides that spit them into the cool pools next to natural waterfalls. There are 3 communal swimming pools for the whole family, including an Olympic size pool and a natural flow pool.
7. Grand Santa Cruz Island
Grand Santa Cruz Island can be seen from the mainland. This little rock, sand and mangrove forest is definitely worth a day trip.
To get there, head to Paseo del Mar, where boats are waiting for you to head to the island for a pleasant 20-minute journey. You will then transfer to another boat that will act as your guide around the island.
Your boat will sail through lush mangroves while you spot purple herons, egrets and other graceful creatures. In the blue lagoon, keep an eye out for jellyfish, coral and interesting aquatic plants. The last stop will be at Pink Beach; you’ve never seen anything like it! Imagine pink sand next to turquoise water. This is a life changing man.
8. Little Santa Cruz Island
From the air, Little Santa Cruz Island is just a small sandbar in the sea. From land, it’s pretty much the same – which is fantastic. This is actually a beach in the middle of warm, clear, turquoise waters. It doesn’t get more heavenly than this!
Boats depart from the mainland to Little Santa Cruz Island twice a day: once at 6 am and once at 3 pm on a “first come, first served” basis. You will stay for hours enjoying the awesome realization that this is really real life. Bring snacks and drinks as there are no stalls, clean drinking water or shops on the island.
9. Bayangan Island
Attention all divers: If you are looking for an underwater adventure in Zamboanga City, Banyangan Island offers stunning views. You’ll find many tour shops in the city that sell package tours at competitive prices. Underwater, visibility is good and there are many fish to see.
If you’re not a diver, Bayangan offers other forms of fun. This odd little island consists of an unusually wide beach around the perimeter and a small patch of jungle in the middle. It’s clean, shady, and provides a great space for climbing and exploring.
10. Island Hopping
You’ll find dozens of small islands around Zamboanga City, each more beautiful than the next. There are 11 islands to be exact, all of which are perfect to fit into an island-hopping day. Charter a boat to take you to Bluean Island, Sibugay Sunken Island, Pandilusang Island and more. Put on a snorkel and discover marine life hidden beneath the surface.
Alternatively, you can rent a kayak and go on your own island tour. Several islands can be reached from the coast – just put on a life jacket!
11. Karagasan Beach
A 30-minute jeepney ride from the city will take you to Kalagasan Beach, which is popular with locals.
You will enjoy the cool waters of the beach and the coarse sand between your toes. You can see a succession of boats coming in and out, some with tourists and others with merchandise.
But the main attraction of Kalagasan Beach is the night market! This night market has some of the freshest seafood, vegetables and local delicacies. Even better, the prices are very affordable, which means you can eat as much as you want.
12. Nancy Falls
No trip to Zamboanga City is complete without a visit to Nancy Falls. You’ll feel like you’re in a Jurassic Park movie (probably the third) as you ride in the back of a bumpy jeepney through the jungle to the bottom of the waterfall.
You’ll be taken to the base of the waterfall, where a series of natural waterfalls flow into the cool pools beneath your feet. Don’t be shy; you can just jump right in. While exploring the bushes, you can climb along the wooden bridge.
13. Canelar Barter Center
Time to test your bargaining skills at the Canelar Barter Center. This covered market is filled with stalls selling colorful Filipino handicrafts and souvenirs to take home. For the ladies, dresses and traditional Filipino clothing are everywhere. For men, you can choose from sunglasses, flip flops and some clothing stalls.
Canelar Barter Center specializes in door knockers and manual doorbells shaped like deer, cows, chickens and lions. This is sure to be a unique souvenir.
14. Tabirat Falls
If you’re planning to do a 1km walk in the jungle to a dam-like waterfall, why not check out Tagbilat Falls? Bring a guide and lead you through unmarked jungle trails until you reach a natural pool and tall waterfall. Off the beaten track, this site is pristine and unspoiled.
Locals are most familiar with these waterfalls because they are closest to town and many tourists like to visit. While this has become a popular place, you won’t find food vendors here. Bring your own snacks, water, and don’t forget to change your clothes!
15. La Vista del Mar
Once you arrive, you’ll see why La Vista del Mar is often used as a wedding venue!
This is the perfect place for you and your loved one to have a romantic dinner in a quiet and peaceful place. La Vista del Mar is a beachfront restaurant with stunning views of the sunset, refreshing breezes from the sea at night, a lovely boardwalk to walk, and of course, some incredible dishes that will make visitors become regulars.
Try tuna belly, lapu-pu’s sweet and sour veggies, and coconut milk. You won’t be disappointed.
Where to Stay: The Best Hotels in Zamboanga, Philippines
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