Mindanao may not be the most preferred tourist destination in the country due to past security concerns but it actually has a lot to offer when it comes to tourism. Tawi-Tawi alone is blessed with unspoilt natural attractions and interesting culture that will surely attract the most adventurous tourist.
Tawi-tawi, the southernmost province of the Philippines, consists of Tawi-Tawi Island itself and several other islands and islets around it. Tawi-tawi Island is closer to the island of Borneo than to mainland Mindanao. It is less than 100 kilometers away from Sabah, Malaysia while more than 300 kilometers away from the coast of Zamboanga in mainland Mindanao. The province’s capital, the municipality of Bongao, is an entirely different island from the western tip of Tawi-Tawi Island.
With peace and order in control and programs aimed to boost the tourism of the province, Tawi-Tawi is presently fast-becoming a popular tourist destination.
This brief guide will help you plan your trip to Tawi-Tawi Island and the whole Tawi-Tawi province. It contains information on what to do, eat, and drink as well as the must-see spots and the best hotels.
Best Time to Visit
It’s best to visit the Philippines during the dry season. Dry season in the Philippines spans from November through April. These are the summer months in this country.
Be aware that temperatures and humidity levels are particularly high in April and May.
The best time to be a beach bum and explore the islands is from March to May.
TIP: This guide recommends that booking for Tawi-Tawi Island summer trips should be done as early as possible, at least a month before your travel dates, since resorts get fully booked early.
The period from June to October is the rainy (wet) season and is best avoided due to the high possibility of typhoons. The typhoons can not only be destructive, but most tours and activities are cancelled under such circumstances. Transportation via plane and boat is also seriously impacted as well. This happens frequently so beware!
This guide recommends traveling to Tawi-Tawi Island in April-May or in November-December, just before and just after the rainy season. This will likely bring fewer crowds, yet pleasant weather, and is also a great time to score a travel deal.
Plug commonly used is Type A but Types B and C are used as well. Bring A to B adapter(s).
There are many ways to get here depending on your starting point. This guide recommends using the following online tools to identify all the available options and cost for each while on Tawi-Tawi Island: Rome2Rio and PHBUS. The following are the major ports of entry for this destination.
The following are the modes of transportation available on Tawi-Tawi Island …
SEE & DO
The following is your guide to places to see and activities to enjoy while on Tawi-Tawi Island.
1 | Hike Mount Bongao
Popularly known as Bud Bongao, Mount Bongao is found on Bongao Island. It features six limestone pillars that also serve as its peaks. The viewing deck, found at the highest peak, offers stunning views of other parts of Tawi-Tawi and Malaysia. Since the mountain is one of the most popular tourist spots in the province, a concrete trail has been added for the convenience of tourists. There are also cottages along the way and stores at the base in case you need some supplies for the hike.
Mount Bongao is deemed as Tawi-Tawi’s sacred mountain due to its spiritual and traditional significance to the locals. Two Islamic preachers were also believed to be buried in the mountain making it a pilgrimage site to both Christians and Muslims.
Additionally, the mountain is also home to a rich biodiversity where several species of animals are found. On your hike, expect to see long-tailed macaques which are endemic to Bud Bongao, along the way. Other animals you may meet are Philippine pitta, mangrove blue flycatcher, and orange albatross.
2 | See Old Chinese Pier
This old wharf used to be the main trading port of Arab, Chinese, and Malay merchants hundreds of years ago. Currently, it is one of the most known tourist spots in Tawi-Tawi in addition to still being an important fishing, trading, and passenger port.
3 | Take pictures of Tawi-Tawi Provincial Capitol
Like most provincial capitols in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the Tawi-Tawi Provincial Capitol features domes and minarets to complete its Islamic-inspired architecture. This imposing structure stands proud on a hill and provides lovely views of Bongao Island.
4 | Explore Badjao Villages in Bongao and Sitangkai
Take a glimpse on the wonderful and colorful life of the Sama-Dilaut, an ethnic group of people who live a seaborne lifestyle. Popularly known in the country as Badjao, they prefer to live on stilt houses on the water rather than on dry land. They also use small wooden sailing vessels and are known for their craftsmanship particularly in weaving colorful and exquisitely-designed mats.
5 | Visit Sheik Karimol Makhdum Mosque
Located on Simunul Island, Sheik Karimol Makhdum Mosque is considered the oldest mosque in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. It is named after an Arab trader named Sheikh Makhdum Karim who built the mosque in 1380. The mosque has been rebuilt a few times but the four pillars found within the present structure are over 400 years old, the oldest known Islamic artifact in the country. The mosque is recognized as a National Historical Landmark and National Cultural Treasure.
6 | Enjoy the beaches
Tawi-Tawi Island and its surrounding islands and islets are blessed with pristine beaches great for swimming and beach-bumming. In the capital town of Bongao alone, there are at least three beaches to explore. Some are developed complete with resorts while others remain unspoilt. Beaches to see are Kasulutan Beach, Ibbo Beach, and Tahing-Tahing Beach.
7 | See the waterfalls
Salisip Falls in Sugala is the most visited as it has easy access from the road. There is no need to trek or climb thick forests as it can be seen from the road. It is just a small waterfall and often crowded but it is surrounded by lush greenery so the area is quite refreshing for the eyes. Lac-Lac Falls, on the other hand, is a bit challenging to reach. It is hidden amidst thick and untouched forest which is also home to hundreds of flora and fauna.
8 | Meet the marine creatures at Gusong Reef
Gusong Reef is undoubtedly the best diving spot in the province. It is home to colorful coral reefs and several other aquatic species. Thousands of seagulls, locally known as tallah-tallah, also lay eggs in the area.
9 | Get to know the wildlife of Sibutu Natural Wildlife Sanctuary
Sibutu Natural Wildlife Sanctuary is home to a variety of animals including exotic birds like canaries, orioles, and parrots as well as a peacock species called Dandadunay and wild rooster locally referred to as Labuyo.
10 | Nearby destinations
Sulu may not be the most preferred travel destination in the country but the province is actually blessed with several natural attractions with breathtaking views. There are beaches, caves, islands, and marine parks waiting to be explored by those adventurous enough to visit the area.
NOTE: The Agal-Agal Festival occurs annually in Tawi-Tawi every September …
EAT & DRINK
The following is your guide to the flavorful food to enjoy and restaurants to try while on Tawi-Tawi Island.
1 | Sandbar Beach Lepa and Restaurant
The restaurant of Sandbar Beach Lepa is a great spot when eating out with family and friends as their servings are pretty huge. Aside from Mindanao cuisine, the restaurant also serves other local dishes.
2 | Fatima Shara
Fatima Shara is another dining spot where you can experience local dishes such as agal-agal salad (seaweed) and tiyulah itum (beef stew).
3 | King of Chicken
For your chicken cravings, there’s no better to be than King of Chicken. The eatery serves various chicken dishes including chicken piyanggang and chicken sati.
4 | Rachel’s Place
The restaurant of Rachel’s Place is the go-to place for all-day breakfast and silog meals as well as drinks including frappes and coffee.
5 | Sameera Coffee
Sameera Coffee is a humble little place near the town. It has one of the best coffees in town.
KNOWN FOR: Pickled agal-agal, a Tausug specialty made of agal-agal (seaweed) and green mangoes in olive oil, lemon juice and with brown sugar.
GOOGLE ADSENSE BANNER AD
WHERE TO STAY
There are many different types of accommodations available in this destination ranging from hostels to luxurious resorts. The following is your guide to our top choices for each range on Tawi-Tawi Island.
1 | Rachel’s Place Hotel (Budget)
2 | Sandbar Lepa Beach Hotel and Restaurant (Mid-Range)
This guide recommends using the following sites to conduct research online of where to stay on Tawi-Tawi Island or for a specific destination:
Book your room with these trusted online booking sites. Booking online in the Philippines almost always guarantees the best price and a room when you arrive. We use these sites frequently to get the best prices and enjoy convenient bookings. Click each of the buttons below to find the best place for you at the lowest rates:
TIP: Sandbar Beach Lepa and Restaurant is the best property to experience this destination.
Use the chart below to get an idea of how much to budget daily. Actual amounts will depend on YOUR travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages … some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less. Prices are in USD.
A bed in a hostel dorm costs from 350 PHP ($7 USD), but smaller dorms can cost from 500 PHP ($10 USD). For a private double, prices start around 700 PHP ($14 USD).
Most budget hotels begin at 700 PHP ($14 USD) per night for a double room and usually include free wifi and breakfast. For a three-star hotel, prices begin around 1,400 PHP ($28 USD) per night. AirBnB is also widespread throughout the country, with private rooms starting from as little as 500 PHP ($10 USD) per night. For entire apartments, expect to pay at least 1,400 PHP ($28 USD) per night.
Resorts and luxury accommodations vary greatly from 1,400 PHP ($28 USD) to 5,000+ PHP ($100+ USD). However, there are some really nice resorts and luxury accommodations which are surprisingly affordable.
Local food is extremely cheap, with street food costing under 50 PHP ($1USD). For an inexpensive meal at a local restaurant, prices start around 100 PHP ($2 USD). For a meal at a mid-range restaurant with drinks and table service, expect to pay from 200 PHP ($4 USD). Knowing that their target customers are primarily tourists, Western food venues can be pricey compared to Filipino food. Also, some of the ingredients need to be imported, which contributes to the higher cost. Western food (burgers, pizza, pasta, etc.) is much more expensive but is still relatively affordable at around 200 PHP ($4 USD) for a meal and drink.
Fast food like McDonalds will cost around 200 PHP ($4 USD). A beer at the bar will cost around 50-100 PHP ($1–2 USD).
A week’s worth of groceries will cost between 300-600 PHP ($6-12 USD) per person. However, food in this country is so inexpensive, and kitchens & refrigerators are hard to come by, I don’t recommend cooking your meals here since there is plenty of delicious street food to eat at very cheap prices. You won’t make it as good as they do and the food is too delicious to miss!
There are many modes of transportation available in the Philippines and each varies greatly.
Public Transportation is cheap. Bus services on the islands are inexpensive. Local buses (called jeepneys) are the most common type of transportation in towns and cities. The fare is usually between 7-25 PHP ($.20–.50 USD).
On islands without a bus system, a taxi or tricycle is the only form of transport with fares starting at 50-500 PHP ($1-$10) USD for short trips.
Taxis are everywhere, and they’re very cheap. Most fares shouldn’t cost you more than 500 PHP ($10 USD) around town.
To get between islands, you’ll need to take a boat or to fly. There are ferries that connect the island together since they aren’t too far apart but, generally speaking, flights are the most realistic option.
Flights between islands usually cost about 2,000-3500 PHP ($40-70 USD). However, this isn’t the cheapest way to travel. It’s only recommended if you have limited time.
Attractions & Activities
Most attractions and activities in the Philippines are pretty cheap. Most attractions throughout the area are FREE to enter, though some of the more well known and popular ones cost 5-100 PHP ($.10-$2 USD) to enter.
Depending on the activity, most day tours only cost around 1,000-1,500 PHP ($20-30 USD), oftentimes less. You have more bargaining power if you go with a group. If you are expecting to do some climbing, remember to pack some warm layers. It gets cold at the top!
Other activities such as Island Hopping, scuba diving, helmet diving, swimming with whale sharks, jungle trekking, canyoning, ATVs, jet skis, wakeboarding, cruises, parasailing, horseback riding, cultural experiences, and tours can cost as much as 1,250-5,000+ PHP ($25-100+ USD).
The Philippines is one of the least expensive places to learn how to scuba dive. Learning to scuba dive usually costs about 15,000-20,000 PHP ($300-400 USD), but often includes FREE accommodation for the duration of the course, which lasts three or four days.
Always book your tours and activities when you arrive. Stick to travel agents who are selling on the ground. If a travel agent won’t negotiate with you, move on to the next until you find one that will. Booking tours online is almost always more expensive.
Typical Costs on Tawi-Tawi Island in 2021:
- Hostel Dorm Bed: 250-350 PHP ($5–7 USD) night
- Budget Hotel: 700 PHP ($14 USD) night
- Mid-Range Hotel: 1500 PHP ($31 USD) night
- Street Food: 50-150 PHP ($1–3 USD) meal
- Restaurant Meals: 200-300 PHP ($4–6 USD) meal
- Local Beer: 50-100 PHP ($1–2 USD) bottle
- 1.5L Bottle of Water: 38 PHP ($.75 USD) bottle
- Jeepney Ride: 7-25 PHP ($.20–.50 USD) ride
- Tricycle Ride: 20-100 PHP ($.5-2 USD) ride
- Public Ferry Ride: 200-300 PHP ($4–6 USD) ride
- Domestic Flight: 2,000-3,500 PHP ($40–70 USD) flight
- Island-Hopping: 1,000-1,500 PHP ($20-30 USD) trip
BEST NO-FEE INTERNATIONAL DEBIT & CREDIT CARDS
The following is some of our best advice on traveling to Tawi-Tawi Island. Learn what you need to know BEFORE you go!
Tips & Hacks
he following are our Top 10 Tips when visiting this destination in the Philippines:
- Be aware that a tourist VISA is only 30 days. You can extend it upon arrival, or within the first 30 days, for an additional 30 days for a fee of approximately 3,000 pesos.
- Don’t buy into the fear factor. The Philippines has an unjustified reputation of being a dangerous place. It’s true there are security guards everywhere, but that is to deter theft.
- Manila is NOT the Philippines. Get outside of the cities to see the real Philippines.
- Don’t over plan. Boats, buses, and even airplane schedules are notoriously unreliable. Be flexible.
- Check the weather. The weather varies greatly throughout the Philippines daily.
- Typhoons can have a huge impact on your plans. Account for this when planning your trip.
- It’s not cool to raise your voice or show outward frustration in public.
- Be polite at all times. Realize that your country’s sense of humor may be different from Filipino humor and take this into account when interacting with Filipinos and while in public places.
- Things move at a slower pace. Accept it … don’t get frustrated … but do account for it.
- Don’t drink the tap water… but stay hydrated! Save money by buying large bottles (6-10 liters) of water and using it to fill your water bottle or hydration bladder in your backpack.
For a complete list of our travel tips & hacks, check out the following guide and be sure to download a FREE copy for yourself.
The Philippines has its own currency called the Philippine Peso. Banks, ATMs, and money-changers can be found on the island. If you are exploring the neighboring islands or provinces, make sure to bring enough cash that will last until the next time you get to an ATM or bank since most tours, transportation, and budget accommodations only accept cash.
Health & Safety
While overall the Philippines is a safe country to visit, as is Tawi-Tawi Island, you need to use common sense just as you would in any country, especially when traveling, and in a city, town, or area you are unfamiliar with.
Consult your hotel or resort front desk as they are more likely to give you reliable information than a random stranger on the street. Be careful when approaching strangers and selective about who you approach. Always pay attention to your gut feeling and follow it.
There are many things to consider when traveling in order to stay safe … things that we may not be accustomed to during our normal everyday lives. The following are articles about tips on how to stay safe while traveling in the Philippines:
- 6 Common Accidents to Avoid
- How to Beat the Heat in the Philippines
- Taxi Safety Tips: Dos and Don’ts
- Motorbike Safety Tips
- Beach & Ocean Safety Tips
- Sun Safety Tips
Staying fit & healthy can be challenging when traveling in the Philippines.
The tropical Philippines climate requires you to prepare for illnesses that you may not normally be accustomed to.
The following are our Top 10 Tips for Staying Healthy while Traveling in the Philippines:
- Maintain a Balanced Diet
- Stay Hydrated but Only Drink Bottled Water
- Get Plenty of Rest
- Allow Your Body Time to Adjust
- Keep Active
- Sanitize Often
- Be Aware of Food Safety Concerns
- Take Your Vitamins
- Practice Safe Sex
- Be Prepared Should You Get Sick
You need to have a local-based SIM card in order to stay connected when in the Philippines. Network giants such as Globe and Smart have SIM cards you can use to make calls, send text messages, and also to connect to the Internet. A SIM card costs around 50 PHP ($1 USD) and usually comes with a FREE load worth 50 PHP ($1 USD). You can buy a card containing a code you can enter on your phone to replenish your load or buy an electronic load that is available almost anywhere in the city.
While you may not have problems with signal strength when in the city, it is not always the case when on islands or in remote areas of a province. So when arranging for transportation pick up, say when renting a boat to take you to and pick you up from the island, it would be best that you make it clear what time you need to be picked up before the boatman leaves.
Recommended Travel Apps
Apps for smartphones and tablets can be useful both before you leave and while you’re traveling. Most are available for iPhones and Android phones.
- Grab (taxis/ride shares)
- Angkas (motorbike ride-hailing)
- WhatsApp (phone calls)
- Skyscanner (flights)
- Rome2Rio (transportation)
- Agoda (accomodations)
- Booking.com (accomodations)
- AirBnB (accomodations)
- Traveloka (flights, accomodations, activities)
- Klook (attractions & activities )
Be certain to download and set up apps BEFORE leaving on your trip to make certain each is installed and working properly.
For our complete list of travel apps that we use and recommend while traveling in the Philippines, checkout our checklist below. Download a FREE copy for yourself as a PDF.
Trying to decide what to do when traveling to a destination for the first time can be a bit overwhelming given your lack of familiarity with the place along with all of the available options.
We’ve created the following itinerary to help simplify the process and ensure that you get the most out of your trip. Although we provide a 7 day itinerary for this destination, it can always be adjusted to fit the length of your trip.
The secret to a successful and stress-free trip is to start by using a packing list. This will reduce anxiety from the start and ensure that nothing important is forgotten when packing. To make this process easy for you, we’ve created a detailed packing list. Click the link below to download it for FREE now.
Carrying your checklist with you during your travels can be useful when repacking, by helping to ensure that you do not leave anything behind.
Things to Remember
This guide recommends to take note of the following while traveling on Tawi-Tawi Island or in the Philippines in general.
There is a nationwide ban which prohibits smoking in public places including indoors, the streets, on sidewalks, in restaurants , and on public transportation, requiring smokers to use designated smoking areas. Selling tobacco to and purchasing from or for minors is also prohibited. Violators are subject to fines (up to 5,000 PHP | $100 USD) and even 4 months in prison.
The minimum legal drinking age is 18. Alcohol such as beer and hard drinks can easily be bought in grocery and convenience stores. The most common alcoholic beverage is beer, generally served cold. Local alcoholic drinks include tuba (coconut wine which is usually very strong) and potent moonshine-like clear liquors made from sugar or fruit. Imported beer, wine, and name brand hard alcohol are available but expensive.
Drugs are illegal in the Philippines. Don’t use, buy, or sell any non-prescription drugs while in the Philippines … not even marijuana. It is considered an especially heinous crime to buy from, for, or sell drugs to children. The penalties are severe … up to and including death.
Public nudity is illegal in the Philippines and is not tolerated. Most locals consider it offensive. There are laws which prohibit provocative and erotic clothing and swimwear, therefore carefully consider your clothings and swimwear choices to make certain they are not too revealing.
Foreigners & Expats
If you are not a Filipino citizen, remember that you are a guest when visiting this country … be certain to act accordingly. Respect the people, their customs, and the environment and wlidlife. You can be deported and banned … so behave … but have fun and enjoy all that this wonderful destination has to offer.
Cover Photo by: SIPAT: View from the Edge
Don’t Forget …
Download Our FREE Travel Guides
We have dozens of guides to destinations throughout the Philippines. Download your FREE copy for your next trip today.