Zamboanga City is one of the top ten cities in the Philippines in terms of population and land area. The city is nicknamed as City of Flowers based on the claims that the name Zamboanga is derived from the Malay word Jambangan which means “place of flowers”. It is also nicknamed as Asia’s Latin City due to the remnants of Hispanic influences as the city used to be a Spanish fortress during the Spanish colonial era. These influences are evident in the food, Spanish-style architecture found in the city and their native language Chavacano, a Spanish-based creole.
Like other cities in Mindanao, Zamboanga City is also blessed with natural attractions making the city more attractive to tourists.
This brief guide to Zamboanga City will help you plan your trip. 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 Zamboanga City 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 Zamboanga City 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 in Zamboanga City: Rome2Rio and PHBUS. The following are the major ports of entry for this destination.
The following are the modes of transportation available in Zamboanga City …
SEE & DO
The following is your guide to places to see and activities to enjoy while in Zamboanga City.
1 | See the Merloquet Falls
The most beautiful waterfall in Zamboanga City, Merloquet Falls, has two tiers or approximately 10 meters high and 25 meters wide. It is surrounded by trees and features rock formations where you can climb up and spend time enjoying the cool waters and the view of the lush surroundings.
Other waterfalls in the city are the dam-like Tagbilat Falls (also known as Malagandis Falls) and the smaller Nancy Falls.
2 | Spend a quiet moment at Fort Pilar
Fort Pilar, formally called Real Fuerte de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza, used to be a Spanish military defense fortress in the 17th century. It survived several attacks and has been restored to be used as a regional museum of the National Museum of the Philippines. While the fort is currently used as a museum housing several historical artifacts, memorabilia, and paintings, outside its eastern wall is a shrine dedicated to Virgin Mary, who is claimed to have made an apparition in the city twice.
3 | Wait for the sunset at Paseo del Mar
Just a few meters from Fort Pilar is Paseo del Mar where you can take a walk or hang out over drinks and snacks bought from nearby restaurants and food carts. It has a dancing fountain and is usually where live bands and other entertainment performances are held.
Little Santa Cruz Island can be seen from the boardwalk which is also the jump-off point to the island as well as to the Great Santa Cruz Island.
4 | Shop at Canelar Barter Trade Center
Canelar Barter Trade Center carries an assortment of products imported from Malaysia and Indonesia through the Sulu Sea. It’s a great place to shop for batik bags, dresses and shirts, sarong, scarves, and other souvenir items like doorknockers and manual doorbells. Chocolates, coffee, noodles, and other grocery items from Malaysia can also be bought here.
5 | See the weavers in action at Yakan Weaving Village
Yakan weaving is known for their colorful textiles with geometric patterns. See how these textiles are being made on the spot at Yakan Weaving village. Aside from seeing the weavers in action, you can get to bring home various woven products such as bags and purses, scarves, dresses, table runners, and more.
6 | Spend the night at Pasonanca Park
Want to find out what it feels like to sleep in a tree house? Spend the night at Pasonanca Park where the tree house has all the amenities of a small motel room. Constructed in the 1960’s, the tree house attracts thousands of visitors every year.
Pasonanca Park also has three public swimming pools, a garden, and a butterfly park.
7 | Go on heritage tour
As a city with a rich history, there’s definitely an abundance of heritage sites and structures in the city. Zamboanga City Hall, built in 1905 to 1907, has a Filipino colonial architectural design. Across it is Plaza Rizal where the statue of Philippine national hero Jose Rizal stands.
The Zamboanga Cathedral is a newer edifice having been built in the late 1990’s to early 2000’s but it has a marble statue designed by Napoleon Abueva, National Artist for Sculpture. A relic of Our Lady of the Pillar is also housed in the cathedral.
8 | Do the Once Islas tour
Zamboanga City is blessed with 11 islands called Once Islas (pronounced On-se) which are perfect spots for island-hopping, swimming, kayaking, and snorkeling. Most of these islands are uninhabited and the number of guests daily are limited to protect these islands.
9 | Spend a day at Great Santa Cruz Island
Less than five kilometers south of downtown is Great Santa Cruz Island. It boasts of pink white sand beach which is the only one in Asia. The island is a protected area with dense mangrove forest and a lagoon inhabited by non-stinging jellyfish. You can take a vinta to navigate through the mangroves and get a chance to see purple herons, egrets, and others.
10 | Soak up the sun in Little Santa Cruz Island
Little Santa Cruz, along with Great Santa Cruz Island, can be seen from Paseo del Mar. Little Santa Cruz Island is actually a small sandbar on the Basilan Strait. It is blessed with white sand and clear water perfect for swimming and lounging.
NOTE: The Hermosa Festival occurs annually every 12th of October.
EAT & DRINK
The following is your guide to the flavorful food to enjoy and restaurants to try while in Zamboanga City.
1 | Alavar Seafood Restaurant
The top restaurant in Zamboanga City based on user reviews, Alavar Seafood Restaurant is known for its curacha, the local term they use to refer to the giant deep-sea crab called red frog or spanner crab. The crab is partnered with alavar, the restaurant’s signature sauce which is made of chili, coconut milk, garlic, and spices. Other must-try dishes include Dinuguan Chavacano style, Grilled Tuna Jaw, Paella Chavacano, Pinakbet Chavacano, and many more.
2 | Barcode Zamboanga
Barcode Zamboanga serves Filipino favorites such as sinigang and pancit along with their bestsellers – seafood platter and sizzling plates. The restaurant has branches in Rizal St. and Paseo del Mar where live bands and other entertainment performances take place at night. Their price range is reasonable, perfect for a large group of family and friends who want to hang out around Paseo del Mar.
3 | Dennis Coffee Garden
Don’t miss the opportunity to savor the authentic taste of Zamboanga and Tausug at Dennis Coffee Garden. This eatery with a homey ambience is well-loved for its great coffee and traditional native pastries such as daral (crepe with sweet coconut filling), jualan (fried bananas with sweetened dip), and apam (local version of pancake).
4 | Family Fried Chicken Restaurant
Family Fried Chicken Restaurant serves halal food and is known in the city for its signature fried chicken which is best partnered with the yang chow platter and sauce. The restaurant is spacious and the price range is affordable, definitely a great place to bring family and friends.
5 | Greenfields Mano-Mano Resto
One of the top restaurants in the city, Greenfields Mano-Mano Resto specializes in grilled pork spareribs and baby back ribs but it also serves chicken, pork, and seafood dishes. The restaurant is cozy and usually packed with customers especially during weekends so make sure to come early and come with patience to wait for your food. But considering the quality of the food and affordable price range, the wait is definitely worth it.
6 | Hacienda de Palmeras Hotel & Restaurant
While it is known to serve the best Knickerbocker (the local version of halo-halo) in the city, the restaurant also serves other Filipino favorites such as crispy pata and lechon kawali. In addition to good food, the restaurant is clean, service is great, and prices are reasonable making it one of the restaurants you should not miss when in the city.
7 | Hai San Seafood Market and Restaurant
Hai San is a great place to satisfy one’s seafood cravings. It is a place where you can choose your seafood and vegetables displayed and have them cooked the way you want them. The restaurant may look dated but that doesn’t stop people from coming as their foods, service, and reasonable prices more than make up for it.
8 | Jimmy’s Satti and Johnny’s Morning Sun Satti
One’s Zamboanga experience isn’t really complete without getting a taste of satti, a Tausug dish of grilled meat served on skewers and with a bowl of tasty sauce. Jimmy’s doesn’t look much but it is known to have the best satti in the city. First timers in Zamboanga should not miss this.
9 | La Vista del Mar
Part of the La Vista del Mar Resort, the restaurant serves various Filipino favorites including sinigang, pancit, and grilled seafood. The restaurant is also known to serve the best curacha with its special sauce.
KNOWN FOR: Latal, a platter of Tausug delicacies.
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 in Zamboanga City.
1 | Ever O Business Hotel (Budget)
2 | Grand Astoria Hotel (Mid-Range)
3 | Garden Orchid Hotel (Luxury | Resort)
This guide recommends using the following sites to conduct research online of where to stay in Zamboanga City 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: Ever O Business Hotel 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 in Zamboanga City 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
- Taxi: 75-500 PHP ($1.50-10 USD) ride – use GrabTaxi app
- Long-Distance Bus Ride: 400-500 PHP ($8–10 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
The following is some of our best advice on traveling to Zamboanga City. 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 Zamboanga City, 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 in Zamboanga City 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.
Don’t Forget …
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