Zamboanga City Travel Guide: Fort Pilar de Zamboanga

Hearing the word Zamboanga City seems a little bit scary from the people up North, but  it proved me wrong when I visited the city  during the Mindanao Blogger Summit. And what we don’t know about this place, is that it houses many scenic and historical spot from the colonization of many eras in the Philippines. One of those historic spot is the Fort Pilar de Zamboanga. This site has been originally known as the "Real Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragosa." It was built in 1635 by a Jesuit priest-engineer, to ward off attacks from the Moros, the Dutch and the British.
Royal Fort of Our Lady of the Pillar of Zaragoza (Real Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza)

Zamboanga City takes so much pride in this historic infrastructure since this has been an icon for many tourists who venture the City. The Fort is now considered as the regional Museum. The Fort Pilar de Zamboanga is the major landmark of Zamboanga City and a symbol of the city's cultural heritage. It houses many relics from the drastic past of our country. The City considers this scenic spot a treasure since this does not only defy the Cities historical heritage but our country. And this must be seen by many tourist and our country men as well. Take a glimpse of this city and let the rich history of our country unveil the wondrous gift of our land and that you may love this country as much as many heroes loved this so much! The Spanish architecture of the Fort will somehow take you to the old time with its alluring and mystique brick wall. This architecture will open the eyes of many tourists about the sacrifices of our forefathers.

Your visit to the Fort will never be complete without a souvenir photo from the place, so be sure to bring along with you your camera and cherish this one of kind treasure hunting in Zamboanga City.
Getting here is easy. Zamboanga City has an international airport and a world class port that will surely make the travel of many guests and tourists very convenient.

Getting here in Zamboanga City by AIRPLANE:
* On domestic travel, Zamboanga City has direct flights to Manila and Cebu by various airline companies. Check out the website of many Airlines here in the Philippines to know if there are any cheap flights that would meet your travel budget. List of airline companies that caters flights to Zamboanga City are: Philippine Airlines (PAL), AirPhilippines Express, Cebu Pacific Air and Zest Airlines.

* Many barge and shipping companies offers numerous voyages to Zamboanga City each week. Inquire in your nearest ticketing office for prizes and schedule.

* If you have the luxury of time then make your way to the gasoline station, gas u your car full tank or hop in to a bus line bound to Zamboanga City and marvel along the way. The long hours of travel maybe compensated by green pastures along the way and some new places you are about to discover while on your journey.

Travel with pleasure and leisure and take time to discover the heritage of our very own home land. See for yourself how fun it is to be Filipino!


Discovering New Places: Balut Island, Municipality of Sarangani

Discovering new places is something exciting as there are undeniably more places to explore in the Philippines - more islands to hop, more sandy beaches to walk on by, more diving and snorkeling sites, more nature to trip, more mountains to trek, more exotic foods to eat, more friendly faces to meet and greet and more pictures to take. Thousands and thousands make up this archipelago – definitely there’s more fun in the Philippines.

Update: Sarangani Islands is  in the southernmost part of Davao del Sur Davao Occidental - the newest province in the Philippines, also known as Balut Island/Olanivan Island. Balut is a Maguindanaoan term for “island”. In the center of this island is the Balut Volcano (Stratovolcano) which is elevated at about 2,828 feet. Despite its overflowing natural resources, Sarangani Island is the "poorest and most neglected municipalities in the country. When, in fact, this town was powerful years ago and its people were respected by other nations, even European countries". Not all Filipinos know that Sarangani Island exists, when you say Sarangani Island, they will think of Sarangani Province. Read the rest of history here.

Hopefully, this island will start acclaim its seat on the tourist spot’s list sooner because of its spectacular destinations such as hot spring, white sand beaches, the Balut Island Peak and many more. In here you may perform any of the activities you want to delve into such as beach volleyball, kayaking, snorkeling, diving, swimming in the 11-kilometer stretch bay and other stuffs to your heart’s delight.

The islands of Sarangani  are to die for! And as the moment  we stepped on to it, all my fears melt away. And this story to tell has started. FUN. FUN. FUN. 'nuff said!


Getting There

Port Mabila in Balut Island with M/V Song of Dolly 3

There isn’t a daily boat ride to Balut Island, so it is best that to coordinate with three shipping lines as to the schedule of your trip may be.  The ferry leaves 12 midnight and usually it’ll take you about 5 hours to traverse from the port to Balut Island. Also, some of the things the locals of Sarangani Island needs are bought from General Santos that’s why when you be having your trip to this island, along with you are cargos of foods, luggage, furniture, appliances and other stuffs inside the boat.

  • M/V Song of Dolly 3 is docked at the Lion’s Beach in General Santos City. Travels thrice a week from Gensan (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) for P360 + P20 gate fee. You may call RD Group of Companies at (083)552 4435 for inquiries and reservation.
  • Or you may go to the Wharf of Puting Bato to ride the M/VNieky or M/V Sabgangat.

As soon as you get into Sarangani Island, the very first thing you need to do is to meet Hon. Mayor Jerry Cawa or their chieftain Hon. Abet Jawed so they can assist or guide you. Next, find a pump boat for one day island hopping, usually it costs from P1,500 up to P2,000 depending on the capacity of the boat and the islands to visit. Take note, you have to pick a pump boat with double engine, aside that it is faster, it has a reserved engine in case the  other engine stops working during the island hopping. Once you got all of these things, then the show begins.

Best of Balut Island

The Best Part of All is Island Hopping

Olanivan Island photo: Ian Olden

Lighthouse at Olanivan

Our first stop is Olanivan. From the port, it took us one and half hour to reach this island. In this 3 – kilometer stretch, you will see the Lighthouse, which was built by the Americans during their reign. You can stroll along the white sands of Olanivan, swim in its clear blue waters, and of course cam whoring. You definitely wouldn’t want to miss this.

Heart-Shaped sulfuric Sabang Hot Spring
Next is Sabang Hot Spring, it is located at Barangay Lipol, about one hour and 30 minutes of travel from Olanivan. This spring is about 16 meters wide with the temperature that can be hot as 80C. Both Olanivan and Sabang Hot Spring are owned by the RD Group of Companies, also the owner of MV Song of Dolly 3.

Tuke Maklang Beach Resort

Then we headed to Tuke Maklang, a beach resort owned by Mayor Jerry Cawa. The entrance fee is only P10.00 and they have 2 rooms available good for 2 persons each. But is it more exciting to stay outside with tents. Aside from Tuke Maclang, you can also visit Tuke Nunsol or Bolae Cove as Sarangani Island is blessed with fine coarse white sand, locals made used of this gift and made some resorts for tourists to choose from.
Balistic also known as Villalobos or Marorong Islet

Last on the list is Marorong Islet in Brgy Mabila. This bullet - like shape islet, nestles the ruins of what was once a bastion of Ruy Lopez de Villalobos. The Marorong islet is about 130 meters away from the Mabila port.

Where to Stay 
JVL Inn Cafetria owned by Hon. Mayor  Jerry Cawa in Brgy. Mabila, you can see it directly at the port

If you want to stay overnight or couple of days in Balut Island, you can either stay in JVL Inn in Brgy. Mabila or  in Tuke Maklang Beach Resort, both are owned by Hon. Mayor Jerry Cawa.  The inn has the most convenient area since it's located near the port. The rates range from P1,000.00 to P2,000.00 per night depending on the rooms. But if you want to stay in a more natural place, opt Tuke Maklang Beach Resort. There are two available rooms good for two persons each. But it is more exciting to stay outside with your tents. 

Since Sarangani Island stands near Celebes Sea, the best time to visit is during summer or from March to May, this is the time the weather and waves allows you to sail smoothly from one island to another. Just monitor the weather before you will visit.

For any traveler to appreciate the beauty of a certain destination has to offer, one should have a little knowledge on the place itself as well as its locals. Here in Balut Island, the locals’ main economic activity is farming, more specifically coconut crops and its major source of livelihood of fishing. The people living here are mostly Bilaan and Sangils but they can converse well in Bisaya and Tagalog.

Here’s what I’ve learned when I visited Sarangani Island, Traveling is not all about discovering new places. It is also discovering who of your friends are craziest, willing to risk their life  just  to  enjoy new adventure  with you... and it makes the friendship stronger.

Website: http://saranganidavsur.gov.ph/
Facebook page of Municipality of Sarangani: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Municipality-of-Sarangani/159644790764969


The Travel Guide: Tourist Destinations in Butuan City

Long before Philippines were discovered, Butuan already existed 
Butuan City to me is just another city in the island of Mindanao. I never knew how wonderful it is not when I came there and see for myself the alluring scope of the City.

Butuan City is the commerce capital of the Caraga region. Though it’s highly industrialized and urbanized, the city itself remained dominantly historical. Making the whole City a must visit City in this side of the country. Its historical background seduces many tourists to come by and see for themselves that Philippines started here. Woooo... That's a history unleashed! But really, long before Philippines were discovered, Butuan already existed!

You might be wondering what I'm talking about, you'll surely never know unless you come and visit Butuan City!

Getting There:
Your travel to Butuan city will never be nerve cracking one. The City provides a convenient way for travellers to get there. You can reach Butuan City by any of the three means: By air, by sea or by land.

Finding a scheduled flight to Butuan City won't be that hard since various airline carriers offer a lot of options to get there. Butuan has a domestic airport at Bancasi, which makes air travel quite convenient. Traveling by air to Butuan City may be you’re most convenient transportation option especially if you do not have the luxury of time. Ticket fares will usually vary from one Airline Company to another, which means you are better off asking for quotations from different travel options. The cheapest one way ticket into Butuan from Manila would be around P3,000 while the most expensive ones will average around P5,000. Please take note that competing airline companies will have promotional offers to get more passengers. You may ask for any promotions while you're hunting for a good ticket deal.

Check on Cebu Pacific Airlines, Zest Air, Philippine Airlines and Air Philippines for flight schedules and booking inquiries.
If you have more time in your hands then you may want to try this transportation option. You'll surely enjoy the scenery as you pass by several islands along the way. Your sea voyage will last for about a day and a half on average. If you are able to find faster ships, then you can cut your travel time down to 26 hours. The rates of the ferry from Manila will start around P2, 000 up to P2, 500. Ferrying from Cebu will cost less than P1,000, which will ferry you for 18 hours. Sometimes the ferry will even cost half the original price if you can find promotional offers, which are offered frequently.

There are many bus companies that offers ride to Butuan City 24 hours. The hour of travel and fare may vary from your origin.

Beautiful Spots in Butuan City:
Bonbon Eco-Park, Butuan City
(Photo courtesy from Freida Milan of http://www.butuanon.org

Balanghai Museum
The Balangay Site Museum, known widely as the Balanghai Shrine or Balangay Shrine Museum, is a must see tourist attraction in the Philippines. It is where one can see uncommon artifacts. All who visit the place will have a glimpse of not only Butuan’s history, but the whole country. Different students, excursionists, and archaeologist regularly visit the place to see the remains of the Balanghais.

Butuan Regional Museum
It is only fitting that a city that has seen so much history have a sanctuary to hold its precious heritage, and the Butuan Regional Museum is just that. The structure is officially classified into two parts: the Archaeological Hall features an extensive collection of crafts, metals, carvings, burial paraphernalia and other items dating from the city’s ancient past.

As more and more of its history is unearthed, more are added to the collection. The Ethnological Hall on the other hand, places more emphasis on the contemporary life, culture and works of the local inhabitants of Butuan.

Santo Nino Diocesan Shrine
Before the Santo Nino was taken to Cebu, Magellan had taken the statue to Butuan City, where it made a strong impression on the local populace. This would eventually lead to the creation of the Sto. Nino Shrine.

Located in Libertad, the shrine is noted for the number of images and relics that are housed there, which have been drawing in large numbers of people. Aside from the shrine itself, Mount Mayapay is nearby as well, providing an attractive contrast to the altar.

Mount Mayapay
Mount Mayapay is one of the most impressive monuments in stone that nature has carved in the entire Caraga region. Mount Maypay is very near Agusan Valley, and it one of the favorite destinations of climbers and adventurers. However, the mountain and the area around it are also rich in history, evidenced by the fact that the name Mayapay was derived from the Madjapahit Empire.

Butuan Boats
Balangay Launching
photo courtesy Jocelyn E. Morano

No visit to the city would be complete without a look at the Balangays, the most ancient sea vessels ever found in the Philippines.

The wood boats, of which nine have been unearthed, date back to the fourth century AD, centuries before the Spaniards came. Another intriguing aspect of the Balangay is that their shape and design are unique; there is nothing like them elsewhere in the Philippines, or anywhere else for that matter.

Where to Stay:
The Red Palm Suites

Red Palm Suites and Restaurant

With it's close proximity to the city center, The Red Palm Suites and Restaurants is very ideal for travelers and tourists. The Suite is equipped with elegant features that will surely make all their guests feel comfortable away from home. The Suite has it's own restaurant and serves deliciously mouth watering foods that will soothe each hungry tummy and palates.  It is located at Villa Kananga Road, (behind Capitol Grounds), Butuan City. For reservation or inquiries, you may call at  (085) 341-2000 loc. 121,                 (085) 342-4242,   (085) 225-9265.

Almont Inland resort
Guests will enjoy unfettered access to a myriad of historic, cultural, and tourist attractions. The resort offers a comprehensive compilation of accommodation options, designed with a traditional Filipino architectural theme that is carried over to the room decoration and appointments. The Manay Malaing Restaurant serves a fine assortment of authentic local and international dishes in a chic atmosphere. The Almont Inland Resort is perfect for guests who want comfortable accommodation in a fashionable area for a reasonable price.

Where to Eat:
Cafe Caliente

Cafe Caliente

Cafe Caliente is a cozy place suitable for any kind of traveler. Fill your soaring tummies with their delectable dishes or you may just sit and relax while zipping your newly brewed coffee. The cafe has one of the neatest cafes in the metro. It will surely give you a warm and safe ambiance with its neatness and simplicity. It is located at South Montilla Blvd., (in front of Rainbow of Angels Learning Center) You may call at (085) 342-7496 for reservation.

Balangahi Festival (May 19)
The Balangai Festival is one of the most awaited festivals in Butuan. It commemorates the coming of the early migrants that settled the Philippines, on board the Balangay boats. Butuan’s location on the coast has made it a trading point in Mindanao. Boats, or balangahais, are known to dock on the bay of Butuan mainly for trading between local inhabitants and those from the neighboring empire. An excavation during the 1970’s exposed these balanghais to the modern world, and these balanghais were found to be almost a thousand years old through carbon-dating. The Balanghai Festival commemorates this historical event through a night of exotic performances, colorful costumes and the much-awaited floats. There are also contests, exhibits and other festivities during the said event. Balanghai Festival is celebrated during the third week of May, and also coincides with the feast of their patron saint, St Joseph. Guests and tourists must wait for this festival as Butuanons unleash the relic of their culture through a festivity.