Zamboanga City, the Philippines third-largest city, serves as the bustling commercial and industrial hub of the southern region. The city is teeming with a thriving factory district, numerous businesses, shops, and markets where you can find a wide array of goods and services.
Referred to as “Asia’s Latin City,” Zamboanga City showcases a notable Spanish influence, more pronounced than in other parts of the country. At one point, Spanish was even an official language in Zamboanga City. The people of Zamboanga, known as Zamboangueños, take immense pride in their cultural heritage, which is evident in their food, language, and architectural styles.
It is important to note, however, that Zamboanga City doesn’t receive many foreign tourists due to its proximity to areas with ongoing conflicts involving guerilla groups in the southern Philippines. To maintain peace and security, the city has increased its security measures, with National Guard personnel stationed throughout, checking IDs and monitoring suspicious activities. As a result, travelers have recently been cautious about visiting. If you do decide to explore Zamboanga City, it’s advisable to do so in the company of a knowledgeable local who can guide you to the safest areas. The locals will likely be pleasantly surprised to see you.
1. Merloquet Falls
Some might contend that the most awe-inspiring waterfalls in Zamboanga City are the Merloquet Falls. This natural wonder appears as though an ancient ruin has been graced by a magical waterfall flowing through it, rather than a sheer wall of rocks. It’s undeniably breathtaking.
Enveloped by lush jungle, you’ll discover a refreshing pool of water fed by cascading tiers of rocky waterfalls. There are a few platforms beneath the grandest segment of the falls where you can treat yourself to a natural waterfall massage, or simply relax and listen to the soothing sounds of nature.
2. Fort Pilar
The Spanish influence is prominently evident in Fort Pilar, a 17th-century defensive fort constructed and utilized by the Spanish military.
Upon your arrival, you’ll be greeted by a spacious courtyard with a broad brick pathway leading to the majestic fortress, reminiscent of something from the Alamo. Fort Pilar is adorned with numerous gleaming white stars encircling an open-air shrine, of significance to Roman Catholics who believe that the Virgin Mary appeared here many years ago.
You are welcome to attend Sunday mass here to witness how the people of Zamboanga City engage in worship.
3. Paseo del Mar
Who does not appreciate a leisurely stroll along the water? Paseo del Mar precisely provides that, along with the presence of small shops, restaurants, and food carts for your perusal. Additionally, you will find Zamboanga City’s pride and joy, the Dancing Fountain, which shoots water into the air, captivating each passerby for a good minute or two.
From the boardwalk, you can admire the grand and little Santa Cruz Islands, as well as Basilan Island just to the south.
The evening is the ideal time to visit, as the weather isn’t excessively hot, and the lighting creates a romantic ambiance. There are police officers patrolling the area, so you needn’t be concerned about any sketchy situations.
4. Rio Hondo Village
Prepare for a cultural awakening when you explore Rio Hondo Village. Comprising a cluster of modest wooden houses built on stilts over the water, this village provides insight into the way a significant portion of Filipinos live under impoverished conditions.
Despite their humble dwellings, the residents of Rio Hondo Village are incredibly welcoming, particularly the children who pass their days fishing in small boats and frolicking in the water.
Take a stroll along the extensive boardwalk that weaves between the houses, where you’ll discover places to buy handicrafts and small shops offering the opportunity to support the local economy by purchasing snacks and beverages.
5. Pasonanca Park
Pasonanca Park is a natural haven nestled in the heart of Zamboanga City, offering the perfect setting for a full day of exploration.
Most visitors come to admire the charming Zamboanga Tree House, a structure dating back to 1963. As you ascend the stairs to enter, you cannot help but fantasize about experiencing treehouse living.
However, the highlight for your little ones will undoubtedly be the Pasonanca Kiddie Pool, complete with towering waterslides that send them splashing into a refreshing pool beside a natural waterfall. For the entire family’s enjoyment, there are three public pools, including an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a natural-flowing pool.
6. Nancy Falls
A journey to Zamboanga City wouldn’t be whole without an excursion to Nancy Falls. While riding in the back of a rugged Jeepney, the jungle landscape makes you feel like you’re in a scene from a Jurassic Park movie (perhaps the third installment).
Your destination is the foot of the waterfall, where a series of natural cascades converge into a refreshing pool at your feet. Feel free to take a dip. Wooden plank bridges allow you to venture through the lush surroundings, providing opportunities for exploration.
7. Yakan Weaving Village
Visit the Yakan Weaving Village, where you can witness the creation of vibrant textiles right before your eyes. These distinctive textiles may look familiar, as you have likely encountered them in the form of bags, jackets, and other items during your Philippines journey.
You’ll have the opportunity to buy various handicrafts, including intricately hand carved Basilian Pira Swords, bags, scarves, and textiles to serve as mementos. Since these goods usually lack price tags, be prepared to engage in friendly haggling to arrive at a mutually agreeable price with the vendor.
8. Bayangan Island
Divers do not miss out on the opportunity for an underwater adventure in Zamboanga City at Bayangan Island. Many tour shops in the city offer package tours at competitive prices, making it accessible for all. Underwater, you’ll enjoy excellent visibility and encounter a plethora of marine life.
If diving is not your thing, Banyangan has something for everyone. This unique island features a surprisingly wide sandy shoreline and a small jungle area at its center. It’s a clean and shaded space, perfect for those who enjoy climbing and exploration.
9. Caragasan Beach
A 30-minute Jeepney ride from the city will bring you to Caragasan Beach, a place that is beloved by the locals.
Here, you can relish the beach with its refreshing waters and coarse sand beneath your feet. You will witness a constant flow of boats arriving and departing, some carrying tourists and others transporting goods.
However, the highlight of Caragasan Beach is the night market! This vibrant market offers an array of the freshest seafood, vegetables, and local delicacies. The best part is that the prices are incredibly budget-friendly, allowing you to indulge to your heart’s content.
10. Canelar Barter Trade Center
It’s time to challenge your bargaining skills at Canelar Barter Trade Center. This covered market is brimming with stalls offering vibrant Filipino handicrafts and souvenirs to bring back. For the ladies, you will discover an array of dresses and traditional Filipina garments at every corner. For the gentlemen, there’s a fine selection of sunglasses, flip-flops, and a few clothing stalls.
Canelar Barter Trade Center specializes in doorknockers and manual doorbells crafted in the shapes of deer, oxen, chickens, and lions. This would undoubtedly make for a distinctive keepsake to take home.
11. Tagbilat Falls
If you’re ready for a 1-kilometer trek through the jungle that leads to a waterfall resembling a dam, why not explore Tagbilat Falls? It’s a good idea to bring a guide who can navigate the unmarked jungle trails, leading you to the natural swimming pool and towering waterfall. This destination, tucked away from the usual tourist paths, offers an authentic and unspoiled experience.
The locals are well-acquainted with these falls as they are close to town, and many tourists like to visit. Although it has gained popularity, you won’t find food vendors in this area. Remember to bring your own snacks and water, and don’t forget a change of clothes!
12. La Vista del Mar
Once you arrive, you’ll quickly understand why La Vista del Mar is a popular choice for weddings!
This spot is perfect for a romantic dinner with your loved one in a quiet and peaceful setting. La Vista del Mar, a seaside restaurant, offers breathtaking sunset views, a refreshing sea breeze in the evening, a charming boardwalk for a leisurely stroll, and, of course, a delectable menu that turns first-time visitors into regular patrons.
Be sure to try the tuna belly, Lapulapu sweet and sour, and vegetables cooked in coconut milk. You won’t be disappointed.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Zamboanga City: Best Areas & Hotels
Q: Is Zamboanga City safe for tourists?
A: Zamboanga City is generally safe for tourists, but it’s essential to follow safety guidelines and be cautious, just like in any other destination. It’s advisable to stay updated on the current situation and consult with local authorities or your embassy.
Q: What is the best time to visit Zamboanga City?
A: The best time to visit Zamboanga City is during the dry season, which typically spans from December to May. The weather is pleasant, and you can fully enjoy the outdoor attractions.
Q: Can I explore Zamboanga City on a budget?
A: Yes, Zamboanga City offers various budget-friendly options, from affordable accommodations to street food and local markets. It’s possible to have a memorable experience without breaking the bank.
Q: Are there any cultural festivals in Zamboanga City?
A: Yes, the Hermosa Festival is a grand celebration that takes place in October. It features colorful parades, traditional dances, and cultural exhibitions, providing a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture.
Q: How can I get to Zamboanga City?
A: You can reach Zamboanga City by air, with Zamboanga International Airport being the primary entry point. Alternatively, you can travel by sea, with ferry services connecting to other parts of the Philippines.