A Family Vacation in Zamboanga City

A Family Vacation in Zamboanga City

We were in the middle of our boodle fight lunch during our Once Islas Tour when Akira said, “Nanay, I love Zamboanga. This is the best day ever!” Everyone, including our newfound friends from the tour, was surprised by his remark. We all laughed in unison, I then told him, “The best is yet to come, my love.”

Zamboanga City Family Vacation

Zamboanga City Center
Zamboanga City Tours         
   • Once Islas Island Hopping Tour         
   • Sta. Cruz Island        

Zamboanga City isn’t really on top of people’s mind when they think about traveling in the Philippines. In fact, people who actually don’t know anything about Mindanao constantly ask us why we chose to travel there with our three-year-old son.

The name Zamboanga was derived from the Subanon or Malay word jambangan which means a pot or place for flowers. The name was presumably used in reference to when the Malays discovered the place blooming with flowers. Zamboanga City is a highly-urbanized city in the southernmost part of the Zamboanga Peninsula and is the third largest city in the Philippines. It is dubbed as Asia's Latin City partly because of the local Chavacano language, a Spanish-based creole that is spoken widely here, and also of the numerous Spanish influences that can be seen in the city.

Mactan Cebu International Airport

For Christian and I, who’s been to Zamboanga City a few times before, we know that it is far from how it’s portrayed by some. The fact that police visibility isn’t high means that it’s safer than other cities. It’s probably more dangerous to walk on your own at night in some parts of Metro Manila.

Zamboanga International Airport

It was two weeks before this trip when Christian and I realized that there was an upcoming long weekend. And since we booked a lot of Cebu Pacific Air Super Pass vouchers, we explored our options and found a number of flights going to Zamboanga City that can be redeemed, and so we did.

We didn’t plan much on this trip and just consulted with Zamboanga’s itravel Tourist Lane travel agency to take care of our tours.


It was noontime when we arrived at Zamboanga International Airport and we went out to check out our options to go to our hotel. There were taxi cabs, tricycles, and jeepneys. We opted to hire a tricycle and the negotiation started. We ended up paying ₱150 for a two-kilometer ride which was okay because there were three of us and the traffic was so bad at that time.

Zamboanga City Pueblo Downtown

The tariff for tricycles in Zamboanga City is ₱20 for the first kilometer and ₱5 for every succeeding kilometer. But in reality, what happens is that you pay for a special ride fare. The typical charge would start from ₱100 and it goes up if it’s nighttime. We asked some locals about it and we were told that the same rates also apply to them.

Going around the pueblo is easy as there are jeepneys that go around downtown. We’re so fortunate that our hotel is just two kilometers from the city center and there area jeepneys that goes straight there for just ₱10. The only downside was that the jeepneys on that route are only until 8:30PM.


There are many lodging options in Zamboanga City and we chose to stay away from the city center since price are lower on its outskirts. We booked a room at Two Seasons Executive Suites online and got a great deal for around ₱800 per night.

Two Seasons Executive Suites Zamboanga Hotel

The room was basic—a bed, TV, AC, and bathroom. The bathroom needs a total upgrade as some of the fixtures were broken. The room was small for the three of us and there were no chairs or table we can use, so we requested for those. We didn’t mind the inconvenience though ‘coz we know that we’ll be just staying there during the night.



Zamboanga City is a melting pot of Spanish, Malay, Chinese-Chavacano, and Muslim cultures so you can just imagine its diverse cuisine. Food is actually one of the main reasons why I love to go back here. I will dedicate a separate article for our Zamboanga City Food Trip.

Zamboanga City Satti


After settling at the hotel, we went to the Canelar Barter Market by jeepney. The building itself was built in 1983 but I'm sure that the barter trading—or the exchange of goods and services—was practiced even before that. Actually, according to a local, the practice still exists now.

Canelar Barter Market is famous for its batik textiles, souvenir items, and Malaysian products. This is frequented not only by tourists, but by locals and people from other neighboring island provinces as well.

Canelar Barter Market Zamboanga City

Christian bought egg noodles for our mee goreng fix at home while Akira grabbed some gummy oranges—totally ignoring the hundreds of Apollo chocolate products. I was trying to look for an oversized batik top, similar to one I bought here some years back, but I couldn’t find any interesting print.

We finished shopping at five in the afternoon and we then took a jeepney that sent us to pueblo. From there, we strolled along the roads that led us to Plaza Pershing and then to the Zamboanga City Hall. It was a very relaxed Friday afternoon in the city center.

Zamboanga City Hall

The memories from my first ever Zamboanga City trip in 2012 were that of an old town with local shops and restaurants. For this trip though, I was surprised when I saw not a few famous restaurant chains, malls, shops, and even a Starbucks along the city. Christian and I were both laughing at that last one, Starbucks doesn’t even have any branch in Malabon City where we currently live. That being said, I still love the old and the new vibe of the city which I can somehow compare to Malaysia’s UNESCO World Heritage City, Penang.

Zamboanga City McDo

We arrived at Paseo del Mar at sundown. We had some chips and fishballs to snack on as we watched the gorgeous sunset together with the locals. It was the perfect way to end our day.

The word paseo in Spanish means leisurely walk and del mar means from the sea. This is a usual hangout place for locals where they enjoy good food, a nice view, and entertainment from live bands.

Paseo del Mar Zamboanga City

I remember back in 2012, there was a Gyrating Musical Fountain at night and it was actually one of the go-to places for locals and tourists. Unfortunately, the said fountain is now derelict. Some structures are also now built around it—a stage, a playground, a skate park, and a grassy field. I love how the local government provided something like these for its constituents. I wish we have parks like this in Manila.

Paseo del Mar Zamboanga City

Just right outside Paseo del Mar is the National Museum - Zamboanga City. We didn’t get to visit it though as it was a weekend when we were there. We then went to the nearby open-aired church, Our Lady of the Pilar Shrine.

Akira was so fascinated on seeing the church and the people offering vigil candles. Our visit coincided with a church service and at the end of it, he saw that some kids were paying their respects to the priest by means of pagmamano. He followed suit, went in front, and blessed on the priest.

Our Lady of the Pilar Shrine Zamboanga City

On our way back to the hotel, we passed by Petit Barracks Night Market where some stalls were selling different stuff from used clothing, toys, shoes, and more. There’s also an area where they sell drinks and local foodstuff. The place is reminiscent of the famous second-hand stalls at night along Harrison Road in Baguio City.

Petit Barracks Night Market Zamboanga City

The day before we left, we went to the Rainbow Mosque, The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and then the R.T. Lim Boulevard. On the way to the boulevard, we passed by some universities and food places.

Rainbow Mosque Zamboanga City

The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Zamboanga City

A row of tables and chairs lined the end of R.T. Lim Boulevard. We decided to hang around and eat balut and beef chicharon. The food prices were understandably higher because of the view of the bay but nonetheless, it’s one of the best spots for sunset viewing in Zamboanga City.

R.T. Lim Boulevard Zamboanga City

We then walked our way to the other end of the boulevard. There were quite a few locals enjoying the night. We also saw some men busy with night fishing.

R.T. Lim Boulevard Zamboanga City

We then took a jeepney that brought us to the Zamboanga Public Market along the city center. It was extremely busy and there were a lot of interesting foodstuff. We bought some for dinner and then went back to our hotel.

Given more time, we’d explore more of the city and also bring Akira to more parks in town, like Pasonanca Park. But that’s always a good reason to come back in the future.



itravel Tourist Lane, Zamboanga’s premier travel agency which specializes in group walks and adventure tours, assisted us on two of our Zamboanga tours— the Sta. Cruz Island Tour (Pink Sand Beach) and the Once Islas Island Hopping Tour.

What we love about them was that everything was taken care of. We needed not register or whatever, we were asked days before our trip for copies of our IDs as well as vaccination cards for the tours and then all we needed to do was show up.

Zamboanga City McDo

The tour package fees will depend on the number of tourists. So if you go solo, it’s more expensive as compared to when you’re traveling with a big group. Food, or more like a feast, were also included on both tours.

Once Islas Island Hopping Tour

We woke up super early on our second day in Zamboanga City for our scheduled tour. We were picked up by itravel Tourist Lane at seven in the morning and the first thing I noticed was how spacious and comfortable their van is. We were greeted by their chief guide, Errold, and we then went to a downtown hotel to pick up our companions for the tour.

We hit it off right away as soon as the three twenty-something yuppies hopped in the van. We all automatically clicked as we talked about our travels and random life stories.

We arrived at Barangay Panubigan after an hour of traveling. This was the jump-off point to our island-hopping adventure. Everything was taken care of, like the registration and those stuff, so all we did was wait for our assigned boat.

And we were soon on our first stop, Baung-Baung Island, which was named after a bao or coconut shell.

The boat that we used was also the one that was used by another group to transfer to another one. Apparently, we do not retain the same boat for the day which is actually good as the shoreline wouldn’t be packed with them that you couldn’t freely swim.

Baung-Baung Island Once Islas Zamboanga City

We were given instructions by our guide Errold on where to swim and what can we possibly do on the island in the one hour that was given to us.

As soon as we settled on one of the nipa huts, Akira went to a swing made from an old tire. He then gathered his sand toys and started to make sand castles.

Baung-Baung Island Once Islas Zamboanga City

We were treated with fresh coconuts as we were relaxing on our beach mats. It was the perfect way to hang around on the beach that beautiful morning. We spent about an hour here and then hopped on again on a boat to our next destination.

Our next island was Bisaya-Bisaya Islet which is actually the neighbor of Bisaya-Bisaya Island. Our guide told us that we will spend around fifteen minutes on the islet.

Bisaya-Bisaya Islet Once Islas Zamboanga City

Its main attraction is a natural tide pool. Akira was surprised to hear the word pool and expected to see those tile-laden pools in hotels—I explained to him what a natural pool is.

The area was surrounded by towering rock formations and we reminded each other to be careful because it was slippery. Huge waves were crashing onto the island—which probably created the magnificent natural rock formation. It somehow reminded me of the Kapurpurawan Rock Formation in Ilocos Norte.

Bisaya-Bisaya Islet Once Islas Zamboanga City

The next island was the nearby Bisaya-Bisaya Island. You could actually walk your way there during low tide because of the sand bar that forms as the tide ebbs.

Bisaya-Bisaya Island Once Islas Zamboanga City

We settled on one of the nipa huts and were informed by Errold of our schedule.

First on the itinerary was a hike to the other side of the island. We were brought by the guides to the far end of the shore where boulders started to form. Akira was so game that we didn’t hear any protests from him even if the noon sun was directly above us.

Bisaya-Bisaya Island Once Islas Zamboanga City

There were huge karsts along the way and Akira was so amazed by them.  After his ooohs and wows, he said that he was ready to go back to the sandy shore and swim.

Bisaya-Bisaya Island Once Islas Zamboanga City

We stayed for a little while as we watch giant waves hit the rocky areas. At this point, I explained to Akira how the rock formation was formed naturally by the crashing waves.

Bisaya-Bisaya Island Once Islas Zamboanga City

Our boodle fight-style lunch was waiting for us when we got back to our nipa hut. The first thing that Akira noticed was the banana leaf. He was so amazed at how it was used as a buffet spread and plate as well.

We feasted on grilled tuna, grilled squid, steamed crabs, grilled pork, green mangoes with bagoong, veggie salad, watermelon, banana, and of course, steamed rice wrapped in banana leaves. Assorted dips and sauces were also available as well as drinking water. The food was so good that two servings of rice for each person were the minimum portion for that day.

Zamboanga Itravel Tourist Lane Travel Agency

Stories of travel, work, life, and anything in between were exchanged while we enjoyed the fresh seafood. It was fun to actually spend time with people who share the same passion as yours. The chitchat seemed unending, so Akira asked me if he could swim on his own. Everyone laughed as his remark actually prompted us for our time to frolic under the sun.

Bisaya-Bisaya Island Once Islas Zamboanga City

The view of fine white sand and clear water against the bright blue sky was reminiscent of our life during our three weeks in Boracay last year.

Akira was so happy. And that made us, of course, very happy. He quirked, “Nanay, I love Zamboanga. This is the best day ever!”

I dunno where he heard that phrase or whether he fully understood what it meant but we didn’t really want to overthink, we were just savoring this very raw emotion from this curious toddler.

The Great Sta. Cruz Island Tour (Pink Sand Beach)

We're on our third day in the city when we embarked on another adventure, a trip to the famous Zamboanga Pink Sand Beach. Officially called The Great Sta. Cruz Island, it's an inhabited island in Zamboanga City—a twenty-minute boat ride from the city port near Paseo Del Mar.

Zamboanga City Port

I had the chance to visit this island back in 2012 and it is one of the few pink sand beaches in the world. I had the opportunity to visit Komodo Island in Indonesia back in 2016 and they have the same red organ-pipe corals that when crushed make the sand look pink when viewed from afar.

We were picked up by the van from itravel Tourist Lane and brought to Paseo del Mar, the jump-off point for our excursion. Again, everything was taken care of, such as the registration and fees, so all we needed to do was join a quick briefing about the rules and regulations on the island.

We hopped on our assigned boat and went to our first stop. Small Sta. Cruz Island is the sister island of The Great Sta. Cruz Island. It has a sand bar that can be visited during low tide but the island itself is off-limits to tourists.

Small Sta. Cruz Island Zamboanga City

Akira, as always, was ready to swim. We were advised though that the current here is stronger as compared to Once Islas so it’s better to swim on the main island.

Back in the boat, we went to visit a local community at the back of Sta. Cruz Island. We did a Lagoon Tour or the Yellow Boat Adventure where we get to learn about the life cycle of mangroves. The local guide was quirky and made fun comments about the Mangrove Forest.

Great Sta. Cruz Island Mangrove Forest Zamboanga CIty

We also went to the Non-Stinging Jellyfish Sanctuary where we were shown the stingless jellyfish and how we can properly hold them. I had my first stingless jellyfish experience in Bucas Grande, Surigao Del Norte in 2013 and it’s nice to see Akira so engrossed with the tour.

Stingless Jellyfish Zamboanga CIty

We also got to try the freshest sea grapes seaweed, or arocep in our native language in Zambales, and Akira couldn’t help but finish the ones we harvested. This is as fresh as it gets.

Sea Grapes Zamboanga CIty

We also had so much fun riding a vinta—the iconic colorful Zamboanga boat. Akira tried to row it on its own to no avail. But when we helped him, it moved.

Zamboanga City Vinta Boat

We also did a quick trip to the Old Badjao Cemetery where burial sites were decorated with small wooden boats and other carved objects as grave markers. It’s still used as a cemetery, but they no longer allow people to bury new ones in anymore.

Old Badjao Cemetery Zamboanga City

At this point, Akira asked me, “When are we swimming, Nanay?” It was so funny how long he’d have to endure before he could go and take a dip.  So, we settled on our cabana and went to the shore to let him see the pink sand. He then said, “Nanay, this is not even pink!”

Great Sta. Cruz Island Pink Sand Beach Zamboanga City

We had to tell him that it won’t be the same shade of pink as his crayons back home, but its appearance from afar does make it appear a bit pink. He then went to the water and took his much-awaited swim.

Great Sta. Cruz Island Pink Sand Beach Zamboanga City

The water was clear and the seabed was somewhat rough because of the coral stones. The water current was also strong and we were advised not to go too far from the shore.

After an hour, we went back to our cabana where lunch was waiting for us.

Zamboanga City Seafood Alavar

We feasted on grilled fish and squid, crabs, prawns, chicken skewers, watermelon, green mangoes, and steamed rice. What made everything special was the sauces and dips, especially the famous Alavar sauce. The sautéed shrimp paste was really good and has a hint of coconut cream.

Zamboanga Itravel Tourist Lane Travel Agency

There’s also canned fruit juices, purified drinking water, liquid soap, hand sanitizer, tissue napkins, and wet wipes. It was more of a luxurious lunch treat with a great view of the beach. And with the theme of sustainable travel, we were each handed reusable tumblers with our names printed on them. It was such a cute treat for the guests.

Great Sta. Cruz Island Pink Sand Beach Zamboanga City

As we were heading back to the port on board our boat, I felt so happy that we are slowly getting back to what we love to do, traveling. And now with our son in tow too. I hugged him tight and told him that I am so happy to get to experience this adventure with him. The trip made me feel so alive that it transported me back to my Cebu-Bohol trip, the first-ever trip that I organized in 2011. I went back to that day when I realized that I found my passion. It feels great to do the things you love and share them with the people you love the most who share the same passion as yours.


iTravel Tourist Lane
Address: Mayor Jaldon St., Canelar, Zamboanga City
Contact Number: +63 (917) 722-6410 | +63 (939) 445-6290 | +63 (917) 392-9474
Email: info@itraveltouristlane.com
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