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Color it Zambo

Journey to the vibrant city of Zamboanga with this rundown of best things to do Ah, Zamboanga City. It’s a legitimate bowl of multiculturalism – Catholics, Muslims, a host of indigenous peoples, and foreigners live harmoniously

Journey to the vibrant city of Zamboanga with this rundown of best things to do

Ah, Zamboanga City. It’s a legitimate bowl of multiculturalism – Catholics, Muslims, a host of indigenous peoples, and foreigners live harmoniously in this place. Here, a jeepney will have both an image of Jesus and a passage from the Quran displayed on its dashboard. Events are started off with both a Catholic and Muslim prayer. Modern establishments housed within Spanish-period buildings. Traditional cuisine served in posh restaurants. These are commonplace in this town.

Yet in spite of its multicultural charm, Zamboanga gets a bad rap. And it’s often to the tune of “Is it safe to go there?” which gets asked every time the city comes up in conversations. This apprehension, one could say, is well-founded, what with the Zamboanga siege and the reports of wanton incidents. The thing is, Zamboanga City, because of its location along the Sulu Sea and the Moro Gulf, will always be vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean it is a place in a constant state of chaos. If anything, Zamboanga has gotten even more vibrant over the years – rising like a phoenix from the ashes of its past. As one fellow from Yorkshire puts it, “The Zamboanga Peninsula can be a challenging place and caution is always advised but, as is so often the case, the bad guys are in the minority, even though they do seem to get all the publicity!”

So, should you consider adding it to your 2019 travel plans, here are some activities you can do in the wonderful eco-cultural haven that is Zamboanga City:

Go on a walking tour

Start inside the age-old walls of Fort Pilar – Spain’s stronghold in Mindanao in the days of yore. On one side, the image of the Nuestra Señora La Virgen del Pilar de Zaragoza is enshrined. While this is decidedly Catholic, it is important to note that the image is venerated by Muslims too – another sign of the happy coexistence taking place within the city’s folds.

Plaza Rizal

Plaza Rizal

The Shrine of Nuestra Señora La Virgen del Pilar de Zaragoza inside Fort Pilar

The Shrine of Nuestra Señora La Virgen del Pilar de Zaragoza inside Fort Pilar

Zamboanga City Hall

Fort Pilar

Next is a stroll along the busy thoroughfares flanked by ancestral buildings and ancient acacias. The streets will eventually lead to the century-old city hall, where right across is the Plaza Rizal. Surrounding it are old structures converted into commercial establishments. Disregard the modern accouterments, and all will feel like a walk through the Spanish times.

Learn the art of weaving

Head over to the Yakan Village in Callarian – about seven kilometers from the city center – to witness the famed loomwork of the Yakan people. The Yakans, one of the many indigenous people that call Zamboanga City home, are known for their highly-valued weaves. A meter of the intricate pieces take at least a week to complete! In the village, you can try your hand at the weaving process, as well as purchase authentic Yakan woven products.

Yakan woven products

Yakan woven products

Experience the city’s natural treasures Zamboanga City is not lacking in beautiful landscapes and natural attractions. There’s Sta. Cruz Island with its famous pink shores, and Onçe Islas (literally “eleven islands”) with its string of white sand coves and islets. The former is touted as an eco-cultural destination, following a strict environmental, cultural, and tourism policy, as well as enjoining the local Sama Banguingui people to steward the islands.

Experience the city’s natural treasures

Zamboanga City is not lacking in beautiful landscapes and natural attractions. There’s Sta. Cruz Island with its famous pink shores, and Onçe Islas (literally “eleven islands”) with its string of white sand coves and islets. The former is touted as an eco-cultural destination, following a strict environmental, cultural, and tourism policy, as well as enjoining the local Sama Banguingui people to steward the islands.

Sea cliffs at Bisaya-bisaya island Once Islas

Sea cliffs at Bisaya-bisaya island Once Islas

Sandbar in Sirommon Island one of the Once Islas – Photo by Glen Santillan

Indulge in the gustatory experience

Being a hodgepodge of culture, Zamboanga offers an interesting gastronomic experience. There are Tausug delicacies like tiula itum (chicken ginger stew with burnt coconut) and fish utak-utak (salmon covered in shredded coconut) which you could sample over at Dennis Coffee Garden or Bay Tal Mal.

Zamboanga Lechon

Zamboanga Lechon

A plate of Tausug dishes called Iatal

A plate of Tausug dishes called Iatal

The omnipresent spanner crab lathered in Alavar Sauce is also a must-try. A different kind of breakfast in the form of Jimmy’s satti (grilled bits of chicken slathered with a spicy red sauce) should also not be missed. For you vegan homies out there, options like Vista del Mar’s “naked” salad with homemade vinegar dressing, and Tausug desserts like panggih-panggih (soft and chewy flour rings) and the purple pitis (glutinous rice boiled in coconut milk and brown sugar). There’s also the famous knickerbocker – fresh fruits with ice cream. And for something more familiar, there’s lechon (roast pig) along the streets of Sta. Maria and Tetuan.

Shop Malaysian

Yep, you read that right. Zamboanga City is so close to Malaysia that Malaysian products can be bought for cheap here. You can score coffee, spices, noodles, chocolate, White Rabbit (nougat candy with the edible wrapper), and canned goods at the Barter Trade Center in Canelar.

Malaysian Goods at Barter Trade Center

Malaysian Goods at Barter Trade Center

Where to Stay

Marcian Garden Hotel along Gov. Camins Road is a good home base when in Zamboanga City. It’s also just 300 meters away from the airport!

For inquiries and reservations, Contact +63 62 991-2519 to 21; +63943 128-9150; for more info, visit www.marcian-group.com/

For a hassle-free tour around Zamboanga City, contact Errold Lim of iTravel Tourist Lane at (0917) 722-6410. You may also check their Facebook @ZamboangaiTravelTouristLane