I would be lying if I say I wasn’t jittery when I got the invite to fly to Zamboanga Peninsula (ZamPen) during the cusp end of summer. Well, I was. Scheduled to travel to the headland’s most progressive cities – Zamboanga, Dapitan and Dipolog, I’d admit that I was feeling both excited and tensed, but more uneasy than thrilled to be honest. “It’s rare and without equal destination,” assured a friend who has been to ZamPen several times as a tourist. I had to take him at his word just to make me feel relaxed and a bit eager.
As they say, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and Zamboanga City had me at first bite. Immediately headed to lunch right after I arrived in Zamboanga where I converged with fellow travel bloggers. We were welcomed with a feast at Zamboanga City’s best – the famous Alavar’s Restaurant where we had kilos of Curacha in Alavar Sauce! The food’s definitely delightful, and sharing the banquet with great people made the anxious feeling go away, making me feel at ease.
Located in the southwestern tip of Zamboanga Peninsula, Zamboanga City is the third largest city by land area in the county. Being a first timer in the metropolis, it was just fitting that El Museo de Zamboanga was our stop after lunch, which gave me a briefer of Zamboanga’s history and its people. The museum is located in Pasonanca Park and is closely situated to other attractions like Pasonanca Science Museum, Jardin Maria Clara and Butterfly Sanctuary.
Scout Limbaga is also in Pasonanca Park, making it an easy and obvious stop right after. This complex has a tree house which may be used by guests free of charge, but prior reservation may be required.
Next stop, the city center. The beautiful Zamboanga City Hall is considered to be a National Historic Site. The city government building and the streets of Rizal, NS Valderosa and Zaragoza are reminiscent of the Spanish epoch that looked like scenes from Filipino period films. After a quick stroll around, we then headed to the tip of NS Valderosa Street to check out Fort Pilar Shrine. The Real Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza, or more popularly called Fort Pilar, is a 17th-century military defense fortress built by the Spainiards. The fort is a regional museum and is a major landmark of the city. Outside the eastern wall is a shrine of Our Lady of The Pillar, the patroness of the city.
Our last stop before dinner is the Canelar Barter Trade Center. This is where we hoarded packs of Maggi Kari, imported candies and chocolates from Indonesia and Malaysia at fairly low prices. Canelar Barter Trade Center is a pasalubong haven to buy goods like imported and local food items, weaved wallets, printed shirts and dresses, and many other souvenirs.
The second day highlights are visits to the famous Sta. Cruz Island and Yakan Weaving Center. We first went to check out the stingless jellyfishes and harvest fresh sea grapes at the Sta. Cruz lagoon before enjoying the rest of the morning swimming at the pink beach. We also tried paddling a vinta, which by the way was sooo laborious, but a great experience nonetheless.
Then we headed to a boodle fight lunch at Sta. Cruz’s Pink Beach before swimming. Just to set your expectation, Sta. Cruz’s Pink Beach may not be as pink as you hope at first glance. Up close though, you’ll see lots of red and pink specks. The pink hue is created from thousands of broken coral pieces, shells, and calcium carbonate materials left behind by tiny marine creatures with red and pink shells that live around the island. Our guide mentioned though that when the sand and water gets hit with the right amount of light, the shore blushes like pink lemonade. That I would want to see. <3
After Sta. Cruz Island, we went to the Yakan Weaving Center where we connected with one of the major indigenous Filipino ethnolinguistic groups in the Sulu Archipelago – the Yakan people. The tribe is known as dream weavers, famous for their multicolored and intricate weave pieces. During your visit, be sure to buy a piece – even just a wallet or a placemat. It will greatly help support the art and the tribe’s source of living.
Zamboanga City’s Unique Food
The food in Zamboanga City is in itself an adventure. Zamboanga City’s cuisine has by far the most unique flavor notes and tones from the places I’ve been to in the Philippines.
One of the most interesting dishes I tried is the Tiulah Itum. It is a robust beef stew and goat stew darkened with roasted coconut. Smokey and earthy with a kick of spiciness, tiulah itum is still one of the most distinct flavored dishes I’ve tasted.
Of course, Curacha in Alavar Sauce is a must try when in Zamboanga City. Curacha is a local Chavacano name for the hybrid crustacean which is believed to be a crossbreed of a large sea crab and a big spiny lobster. And the best way to enjoy it is in Alavar’s where they cook it with their special signature sauce.
Pastil is similar to empanada but stuffed with bihon. The best way to eat it is by hand, dipping it in sauce made with vinegar, fish sauce and chili.
Satti or satay in Zamboanga is prepared differently too. It’s sticks of skewered chicken, pieces of hanging rice or “puso” with overflowing satti sauce.
Daral is ‘bukayo’ or caramelized coconut meat wrapped in crepe-like wrapper made from cornstarch and egg.
Lokot lokot is a crunchy golden brown delicacy made by frying the batter and manually rolling it as it hardens. It got its name from the strenious process of rolling it as it cooks.
Knickerbocker is Zamboanga’s version of the all-time Filipino favorite halo-halo. It’s made with fruits, jellies and topped with strawberry ice cream.
Zamboanga City has this stigma that’s it’s not at all a safe place to sojourn to. I had to learn through experience that like other destinations in the world, one should always be attentive and careful when traveling. That way, you’ll be out of harm’s way and enjoy unfolding the new city’s exquisite beauty.
Two days may be short to deeply get to know Zamboanga City, but just about a good length of time to get introduced to its wonders. I should say, most of the places we’ve toured and the food we tried on this trip were unique to Zamboanga City. Truly a stunning destination offering an exclusive city experience waiting to be explored. 😉
Posting the Part 2 of my Zamboanga Peninsula adventure soon! 😉