Zamboanga city earned the moniker “Asia’s Latin City”; old colonial edifices that are great reminders of the Spanish colonial era are still well-preserved here and are great tourist attractions. In addition, the Chavacano language which has survived for over 400 years is widely spoken in this lively city. Chavacano is the only Spanish-based creole in Asia and one of the oldest creole languages in the world.
Contrary to what is usually portrayed in the news, Zamboanga city is generally safe for tourists especially the downtown area where it is highly guarded by the police and military. The city is dappled by several shopping malls, restaurants, towering commercial buildings and tourist spots.
Here are some of the tourist attractions to visit in Zamboanga city:
1. Fort Pilar Shrine and Museum – This 1635 Spanish garrison is by far the most splendid fortress I’ve seen in the Philippines. The Royal Fort of Our Virgin Lady of the Pillar of Zaragoza houses the shrine of The Lady of the Pillar of Zaragoza, Spain the patroness of the city which is attached to the eastern wall. Visit the museum inside the fort which showcases artifacts from the sunken Grifim galleon, houseboats, fishing tools, indigenous marine life in Zamboanga, and musical instruments among others.
2. Vinta Ride at Paseo del Mar – the best spot to watch the stunning Zamboanga sunset. From this area the islands of Sta. Cruz and Basilan is visible. Paseo del Mar is a favorite hang-out of the locals; it is dotted with cement benches and a long walk way along the shore. You can also ride the vinta during Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 4PM to 6PM. Fee is Php 50 for adult, Php 20 for student and Php 15 for a child.
3. Sta. Cruz Island – this majestic pink-sand island off the coast of the Latin city is reachable by a 15 minute boat ride.
You can coordinate with the DOT office near the City Hall to hire outrigger boats.
4. Pasonanca Natural Park – the lush green surroundings and towering trees dotting the park makes it an ideal respite from the bustling city life. An old tree house used to be a main attraction here. Today, the aviary, the flower garden, the butterfly garden and the natural pools are frequented by visitors. It boasts of 600 different species of orchids.
How to get to Pasonanca Park:
Take a jeep with Pasonanca signboard. It takes 20 minutes from the cityproper, fare is Php 10.
5. Zamboanga City Hall and Rizal Park – the most splendid city hall I’ve ever seen was built by the Americans in 1905 and completed sometime in 1907.
6. Petit Barracks– a historic landmark developed into a splendid barracks for American Soldiers. This place used to be the Spanish troops’ headquarters until American forces came in.
7. Cawa-Cawa Boulevard (R.T Lim Boulevard) – another great spot to watch the sunset, this is a recreational place where locals get to hang out, run, jog or picnic.
8. Zamboanga Golf Course and Country Club – the oldest known golf course in the Philippines. It houses a public swimming pool.
9. Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception – this candle-shaped cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Zamboanga. It houses the Immaculate Conception statute designed by Napoleon Abueva, the National artist for sculpture.
10. Plaza Pershing – this old plaza named after the late Governor John “Blackjack” Pershing had a pretty good facelift, it now boasts of a splendid dancing fountain at night.
11. Climaco Freedom Park in Sitio Abong-Abong – has a majestic panoramic view of Zamboanga city. Abong-abong houses Mt. Pulong Bato, the city’s largest mountain. Freedom Park on the other hand is a burial site of the slain Mayor Cesar Climaco.
How to get to Mt.Pulong Bato in Sitio Abong-Abong :
You can charter a habal-habal (motorcycle) to take you to Mt. Pulong Bato in Sitio Abong-Abong from Pasonanca Park. Negotiate with the driver, but normally fare is Php 30.
12. Jardin de Maria Clara – named after the late Mayor Maria Clara Lobregat, this manicured park houses different flowers and butterflies and aviary.
13. San Ramon Penal Farm – established in 1869 in Zamboanga City for Muslim and political prisoners opposed to the rule of Spain, it is the country’s second oldest penitentiary.
14. Taluksangay Mosque and Village –this beautiful red-domed mosque is the first mosque in Zamboanga peninsula constructed in 1885 by Sama Banguingui Chieftain Hadji Abdullah Maas Nuno.
How to get to Taluksangay Mosque and Village
Ride a jeep to Taluksangay near Plaza Pershing. Fare is Php 14, travel time is about half an hour.
15. Rio Hondo Village – a Muslim village popular for its houses on stilts. Will write more about this place soon.
How to get to Rio Hondo:
Take a tricycle to take you to this Muslim village. It is highly suggested you introduce yourself to the Brgy. Captain at the Bgry. Hall. You can get assistance there to tour you around the village.
16. Bajau (Badjao) Village – known as the sea gypsies, they also live on houses on stilts.
17. Yakan Weaving Village – a recommended place to shop for souvenirs is the Yakan weaving center. The Yakan tribe is skillful weavers; the intricately designed hand-woven Yakan fabrics are sold here.
How to get to Yakan Weaving Village?
Ride a jeep to Upper Calarian, ask the driver if it will pass by Gate 2 ( do not board the jeep that will pass by Gate 1, it will not pass by in this village). Tell the driver you will get off at Yakan village and ask to be drop off there. Travel time is about 15 minutes, fare Php 10.
18. Zamboanga Barter Markets – There are 4 barter markets in the city: Canelar, BBC Shopping center, Port Area and Sta. Cruz Market. I was sable to visit Canelar because of my friend James who toured me around the city. It is the closest barter market near my guesthouse. This is an impeccable place to buy dirt cheap souvenirs. Colorful malongs, scarf, sarongs, bags, and batiks. This is also a place to shop for imported chocolates, coffee, candies and tea from Indonesia and Malaysia.
19. Camp Susana – dubbed as Zamboanga City’s Little Baguio
20. Merloquet Falls– one of the most scenic falls in Western Mindanao. Other waterfalls to visit in Zamboanga city are the Dulian Falls and Busay Falls.
How to get to Merloquet Falls?
Take a bus or van to Vitali. It may take 1 and a half hours to 2 hours to reach Merloquet Falls and fare is roughly Php 170. Tell the driver you will get off at Vitali checkpoint along the highway. Charter a habal-habal (motorcycle) to take you to the jump off point of Merloquet Falls. Walk to the shed where you need to pay the entrance fee of Php 5 per person, parking fee is Php 10 for motorcycle and Php 20 for cars or other vehicles. The Merloquet falls can be reached by foot for about 15 minutes.
21. Victoria Pader Cave – this splendid cave with underground river system is less frequented by tourists.