It took me three visits to Tawi-tawi before I finally set foot on the famed Panampangan Island. It’s not an easy island to reach like most of the islands in the region. Hiring boats have a hefty cost especially for independent travelers. An invitation to cover the Kamahardikaan 2017 festivity includes a visit to the island. It was an opportunity that’s hard to pass. Panampangan Island is considered the longest sandbar in the country.
From Bongao, Tawi-tawi, we had a large speedboat to take us to the island. We’re a big party of more than 15pax which includes Mayor Que, his friends and relatives. Speedboat is the fastest means to the island. Our tavel time took only 45 minutes. On a regular motor boat, travel time can take 2–3 hours depending on the weather and sea conditions. Prices vary, but for reference, speedboat hire can cost up to Php 10,000 while regular boats charge up to Php 5,000 a day.
I asked a friend who was born in Tawi-tawi and grew up in the municipality of Sapa-sapa, where Panampangan Island is under, what the island’s name meant. Panampangan came from the word sampang which means in tagalog, sundo. In english, “to fetch”. Panampangan as a whole, means pagsalubong or “to welcome”. Indeed, as we approach the island, its stunning white sand beach extending on both corners of the island looks like wide open arms coming to welcome us.
Everyone on the boat were excited upon seeing the long strip of white sand against the sparkling aquamarine waters under mid-day sun. Panampangan Island have trees at its core which is a welcome shade for island visitors. The group of marines stationed on the island are also the ones in charge of the registration for guest. Basic cottages are now in place. Solar-powered lamps. Even a spartan accommodation for a night’s stay is possible. Visitors do have to bring their own food and potable water like we did.
There are many sandbars in the country but Panampangan Island is the longest at 3km as measured by Shadow1 Expeditions. It not only excels in length of beach but in my opinion has one of the finest and softest white sand beach I’ve been to. Other sandbars are made of crushed corals and shells but this one is real powdery. It extends to its shallow swimmable seabed making swimming in its clear waters a lot pleasurable. There were a few fishes here, healthy sea grass and lots of starfishes. I wonder how the corals and underwater here looks like. During low tide, one may able to visit the nearby stilt houses of the resident Badjaos in the area.
Our visit was short. If I had my way, I’d stay here for a night. Or just walk the whole length at low tide and swim to my heart’s content. This is a beautiful island and I’m somehow glad it’s not easy to go here.
Panampangan Island is 13 nautical miles away from Batu-batu, Panglima Sugala, the closest jump-off point from the Tawi-tawi mainland. If coming by the regular outrigger boat, travel time is at least two hours. Speed boats coming from Bongao only takes less than an hour. It is highly recommended to contact the Provincial Tourism Office of Tawi-tawi to coordinate visit to the island.
From Zamboanga City, you can also coordinate with the iTravel Tourist Lane for visit to the island.
iTravel Tourist Lane
Mayor Jaldon St., Canelar
Contact: (062) 991.1174
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.