I experienced Basilan and it was a splendor of sumptuous seafood and flavorful halal dishes, uncrowded natural wonders and a melting pot of culture from people brimming with hope and promise. I think more than a decade a apart since my first visit was enough to see how Basilan has changed. I’m not here to erase the stigma that has attached to the province (as in with any other places) but to highlight the other side which not many people have seen yet. If you’re willing and have an open mind, a couple of cities in Basilan, namely Isabela de Basilan and Lamitan, are ripe and ready for tourism.
- Where is Basilan?
- Is it Safe to travel to Basilan during the Pandemic?
- How is the Peace and Order in Basilan?
- How to Get to Basilan
- Touring Around
- What to Expect
- Where to go
- Where to Stay
- Where to Eat
- What to Buy
- Travel Tips & Info
Where is Basilan?
Basilan is the biggest and northernmost island of the Sulu Archipelago found in Mindanao Philippines. Located south of Zamboanga Peninsula. Bounded by the Sulu Sea in the west and Moro Gulf in the East.
Is it Safe to travel to Basilan during the Pandemic?
Advisory: Due to COVID-19 Pandemic, logistics may change or differ at the time of writing. Make sure to check with Local Government Units on updates regarding restrictions and requirements when entering destinations.
Traveling to Basilan entails transiting to another city which is Zamboanga City. At the moment (September 24, 2021) ,active COVID cases vary in Zamboanga and Basilan – Isabela de Basilan (21), Lamitan (3) and Zamboanga City (1,101). While Basilan in general is low, Zamboanga city needs to manage their cases.
How is the Peace and Order in Basilan?
Peace and order has been the major concern for many prospective travelers to this province. 14 years ago on my first visit, we had military and police escorts when we were exploring Isabela City. This is also due to the election period where Basilan was a hot spot aside from the local insurgence during that time.
From my recent visit, Basilan feels different already. I feel safer and people were more welcoming. Not saying this because I was part of a tour group. But if you’re traveling for quite sometime, there’s this intuitive feeling of being on heightened alert on certain places like when I first visited the city. I no longer felt that and was much looser and at ease. Despite our large group, we didn’t have any military or police escorts with us during our stay.
With the recent developments like the establishment of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and the governments amnesty program for rebels, many of the rebels gave-up arms and availed of this program. More than 200 of these former rebels have started new life thus lessening the threat in the region.
As with any other place in the country, it’s always advisable to be cautious and alert when traveling.
How to Get to Basilan
Zamboanga City is the main gateway to Basilan. Currently, the city government requires and S-Pass QR Code to enter. The S-Pass can be secured through www.s-pass.ph. The requirements usually require a negative RT-PCR test and supporting documents depending on the purpose of travel.
Getting into Basilan, the Stay Safe App QR code is also required including all the supporting documents upon entry in Zamboanga. Again, requirements may vary depending on the purpose of travel.
Once these requirements are secured. There are regular ferries plying the Zamboanga to both Isabela de Basilan and Lamitan cities.
Ferry to Isabela de Basilan
Weesam Express has daily trips from Zamboanga City to Isabela de Basilan and vice versa. Travel time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.
|Zamboanga to Isabela||Isabela to Zamboanga|
|6:45 AM||6:45 AM|
|8:10 AM||8:10 AM|
|9:30 AM||9:30 AM|
|10:45 AM||10:45 AM|
|12:45 PM||12:45 PM|
|2:00 PM||2:00 PM|
|3:30 PM||3:30 PM|
|4:45 PM||4:45 PM|
|Passenger||Tourist class||First class|
|Senior Citizen/ PWD||P120||P155|
Weesam Express Zamboanga City:
Ferry to Lamitan
It is also possible to travel to Lamitan directly. Travel time is around 2 hours. Aleson shipping lines have trips from Zamboanga to Lamitan and vice versa.
|Zamboanga to Lamitan||Lamitan to Zamboanga|
|6:45 AM||7:00 AM|
|12:30 PM||9:30 AM|
|3:00 PM||3:30 PM|
This pandemic has definitely changed the way we travel. While DIY tours are possible, it’s much more cost-efficient to travel by groups and be in your own travel bubble. It is recommended to coordinate with the local tourism office on touring both Isabela de Basilan and Lamitan. They can suggest an itinerary and even customize tours that fit to your interest.
Lamitan City Tourism Office
Email. [email protected]
Outside Basilan, iTravel Tourist Lane, a Zamboanga-based travel and tours agency can also help in tours.
Email: [email protected]
What to Expect
There are three main ethnic groups in Basilan. The Muslim Yakans and Tausugs and the Christian Chavacanos. Chavacano, a Spanish-based language is widely spoken by many followed by Tausug. Tagalog, Cebuano and English are also understood so communication is not a problem.
Expect a gastronomical journey through flavorful and spice-enriched Maranao, Tausug and halal dishes. Seafood is fresh as it is abundant. People here seems to love snacks as I do so there are many local delicacies to enjoy.
Culture is rich in this island province. Basilan is blessed with two National Living Treasures or Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) awardees. Both Yakan, Ambalang Ausalin is an awardee for her Yakan weaving while Uwang Ahadas is recognized for preserving and promoting Yakan Traditional music.
Since tourist comes in trickles here, a lot of the natural attractions are still pristine from beaches to waterfalls. There’s a good mix of Christian and Muslim architecture.
Where to go
Basilan is a large province island consisting of 13 municipalities. For now we’ll focus on two municipalities. Isabela de Basilan and Lamitan as they have the proper infrastructure and are ready to welcome tourist.
Isabela de Basilan
The city of Isabela has a very interesting position. While it is part of the island province of Basilan, it is an independent city under the Zamboanga Peninsula region. It is not part of BARMM. The city is colloquially called Isabela de Basilan to differentiate the city from its northern counterpart in Cagayan.
What to see and do
- Malamawi White Beach – lovely strip of white powdery sand beach. Soft seabed, gentle waves and clear waters ideal for swimming
- Marang-marang Floating Cottage – be amazed by the seafood spread prepared by the Sama Banguigui. Notable were the langka salad, coconut-infused rice inside a sea-urchin shell okoy-okay, lambi shells, mangrove crabs, fish cakes and more.
- Marang-marang mangrove cruise – an exciting cruise on their native outrigger-less “pupet” boats
- Cabunbata Falls – an easy-access roadside multi-tiered falls
- Santa Isabel de Portugal Parish Cathedral – one of the two in the country with an ecclesiastical architecture. Features a post-modern mosaic of Christ and the apostles and stained-glass artwork on the facade.
- Masjid Geras – an imposing mosque in baranggay Sumagdang using natural cement in its artistic architecture.
- Meet GAMABA awardee Uwang Adahas.
- Visit a Rubber Plantation – Producing and exporting rubber is one of the major industry in Basilan. So there are plenty of rubber plantation to visit and its interesting to catch some of the workers harvesting rubber. The tree canopy and plantation are quite scenic too.
- School of Living Tradition – a hub for preserving Yakan tradition and way of life. From weaving, music and the arts.
- Sadlufun – A sunset boat tour along the channel between Malamawi Island and Isabela city. Ending at Jorge Strong blvd where a number of street food stalls are available.
The city of Lamitan is officially the capital of Basilan province. It has a hilly landscape and flat coastal areas. I noticed from our road trip a large portion is still heavily forested.
What to see and do
- Yakan Heritage Center – The place to learn more about the Yakan people and their beautiful tennun (weaving). Observe the step by step process on creating a design piece. Buy ready made yakan weaving and products. And maybe possibly meet GAMABA awardee Ambalang Ausalin
- Bulingan Falls – A unique looking natural waterfalls in Brgy Bulingan. The rock formation where the cascade falls looks like it handmade. It’s a low 21 feet but wide at 40 meters falls with a shallow swimmable basin. There are picnic areas in the park.
- Lamitan City Library-Museum – Funded by Lepeng Lee and was built in 1989. The library-museum serves as an archive for historical and cultural artifacts of Lamitan. Students and residents are also free to use the library and textbooks for educational purposes.
- Datu Kalun’s Park – Found at the center of the city, this triangle-shaped park was built as a tribute to the late Pedro J. Cuevas, commonly known as Datu Kalun. This is one of the earliest and easily accessible landmark in the city.
Where to Stay
Kasinnahan Hotel and Resort
This is where we stayed for two nights in Isabela de Basilan. Food was excellent. Rooms were comfortable and aptly spaced. They have a function room for events. Also a pool to enjoy for leisure. What I liked is the place is surrounded by trees.
Lower Lanote, Isabela City, Basilan
Email: [email protected]
I stayed here during my first visit in Basilan. It’s a wonderful place. Large rooms and vast farm environment.
Quexereta Formation Center
10 C.P. Garcia St., Isabela City
Contact: 0955.372.3809 | 0917.107.2620
Basilan Business Hotel
Magno St, Port Area, Isabela City
Email: [email protected]
Where to Eat
The Farm Grille
Mallari Street, Sunrise Village
Amazing ambiance. Open-air dining in a farm setting and gets more cozy when lights are lit in the evening. Excellent Maranao dishes. Their Chicken inasal and sisig where excellent. Couldn’t believe they were halal. Delicious Creamy burnt Cheesecake as dessert.
What to Buy
Shoppers would delight at the multitude of items and delicacies to buy here. Here are some suggestions
- Yakan Weaving
- Yakan weaving products
- Isabela souvenir blades like the barung and kris
- Basilan Coffee (excelsa)
- Basilan snacks and delicacies
Travel Tips & Info
- Basilan is multicultural. Do treat people with respect especially in terms of religious belief
- Make sure to dress appropriately when in the city. No sleeveless tops for both men and women when wandering in urban areas. Also no to extremely short bottoms. This applies especially on places of worship.
- Beach wear is fine when at the beach
- Liquor and pork are haram (forbidden) for the Muslims. Please don’t force them to even hold or touch.
- Smart is more reliable network here than Globe
- Greet “As-Salaam-Alaikum” and answer “Wa-Alaikum-Salaam” which means “peace be with you” for Muslims
- “Muchas Gracias” means thank you in Chavacano
- “Come ta! Manga ne! Kaon ta!” means let’s eat!
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.