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Cultural Destination

Tawi-Tawi | The Pearl of the South


Many have said that traveling to Tawi-Tawi is like braving the unknown. The seemingly endless conflicts, the savage seas, the unfamiliar faces, language & even the Sama folktales are just some of the luggage of issues that you carry when you go to this unpopular destination. But all of these did not dampen my spirit to experience the homeland of the culture that has always inspired me.


I was a young boy when I got formally introduced to arts. The Integrated Performing Arts Guild taught me the pangalay, the dance form that comes from Sulu region. I lived though it all of my dancing years & brought me to so many prestigious performance halls around the world. When I retired from performing, I promised to visit Tawi-Tawi, the birthplace of Islam in the Philippines.

So the journey begins.


Tawi-Tawi is a jagged island-province in the southernmost part of the Philippines. Pre-historic travelers used to call it jaui jaui or far away land. Charting your map, it is even nearer to the Malaysian State of Sabah than to any Philippine city. Do not be surprised if you hear radio broadcasts in Bahasa & if Malaysian Ringgit is accepted in many stores.


The best way to reach Tawi-Tawi is to fly from Zamboanga City. Commercial turbo-prop planes fly on low altitude allowing you to catch a clear aerial view of the natural spectacle below—a rosary of white sand hemmed islands & Bud Bonggao, the folklore-rich mountain fortress. After more than an hour on air, you will arrive at Sanga-Sanga Airport, the farthest airport down south of the Philippines.


It’s a surreal experience—minarets & sailboats silhouetted against the bleeding sunset, Arabic prayer chants & the gushing sea breeze orchestrated in the tranquil island. Instantly, I felt like I was in a time warp.


Tawi-Tawi is a fusion of cultures—the Muslim Malay, Arab & the minority Christians. They make up the Sama way of living. It is a unique culture shaped by centuries old of trading history with its neighboring Asian countries. The people speak Sinama and Tausug but are very courteous to non-locals with their handy Filipino & English.


They are a peaceful group of Muslims whose culture is woven into their lives at sea. Communities here are closely-knit and their houses are built on bamboo stilts connected by footbridges. A lifestyle that is uncomplicated.


The great influence of Malay art is visible even in their everyday living. Cultural festivals are euphoric for its play of colors, the melodic brass gongs & unique wooden xylophones called kulintang akayo. They take pride in its well-preserved ancient dance form called pangalay.


Tawi-Tawi, just like the treasured south sea pearls, has a distinct old-world charm. Its luster glistens—-timeless & opulent.


Going There (From Zamboanga City)


By Plane – Cebu Pacific flies to Sanga-Sanga Airport in the capital town of Bonggao. Check the web ( for tariff and schedule.

By Boat – Wessam Ferry will take you an overnight trip. The sea’s waves can be unforgiving sometimes. Schedules vary according to weather condition.

Getting Around


By Tricycle – It’s easy to hail a tricycle & they take you to almost anywhere in Bonggao.

By Motorcycle – If you’re not carrying so much during your tour, most recommended is to hire a single motorcycle. It’s fast & it can weave through traffic easily especially in the crowded market area.

By Motorcycle – If you’re not carrying so much during your tour, most recommended is to hire a single motorcycle. It’s fast & it can weave through traffic easily especially in the crowded market area.


Hotel Accommodation

Tawi-Tawi is not a popular tourist destination. It is expected that there are not many choices but the ones that exist are guaranteed clean & modest.

Beach Side Inn – This is along the coastal road. Sowangkagang, Bonggao. +63 68 2681446.

Rachel’s Place Hotel – Located at Ilmon Street in the heart of the busy downtown Bonggao. +63 68 2681248.

Hotel Juana – Right infront of its biggest department store in Bonggao, along Datu Halum Street. +63 68 2681018.



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