Once Islas | Discovering Zamboanga’s New Island Allures
Beachbums, it’s time for you to refresh your island getaway bucketlist because this new island-hopping destination in Mindanao is such a darling & undoubtedly deserves a spot on the top! Introducing, Once Islas in Zamboanga City.
Once Islas is a string of eleven beautiful islands dotting the wide Moro Gulf on the northeastern side of Zamboanga City. Surely, these islands have always been there since all one’s born days. But it was kept guarded as it waited for the perfect time to steal the limelight.
Trailblazing Once Islas
In July 2018, Once Islas officially opened its trails to tourism. Of the 11 islands, four are ready to receive guests: Bisaya-Bisaya, Buh-Buh, Baung-Baung & Sirommon. The Sama Bangingi communities of Panubigan & Dita manage this eco-cultural tourism property, supported by the LGU & tourism agencies.
I have long wanted to go to Once Islas. But sneaking in myself to the island just like how others did it in the past seemed difficult. Of course, I was also apprehensive of prematurely writing about it without the environmental guidelines in place yet. You know how it goes — paradise found is paradise lost.
Finally, I got the chance to visit it 2 months after its official opening. Taking a quick break from the frenzy of Hermosa Festival, we drove north for about an hour with the Department of Tourism leading our beach-hungry delegation.
In between applying reef-safe sunblock & lustful glances at the beach, our first order of the day was knowing the real state of Once Islas. And I was just as glad to have waited because it made me understand what took them so long to bring it out to the world.
Once Islas is more than just being a getaway pleasingly lost in time. It’s also about a sad footnote of conflict history that sunk the islands to anonymity. But it’s all over now. Once Islas is a wonderful story of how a community can rise above differences to better the lives of its people.
After a short sail from the mainland, we arrived at the sun-bleached shores of Bisaya-Bisaya Island. And surely, nothing impresses new comers like the sight of a beach swathed by pure white sand against a luxuriant line of coconut backdrop.
We hurried to the beach — some went for the kayaks & floaters. Others dove deep for a front row view of its luminescent underworld.
And as if its gorgeousness isn’t enough, a short hike to the other side of the island takes you to an expansive vista of the gulf. Here, nothing like a superlative rock wall fringing the endless slamming of waves makes you feel so small.
As the tides went low, we crossed to the other side of Bisaya-Bisaya & entered our own castaway movie set. On this spot, the island is created from a massive rock earth where at the middle is a tidal lagoon that looks out to the sea.
Smack dab right on a natural infinity pool was a feeling that you’d never want to be anywhere else, ever again.
But so much is said about Sirommon too, our next island on the list. There was the promise of a finer beach with a sandbar. Then there’s lunch of assorted seafood. So off we left this scenery that seemed plucked from a fairytale.
True enough, Sirommon greets its guests with a seascape that enchants the senses. But the thought of the freshest catch of the day was stronger than the tropical idyll. So we combed the wind-whipped grasslands for a promise of the best seafood to ever grace our lips.
Once Islas is a place that feeds on seafood culture and that is surely reflected on their daily island menu. Crabs, squid, fish, seaweeds — name it. It was a sinfully divine lunch & the squid ink on our lips proved it. Burp!
No doubt, Sirommon’s best allure is its sandbar. Indeed, this could be Once Islas’ highlight reel, because why not when it’s anyone’s castaway daydream spot.
Here, everyone got the chance to bask under the Zambo sun. While our toes flirt with the murmuring waves, we honestly thought of beer burrowed on the sand. But then again, alcoholic drinks have no spot anywhere else here. So ditch it for good & just enjoy the nothingness.
We were still on our way to Baung-Baung Island, passing through Buh-Buh & the other 7 restricted islands, yet Once Islas already won best in show.
Baung-Baung has the finest sand. Believe me, it’s the real powder-soft sand ever. It also has a hiking trail to the top of a hill where a 360-view awaits those who persevere.
I thought I had it all when I visited the famous pink sand of Sta. Cruz Island. But I was wrong. Once Islas is a beautiful addition to Zamboanga’s already laudable management of eco-tourism sites.
What’s one thing fantastic about it is the joy of hopping from one island to the next like a one-off experience of condensed adventures. And Once Islas could very well create that fun getaway, changing the way you explore Zamboanga City.
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Betwixt and between the arthritic 40 and a horrendous body mass index of positive 30, escapism and yummyeology are my real-life double post-graduate degrees conferred with the highest honors. I lived nearly half of my life in fancy suitcases, jetsetting between reality and fantasy... read more