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Tawi-Tawi Travel Guide: Mindanao’s Undiscovered Jewel


Enchanting Tawi-Tawi

As you may know, Tawi-Tawi is the southernmost province of the Philippines and part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao. Formerly part of the province of Sulu (until 1973), this 307-island province is yet to be put on the tourist map.

Read also: Exploring Zamboanga City

Scattered around the Sulu Sea and bordered by Sulu Sea in the North, Sulu in the North East, Celebes Sea in the South and East, and Sabah, Malaysia in the West, Tawi-Tawi is one of the least-known provinces in the country for travel and tourism. But when I set foot in this province, I know it has a lot in store. This is the 16th on my Project 81 list of Philippine provinces. With this, I was eager to discover this not-so-undiscovered pearl of the south.

Tawi-Tawi has now become accessible because of the Sanga-Sanga airstrip. The province opens its doors for tourists and locals alike to experience its wonders. Finally, I have set foot in the country’s “southernmost pearl” despite my family and friends telling me that going here is dangerous, but I proved them wrong.

Demographics and Fast Facts

Tawi-Tawi is believed to be derived from the Malay word “Jauh” meaning “far”. Early travelers would then repeat the word as “jauijaui” meaning “far away,” given its remote distance to the mainland.

Sheik Karimul Makhdum Mosque Simunul Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Sheik Karimul Makhdum Mosque, Simunul

The province is home to some indigenous people. Some of these groups are the Samas, the Tausugs, and the Badjaos. Tawi-Tawi holds the distinction, too, as the home of the very first mosque in the Philippines established by Sheik Karim ul-Makhdum, marking the start of Islamic faith in the country in Simunul Island.

Region Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM)
GPS Coordinates 5°12′00″N 120°05′00″E
Land Area 1,087.40 km² (419.85 mi²)
Municipalities (Barangays) 11 (203)
Time Zone GMT +8
Zip Code 7500 – 7509
Telephone Area Code +63 68
Spoken Languages and Dialects Вadjao-Sinama / Тausug / Zamboangueño Chavacano / Tagalog / English / Malay

Getting Here

Travel by air

Sanga-Sanga Airport | Turista Boy

Sanga-Sanga Airport

Tawi-Tawi can be reached by air and water. By air, there are two (2) regular flights to and from Zamboanga City via Cebu Pacific and one (1) daily flight via Philippine Airlines (as of December 15, 2019). The first flight from Zamboanga City is at around 0635 H and the last flight is at 1305 H (via CEB) and 0800 H (via PAL) arriving at Sanga-Sanga Airport. The flight is approximately only about 1 hour – 1.5 hours, including airport taxiing.

Travel by sea

Old Chinese Pier Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Old Chinese Pier, Bongao

By water, there are regular trips to and from the Zamboanga Port to Bongao Port or the Chinese Pier. Bongao is also the gateway to Malaysia through Semporna (which is approximately 4-5 hours away.) From Zamboanga, there are 3 regular trips to Bongao Port every week, just ask the personnel in Zamboanga Port for more details. The Chinese Pier also has daily trip schedules to the farthest islands of Tawi-Tawi, namely: Mapun (16 hours), Simunul (45 minutes), Sitangkai (4 hours), South Ubian (6 hours), and the Turtle Islands (12 hours), on designated time slots.

What to expect in this “Unexpected Paradise”

Upon arriving in either Sanga-Sanga (which is 15-20 minutes away from Bongao proper via a tricycle) or the capital municipality of Bongao, there are some key places that can be seen already, one of which is the revered “Bud Bongao” or Bongao Peak – the highest peak in the province at 314 meters (1,030 feet) above sea level.

When traveling, you can also have a look at Sanga-Sanga’s own Baywalk – a landstrip that connects Sanga-Sanga and mainland Bongao. You can also pay a visit at Mindanao State University’s Tawi-Tawi Campus in Sanga-Sanga.

Bud Bongao Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Bud Bongao

The main mode of transportation in the province is the tricycle. Fares range from around PhP 20 – PhP 50 (US$ 0.40 – 1.00) depending on the distance and each tricycle can carry up to four (4) people at a time. I can safely say that their tricycles are identical to that of those in Zamboanga City – spacious and decorative at that. Private cars are also present, especially in the town center of Bongao making the capital town more congested.

(photo by www.theworldbehindmywall.com) | Turista Boy

When I arrived in Sanga-Sanga, I was welcomed by one of the Tourism staff of Tawi-Tawi, Ma’am Nursida, or Ma’am “Sidang” as she likes to be called, in the airport’s tourism office. She then told me about what I can do during my stay in Tawi-Tawi.

Read more about the places I went and the things I did in Tawi-Tawi here!

We’re born to travel!

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