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Tawi-Tawi – Exploring the wonders of undiscovered Mindanao

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Discovering the undiscovered Tawi-Tawi

When my interest in traveling to Mindanao grew, the first province that got into my mind was Tawi-Tawi. Many of my friends, family, and officemates asked me the same question, “Why, Tawi-Tawi? It is not a safe place.” As the adventurer in me persisted, all I had to do is go and experience the place.

I proved them all wrong.

Bud Bongao Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Bud Bongao Summit (2024)

Bud Bongao Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Bud Bongao Summit (2016)

Read also: Tawi-Tawi Travel Guide: Mindanao’s Undiscovered Jewel

What you need to know about Tawi-Tawi

Scattered around the Sulu Sea, Tawi-Tawi’s 307 islands are filled with different, and sometimes, unexpected tourist spots that are ready to surprise everyone who will visit. As it is not that visited by tourists, I now had the interest of exploring some of the popular tourist spots in this island province.

Tawi-Tawi Provincial Capitol | Turista Boy

The Tawi-Tawi Provincial Capitol

One hour by air from Zamboanga City, Tawi-Tawi never failed to surprise me the moment I touched down at Sanga Sanga Airport. It was a humbling and, honestly, a heart-pounding experience because it is now my second time visiting the province alone.

The archipelago province is paradise. Though small in terms of geography, it boasts a lot of sights waiting to be discovered. As it is really far from any part of mainland Philippines, the adventure in Tawi-Tawi is different and I am lucky enough to experience it first hand.

Places to See and Things To Do in Tawi-Tawi

Here are some of the sought after (and not-so-usual tourist spots in Tawi-Tawi):

Bongao

Sanga-Sanga Airport

Sanga-Sanga Airport Bongao Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Sanga-Sanga Airstrip with Bud Bongao as background

Considered to be the southernmost airport in the Philippines, Sanga-Sanga Airport is one of the main (and the easiest) gateways to the province. With two airlines servicing the strip, there are daily flights to and from the province. You can check flight schedules on my Tawi- Tawi Travel Guide here! <https://turistaboy.com/tawi-tawi-travel-guide>

Downtown Bongao

Radjiki Boulevard, Bongao, Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Radjiki Boulevard, Bongao

The province’s capital and center of trade and commerce, Bongao is probably the busiest place in Tawi-Tawi. With narrow roads and shops and stores that are near each other, Bongao bustles everyday with local produce and some products from neighboring Malaysia.

Old Chinese Pier

Chinese Pier Bongao Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Not that the Old Chinese Pier is a prime tourist spot in Bongao, but this place is of significance because it is where products to and from Zamboanga, other parts of Mindanao, and Malaysia come and go.

From old-fashioned boats to new modern ones, this pier is also the gateway to the islands of Sibutu, Sitangkai (a.k.a. ‘Venice of the South’), and Semporna Port in Sabah, Malaysia.

Surrounded by houses on stilts and small stores and eateries, this is the center of Tawi-Tawi’s trade and commerce. Trips in this pier vary and you should ask every boat where it would go. If you are planning to visit Sibutu and Sitangkai, ask your guide beforehand for the schedule.

Tawi-Tawi Provincial Capitol

Tawi-Tawi Provincial Capitol | Turista Boy

The Tawi-Tawi Provincial Capitol resembles that of a grand mosque (as Islam is the predominant Religion in the province) and is colored white and gold. The provincial capitol also sits on top of a hill and you can see a view of downtown Bongao, the Sulu Sea and the nearby islands on a clear day. This building has become a tourist spot on its own.

Badjao Village

Badjao Village Bongao Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Badjao Village, Bongao

Little do people know, the famous Badjao Village of Tawi-Tawi is also a tourist attraction because the houses are built atop a river and each house is connected via a vast and complex network of wooden bridges. This is also where the movie “Thy Womb” of Filipino actress Nora Aunor and Brillante Mendoza was shot. This village also shows the characteristic of the Badjaos that they are water dwellers, thus earning the moniker “Sea Gypsies.”

Badjao Village Bongao Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Tepoh Weaving, Badjao Village, Bongao

One of their livelihoods is weaving. The locals weave dried pandan leaves with a technique locally known as tepoh with different colors creating interesting banig patterns. These banigs are usually used as sleeping mats and rugs during prayers. Luckily, I witnessed an old woman weaving during her pastime (but unfortunately haven’t taken a photo of her as I was really amazed). Their products are also sold in souvenir shops around town. When I visited the village, I bought one, framed it, and displayed it in our house.

T-Waikiki Express Speed Boat Terminal

T-Waikiki Express Speed Boat Sitangkai Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

T-Waikiki Express is a speedboat company and is one of the few carriers that service the Bongao-Sibutu-Sitangkai route. Fare to Sitangkai municipality costs ₱ 1000 per way and the travel time usually takes 2 to 3 hours. You need to book early during the day to reserve a seat as the boat has a limited space. The terminal is just near Sameera’s Coffee Shop. Just ask the locals where you would go as there are no signages leading inside the terminal.

Trip schedules:

From Bongao

1000 or 1100 H

(depending on boat arriving from Sitangkai)

From Sitangkai

0700 or 0730 H

Bongao Municipal Hall

Bongao Municipal Hall Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

This is the seat of government of the municipality of Bongao. The Bongao Municipal Hall is located right at the heart of the municipality and can easily be reached by foot or by tricycle.

Boloboc Cave

Boloboc (Bolobok) Cave Bongao Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

The Boloboc Cave is one of the natural tourist spots in Bongao Island. This limestone cave features several open chambers that showcase interesting rock formations. There is also an opening of the cave system which directly leads to the open sea. You just have to donate any amount to the caretaker of the area when visiting.

Tawi-Tawi Grassland

Tawi-Tawi Grasslands Bongao | Turista Boy

Tawi-Tawi Grassland is one of the new tourist attractions in the municipality of Bongao. It features a mini park with several tree chairs and huts for picnics and leisure. The good thing I observed here is that it is only just by the open waters – which is an added attraction. There is a small snack store inside but the food and drinks are limited. You also only have to donate a certain amount when visiting the place.

Bihing Tahik Resort

Bihik Tahik Resort Bongao Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Bihik Tahik Resort Bongao Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Bihing” meaning “by the” and “Tahik” meaning “sea,” Bihing Tahik is now becoming one of the most sought after resort destinations in Tawi-Tawi. Literally just “by the sea,” Bihik Tahik Resort’s newest development is their clam-inspired huts that will be opened soon for guests. If you are not checking in, worry not, they have a walk-in rate of ₱ 100 per guest so you can enjoy the resort’s white sand beach and other nearby activities and attractions.

Bud Bongao

Bud Bongao Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Bud Bongao Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Revered by Christians and Muslims alike, Bud Bongao (Mount Bongao) is the highest peak in Tawi-Tawi. Standing 314 meters (1,030 feet), the Bud is one of the more popular tourist spots in Tawi-Tawi and is considered sacred. To reach the summit, it only takes around an hour or so to see a panoramic view of the province.

On a clear day, too, you can view the islands of Sitangkai and Sibutu from the West. One of the highlights of the trek to its peak is the presence of wild monkeys around, that’s why it is advisable that you bring bananas with you, also showing respect to the creatures living in the mountain. Don’t worry, they don’t bite. There are also three Tampats (Shrines) at the peak where pilgrims offer their prayers – a site you will see before heading to the summit’s viewdeck.

Sapa-Sapa

Panampangan Island

Panampangan Island Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Considered to be the longest sandbar in the Philippines, Panampangan Island is synonymous to paradise. Stretching as long as 3 kilometers during low tide, going to Panampangan can only be accessible by boat (costs around PhP 2500 – 3000 (depends)) in a 1:30 – 2-hour trip.

The jump-off point would be at Barangay Batu-Batu in Panglima Sugala which is 30 minutes away from Bongao. To date, the island now has available picnic huts but do not forget to bring water as there is no adequate clean water source in the area. The island is guarded by a Marine detachment and around 4-5 Badjao families live there, too.

Simunul

Sheik Karimul Makhdum Mosque (Barangay Tubig-Indangan)

Sheikh Karimul Makhdum Mosque Simunul Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Simunul Welcome Arch Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

When visiting the island, Sheik Mahkdum’s tomb can also be seen just right beside the mosque. From the port, you can hire a habal-habal to your host’s house or you can walk your way and you will see the mosque’s facade right when you enter Barangay Tubig-Indangan.

Sheikh Karimul Makhdum Mosque Simunul Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Believed to be the birthplace of the Islamic faith in the Philippines, Sheik Karimul Makhdum’s Mosque’s four original pillars still stand today, surrounded by the renovated, more modern worship area. The site was established in the late 14th century and celebrates more than 600 years of its influence in the Philippines. It is considered a National Cultural Treasure and has been declared a National Historical Landmark.

New Simunul Municipal Hall

Simunul Municipal Hall Complex Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

The new Municipal Hall of Simunul is the government center of the island. It houses the newly constructed Municipal Building, Events Center, and the Papa Bull’s Park.

Papa Bull’s Park

Papa Bull's Park Simunul Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Papa Bull's Park Simunul Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

This indo-pacific saltwater crocodile is now becoming one of Simunul’s major tourist attractions. Besides Simunul being the first seat of Islam in the Philippines, Papa Bull’s Park is now home to “Papa Bull” where it was caught by local fishermen in Sokah Bulan, Tampakan, Simunul. This croc measures about 16 feet and 11 inches long (4.88 meters).

Look Lake

Look Lake Simunul Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

This naturally-formed lake is found in the northeast side of Simunul Island. Look Lake is then transected by a bridge and overlooks the Sulu Sea across mainland Tawi-Tawi.

Ubol Port

Ubol Port is one of the three major ports of entry / exit in Simunul Island. Boats from Bongao docks in Barangay Ubol and services nearby barangays such as Mongkay, Sokah Bulan, Maruwa, and Tampakan.

SitangkaiSitangkai Main Channel Weekend Market | Tawi-Tawi Turista Boy

Also known as the “Venice of the South,” Sitangkai is the southernmost settlement in the Philippines. It is also referred to as the Seaweed Capital of the Philippines. The common sight in this area are the houses that are built on stilts, connected by catwalks similar to the Badjao Village in Bongao. As you reach Sitangkai, a main canal will welcome you instead of roads. Boats are the only means of transportation here and catwalks connect one house from another. Its famed floating market is also a sight to see!

Turista Boy Tip: Don’t forget to coordinate with the local police for escorts when traveling to far islands. Although it is very peaceful in Tawi-Tawi, having a police escort is very much recommended. You can coordinate it with the Provincial Tourism Office in Tawi-Tawi.

Sitangkai Main Channel (Poblacion, Sitangkai)

Sitangkai Main Channel Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Earning its moniker, “The Venice of the South,” Sitangkai features a main waterway where trade and transportation activities take place. The Sitangkai Main Channel also has several footbridges that connect either side of Poblacion Sitangkai. If you want to experience riding a boat and pass through the canal, you can rent a boat from Kuya Jeps Vlog <fb page link> for only ₱ 100 (round trip). Just tell him, you were referred to by Chiki / Turista Boy from Baguio. 🙂

Sitangkai Municipal Hall

Sitangkai Municipal Hall Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

This is the seat of government of the island municipality. It is strategically located at the heart of Poblacion Sitangkai and has a striking cerulean façade.

Sitangkai Boulevard

Sitangkai Boulevard Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

This is one of the new attractions and go-to places in Sitangkai. The Sitangkai Boulevard is also a perfect spot for viewing the sunrise and sunset of every day. It is also a popular spot for leisure seekers and joggers every morning.

Sibutu

Sikulan Island

Sikulan Island Sibutu Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Sitangkai Seaweeds Farming Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Sikulan Island is considered to be the southernmost island in the Philippines. Geographically located within the municipality of Sibutu, Sikulan features 2 lighthouses (old and new) that service ships and boats passing by near the island. It is also home to around 200 Badjao and Tausug families whose primary source of living is seaweed farming.

Where to Stay in Tawi-Tawi

Tourism is not really the major industry in Tawi-Tawi. Expect that these accommodations are only simple and quaint as not many tourists visit the province. so I have only summarized the most popular accommodation options according to your needs.

Sandbar Lepa and Restaurant

Personally, I think this the most high-end accommodation in Tawi-Tawi. Each room is air-conditioned, has a strong WiFi reception, twin beds, and a personal water dispenser. It also has a huge function hall that can accommodate up to 100 people.

Address Pasiagan, Bongao, Tawi-Tawi
Budget As low as ₱ 1,000 per night for a villa room
Contact Numbers +63 920 610 9477 / +63 935 979 0413 / +63 917 724 3214

Almari Beach Resort

Also known as Dr. Ibbo’s Resort, this accommodation in Sanga Sanga is popularly known as it has a generous view of the sunset by the shore. The property has a wide garden and offers spacious rooms for tourists and visitors.

Address Pahut, Bongao, Tawi-Tawi
Contact Numbers +63 926 783 7000 / +63 926 427 9843 / +63 68 268 1014

Beachside Inn, Hotel and Restaurant

As the locals would say it, Beachside Inn is said to be the first hotel in Bongao. Their open-air restaurant is one of the hotel’s highlights as it offers local food and the restaurant is also used for various functions.

Address Sowangkagang, Bongao, Tawi-Tawi
Budget As low as ₱ 700 per night for a double-bed room
Contact Numbers +63 68 268 1446 / +63 268 1435 / +63 920 481 5447

Hotel Juana Grill and Restaurant

Located in Bongao’s Town Center, Hotel Juana is the place where you get to see the town’s hustle-and-bustle.

Address Datu Halum Street, Bongao, Tawi-Tawi
Budget ₱ 1,350 for a double-bed room
Contact Numbers +63 915 404 4478 / +63 68 268 1018

Rachel’s Place Hotel and Restaurant

Just a walk away from Bongao’s Central Business District, Rachel’s Place is a large compound with a spacious garden, multipurpose function hall, and a dining area.

Address Ilmon Street, Lamion, Bongao, Tawi-Tawi
Budget As low as ₱ 700 – 950 per room
Contact Numbers +63 68 268 1248

Other Accommodation Options in Tawi-Tawi

Arron’s Pension House

Ridjiki Boulevard Extension, Bongao, Tawi-Tawi

+63 68 268 1601 / +63 936 437 7915 +63 939 923 7246

Danmar Beach Resort

Silisad, Pasiagan, Bongao, Tawi-Tawi

+63 68 268 1248

Fortune Inn

Ridjiki Boulevard, Bongao, Tawi-Tawi

+63 68 268 1467

*Prices and contact numbers can change without prior notice. If there are some changes, you can contact me here so we can dish things up!*

Where to Eat in Tawi-Tawi

DJ Snack Haus (Awwal Street)

One of the more popular local restaurants in Awwal Street, DJ Snack Haus, is the one closest to my heart. When I looked at their menu, what tickled my curiosity was their pastil – Mindanao’s version of empanada stuffed with bihon. Common to the region, pastil is one not to be missed when visiting DJ Snack Haus. They also serve the sweetest halo-halo in town.

Mardo’s Restaurant

Knickerbocker Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Knickerbocker

One of the must-try foods in Mardo’s Restaurant in Tawi-Tawi (and in Mindanao in particular) is the knickerbocker. It is likened to that of the famous Filipino dessert Halo-Halo, only that its ingredients are a medley of fruits, bathed in sweetened milk and shaved ice. For me, it is a lighter version of the Halo-Halo and a healthier version because of its pure fruit ingredients.

Sameera Coffee Shop

Sameera Coffee Shop Platter Bongao Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

One of the cheapest and go-to restaurant-cafes in downtown Bongao is Sameera Coffee Shop. This unpretentious cafe serves a variety of popular Tausug delicacies that are staple food found within the province. They serve you the whole tray of goodies but you only pay what you consume! They also serve a nice, warm cup of Kahawa Sug (or Sulu Coffee.)

Ken’s Kitchen

Ken's Kitchen Knickerbocker Bongao Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

Ken's Kitchen Bongao Tawi-Tawi | Turista Boy

This new cafe in the outskirts of Bongao proper is Ken’s Kitchen. This modern restaurant offers typical Western dishes and drinks that are usually found in urban cafes such as pizzas, pastas, and refreshments. They also serve their own version of knickerbocker here!

Sample Itinerary in Tawi-Tawi

Day 1

Manila – Zamboanga 1.5 hours

(airline of choice)

(depends)
Zamboanga – Tawi-Tawi 1 hour

(airline of choice)

(depends)
Breakfast (Bongao) Sameera’s Coffee Shop ₱ 70 – 100
Bongao – Sitangkai Speed Boat (2 hours) ₱ 1000
Check-in @ Sitangkai Homestay ₱ 1300 – 1500

(good for 1-3 pax)

Tour Sikulan Island The southernmost island in the Philippines (tour prices depend upon negotiation)
Tour Sitangkai Sitangkai Main Alley / Sitangkai Municipal Hall / Sitangkai Floating Market / Sitangkai Boulevard
Dinner ₱ 200 – 300

Day 2

Sitangkai – Bongao Speed Boat (2 hours) ₱ 1000
T-Waikiki Terminal to Chinese Pier Tricycle ₱ 20
Bongao – Simunul Boat (1 hour) ₱ 100
Check-in @ Simunul Homestay ₱ 500 – 1000 (depends)
Tour Simunul New Simunul Municipal Complex / Papa Bull’s Park / Sheikh Karimul Makhdum Mosque / Simunul Welcome Arch (Tubig-Indangan Port) (tour prices depend upon negotiation)
Dinner ₱ 200 – 300

Day 3

Simunul – Bongao Boat (1 hour) ₱ 100
Breakfast (Bongao) Sameera’s Coffee Shop ₱ 70 – 100
Tour Bongao Badjao Village / Tawi-Tawi Provincial Capitol / Buy Local Souvenirs / Tawi-Tawi Grassland / Bihing Tahik Resort / Bud Bongao Badjao Village (donation)

Tawi-Tawi Grassland (donation)

Bihing Tahik Resort ₱ 100 (entrance fee)

Bud Bongao ₱ 20 (environmental fee)

Dinner ₱ 100 – 200

Day 4

Tawi-Tawi – Zamboanga 1 hour

(airline of choice)

(depends)
Zamboanga – Manila 1.5 hours

(airline of choice)

(depends)

You can also visit:

  • Sangay Siapo Island
  • Turtle Islands
  • Mapun Island

*Note that the places, prices, and information written as of publication date and time are true and are given best during my visit. Changes may occur without prior notice. If you notice any changes to the information given above, you can e-mail me here so we can dish things up!*

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2 thoughts on “Tawi-Tawi – Exploring the wonders of undiscovered Mindanao

  1. Shane says:

    Thank you for sharing this will visit here soon

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