Once Islas is the newest island-hopping destination in Zamboanga City. It was recently opened to tourists a few years ago and has been gaining traction in social media. Why not? It is stunning. The LGU and DOT are also making sure that it is well-protected.
Recently, we visited Once Islas as part of the BIMP-EAGA program through the Office of Asec. Myra Paz Valderrosa- Abubakar, DOT Assistant Secretary for Mindanao and Palawan. This is part of DOT’s commitment to share the best of Mindanao with the BIMP-EAGA region. (Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area)
Once Islas means eleven islands which is derived from the Chavacano language of people from Zamboanga City. So far, only 4 islands are open to the public, and the rest can be enjoyed by watching the islets on a boat while island-hopping. This is a community-based project that aims to promote tourism as well as to create a livelihood for the locals, the Sama Banguingui tribe.
Where is Once Islas?
Once Islas is just a one-hour land journey from Zamboanga City proper. This group of islands of Once Islas is located off the Moro Gulf, under the jurisdiction of Brgy. Panubigan and Brgy. Dita in Zamboanga Del Sur. The Panubigan Ferry Terminal is the jump-off point to Once Islas. It is recommended to coordinate with the City Tourism Office of Zamboanga City before proceeding to Brgy. Panubigan to ensure that there’s enough boat rental and you’ll be properly accommodated. You can also get the service of an accredited tour company like ITravel Tourist Lane for a hassle-free trip to Once Islas. More details about availing of the packaged tour are below this post.
How to get to Once Islas?
If you’re going to Once Islas via public transport, take a bus going to Ipil or any bus going north, from the Zamboanga City Provincial Bus Terminal. The drop-off point is at Panubigan crossing. From there, ride a tricycle or habal habal going to Panubigan Barangay Hall to register.
Here’s the location of Brgy, Panubigan for the registration for Once Islas island-hopping. CHECK THE BEST HOTELS IN ZAMBOANGA HERE
Once Islas Island-hopping experience
The tour started with an orientation at Brgy. Panubigan. All the do’s and don’t’s will be discussed here. One thing that was emphasized was about maintaining the cleanliness of the islands and respecting the traditions of the locals there, emphasizing that Once Islas is an eco-cultural site.
As mentioned only 4 islands are open to the public which are Bisaya- Bisaya Island, Sirommon Island, Buh-Buh Island, and Baung-Baung island. Here are the full details of our experience at Once Islas.
This is the first island that we explored at Once Islas. Bisaya-Bisaya Island has fine white sand beach, and a clean coastal area. I’m impressed with how the Tourism Office and LGU are keeping the island clean and protected. Also, the colorful vintas displayed on the beach make the experience truly Zamboanga.
There are many activities tourists can do on Bisaya-Bisaya island like snorkeling, kayaking, and a little bit of trekking. Please note that as of the moment, those who want to snorkel have to bring their own gear.
So, after taking some rest at the cottages, the group decided to trek around the island, exploring the rock formations and the beaches around it. With this, we were able to witness and experience that the island is not only spectacular when it comes to its beaches, but also its rugged beauty behind the lush and tall coconut trees.
We capped off our trekking with a fresh buko, while chilling under the shades of coconut trees. I also tried kayaking. It was a lot of fun!
Our guide, Sir Errol, told us that there is still a hidden treasure to be explored in Bisaya-Bisaya island, and that is a natural pool located on an islet just adjacent to the main island. There’s body water in between, and at first, we thought that we were going to take a boat. But no, we walked going there, the water was just about leg deep. Piece of cake. LOL!
We couldn’t resist taking photos at the natural pool. I know it was Instagrammable but I am not really the kind of traveler who likes to be photographed, so it took many attempts of convincing from my travel friends before I decided to pose like this. LOL! Nahiya pa ko nyan.
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Siromon island is known for its sandbar with its pristine beach. Too bad when we were there it was already high tide.
We trekked for a few minutes going to the other side of the island to have our lunch. It was prepared by the locals living on the island. We had lots of seafood, vegetables, and other local dishes.
We were happy and full at the end of lunch. Oh, I wanted to just do some siesta and chill. Good thing we still have time to relax at the main beach. We spent our time on the island, swimming and did some awesome drone shots.
Due to limited time, we weren’t able to visit the other islands, such as Buh-Buh Island. There is a small community and a mosque there, which is mainly for cultural tours. Travelers are advised to respect the customs of people living on the island. Please note that revealing clothes such as beachwear is not allowed especially when visiting the mosque.
Baung- Baung Island
Another great attraction for beach bumming and hiking is Baung-Baung Beach. You can chill on the white sand beach and also hike to get a stunning view on top of a hill. It is a nice way to end the island-hopping experience.
ONCE ISLAS BOOKING 2023
As mentioned, it is important that you coordinate with the City Tourism Office prior to going to the jump-off point. Below are the contact details.
1. Get a slot for the day thru email: email@example.com / call City Tourism Office at Paseo del Mar landline no. 975-6341
2. If the slot is available, secure a booking acknowledgment: a note/text message/email from the City Tourism Office for notice to pay the entrance and environmental fees:
Zamboanga Tourism Office
located at Paseo del Mar
+63 (62) 975-6341
VIA TOUR OPERATOR
You can also avail of the services of a DOT accredited Tour Operator in Zamboanga which is ITravel Tourist Lane. Highly recommended. They will handle everything for a hassle-free travel to Once Islas. Below are the contact details.
Once Islas Fess
If you decide to go to Once Islas via DIY, here are the fees and expenses to take note.
Environmental Fee: PHP1 00 per person
Boat Rental Fee: PHP 1,200 to PHP 2,000 (9 pax)
Entrance Fee: PHP 100 per person
Guide Fee: PHP 300 per group
Cottage Fee: PHP 150 per day
Kayak Rental in Bisaya-Bisaya: PHP300 per hour (2 Pax)
READ THE BLOG POST: 15 Best Beaches in the Philippines
Where to stay in Zamboanga City
There are no hotels or any accommodations within the area, so it is recommended to stay in Zamboanga City and book a day tour at Once Islas. Through this, you’ll also have the time to explore more of Zamboanga City like Sta. Cruz island and its delectable dishes. Here are some hotels in Zamboanga, to check out.
- Garden Orchid Hotel – we stayed here during our trip. Recommended!
- Marcian Business Hotel – This is recommended for business travelers or digital nomads since there is a coffee shop across the hotel with a reliable internet connection.
- Grand Astoria Hotel – Another top-ranked hotel among travelers to Zamboanga.
READ THE BLOG POST: Best Tourist Spots in Mindanao
Travel Reminders to Once Islas
These will be discussed during the orientation, but I’ll provide it here for you to know what to expect.
- Residents within the Once Islas are people from the Sama Banguingui tribe, so you have to respect their local customs and traditions. Observe cleanliness, and dress appropriately if you’re availing the cultural tour especially if you’ll enter a mosque at Buh-Buh Island.
- Once Islas is only for day tours. No overnight stays. All tourists should be traveling back at the mainland by 3 PM. So if you want to explore all 4 islands, you have to be conscious of your time.
- If you’re going to visit via DIY, bring your own food as there’s no store or any establishments on the islands. Please be reminded that you can bring cooked food (pork included), but the grilling of pork is prohibited. Bringing of Lechon is also not allowed. This is to respect the locals.
Note: This travel to Once Islas was made possible through the Office of DOT Assistant Secretary Myra Paz Valderrosa-Abubakar and DOT Region 9 Office. Thank you Asec. Myra and your awesome team.
First published on December 14, 2019 / Updated for 2020 and 2023
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