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Posted by on Feb 3rd, 2012
Filed Under: Featured, Mindanao

tawi tawi map

A charming and majestic chain of islands straddling peacefully between Sulu Sea and Celebes Sea in the southwestern Philippines is the exotic Tawi-Tawi province. Here, you have hundreds of beautiful tropical islands and islets to choose from with unspoiled white-sandy beaches and serene landscapes. From sacred mountain and the rolling hills where the provincial capitol building is located to white-sandy beaches of hundreds of islets plus the gentle and so kind local people, Tawi-Tawi is truly a paradise. And by the way, it is very safe here because the locals from different groups are living harmoniously altogeter.

Tourism Philippines Guest WriterTawi-tawi consists of 307 islands in the southwestern part of the Philippines. In fact, the province is a lot closer to Sabah, Malaysia than to Mindanao (where this province belongs). The locals here consist mainly of Tausug, Sinama, and Bajao. There are also coming from nearby provinces of Sulu and mainland Mindanao. They are peace-loving people and they live here harmoniously. Because of the unfair mainstream media, Filipinos and foreigners find Tawi-tawi as a no-go or dangerous destination. What we have heard or seen in the TV news is totally opposite. Tawi-Tawi is relatively safe. The capital town is Bongao.

Tawi Tawi, Phillippines

Photo by Robert

Why Not Go

If you are looking for posh malls, bars, clubs and all night fun in street parties just like in Manila or other big Philippine cities, this is not a perfect destination for you.

Why Go

Tawi-Tawi has a lot to offer to travelers whether group or solo traveler. If you love mountain climbing, they have it here. Standing so proud in Bongao Island is the Bud Bongao which is considered as a sacred mountain by the locals.

They have beautiful beaches and the province is perfect for island hopping to nearby islands such as Simunul where the first mosque in the Philippines was built.

It is quite interesting that the locals here are from different groups such as Tausug, Sinama, Bajao, and other groups from Mindanao and they are living peacefully and harmoniously. These people love to talk with the outsiders. You’ll become an instant rockstar in here.

Tawi Tawi, Phillippines

Photo by Robert

Best Time to Visit

This province is not located along the typhoon belt of the Philippines, thus visiting here can be done all year round. But since this tropical archipelagic province is located between Sulu Sea and Celebes Sea, rains may fall at any given time but lasts only for a short period of time which is common to tropical places surrounded by waters.

Where to Stay

Philippines Hotels and Resorts

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I stayed at Rachel’s Place Hotel & Restaurant. The good thing in this hotel is that it is just a walking distance from the town center but away from the hustle and bustle. Standard room costs PhP 850 per night. You can reach them at 068-268-1248 for reservation. Tricycle fare from here to the town center (if you don’t want to walk) is only PhP10.

One can try also Beachside Inn (068-268-1446) but it is a lot farther from the town center. Tricycle fare from the town center up to here is PhP20. I went here one night for a beer or two. They have barbeque choices here as well as karaoke. This is where the locals hangout for the night because of the breezy ambiance as it is located by the beach. I was able to talk to the owner and she asked me to try their place to stay the next time I come to Tawi-Tawi.

Bongao Town Center Tawi Tawi, Phillippines

Bongao Town Center
Photo by Robert

Where & What to Eat

If you want to try local Tawi-Tawi foods such as sati, you can go to any eating places at the town center or near the pier. One can also find Malaysian food here such as nasih goreng. But I don’t recommend the eating places here because of not-so-clean location. The main drawback in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi is trash. There are many litters along the streets of Bongao. I hope that the locals here would work hand in hand for the cleanliness of their surroundings. I believe that cleanliness begets tourists, tourism begets job, and job begets better life. For sure, Tawi-Tawi will become a perfect paradise if there are no trashes around.
I highly recommend the foods at Rachel’s Place Hotel & Restaurant.The Beachside Inn has tasty and delicious barbeques as well.


Although the dominant religion here is Islam, one can find alcohol here. I spent my night at the Beachside Inn for a beer or two and it is also the best place to see and to be seen during the night.

My to do List

• Climb the Bud Bongao – Wherever you are in Bongao or Sanga-Sanga islands, this sacred mountain catches your attention. It’s like a head-turner in this side of Tawi-Tawi. According to the locals, you have never been to Tawi-Tawi if you have not climbed Bud Bongao. From the town center or wherever your hotel is, just hire a tricycle and tell the driver to drop you off at the jump-off point of Bud Bongao and pay him PhP25. Climbing here is so easy. It takes only up to 1 hour going up to the summit since this mountain is not that tall. You have to make sure that you have a good-grip type of footwear, endurance, and don’t forget to bring bananas with you because you will encounter macaque monkeys along the way up. These bananas will serve as your gift to these cute monkeys. These monkeys are said to be the guards of this sacred mountain. One strange thing here, you will never encounter them again on your way down. Once you are at the summit, your eyes can capture the nearby islands such as Sanga-Sanga island with its airport runway as well as the outline of Sabah, Malaysia during clear sunny day. Essential things to bring here are bananas for the monkey and a liter or two of bottled water for you. Just wear light clothes and a good-grip type of footwear. For those who hates the extreme heat of the sun at the peak of this mountain, you may want to bring bullcap or pashmina shawl with you.

Bud Bongao Tawi Tawi, Phillippines

Bud Bongao
Considered as a sacred mountain by the locals
Photo by Robert

Cleanliness WWF Tawi Tawi, Phillippines

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness
A friendly reminder written in Tausug dialect with English translation. Tausug is one of the dialects spoken here. Others are Sinama, Cebuano, Chavacano, and Bahasa.
Photo by Robert

Bud Bongao Summit Tawi Tawi, Phillippines

Bud Bongao Summit
From here, one can see the runway of the Sanga-Sanga airport. It’s a perfect place for plane spotting. On a very clear day, the outline of Sabah Malaysia can be seen from this point. The islands of Simunul, Sibutu, Sitangkai, and smaller ones are very visible.
Photo by Robert

• Stroll at the Chinese Pier (locally known as jambatan) – You will see several boats dock at the pier. These boats transport people, goods and animals from one island to another. I was able to talk to friendly locals here and they said that they have the so-called “back-door boat” that can transport them to Malaysia illegaly. They do this to find a better life there and could send money back home. The pay to this boat can range from PhP1500 to PhP3000. They don’t even bring their passport with them because they don’t go through to Malaysian Immigration control. Once at the port of call in Malaysia, they will be disembarked stealthly by the boat operators. The chance of getting caught by the Malaysian police is so high. That is why many of our fellows return to Tawi-Tawi empty handied and back to their real lives here.

Houses on stilts Tawi Tawi, Phillippines

Houses on stilts
Photo by Robert

Chinese Pier Tawi Tawi, Phillippines

Chinese Pier
Photo by Robert

• The Provincal Capitol – This capitol has a unique image because it looks like a mosque. It is located at the Capitol hill. It is better to go up here in the afternoon up to early evening as the backdrop of the town center lights add to the magnificent view from here. From the Capitol building, you will see the sprawling town center of Bongao as well as the nearby islands of Sanga-Sanga, Pababag, and Simunul. Just hire a tricycle and tell the driver to drop you off at the jump-off point going to the Capitol. Fare is PhP15 from the town center.

Tawi Tawi, Phillippines

The Provincial Capitol of Tawi-Tawi
Photo by Robert

• Island hop to Simunul Island – It is where the first mosque was built and Islam was established by Sheik Makdum.

• Talk to the locals – As I have mentioned previously, the locals are from different groups but they live peacefully and harmoniously. They are so friendly and they love to talk with the outsiders. You will become an instant rockstar here.

Stay Away From

Crimes, whether big or small, happens anywhere in the world. So, be vigilant to your surroundings where ever you are. In Tawi-Tawi, I never felt unsafe in any situation. Again, it is only due to the unfair news report spread by the mainstream media that created bad images to this southwesternmost province of the Philippines. It’s more fun in Tawi-Tawi because it is very safe here.

Getting There

Thanks to Cebu Pacific and Airphilexpress, getting to Tawi-tawi is now a piece of cake unlike before. Years ago, one had to take almost an entire day for a boat ride from Zambonga to here. Even though these boats are still another option, the best pick to go to Tawi-Tawi is by airplane which takes only 45 minutes from Zamboanga. By the way, there is no direct flight between Manila and Tawi-Tawi. One has to catch first a flight to Zamboanga. Zamboanga can be reached by plane from any large cities in the Philippines such as Manila, Cebu, and Davao. The flight between Zamboanga and Tawi-Tawi is only 45 minutes and the plane lands at Sanga-Sanga Airport.

Sanga-Sanga Airport terminal building Tawi Tawi, Phillippines

Sanga-Sanga Airport Terminal
Photo by Robert

At the airport, there are tricycles waiting for the passengers. It is better to contact your hotel beforehand if they have an airport-hotel transfer, otherwise you may want to take the tricycle that will cost you PhP100. Tricycle ride from airport (which is in Sanga-Sanga Island) takes 10 to 15minutes to get to the town center of Bongao (in Bongao Island). In Bongao, the mode of transportation is tricycle in which the regular fare is PhP10 while boat is essential by going to other island municipalities. There are no taxis here.

Robert Guest Writer

Guest Writer: My name is Robert L. Mamacos. I am an engineer by profession (Electronics & Communications Engineer). Currently, I work in an American engineering firm in Ortigas Center. I love travelling and I am a backpacker. I have been to USA, Japan, China, Taiwan, Italy, Netherlands, most of Southeast Asia, and almost the entire Philippines as well. I was born and raised in Davao City. Now I live in Manila since 2002.

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8 Responses to “Tawi-Tawi”

  1. aggrandizeserag says:

    nice post! thanks for visiting our place and hope you come back often! :)
    so glad you have also realized Tawi-Tawi is peaceful.
    you’re so damn right about the trash, how i wish the people would wake up.

  2. Manay says:

    Hi Robert,

    Nice blog! You sure have travelled to many places and I soooo envy you for that! Great blog and keep it up! Make sure you have a file somewhere organized by all the places you’ve been too so we can start that Agency! (wink! wink!) ‘Looking forward to joining with you guys again to your next trip.

    Love, manay

  3. George says:

    Hello Robert,

    Thanks for the posting and tips to Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. I am a Manileno myself and have travelled this country and abroad extensively too since college days. But the Philippines is still home and is indeed very beautiful. True there are other places in the world but knowing that your roots are here and seeing it brings a sense of connection to the land.

    I was just googling the map of Tawi-Tawi and wondering how close it was to Sabah, Malaysia when I ran into your wonderful, informative write-up. Honestly, your write up can be used as material for the Lonely Planet guide book on the Philippines. Backpackers contribute to it so you might as well send your material to them. I can sense the in-depth quality of your experience being useful to other backpackers, travellers, adventurers.

    I agree with you that the media does a good job of ruining the reputation of almost all places. I agree too that as with any travel situation anywhere one has to pay attention to his/her safety all the time. But most of these negative things are mostly all in the mind.

    Once again, thank you very much for posting this material which encourages me to visit Bongao one day with minimal provisions to keep it simple and enjoyable. May you have more travels to come and God bless you!

    from a Kabayan,

    • Robert M says:

      Hey George,

      Thank you for reading my simple article about Tawi-Tawi. If I were you, I should go there soon. Immersing with the people here nurtures a lot.
      I hope to bump you in the future travels.


  4. Mike says:

    I would like to know if there is a legal ferry that travels between Tawi Tawi and Malaysia? If one does exist any info would be appreciated (schedule, cost, Malaysia port and tawi Tawi contact name and cell#. By the way your blog was very informative and I enjoyed reading it. Thanks P.S. It seems like Tawi Tawi is about 60 kilometers or 40 miles from Malaysia according to Google Earth.

  5. khadz says:

    Hi Robert,

    Thank you for the very informative article. This is a must read for back packers and adventurers who want to explore the beauty of nature which Tawi Tawi can offer. I had a great 5-day stay in Bongao town and there is so much more to discover.

    Unknown to many even with the local folks, there is a beautiful mosque in Bato-Bato nearing completion, which I had the chanced to visit. Have this included in your itinerary when you visit the place.

    For those who want to stay in downtown area, there is Hotel Juana as an option aside from Rachel Place. From the airport one can take a tricycle and with certainty, the driver knows where to drop you off.

    You might want to update the schedules for the benefit of your readers. Weesam ceased their Zamboanga-Tawi tawi operation and only Aleson Shipping is plying the route.

    Cebu Pacific and Airphil have regular schedules and airfare is reasonable for every Juan to fly. Just check the websites of these airline companies for updated schedules. You may want to grab their promotional offers so plan ahead your trips and save subtantially

    Starting April 23, there Airphil will have its maiden flight to Sandakan, Malaysia from Zamboanga.

  6. Rupp says:

    Thanks for the blog about Tawi-Tawi. Just like you, I’m a backpacker myself and have been to some parts of the world like US, Hawaii, Canada (where I live at present), Mexico, Costa Rica, Japan and several countries in Europe and Asia. I’m also a tubong-Mindanao and I admit that nothing is more fascinating than discovering our very own country. Your good introduction to Tawi-Tawi is enough to convince me that one day I should see the paradise too. With the current dispute between Sabah & the Filipinos there, I guess I’ll have to wait until all this misunderstanding will be resolved. Cheers! Robert.

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