El orgullo de Mindanao, which means “the pride of Mindanao” in the Spanish derivative language spoken in Zamboanga City, is located on the southernmost tip of the Zamboanga Peninsula 850 kilometers south of Manila. It is bounded on the east by the Moro Gulf, on the west by the Sulu Sea and on the south by the Celebes Sea and the Basilan Strait. Its proud Chavacano speaking residents affectionately refer to the only Latin city in Asia, which they call home, as Zamboanga hermosa, or beautiful Zamboanga for good reason. In the olden days before the arrival of the Spaniards, the Subanon highlanders called the place “Jambangan,” which means “Garden” or a place blooming with plenty of flowers. Later, their boat dwelling descendants called Badjaos and Samals transliterated the word to “Samboangan,” which was corrupted to its present place name of “Zamboanga.”
Curiously, despite its exotic sounding name that is rooted on the Bahasa Sug, a strain of Austronesian language that is now spoken by over one million people in the Sulu Archipelago, Zamboanga City presents as a pocket of Castillian influence and culture in the heart of Muslim Mindanao. More interesting still is that the Chavacano language spoken by most of its residents is actually Spanish that is adulterated with 30 percent local dialects, making it a place unlike any other in the country. To better appreciate this cultural paradox, we need to travel back in time to the 13th century when this coastal settlement became a barter trading post among its native Subanons, Samals, Badjaos, Tausugs and the Chinese-Malays from the nearby islands in Southeast Asia. By the time the first Spanish galley appeared on the horizon off Caldera Bay in 1593, Zamboanga was already a major trading center with a vibrant economy and a culture of its own.
It was in this place that the Spanish colonialists staked the Cross enabling Christianity to gain a foothold in Mindanao. To preserve their presence in the area, they built Fort Pilar in 1635 around which the city eventually grew. While Spain was never able to subjugate the rest of the island of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago because of the strong influence of Islam, the heavy influx of Spanish nationals in Zamboanga during their colonization efforts that lasted until the end of the 19th century has resulted in the growth of the Spanish Creole tongue that is now popularly known as Chavacano.
The economy of Zamboanga today is largely agro-aqua culture based that provide livelihood and income to more than seventy percent of its population. Its biggest produce is coconut, corn, fish and is the country’s principal producer of carageenan, or sea weeds. The city is also pretty well-known for its sardine and canning industries whose famous brands cater to the domestic and foreign markets in the US, Europe and Asia.
Its robust fishing industry is supported by the fishing barangays in twenty-eight islands off the mainland coast that fall under the political and administrative jurisdiction of the city. The most popular of these islands among locals, tourists and scuba divers are the Santa Cruz islands because of their exquisite pink coral sands.
What to See in Zamboanga
Fort Pilar: A must-see for first time visitors, this ancient fortress is a fifteen- minute walk from the City Hall along NS Valderrosa Street. It was originally built in 1635 by Father Melchor de Vera to ward off foreign invaders and intrusions from pirates. From the protection of this Spanish fortification, the present City of Zamboanga grew to what it is today.
Pasonanca Park: Located about 7.5 kilometers from the city proper, this world-renowned tourist attraction that lies 500 feet above sea level is dubbed as the “Little Baguio” of the south because of its cool air and cleanliness of surroundings. The verdant mountains and hills that surround the park make it the perfect venue for camping and scouting jamborees.
Exquisite Beaches: A favorite destination of scuba divers and snorkelers are the pink coral-sand beaches of the Sta. Cruz islands off the Zamboanga mainland which are teeming with sea life. The adventurous visitor would certainly be surprised to learn that the surrounding Sulu Sea holds more than half of the world’s known shell species.
Where to Eat in Zamboanga
Like the city’s culture and language, Zamboanga cuisine is a delicious mix of Iberian and local flavors. Food names still reflect vestiges of their Spanish origin such as callos de andalucia or arroz valenciana. Because of its proximity to the sea and robust fishing industry, there is an abundance of fresh sea food at prices you can afford. A sea food outing is something you should not miss when in Zambaonga where a serving of the fabled “curacha,” or red frog crab will take your culinary experience to new heights.
La Vista Del Mar: About six kilometers out of town along the West Coast Highway, you’d find this elegant outdoor sea food restaurant that offers good food with a great view of the sea complemented with its décor of vinta sail boats. Try its roasted freshly harvested prawns served on bamboo trays or grilled milk fish called “bangus” with a dipping of soy sauce, mild vinegar and chili.
Hai San Sea Food Market & Restaurant: Located along San Jose Road, this unique sea food restaurant allows its customers to pick their choice of fresh sea catch contained in shallow containers before these are brought to the kitchen. The fresh catch include the famous “curacha,” lobsters and “lapu-lapu,” or groupers.
Alavar Sea Food Restaurant: Along Don Alfaro Street, you’d find one of the most popular sea food restaurants in the city. Alavar is just about one of the few places where the young and the young at heart will not only get to taste excellent sea food, but the original Spanish Creole recipes as well that evoke memories of Zamboanga’s colorful past.
Where to Stay in Zamboanga
Grand Astoria Hotel: With standard rooms priced at P650.00 equipped with air conditioning, ref, telephone, cable TV and hot and cold shower, this hotel is perfect for budget travelers and backpackers
Lantaka by the Sea Hotel: This standard class hotel offers reasonable priced standard air conditioned rooms which start at P1,320.00. But what is particularly extraordinary about this place is located on the paved area by the wharf behind the hotel. Here, you will find colorful vinta sail boats and stalls of the Badjao sea gypsies, one of the original people who settled Zamboanga. The Badjaos offer various decorative items and trinkets fashioned out of materials harvested from the sea. The most common are pearls that have been stringed into necklaces or fashioned into ear rings. While a set of these can be bought at ridiculously low prices, the real bargain lies in your experience of having bought these right off the hands of a Badjao diver who retrieved these gems from the bottom of the sea and which he crafted himself into jewelry with a story to tell.
Tel.No.: (6362) 991-2033
Garden Orchid Hotel: Equipped with air conditioning, cable TV, NDD/IDD telepnone, hot and cold showers, the price for standard rooms start at P1,736.00. This hotel is highly recommended for businessmen in search for luxury and who wish to live within striking distance from every major place or facility in the city. It’s also an excellent place to rub elbows and be seen with affluent Chavacanos who frequent the hotel.
Gov. Camins Avenue
Tel. Nos.: (6362) 991-0031 up to 34
How to Get to Zamboanga
Manila to Zamboanga and Back: The fastest way to get to Zamboanga from Manila is by plane. Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Air Philippines have daily flights that can whisk you away to the Latin City of Asia in about one hour and thirty-five minutes for a round trip plane fare of about P8,000.00. If you choose to travel by sea you can board a ferry in Manila and sail to Zamboanga City at a travel time of approximately 45 hours. A round trip ticket for a super value non-air conditioned bunk will cost you about P2,600.00.
Cebu to Zamboanga and Back: If you want to get there pronto, hop on a Cebu Pacific flight bound for Zamboanga City. A round trip plane fare will cost you about P4,000.00 and travel time is approximately one hour and twenty-five minutes. If you are on a tight budget, you may want to travel aboard the Super Ferry which regularly leaves Cebu bound for Zamboanga City. A round trip super value boat fare for a non-air conditioned bunk is about P2,100.00 and travel time is approximately 19 hours.
Dumaguete to Zamboanga and Back: Board the Oceanjet fast craft that leaves Dumaguete at 2:20 PM bound for Cebu via Tagbilaran. A round trip boat fare would cost you P1,600.00 and travel time is approximately 4 hours. Upon reaching Cebu, you can either fly or sail to Zamboanga City depending on your budget and time. The cheapest option is to take the Oceanjet fast craft that sails from Dumaguete directly to Dapitan for P520.00 (one way). From Dapitan, take a bus going to nearby Dipolog City 14 kilometers away. From there, travel overland to Zamboanga City aboard the Rural Transit. The cost of the bus fare is about P500.00 (one way) and travel time is approximately 8 hours.