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Zooming in Zamboanga

Zooming in Zamboanga

Bernard Supetran
Zamboanga Golf Course and Beach Park


It may be a classic case of “reputation preceding itself” because of its being used as dateline by the media when filing unpleasant stories on the peace and order situation in Mindanao. Truth be told, this quaint Castillan-influenced age-old city may yet be your most surprising destination and new favorite because of the largely-unreported bustling living.

Since rebranding itself a decade ago as “Asia’s Latin City” because of its strong Spanish influence, Zamboanga City has been luring curious travelers and convention goers to see for themselves the truth behind the news stories.

If your timing is right, you will be welcomed at the airport with a dance troupe swaying to the lilting folk song “No Te Vayas de Zamboanga” which will instantly disarm you and banish your fear factor.

A highly-recommended homebase is the 3-star Garden Orchid Hotel just across the airport, and is a one-stop shop for dining, entertainment and tourist services.

Zoom in and around Zamboanga with ease in these must-do pit stops.

Pit Stop 1: Pueblo. The Spanish word for city proper, this district is the cradle of Zamboanga’s Hispanic heritage, commerce, and tourism, where many century-old structures still proudly stand, which seem to transport you back in time. The core of the area is the City Hall which fit perfectly with the green-manicured Plaza Rizal and Plaza Pershing in one postcard shot.

Tucked in between the streets are quaint home-grown restaurants and street food, such as the satti, which would surely capture the fancy of the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. For the obligatory pasalubong, There are stalls selling Muslim and Yakan tribal apparel, food items traded from Sabah, Malaysia, and other good buys.

To the far end of the Pueblo is Fort Pilar, the archipelago’s most strategic southern military outpost dating back from the Spanish era to the Second World War. The city’s most visited landmark, its interior is now occupied by a regional branch of The National Museum, while its outer wall houses the Shrine of the Nuestra Senora Del Pilar, the patron saint of Zamboanga, which lures thousands of local and visiting devotees.

Right beside the historic fortress is Paseo del Mar, a seaside esplanade, civic center, and al fresco dining hub which features local specialties, namely the Curacha spanner crab dipped on Alavar sauce, and the refreshing knickerbocker or fruit in ice cream dessert.

Pit Stop: 2: Sta. Cruz Grande Island. A natural gem hiding from plain sight, this 280-hectare island is known for its pinkish sand due crushed red corals, crystalline water, and lush marine life. Its core is a saltwater lagoon with a 180-hectare mangrove forest which can be toured onboard the community-operated yellow boats.

A 15-minute boat ride from the Paseo Del Mar mini-jetty, it is tops for a day tour with a boodle fight lunch arranged with a tour operator.

This charming patch of land has a smaller sister island sandbar 5 minutes away, and they form part of the government-supervised 1,877-hectare Great and Little Sta. Cruz Islands Protected Landscape & Seascape.

Pit Stop 3: Zamboanga Golf Course and Beach Park. Business travelers who are golf aficionados will be pleasantly surprised by this fairway with a stunning oceanview. This 18-hole championship course, at 72-6 par and 404 yards has its own rustic allure starting with its distinctly Mindanao-themed clubhouse.

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Owned and ran by the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), it also has a driving range where newbies can get work on their swing before aspiring for the proverbial most exercised plum in the game proper.

In the recent Hermosa Festival, it hosted the Hermosa Tee which seeks to put Zamboanga into the prestigious circuit of golf tournaments in the southern Philippines.

Pit Stop 4: La Paz. Tucked in the city’s upland fringes, this barangay at about 500 meters above sea level is an emerging mountain colony with resorts sprouting like mushrooms. Literally meaning “peace”, this area gives you peace of mind and a summer breeze that will make you feel fine.

The most notable of these highland hideaways is Southern Highlands Recreational Park which takes pride in its lush forest, log cabin-inspired lodging, zipline, team-building facilities, boating and fishing lagoon, and the Dennis Coffee Garden, a local café chain which offers the sought-after Tausug delicacies and brewed coffee from Sulu.

There’s also the adjacent La Guerta, literally meaning “the farm” which is dotted by vegetable and fruit plantations which will dazzle the certified plantito. For adventurers, there are all-terrain vehicles and sports facilities, as well as tepee-style rooms and camping grounds if you wish to stay overnight.

But wait, there’s more. You can multiply the adventure and foray into the other provinces of Zamboanga Peninsula provinces (Sibugay, Del Sur and Del Norte), or Basilan just across the channel.