One of the most untouched island provinces in the Philippines is none other than Sulu. This isn’t a wonder, though, as few places in the province are bugged with hostility among rebel groups. Nevertheless, one or two places should not define a province. There’s more to Sulu than what is being tagged on it in the news.
This blog post will discuss our whole day of adventure in Sulu. It is A MUST that you contact their tourism office before going here. While it is relatively safe to go to Jolo, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
THINGS TO REMEMBER BEFORE GOING TO SULU:
- Contact their tourism office. I can’t emphasize this enough so I’d say it over and over again. You’d have to tell them what you plan to do in Sulu and they would not only help you work your way there, they would help you with your whole stay as well. They will help you arrange your itinerary, may it be just a tour around the municipality of Jolo or island-hopping around the nearby islands.
- Maintain contact with your guide. We constantly contacted our guide before going to Sulu even though we haven’t personally met him yet. He told us to wait for him inside the ferry before heading out.
- While the ferry has already docked, we stayed for a while until he was able to fetch us inside the ferry. He accompanied us all throughout our stay in the island until we were safely back in the ferry going back to Zamboanga City.
- While it is feasible that you go travel here solo, it would be a lot better if you would travel with a buddy or a group. Not only will you be decreasing your expenses significantly, you’d also be sharing an experience you might consider a great one.
- Abide by their rules. If your guide tells you that you aren’t allowed to go to a certain place or do something you aren’t supposed to, then don’t.
- Follow their dress code. While not technically prohibited, it’s best you avoid wearing short and skimpy clothes while you are here as respect to the people of the community. Our guide even told us to refrain from wearing sando or shorts when touring around the town of Jolo. By doing this, you’d not only respect their unwritten rule about wearing appropriate clothes, you’d also refrain from attracting unnecessary attention.
WHERE IS SULU?
Sulu is one of the five provinces that comprise the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which replaced the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), in the southern part of the Philippines.
Sulu is the third largest province of BARMM, and its people constitutes one-fifth of the only Muslim-majority region of the country. It is part of the Sulu Archipelago, and it has four island groups: Jolo, Pangutaran, Tongkil-Banguingui and Siasi-Tapul. We were only able to explore a part of the Jolo group of islands, but it was enough to convince us that Sulu is such a mesmerizing place!
HOW TO GO TO SULU?
If you’re an ordinary passenger/ traveler, there is only one way to travel to Sulu. It is by riding the overnight ferry in the port of Zamboanga City. It is said that there was another way to go here before, and that was by riding the Weesam fast craft. However, it is no longer operational.
WHAT TO EXPLORE
There are two ways of exploring Sulu. The easier and cheaper way is by doing a “town tour” of Jolo by riding the tricycle from one tourist destination to another around the provincial capital. The other way is by renting a boat so you can visit a few islands near Jolo like Lahat-Lahat Island. If time permits, you can do both ways just like what we did!
I was awed when I saw this island in Sulu! It made me say that Sulu is also a paradise in terms of white beach islands! There was no one in Lahat-Lahat Island when we went there so we had it all to ourselves!
It felt pretty amazing being in the beach, gazing at its alluring blue waters, walking along its white sand shore and just absorbing inward the serenity the scenery was exuding.
It’s just sad that the owners of the island were said to sell its white sand to construction. I mean, why? For all its beauty and glory, I wouldn’t want this island to perish after some time, you know.
These beautiful group of islands are just near Lahat-Lahat Island. We were not able to go here, but we were able to capture it by drone.
Bangas Island in Hadji Panglima Tahil
This island opened my eyes to the kinds of activities Bajaus and other people in Sulu make for a living. After unloading off the boat in their port, we saw children in uniform walking along the road. It was already lunchtime so I was assuming school’s over.
We headed to a mini store where we bought snacks called pastil and pan-pan (If you have read my Tawi-Tawi blog posts, you’re probably already aware of these snacks).
Afterwards, we continued walking towards the Bajau community. You’d know you’re already there when you already see a wooden bridge.
While walking along their wooden bridge, we saw people farming seaweeds! It was my first time to witness such an activity, and the seaweed farmer who was there was kind enough to answer a few questions I had asked him.
We then headed to the security office where soldiers assigned in the island were staying. They made it clear to us that communication between them and the local guides is important so they can give feedback if it’s safe to go to a particular place in the surrounding areas.
Finally, we visited the go-to resort in Sulu nowadays, the Rahmat Dive Resort. As it is said to only open during the weekend, we had the place all to ourselves. Not that we were able to do the activities the resort can offer like zip-lining and diving, but we were able to appreciate why people from Jolo and other areas of Sulu go here to spend their leisure time.
Said to be the most beautiful mosque in Sulu, Tulay Mosque is also the oldest and the largest mosque in the whole province. Located within the heart of Jolo, its beauty is apparent even from afar. That early morning when we were heading to Jolo via ferry, it’s one of the most recognizable structures even before reaching the shores of Sulu.
Mount Carmel Cathedral
This is the one and only Catholic Church in the entire province of Sulu. And this shouldn’t come in as a shock as the province is known as a place for Muslim people. When I asked our guide regarding the religions in Sulu, he said that probably about 99% of the people there are Muslims. (I have researched about this and the statistics actually show it’s 97%. Our guide came close.) The rest would be Catholics and other Christian denominations.
We visited this church while we were inside and I was elated when I saw it in the inside because it was actually beautiful! There was a mass being held, but because we were pressed for time, I just kneeled and prayed for a while.
As you can see in the picture, the church is barricaded. In fact, it’s also guarded by soldiers from the sides. When asked why, our guide said that the church receives constant bomb threats! That’s probably insane, but it isn’t impossible, is it?
Sadly, a tragedy happened on the morning of January 27, 2019 as two bombs exploded in the church. Twenty people were killed and 102 were injured. The Philippine National Police (PNP) believes some members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) are behind the bombings. It is suspected that the bombing was triggered because of the newly created BARMM.
Sulu Provincial Capitol
One of the most beautiful capitols I have seen in the entire country, the Sulu Provincial Capitol bears a Moorish-inspired architecture. Its walls are painted white, with gold-colored domes at the top. It is where we got to meet the tourism officer my friend, Brye, contacted before heading to the province.
Jolo Town Hall
It was a good day to visit Sulu because it turned out that it was the mayor’s birthday! After island-hopping, we went here to join in the celebration! Many people, government workers or not, went here as well to celebrate with the mayor. While listening to people singing beautifully (one of which was one of our tour guides), we ate a lot of food that was offered!
Jolo’s Local Market
Don’t forget to buy fruits such as lanzones and durian in their local markets! They’re really very affordable!
WHERE TO STAY
Sulu Peacekeepers Hotel
Our tour guides said that this is the only place where they recommend people to check in while visiting the province of Sulu. Located inside Camp Asturias, the hotel is not only pretty and neat, it is also affordable. A family room is P1,200.
WHO TO CONTACT
Kuya Sim (Sai Fud Din III) is our guide in Sulu. He accompanied us the entire time of our visit and made sure that we get to experience the province just like how we wanted to experience it. Aside from that, he’s a pretty good photographer so you can ask him for ideas and tips when wanting to take a picture in Sulu’s key places. Here is his contact number: 09958409428.
TRAVEL EXPENSES IN SULU FOR A DAY
Here are the key expenses that you should take note of when planning to visit Sulu. Be reminded that some expenses are divided into 3, because we are 3 in a group. The estimated total is good for one person for a group of 3.
|Ferry ticket from Zamboanga City to Jolo||P550 (plus P15 for terminal fee)||Make sure to make a reservation beforehand. Book early on even though the trip is at night.Travel time is about 7 to 8 hours.|
|Sulu Peacekeepers Hotel||P1,200 (good for 3)||The room that we had is good for a group of 4.|
|Boat for the two island destinations||P2,500 (good for 3)||The boat that we used is a long albeit small one, just good for a small number of people.|
|Guide fee||P300 (per group)||I highly recommend you to add more. More so, buy your tour guide snacks and food for lunch.|
|Tricycle fare||P30* one way for a group of 3 (P50 when the destination is far)||We rode the tricycle every single time we traveled around Jolo. The fee varies according to distance. For example, the tricycle fee from the port to our hotel is P30 while the fee from hotel to the capitol is P50. Considering every ride, we accumulated P300 for a whole day.|
|Food||P300**||This is an estimate for **each person. We ate quite a lot during our stay including breakfast, snacks and lunch. Included also here are the bunch of fruits (lanzones, durian, mangosteen) that we bought!|
|Ferry ticket from Jolo to Zamboanga City||P550 (plus P15 for terminal fee)||Secure your ticket ahead of time. Reserve.|
|TOTAL||P2,699||This is a conservative estimate. I highly suggest that you bring more when you visit.|
I hope I was able to encourage and inspire you to go to Sulu, which is a “blindingly blue-tiful” place to be in. Some areas in the province may be perceived to be not very safe, keep in mind that Jolo and some of its nearby places are safe. Just make sure you contact the tourism first before going here and they will guide you accordingly while exploring. Keep safe and enjoy, okay?