Basilan Island: The Eluded Paradise

I really did not expect that I will be able to feel the soil of Basilan Island between my toes.

It was beautiful and surreal, but an eluded paradise.

Basilan Island has been a hot spot and has been consistently heard over the national news for acts of terrorism and battles between the Philippine armies and the militants. It scared the hearts of many travelers and adventurers marking it hot red and a danger zone on their maps. Even some people from the nearby Zamboanga City do not dare to visit the island. Majority of them have not visited the island yet. Mentioning your plan to visit the island will get you a reply and advice to be safe. It baffled my mind and saddened my heart that these stigmas blanket the paradise that has longed to be uncovered. It came to my conclusion that living by the rumors and news alone will not give the island justice. I have to experience it in person. So here is my story and experience when I visited the island:

Basilan Island
Basilan Island as seen from the boat before docking.

Basilan island marks the last leg of our Ultimate Zamboanga Trip. It was actually on our tentative list as we were still waiting for the safety status of the island. Prior to our trip, we contacted the tourism office of Lamitan City, Basilan and of Isabela City. It really is important to coordinate with the tourism office for a safer trip and proper orientation. It is also advisable to make a courtesy call to the local government and log on their visitors’ log book.

Check out the whole Zamboanga trip here: Ultimate Zamboanga Trip 

We greeted the Zamboanga City morning and looked for a hot breakfast. Chicken and Beef satti are widely available, especially in the morning. Started our day early to secure our boat tickets to Lamitan City, which is the capital city of Basilan. At the ticketing area, packed lunch is available for a very cheap price.

To be honest, I was kinda hesitant to proceed to the island. The island’s reputation somehow stirred my confidence. But nothing can stop a thirsty soul from plunging into a yet another adventure and experience of a lifetime. So there we were, holding our tickets and ready to board.

Basilan Island

As I sit quietly inside the boat, I noticed a number of armies in uniform were also on board. I somehow feel secure and at the same time shady. But seeing happy families on board made me think otherwise. Somehow, a light sparked on my troubled thoughts.

Basilan Island

Hours have passed and the boat has signaled the port for its arrival. Passengers woke-up from their cat nap and ready to disembark. Families waiting at the port for the arrival of their loved ones. The port suddenly got busy.

Basilan Island

Finally, I can feel the provincial air of Basilan. The rich vegetation of the island even on their humble capital city of Lamitan proves that Basilan island is still in its raw beauty.

Basilan Island
The port in Lamitan City, Basilan.

Minutes passed and the tourism’s van picked us up at the port. To make everything formal, we made sure to make a courtesy call to the city’s Mayor officer.

Contrary to the stigma, people in Basilan island are so welcoming. After we made our courtesy call, the city’s office provided us escorts for our safety.

First stop, we went to Bulingan Falls which is just around 20-30 minutes away from the city hall. There were no visitors when we went there, so we were able to capture photos of the place with no crowd.

Basilan Island
Bulingan Falls

Then to the public market we went, where people and culture converge.

Basilan Island

 We tried some of their delicacies. I find “panyalam” so hard to resist that I bought more than five pieces, I guess, just for my personal consumption. Panyalam is made of rice flour mixed with coconut milk and sugar and deep fried in a traditional way.
Basilan Island
An old lady cooking “panyalam“.
Basilan Island
Panyalam in close-up.

Also tried “lokot-lokot” as well which is also equally tasty.

Basilan Island
Lokot-Lokot in close-up

In Lamitan City, they have a quote that says “Sa Lamitan, lami tanan!” which translates to “In Lamitan, everything is (tastes) good!”“Lami” literally translates to “tastes good”.

 

HOW TO GET TO LAMITAN CITY:
  • From Zamboanga City, secure a boat trip bound for Lamitan City.
    • Boat fare is around 90 pesos.
    • Terminal Fee 11 pesos.
    • Boat docking fee 20 pesos.
  • From Isabela City, ride a van or jeepney bound for Lamitan City.
  • Contact Lamitan City Tourism Office
  • Or reach them out via their Facebook page
  • Lamitan City Tourism Office offers a tour complete with guide, escort, and van transportation for 400 pesos per head. They’ll fetch you at the port and drop you wherever you want as long as it is safe for you.

 

NOTES and REMINDERS:
  • Always contact and coordinate with Lamitan City’s Tourism Office.
  • I do not advise DIY unless you already know the place.
  • Be kind towards the locals and bring out your best smile.
  • Always observe and practice LNT (Leave No Trace).
  • ENJOY and don’t forget to take lots of memorable photos!

Our next stop is Isabela City where our escort dropped us. Again, we contacted Isabela City’s Tourism Office prior our Ultimate Zamboanga Trip.

Check out the whole trip here: Ultimate Zamboanga Trip 

First stop is Lampinigan Island. Lampinigan island is rumored to have housed some militant members. So it really is important and advisable to bring escorts and contact the tourism office prior the trip. Our Isabela City tour guide already contacted the chief captain of the island. It so happened that the chief captain of the island also owns a pump-boat which we rented for the whole Isabela trip.

It was already approaching noon when we headed to the island. A risky adventure indeed! I wasn’t sure what awaits us on the island. But then, the enchanting paradise slowly unfolds its beauty as we got nearer. The crystal clear waters, the white beach, the lush vegetation proves that the island is indeed a haven. Just imagining what I saw on the island makes me want to go back and plunge right away on its aquamarine waters.

Basilan Island

Like kids, we were dazzled by the rawness of the island. My feet were frantically shaking due to the excitement. By the second my toes felt the sands of the island, I was like an unbridled wild horse – free to run.

Basilan Island

But you have to be very wary as to not go beyond the sight of your escort for your safety. I swear I will revisit the place again if given a chance. I enjoyed the crystal clear water so much that our stay wasn’t long enough. It would be perfect to spend at least a one whole day on the island. Camping on the beach and under the stars would be a fantastic scene.

Basilan Island

HOW TO GET TO LAMPINIGAN ISLAND:
  • From Lamitan City, get on a bus, van, or jeepney bound for Isabela City.
  • If you availed the tour package of Lamitan City Tourism Office, you can have yourself dropped near Isabela City’s port.
  • From the port, you can charter a pump-boat or “bangka” to take you and your tour guide and escorts to the island.
    • The usual charge is around 3,000 pesos per boat.
    • Trip usually takes around 30 minutes
  • I recommend contacting the chief captain of the island and rent his boat. That way, the captain will know that there are visitors coming and secure your safety upon arriving on the island.
    • They charge us 3,000 pesos to take us to the island and traverse to Malamawi island.

 

NOTES and REMINDERS:
  • Basilan is an island with a high concentration of Muslim communities, so do not expect pork and other non-halal foods to be widely available.
  • Isabela City is in Basilan but does not belong to the Basilan province.
  • Lamitan City Tourism and Isabela City Tourism are separate offices. You have to contact each of the offices prior your trip if you are planning to visit both cities.
  • Isabela City’s tourism offers free tour guide. All you have to pay is the transportation and meal. It is up to you to give tips.
  • Contact Isabela City’s tourism by this number: 0905-479-2819
  • Or you may reach them out via their Facebook page
  • When planning your meal and transportation, take account the number of your guides and escorts. The best option when planning meals is to bring only halal foods.
  • For foreigners and non-Filipino looking visitors, I highly recommend you contact the tourism office prior your trip for them to be able to provide an escort.
  • Always show appreciation and bring out your best smile when interacting with the locals.
  • Always practice and observe LNT (Leave No Trace) principle.
  • ENJOY and take as many memorable photos as you can!
    • It will serve as your best souvenir. Not the beach sands and stones (Leave No Trace).

Since we are only visiting Basilan Island for a limited number of hours, we have to cut our stay in Lampinigan Island to give way to our next destination. We did not mind changing to our dry clothes anymore to save time. Our next destination is Malamawi White Beach in Malamawi island which is about half an hour away from Lampinigan Island. Upon reaching the docking area, the water serves as our temptress, inviting us to dive right away. But we still have to settle our bags on the beach first.

Basilan Island

Malamawi White Beach resort is quite famous in Basilan Island. It is where most of the tourists go whenever they visit Basilan. Naturally, the beach’s shore is rocky but the resort managed to transfer the rocks to another area, thus giving it a wide sandy white beach line. The heat of the sun did not matter that time.

The desire to enjoy the water overpowered my concern of getting sunburned. We went on to the docking area where the water is quite deep and where we can enjoying cliff jumping and diving. There are also locals residing beside the resort. We only stopped when it was time for us to leave for us to catch the last trip back to Zamboanga City.

Basilan Island
A local kid on the resort.

Our tour guide arranged everything including securing of the motorcycles that took us back to Malamawi Island’s pump-boat or “bangka” docking area.

Basilan Island
Basilan Island’s port is very visible from Malamawi Island

Malamawi island is actually just a stone throw away from the main island of Basilan. If you are a good swimmer, you can actually swim the distance. But because of the rough sea current in between, it is not advisable and recommended. It only took us more or less 10 minutes to arrive at Isabela City’s port, which is just right in front of Malamawi island’s pup-boat docking area. Right after arriving at the port, we were then escorted to the port for us to secure our boat tickets back to Zamboanga City. Our tour guide and our escorts then bid farewell as we went inside and waited for our trip back to Zamboanga City.

Basilan Island

HOW TO GET MALAMAWI WHITE BEACH:
  • From Zamboanga City, secure a boat trip to Isabela City.
    • Usually, the fare is around 150 pesos.
    • The terminal fee at Zamboanga City is around 11 pesos.
    • Isabela City’s terminal fee is just 4 pesos. **Charged only for Isabela to Zamboanga City trips**
  • From Isabela City, go to the port where the Old Post Office Bldg. is located.
  • Take a pump-boat / “bangka” heading to Malamawi island. The trip takes around 10 minutes.
    • Charter the whole bangka trip for 100 pesos
    • Or wait for it to be filled with other passengers and pay 5 pesos per person
    • The same rate applies going back to main Basilan Island.
  • From Malamawi Bangka Terminal, ride a motorcycle or “habal-habal” that will take you to Malamawi White Beach.
    • Fare is 50 pesos per “habal-habal” good for 2 passengers
    • The same rate applies going back to the terminal.
  • In Malamawi White Beach, an entrance fee of 45 pesos per head is collected.
NOTES and REMINDERS:
  • Malamawi Island is a highly Muslim-concentrated area.
  • People are very helpful, welcoming and smiling contrary to the common stigma. Be kind to the locals and they will, in return, be kind to you too. Don’t forget to bring out your best smile.
  • People in Malamawi island have their own dialect but the majority can understand Bisaya, Tagalog, and English.
  • For foreigners and non-Filipino looking visitors, I highly recommend you contact the tourism office prior your trip for them to be able to provide an escort.
  • Always practice and observe LNT (Leave No Trace) principle.
  • ENJOY and take as many memorable photos as you can!
    • It will serve as your best souvenir. Not the beach sands and stones (Leave No Trace).

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