Places to Visit in Tawi-Tawi
As the southernmost province in the Philippines, Tawi-Tawi boasts of a number of destinations still considered as off-the-beaten path. Home to diversity and a colorful culture that has flourished and preserved for hundreds of years, visitors to this province are sure to be gifted with a memorable experience. Previously overlooked and unreasonably associated with security concerns, Tawi-Tawi is quickly becoming a favorite option of travelers in search of a place teeming with cultural wonders and wonderful nature sights. To the lucky and adventurous travelers willing to explore Tawi-Tawi, here are just some of the many places worth visiting.
1. Panampangan Island
An hour away from Bongao by a fast boat, one arrives at probably one of the most stunning islands in the country; Panampangan Island. It is also believed to have the longest sand bar in the Philippines. According to environment and mapping advocate Ervin Malicdem “During low tide, the sandbar extends far out to about 3 kilometers to its neighboring islet, Basibuli; also in the same reef”. Lush greens composed of towering coconut trees occupy a large section of the island which provides adequate shade, while the rest is composed of a picturesque snaking sand bar curling around the crystal clear waters of Celebes Sea. A day trip here screams of nothing but a fantastic experience.
Panampangan’s almost unending sandbar will make you jump for joy. Photo courtesy of Nomadic Experiences
2. Bud Bongao Peak
Tawi-Tawi’s sacred mountain of Bud Bongao towers only 1,100 feet above sea level, but it holds a taller significance to the history, culture and religion of Islam in the province. Some even believe that one of the followers of Karim ul-Makhdum – the Arab preacher who first brought Islam to the country more than 600 years ago – was buried here. Today, Bud Bongao remains much revered by the locals and a protected biodiversity area spanning 250 hectares – both by the LGU of Bongao and the hundreds of playful long-tailed macaques who hang out along the trail to the top.
Jump in delight on top of Bud Bongao Peak. Photo courtesy of Nomadic Experiences
3. Old Chinese Port
Apart from the bustling seaside activities, the colorful row of lantsa (motorized wooden boats) docked at the old Chinese Port in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, instantly arrests your attention. Referred to with its name because of its origin many hundreds of years ago as the main trading port between the Arab, Malays and Chinese merchants. Today, it still serves as a chief fishing and trading port aside from being an important sea hub to the many islands of Tawi-Tawi and as some would say, even to Malaysia and Indonesia.
Always a busy day at the Old Chinese Port . Photo Courtesy of Nomadic Experiences
4. Sheik Karim al Makdum Mosque
Located in the island of Simunul, this mosque first built in 1380 is considered as the oldest in the Philippines and was named after its builder; Arab merchant and Islamic preacher Sheik Makdum Karim. While understandably, the mosque today has been rebuilt many times, four of the original wooden pillars miraculously still exist and is kept inside the mosque. A graveyard placed at the back of the mosque is believed to be where the body of Sheik Makdum Karim was buried.
The oldest Mosque in the Philippines. Photo courtesy of Journeying James
5. Bajau Village in Bongao
Witness a day in the life of the Sama Dilaut people who live in stilt houses adjacent to wooden footbridge leading to the sea. This community located in the municipality of Bongao, provides a wonderful peek into the culture of the Bajaus (Badjao) – apart from learning about their oceanic style of living, one will also be amazed by their craftsmanship in weaving, particularly the various colorful banig (hand-woven mat) a lot of them make every day.
Stilt houses characterize most Bajau Villages. Photo courtesy by Al Constantin
6. Sama Dilaut and Tausug Stilt Houses in Sitangkai
Another picture of fascination exists in the island of Sitangkai, where most Sama Dilaut and Tausug people prefer to live on stilt houses built on waters – than to settle over dry land. These stilt houses can be seen surrounding the island’s turquoise colored waters and into inner canals leading to a number of the island’s municipalities. Aside from this interesting and unique way of living, Sitangkai also boast the reputation as Tawi-Tawi’s seaweed capital.
7. Tawi Tawi Provincial Capitol
Standing atop a hill, the provincial capitol of Tawi-Tawi highlights a mosque dome to perfectly accompany its appealing Islamic architecture design. A morning jog to this spot gives you the best place to catch your breath as you stare at the magnificent view of the vast part of Bongao below.
The dome of Tawi-Tawi’s Provintial Capitol is its architecture highlight. Photo courtesy of Nomadic Experiences