TAWI-TAWI:the backdoor of the Philippines



  • It is the southernmost part of the Philippines; part of the ARMM.
  • The oldest mosque in the Philippines is found here.
  • Interesting stilt houses stand in the sea.
  • The longest sandbar in the Philippines is Panampangan Island via Celebes Sea.


Sanga-Sanga Airport in Bongao is the gateway to Tawi-Tawi. The safest way to get to Bongao, the capital of Tawi-Tawi is via Cebu Pacific from Zamboanga City. Upon arrival, register at the Tourism office for safety reasons. It is best to have a local contact and arranged accommodation beforehand. Bongao city center is just a few minutes away, tricycles are everywhere.


A. SIMUNUL ISLAND:  The distance of islands are quite far so when they say island hopping, it won’t be the typical boats we have in Luzon and Visayas. We took a private speed boat to Simunul Island and assisted by armed men. Notice that most household carry guns. We were advised to go home before sunset as they ususally shoot suspicious strangers from the sea.



so this is how it feels like to hug a 400-year-old-pillar!

Karim ul-Makhdum was an Islamic preacher/trader from Johor now known as Malaysia. He brought Islam in the year 1380 CE in this island. Just nearby is his fenced tomb believed to be the size of a giant man. Simunul is known as the “Dubai of the Philippines” due to the thousands of pilgrims from neighboring countries and Mindanao visiting the mosque. He established the Sheik Karimal Makdum Mosque making it the cradle of Islam. This is now acknowledged as the oldest mosque in the Philippines located in Barangay Tubig Indangan, Simunul, Tawi-Tawi. The original mosque was burned so the pillars were reconstructed.  The four pillars from the 17th century are regarded as sacred and historic islamic artifacts said to be 400 years old. No wonder it has been declared as a National Historical Landmark and National Treasure.


B. PANAMPANGAN ISLAND: Despite Tawi-tawi’s fearsome reputation, the most beautiful islands and longest sandbars are found here. Transportation outside Bongao is limited and off shore is dangerous so military escorts are provided. Panampangan is officially the Philippines’ longest sandbar. You can reach it in less than an hour via speed boat. This island is just barely shaded so better bring your essentials. The sand is powdery fine and white. It is one of the best I have been to, considering my habitual island hopping. This 3-km-long sandbar is also called Basibuli Shoal along  Celebes Sea. It is best to bring packed lunch as it is a secluded area and no potable water source.



  • Check out the gigantic wooden ships being made by the locals. They are customized for Malaysian buyers that costs millions of pesos and atleast a year to accomplish by hand.
  • Look for some locals harvesting seaweed or drying them. Learn their ways of life.
  • Walk on stilt houses and check out the place where they found the controversial giant alligator.
  • Trek Bud Bongao/ Mount Bongao: The locals call it the Sacred mountain of Tawi-Tawi a pilgrim site for Christians and Muslims. It is the highest point for viewing Celebes Sea. It has 6 peaks of limestones and along the trail are Philippine macaques so this is not for the faint hearted.  Avoid bringing too much food and captivating gadgets that could hype their interest.
  • Go to Tawi-Tawi Provincial Capitol.
  • Check out the wet market for the most peculiar and giant seafood at a very low price. Have it cooked on your homestay.
  • The Philippine Turtle Islands: This is still on my bucketlist because it is a huge nesting ground of green turtles and a protected area by the government.

Everything here is huge!


made to order vessel


  1. Register at the Tourism office and do not go on your own off coast. Always ask for assistance.
  2. Most people are equipped with guns so avoid playing with them. Behave properly and respect their culture.
  3. It is best to stay indoors before sunset.
  4. Travel as a group. Do not wear revealing clothes as it is a conservative muslim territory.
  5. You may be surprise to witness improper waste disposals in the mainland especially in the stilt houses. Hold it and avoid arguements.


“Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember and remember more than I have seen.”

-Benjamin Disraeli