Basilan DIY Itinerary

Tell your mother that you are going to Basilan Province and you’ll definitely get a mouthful. But you cannot blame her because Basilan is one of the places here in the Philippines that is frequently on the headlines of newspapers for all the wrong reasons.

Malamawi Basilan
Colorful flags are planted on the sands of White Beach, Malamawi, Isabela City, Basilan.

Since college, I have heard a lot about Malamawi beach and its white sands. Stories from my classmates who had been there were all positive. It’s just one ferry ride away from Zamboanga City and getting to Malamawi is just as easy as one-two-three. I did the unthinkable. I went to Basilan a year ago for a day tour with three strangers from Manila who are on a backpacking trip. It took just a few exchange of direct messages on instagram and I agreed to join them. I had so many fears and inhibition but at the back of my mind I was telling myself “If backpackers who are not from here can do it, why can’t I?”

View Deck Basilan Malamawi
The breath taking view from a hilltop near Malamawi Beach in Basilan.


Getting there:

It was just recently during my fourth trip to the island that I decided to write this article. I had been answering questions from backpackers and helping them with their itinerary for more than a year already.

Basilan Food Trip
Beef tapa and local sausages served with a cup of rice at the Font Fastfood in Isabela City, Basilan.

To maximize your time, riding the earliest fastcraft from Zamboanga City to Isabela City, Basilan at 6:30 im the morning is the most efficient way to go. The trip takes an hour and a half for 150.00 via a fastcraft. Other trips are scheduled at 9:30 in the morning. Getting around on foot in Isabela City is very easy. Breakfast at the Font Restaurant which serves tapsilog and other value meals is a must try. Their value meal costs between 60-80 pesos. Although it’s not extra ordinarily special, the servings are large and their dishes have a home cooked feel. We then took a short walk to the Isabela City Cathedral to take photos of its stained glass windows and high ceilings. The plaza with the “Isabela,Basilan” sign is just outside the cathedral and next to it is the Basilan Provincial Capitol. You can order take out food at Jollibee Basilan for your lunch.

Basilan Church
The facade of Isabela City Cathedral.
Isabela Basilan Cathedral
Inside Isabela City Cathedral.

A few steps away from the town center is the small port going to Malamawi Island where you can ride a small boat for only five pesos. Habal habal drivers were already waiving at us as we slowly docked after the five. We broke a deal with Ronel (0926 359 3123), a habal habal driver who courteously approached us. 50.00 per head is the normal roundtrip fare for habal habals. Ronel offered to take us to a view deck for an extra fee of 25.00 pesos each. After snapping some shots at the view deck, we went downhill and entered Mamawi White Beach for a 30.00 peso fee.

Basilan Provincial Capitol
Basilan Provincial Capitol in Isabela City.
Isabela Basilan Plaza
A marker at the plaza of Isabela City, Basilan.
Port Area Basilan Isabela
Colorful boats called “papet” are used by the locals to cross to Malamawi Island from mainland Isabela City, Basilan.

Serenity in Malamawi

All of my inhibitions disappeared once I saw the beach from the view deck. The bright cerulean waters turning to deeper shades of blue filled me with so much excitement. On the other side was a view of lush greenery of mangrove forests and coconut plantations. Last month was my fourth time in Basilan but it was my first time in the view deck. Looking down, I saw a lot of improvements at the beach where cottages, conference halls and a boardwalk were being constructed.

Malamawi View Basilan
White Beach in Malamawi as seen from a view deck near the beach.

We went down to the beach and arranged our things in a mat under the shade of a tree. With so much excitement, I removed my sandals to feel the white sand under my feet. For an island boy like me, the beach is a playground where I could easily disconnect from the world. Ironic as it seem, I find serenity in Malamawi specially on a weekday where there are not much tourists and locals around.

Basilan White Snad Malamawi
White sand and cerulean waters on a sunny day in Malamawi, Isabela City, Basilan.

As the sun was shining brighter during the mid-day, the waters illuminated in beautiful shades of blue. The waves slowly hit the beach while making sounds like little thunder. It was perfect and serene. I never thought that I would find serenity in Malamawi but I definitely did.

JustGoMindanao Basilan Malamawi
The picturesque boardwalk in White Beach, Malamawi Island, Isabela City, Basilan.
Boardwalk Malamawi Basilan
This boardwalk also serves as a port or dock to sea crafts.


Fine Dining in Basilan

After a few hours of bathing in the waters, we decided to go back to the mainland to have some snacks. A friend of mine recommended the Gazebo, a very small but elaborately designed restaurant near Jack and Jill School which is a trike ride away from the port.

Basilan Fine Restaurant
The Gazebo, a very unique find in Isabela City, Basilan.

Ronald Rodriguez, a former nurse at a popular hospital in Manila decided to quit his job and open a chic restaurant that serves pasta and dishes you will find on the menus of fine dining restaurants. The Gazebo is a very small yet well decorated space. Each corner can be shot for an instagram posts! As you enter the Gazebo, you will be welcomed by an arc of flowers fabulously adorned by hanging crystals! Tables are made of glass and stainless steel which compliments the white granite floors. The Gazebo is just as big as my bedroom but it has four chandeliers with over the top crystals. Elegant and sophisticated, it’s a very pleasant surprise to have a fine dining experience in a conflict affected area.

The Gazebo Basilan
Rod Acuzar of JustGoPilipinas, Roland Rodriguez- owner of The Gazebo, and I.

We ordered spanish sardines pasta and cheezy nachos.  Our choices were limited during our visit because of the black out and their kitchen appliances won’t work without electricity. The best way for you to enjoy your dining experience is to make reservations ahead of time! You can call Ronald at +63 916 746 2568. If you are lucky and he is not busy, Roland is very accommodating and will definitely entertain you with his stories! Try dining at the Gazebo, it is truly a great find in Basilan! Each plate that comes out of the kitchen is not only picture perfect but also very tasty.

Pasta Foodie Basilan
Spanish Sardines Pasta at The Gazebo.
Fine Dining Restaurant Basilan
Filled with meaty and cheesy goodness, a platter of nachos will surely fill you up after a day at the beach.


Most bombed Jollibee?

I have read from another blog that the Basilan Branch of Jollibee is the most bombed in the entire country! Scary, right? I did my research and found out that it was bombed way back in 2008. But putting a label as the most bombed branch is an exaggeration.  In fact, according to a news article, it is the 500th branch of the famous fast food chain. I find it unfair to the residents that we add fuel to the fire of the burning reputation of Basilan. Although we want to entice our readers and get as much mileage as we could, it should not be done at the expense of other people. Putting a negative label on a place is not a good practice and should not be done especially if you are not sure of the facts. If you aren’t sure about it, don’t say it.

Jollibee Basilan
A branch of Jollibee in Isabela City, Basilan.

The locals of Basilan are very warm and welcoming. It was not hard for us to ask for directions when you go around on foot. Tricycles, busses, and cars crowd the streets of Isabela. The city has a lot of old buildings and the market place is very vibrant with culture coming from different tribes.  The island province might have graced the local and international news because of the presence of rebels in their mountainous areas. The conflicts are mostly isolated in the boondocks and the city proper feels relatively safe. The government, both local and national, are not sitting ducks and just let the issue of terrorism plague Basilan. Military and police men secure the corners of the city and the different tourist spots.

Perhaps, it is hard to persuade people to visit Basilan but there will always be curious travelers that would find their way to this very beautiful island. This article is written to guide those who would leave their apprehensions and discover the beauty of a misunderstood paradise. Always remember, you don’t need a lot of courage to travel, you just need an open mind.

Weesam Basilan Schedule
For your convenience, here is a schedule of the daily fast craft.

35 thoughts on “Basilan DIY Itinerary

  1. Thank you so much Uj Almocera for featuring Isabela, Basilan at FB. I am so happy to read your post. I love Basilan so much because I spent my happy, childhood years in that beautiful island. How I wish to visit that place in the near future! Again, thank you!

    1. Hello Ma’am!! I’m very delighted to hear that you are happy with the article I wrote.

  2. I married a great man from Basilan 6yrs ago and we are blessed with a 4y/o daughter..We are now living in Manila and I still couldn’t find the courage to visit Lamitan,Basilan especialy with a daughter in tow.I kept delaying the plan to visit and stay there for atleast 2mos as my husband want to spend time with his lola who brought him up…we are again making plans to do it in April and this blog help me have some positive feeling about the visit.☺..Thank you..

  3. Hi! Thanks for a very neat and informative blog. I will visit zamboanga, basilan, sulu and tawi-tawi come march 11-19, 2017. Hope you can give some tips like public transport schedules, homestay or any couchsurfer where I can stay. Thanks a lot!

    1. Hi, is there any chance that you get back to Basilan this coming August? I am also planning to visit Zamboanga – Basilan – Tawi Tawi and Sulu. Thanks.

        1. Hi,

          Kelan po exact dates kayo? August 10 (tawi-tawi), 11 (basilan), 12 (zambo) and 13 (jolo sulu). Baka same dates at pwede makijoin, solo backpacker here. Thanks!

  4. Hi UJ Almocera,
    I am so thankful for you not
    Only showed how beautiful
    Isabela is but i felt relief coz i am planning to visit the city by late march to do som every impt. Errands.
    I will then proceed to malamawi beach and will make reservations with gazebo. Thank you very much. I highly appreciate what you wrote.

  5. Hi, I read ur post. When are you coming back to Basilan? I am scheduled this coming August for a vacation and I am planning to visit Zamboanga – Basilan – Tawi Tawi. Thank you and this helps a lot.

  6. Hi, will a caucasian pinoy have any problems with security when visiting that area? thanks.

  7. Hi, I’ll be in Tawi-tawi, Basilan, Zamboanga and Sulu on August. Solo backpacker here, care to join?

    August 10 – Flight from Manila to Tawi-tawi then overnight
    August 11 – Flight back to Zamboanga then proceed to Basilan, overnight in Malamawi (tent)
    August 12 – Back to Zambo, overnight
    August 13 – Travel to Jolo, Sulu will just stay there for an hour, flight back to Manila at 8pm

    1. Oh , I will be in tawi-tawi by ist week of Oct. for 3 wks coz i will explore the neighboring islands . How can i share some fotos here?!


  8. Hi, I am planning to go solo backpacking sa Zamboanga and Basilan. I was wondering if you can recommend a good accommodation in Basilan kasi if there’s none and if it’s not safe for a female solo backpacker, I will just stay in Zamboanga City. If you have one, pashare sana ng contact. Thanks a lot.

    1. Hi Ma’am Dorelle, kailan po ang trip niyo to Zamboanga and Basilan?

    2. Hi Ma’am,

      What dates are you planning to go in Zamboanga and Basilan?


  9. Your article will definitely encourage more people to have the courage to visit this beautiful place that is perceived to be dangerous. The downside is that the community may not be ready. Tourism is not as simple as promoting a place. It is a complicated industry that requires planning in order to ensure that visitors are safe, and that they have an enjoyable stay. Just as important is that the locals (including the marginalise sector) are able to get on board and have the opportunity to provide services to tourists and therefore get an economic incentive to keep the place safe, clean and beautiful. Opening the door for tourism prematurely ( before the place is ready) may seem good from the perspective of a visitor like you, but may have long term negative repurcussions. Part of a plan is to have the policies that will ensure safety, conserve natural and cultural
    Heritage and prevent cultural dilution. I am sure that you do not want Basilian to end up like another Boracay or Sagada. A precautionary approach is recommended in order to avoid the many traps of uncontrolled tourism.

    1. The community and the LGU are ready 🙂 I have checked this myself. The ARMM regional governor is hands on with this. I am against premature promotion, just like you. Have you been to the place po? Or your comments are assumptions?

  10. This post will definitely encourage more backpackers to visit this beautiful place that is perceived to be dangerous. However, it is highly advisable that caution is taken when promoting a place (any place for that matter). Tourism is not as simple as promotion or blogging about it. This is how other destinations started – Boracay, Sagada, Puerto Galera, El NIdo, Banaue etc. And see where they are now. Planning is essential before any destination is promoted or opened to any level of tourism. There is more danger in promoting a place prematurely (before the people or the place is ready) because there is a big chance that the industry will end up being run by market forces. In which case, there will be no policies or strategies in place that will prevent the many undesirable impacts of tourism . This is especially true for a place like Basilan that is “perceived” to have kidnappings, crime, atrocities etc. One unfortunate incident may spell the end of tourism in this place if no strategies are in place to address FIRST safety. It may just be a perception, but it is still a factor that needs to be considered in order to ensure that economic incentive will come from tourism enterprises and not from kidnapping of tourists. Planning will also ensure that economic benefit is well distributed across the value chain and not only to capitalists or investors who may not even be from Basilan. The repercussion of promoting a place that may not ready is far reaching.

    1. You may check the place out to see for yourself 🙂 I am an advocate for sustainable community based eco tourism. I have reviewed this thoroughly before publishing.

    2. Maam, all of your concerns were checked before I wrote this article. You may visit Basilan to verify 🙂

  11. Visiting Malawi this Sept 15 to 17.. can someone recommend a resort there? contact number please?
    Photos look really amazing. Cant wait to see and experience the place!

  12. Planning to visit Malamawi with my husband this last week of September. Any recommendation of a hotel/resort to stay in Malamawi or Basilan for a night?

    1. Hi Iris, we will visit Malamawi in October. We are all from Manila and to some of us, it will be our 2nd time to visit Malamawi. You can join us if you want.

  13. I’m about to go to Malamawi tomorrow morning from Zamboanga… Hoping for more updates otherwise mangangapa ako hehe

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