Sta Cruz Island is one of the top 21 beaches in the world according to a National Geographic article. Having that kind of recognition and world-class publicity, the number of guests in the island definitely experienced a surge. We have seen other tourist destinations go viral on social media and it had been a sure recipe for disaster. With great popularity comes a great number of visitors, a logistical nightmare for managers and organizers of tourist spots. Not to mention that it also posts a solid waste management problem with the trash that some irresponsible tourist will leave behind. But that did not happen to Sta Cruz Island because the local government and the Protected Area Management Unit (PAMU) headed by Mr Richard Aliangan enhanced its tourism management plan to adapt to the sudden rise of visitors.
The pink hue is more obvious when the sand gets wet.
Tourists are advised to book ahead of time, preferably a week before their scheduled trips by calling 0927-2835-684. Weekday tours are quite manageable for the team but weekends are flocked with visitors. The iconic pink sands of Zamboanga City are very accessible with a jump-off point in Paseo del Mar where guests are oriented on the dos and don’ts. The island is only open to the public from 7am until 2pm and overnight stays are not allowed. Waves go crazy late in the afternoon and getting back to the mainland would be a roller coaster ride. Each boat can accommodate up to 10 persons and costs Php 1,000.00 for a round trip. An entrance fee of Php 20.00 and Php 5.00 terminal fee are collected once you get to the island. Cottages at the beach front cost Php 100.00-200.00 while a pavilion that can fit a party for 30 people costs 500.00. An optional lagoon tour near the community and a visit to the sandbar near the Small Sta Cruz Island are also possible depending on the tide. Please inform the management ahead of time if you want to avail the lagoon tour. You may also arrange with the Asociacion de Guia Turistico del Zamboanga (AGTZ) for a package from tour operators (0917-724-3199).
Lagoon tour and sandbar
The lagoon tour is a new attraction in Sta Cruz Island where guests can have an informative and guided tour. Visitors need to take a short boat ride from the main beach front to the nearby community near the lagoon. Smaller boats colored in yellow (no, they are not dilawan) awaits the guests, these are donations from the Yellow Boat Foundation to the community of Sta Cruz Island for livelihood purposes. The fees for the lagoon tour go directly to the hands of the boatmen which serves as an alternative source of income. Lessons about biodiversity, the livelihood of the community, and different kinds of mangroves are presented in an educational way with a bit of pun in between. A garden of stingless jellyfish greet the guests as they rest upside down on the waters of the lagoon. They look like sunflowers arranged beautifully underwater. Guests can hold them but not take them out of the water to avoid harming the gentle creatures. Little is known about the stingless jellyfish of Sta Cruz Island and a research is being conducted to know more about these gentle creatures. Colorful vintas await at the end of the tour where guests can take photos and ride the icon of Zamboanga.
A larger boat would then take the guests to the sandbar near Little Sta Cruz Island. The color gradation of blues and greens surrounding the sandbar is a feast for the eyes. Stretching for more than 20 meters, the sand bar is made up of sand (of course), shells and corals. Big waves would crash from left and right making it more fun and exciting. The nearby Small Sta Cruz Island looks pretty inviting but visitors are not allowed there yet. Only researchers can step on the island with a special permit. The tour takes roughly an hour and you can spend the rest of the day beach bumming in the blushing pink sands.
How pink is it?
As most of us already know, the shade of pink comes from the crushed red organ pipe corals (Tubipora musica) that have blended with the sand. From afar, the sands of Sta Cruz Island looks like an ordinary white sand beach that you would find somewhere else in the country. But as you go nearer, you will notice the sand starting to blush. Yes, just a blush of pink but not totally pink. The pinkness of the sand gets more saturated if it gets wet, thus, it is lovelier after the waves roll over it. There are a lot of circulating photos that exaggerated the pinkness of the sand that drew flak from the locals for being a tad deceiving. Just to clarify, the sand near the cottages are not as pink as the sand near the water but the red specks are still visible. Drone shots would only show pinkness near the waters but not the entire beach. There are parts of the island that has more intense blush due to lesser foot traffic. Photographs are also affected by the weather condition, the intensity of the sun and the time of day the shots were taken.
Safety and security are the primary concern of visitors in Zamboanga. The city government is committed to secure both locals and tourists by increasing its efforts in guarding the city especially in crowded areas including the tourist spots. As I would always say: You don’t need a lot of courage to visit Zamboanga, you just need and an open mind.
Thanks to the following who made our trip possible: Regional Director Antonio Fernando Blanco of DOT Region 9, Mr Richard Aliangan of PAMU, Precious Jane Rebollos (Tourism Officer I) and Charles Anthony Rotoni (Admin Officer IV) of DOT Region 9. My travel buddy who loves to draw, Charenelle Hugo, congratulations for finally putting colors to our plan. @SJCAM_PH for the #SJ6Legend (Please contact Norman or Gil for your orders). My gratitude to the staff of PAMU for the warm welcome, specially to Manong Ernesto. Mr Errold Lim Bayona of the Guia Turistico Del Zamboanga (please contact him for package tours).