It’s no secret that the Philippines is a tropical biodiversity hotspot—that is, within our breathtaking landscapes and pristine waters, a diverse variety of animals and plants call our islands home. To nurture this, we have around 240 protected areas in the country.
By definition from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), these spaces are set aside by their unique and biological diversity. As such, they are of national significance and protected against destructive human exploitation.
The people who live in these areas interact seamlessly with nature—the lands, seas, bounties of nature—while also allowing constant and sustainable tourism, recreation, and economic activity to happen.
The Zamboanga Peninsula is a hotspot for these protected landscapes and seascapes, characterized by lush and thriving flora, diverse marine life, picturesque views, and communities living harmoniously.
Zamboanga’s protected landscapes and seascapes
Aliguay Island Protected Landscape and Seascape
An island barangay under Dapitan, Aliguay Island Protected Landscape and Seascape is considered as one of Zamboanga’s hidden paradises. An established marine sanctuary, it is surrounded by white beaches, clear waters, and coral reefs.
As such, most of the tourists who visit this remote island snorkel to see Aliguay’s underwater treasures. While the island isn’t as commercialized, the locals are accommodating to guests and provide basic meals and amenities.
There isn’t a standard way to reach the island, though most previous visitors have reached Aliguay by arranging rides with the local fishermen and boatmen at Dipolog and Dapitan. Prepare around Php3,000 for a roundtrip boat ride.
Murcielagos Island Protected Landscape and Seascape
Known locally as Baliudyong, Murcielagos Island is known for its white coral-sand beaches, rich marine fauna, and ocean resources. It is also a nesting ground for marine turtles and migratory seabirds, while its reefs are inhabited by giant clams.
Snorkelers and divers are in for beautiful aquatic sights, which makes the journey to Murcielagos worthwhile for those who like underwater activities. The island is part of the municipality of Labason, which is around a four-hour drive away from Dipolog. Visitors may negotiate for boat rides from Labason Port to Murcielagos.
Given usual boat rental rates for other islands, around Php3,000 for a roundtrip boat ride of a small group (six to seven people) is a good estimate.
Selinog Island Protected Landscape and Seascape
Selinog was declared as a marine reserve because of its white sand beaches and rich aquatic resources. Those who know of its hidden gems endure the two-hour boat ride to experience that remote island in paradise experience.
People of Selinog island fish for a living. They have also diversified into salt-making, basket weaving, and marine tourism. For the few tourists that visit Selinog, some locals have begun offering simple homestays, camping gear rentals, and meals for a modest fee—around Php100 for some homestays and Php300 to Php500 for the meals, for example.
As with Aliguay Island, getting to Selinog requires negotiations with local fishermen in Dapitan. A boat ride costing Php5,000 may be good for a group of 15 to 20 people. Smaller groups (six to seven people) have gotten rates as low as Php700 to Php1,000.
Great and Little Sta. Cruz Islands Protected Landscape and Seascape
These two islands are jointly known to be a protected landscape. The Great Sta. Cruz Island in particular is popular for its pink sand beach, which comes from pulverized red organ pipe coral.
While the Great Sta. Cruz Island has been frequented by tourists for decades, its Little counterpart has not always been open for longer visits. This is because it’s a marine protected area that has a high biodiversity value and is closed to human activities so that it can be preserved. The only visitors accepted are those engaging in scientific studies or research purposes only and not for recreation or tourism activities.
Visits to the islands need to be coordinated with the City Tourism Office of Zamboanga, and are limited only from around 6 or 7 am to around 2 or 3 pm. Entrance fees are Php20, terminal fees are Php5, and a boat ride good for 10 people will cost Php1,000. You can also avail of a lagoon cruise for Php200 per person.
All tourist destinations in the Zamboanga Peninsula region have health and safety protocols in place to protect locals and visitors alike. Everyone is expected to comply by wearing face masks, regularly washing their hands, and practicing physical distancing.
To check out up-to-date information regarding local destinations that are open and the safety protocols and requirements needed for each location, you may visit philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel, Apple Store, or Google Playstore.