Above video: A montage of various aerial scenes of Tawi-Tawi. The island province is an alluring world of seaweed and houses on stilts, gleaming mosques and lush mangroves, long bridges built over rivers, seafarers and wooden ships, long stretches of sand and of course, the wide Sulu Sea.
Where to stay
- Almari Beach Resort, Brgy. Pasiagan, Bongao. A quiet, even remote, beachfront resort offering clean and spacious rooms. Previously known as Dr. Ibbo’s Beach Resort.
- Sandbar Beach Lepa and Restaurant, Pasiagan, Bongao; +63 68 268 1018; facebook.com/SandbarLepaAndRestaurant. The cozy cottages here are located mere steps away from the beach.
Where to eat
- Beachside Inn, Sowangkagang, Bongao. Order the beef iya itum, a stew-like dish full of roasted coconut and spices that give it its black color. Remember to call in advance, as it takes two hours to cook it!
- DJ Snack House, Bongao. This simple eatery serves up a mouthwatering rendition of halo-halo (shaved ice dessert).
- Mardo’s Restaurant, Bongao. Order native fare like beef/chicken kulma (meat cooked in coconut milk and curry) and other seafood dishes.
- M&O Fastfood Cafe, Awwal St, Bongao. For value-for-money meals — the seafood sisig with rice and a drink costs just PHP60.
- Rachel’s Place Hotel and Restaurant, Ilmoh St, Lamion, Bongao; +63 68 268 1248; facebook.com/RachelsPlaceHotelAndRestaurantTawiTawi. Craving for something exotic? Try the kamon (sea centipede) or tehe-tehe (sea urchin) if you dare!
- Sandbar Beach Lepa and Restaurant, Pasiagan, Bongao; +63 68 268 1018; facebook.com/SandbarLepaAndRestaurant. Order Tausug dishes like tiyula itum (beef soup with burnt coconut) and piyanggang manok (chicken cooked with burnt coconut paste).
What to do
- Badjao Village. Visit this village by the port, where you can buy Badjao woven products and other art trinkets. It’s a short tricycle ride away from the town center of Bongao.
- Baywalk, Sanga-Sanga. The perfect place to take a stroll and enjoy the cool breeze, especially before sunset.
- Bolobok Cave, Sanga-Sanga. Tridacna shell and stone tools that were used by early humans between 16,000 to 8,000 BC have been discovered here.
- Bud Bongao (Bongao Peak). Hike up the highest mountain on the island, which stands 314m above sea level. It’s also known as a “holy mountain” that’s sacred to locals. You’ll get to feast your eyes on gorgeous views of Tawi-Tawi and the Celebes Sea at the summit.
- Diving. Contact the Tawi-Tawi Divers Club (facebook.com/tawitawidiversclub) for diving expeditions. You can rent gear, a tank, a boat and a dive master who can take you wreck diving to visit sunken World War II vessels and planes.
- Marine Science Museum, MSU-TCTO campus, Sanga-Sanga. The main draw here is undoubtedly the 40-foot carcass of a sperm whale. The museum’s passionate curator, Sir Rasul, will also regale you with interesting scientific facts.
- Old Chinese Pier. Snap pictures of the hundreds of colorful wooden boats that line the port. You can also buy affordable fish by the tumpok (bundle) at the market.
- Panampangan Beach, Bongao. We daresay that the powdery soft sand here will probably be the finest you’ve ever set foot on.
- Sangay Siapo. Catch a boat (PHP1,500) to Sangay Siapo and other neighboring islets for beautiful, unspoiled beaches.
- Sheik Makdum Mosque, Tubig Indangan, Simunul. Built by an Arab trader in 1380, this is the oldest mosque in the Philippines. It has been declared a National Historial Landmark.
- Sibuto Island. For a slightly macabre diversion, head to this island to visit its ornate, century-old community graveyard.
- Turtle Islands (Taganak). A wildlife sanctuary where you can ogle at green sea turtles nesting and roaming in great numbers on the shores.