Southern Mindanao remains underrated and out of the radar for most tourists because of the stories enveloping its land.
What many of us didn’t know, some of the most unspoiled beaches can be found here. In our recent travel to Sulu, we’ve seen how beautiful the province is and its potential for tourism just waiting to be explored.
Check out our video of Sulu!
This travel guide will help you dig in more information about Sulu and what it has to offer.
Things to Consider Before Going to Sulu
It is important that you read and take into consideration all the information needed to make your Sulu visit a success. This is also the reason why we placed this information on top of the article
Coordinate with Sulu Tourism
There is no Do-It-Yourself (DIY) tour in Sulu. You have to contact the Sulu Provincial Tourism Office at 09175929225 and look for Ms. Jainab. You will then be instructed to submit a letter of intent stating the reason for your visit, what places you want to visit, names of visitors and date/number of days in Sulu then email it at firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to indicate your contact number(s) for faster communication.
A Sulu Tourism officer will arrange your itinerary, tour provider, tour guides, and police escort. The tour package is inclusive of all payments to entrances, food, and guide/police escort fees.
Buy Ferry Ticket in Advance
Once you arrive in Zamboanga airport, make sure to buy your ferry tickets right away to secure a slot. Aleson and Montenegro Lines have daily schedules from Zamboanga to Jolo, Sulu with 8-9 hours of travel time.
It is best to catch the last trip at 8 pm and spend overnight on the ferry so you won’t need to spend money on accommodation. Choose the ticket with AC, but make sure to wear something to cover your body. It gets really cold at night. Fare is Php750 one-way with a bed. You will arrive at 5 am – 6 am the following day.
Listen and Follow the Instruction
The assigned tour agency or provider will be your contact person. Make sure to listen and follow the instructions that will be given to you. In our case, Sulu Tourism assigned iTRAVEL TOURIST LANE to organize our 1-day Sulu Tour. Their office is located in Zamboanga City. We were told to wait for our tour guide before going out from the ferry once we arrived in Jolo port for safety.
Respect and Follow Local Government Protocols
There is a standard protocol in Sulu. You need to respect and follow what your guide and police escort tell you to do. Your itinerary may change if they think it is not doable at the time. There are places and things you can’t go and do as you please. Your guide and escort will be with you at all times during the tour. Don’t be bothered, as these people are naturally friendly and easy to go with. During our visit, we had two guides, Ms. Cath and Sir Dean, and one police escort (Sir Win) together with OJTs from Sulu National High School. Yes, we got a big company!
Wear Appropriate Clothes
Sulu is a Muslim province and wearing appropriate clothes during your stay and tour is a sign of respect. Avoid wearing revealing clothes, short shorts, and sando especially when you’re in town proper. You can use “malong” or scarf when touring around.
Learn Basic Tausug Words
It is not necessary to know about the Tausug dialect but to know a few will make a difference. During our stay in Sulu, we made sure that we learn something from them. We used the word “Magsukul” frequently and it means thank you or “salamat” in Tagalog. After buying something or leaving the place we visited, we say “Magsukul” to the locals.
How to Get to Sulu
The main gateway to Sulu and other nearby provinces such as Basilan and Tawi-Tawi is from Zamboanga City. There are two options – via ferry and plane.
Via Sea Travel
Zamboanga City to Jolo, Sulu
There are daily ferries from Zamboanga City to Jolo, Sulu, and vice versa with a travel time of 8-9 hours. Check Aleson and Montenegro Lines.
It is recommended to travel during their last trip at 8 pm and spend overnight on the ferry. You will reach Jolo, Sulu at 5 am – 6 am.
Tawi-Tawi to Jolo, Sulu
If you are coming from Tawi-Tawi, you can ride the boat from Bongao to Jolo, Sulu via the Siasi route. Travel time may take longer (18 hours on average).
Via Air Travel
Platinum Skies is serving direct flight from Zamboanga City to Jolo, Sulu. You can check their schedules at https://www.platinumskies.com/
The Best Things to Do in Sulu
Eat Local Delicacies
Normally, the first itinerary in Sulu is to let the visitors experience Kahawa Sug and Bangbang Sug on a local coffee shop in Jolo.
Kahawa Sug is known as Sulu Coffee and something you need to try when in their province. This is their native coffee and being cultivated by Tausug or the locals in Sulu.
Bangbang Sug, on the other hand, is a set of Tausug pastries with coconut as the main ingredient. It is comparable to other provinces with bibingka, suman, and kakanin but Bangbang Sug is really special. The whole set will be served to your table. We were surprised when we saw these colorful pastries. Thankfully, you only need to pay for those you ate.
Some of the names of the pastries are:
Apam – It is known as a Tausug pancake. Thick and perfect to eat when served hot.
Daral – A crepe rolled into a cylinder filled with sweetened coconut meat.
Putli Mandi – Flour ball with sweet coconut sugar mix and usually purple in color
Dinglo – Made from nipa tree extract/juice
Pitis – Ball-like purple sticky rice with sweetened desiccated coconut inside
Wadjit – Wrapped by banana leaf comparable to “biko” in other provinces
Pan Monggo – Comparable to monggo bread or pande mongo
Bubungkung – Made from flour and ripe bananas with sugar and wrapped in banana leaf
Panggi Bagon – Sweet potato or “kamote”
Junai – Steamed rice with burnt grated coconut and usually eaten with hard-boiled egg
Another native food to try is Satti. It is made from strips of beef or chicken, grilled on hot coals, and put on top of a sweet and spicy red sauce.
Enjoy the White Sand Beaches in Parang, Sulu
Our original itinerary is to visit Tandu Beach, one of the famous beaches in Sulu province. It is said to have a long stretch of powdery white-sand beach and is located in Parang, Sulu. Fortunately, they replaced it with two beaches named Istambak Beach and Sionogan Beach.
Who would’ve thought that there is this kind of place in Sulu? Surprisingly, Istambak Beach exceeds our expectations and blown us away!
Istambak Beach lies within the Zhimar Knights House Resort. We were lucky enough that there are no other visitors at that time when we visited it. The place is tranquil, relaxing and really beautiful.
The resort has a series of floating cottages perfectly placed in seafront for visitors to enjoy the relaxing view of the sea. The alluring turquoise water is recommended for swimming and snorkeling. Don’t miss the wooden hammock hanging in the middle of the seawater. You’ll certainly love this place!
Our next destination is Sionogan Beach, a nearby resort just a few minutes away from Istambak Beach. This resort, on the other hand, is raw and somewhat close to local residences.
We visited Sulu on February 14, 2020 and celebrated Valentine’s Day with the locals and the children. The Provincial Sulu Tourism has a scheduled Feeding Program for kids in Sionogan Beach, well-timed for our visit to witness this fulfilling event.
Our lunch was served and shared with Ms. Jainab and other tourism representatives, military escorts, and our guides.
Visit Sulu Provincial Capitol
The Provincial Capitol of Sulu is a gift for all eyes to see. Pure white and gold paints dominate this magnificent structure with a semicircular top.
You can check the interior and get fascinated with the huge artsy glass window. Go straight in the viewing deck and enjoy the beautiful spot overlooking the park nearby.
The I Love Sulu signage is a walking distance away from the capitol.
Explore the National Museum
Get to know more about Sulu province’s history and culture by visiting the Jolo National Museum. This is a two-storey building that houses ethnographic materials of Sulu. Some of the collections are Tausug clothes, classic weapons of swords and spears, musical instruments, jars, and many others.
Check the Central Mosque and Abdusakur Tan Square
A quick visit to Masjid Tulay or Central Mosque is part of the Jolo tour. This is within the town proper and the busy streets of Jolo. It’s a good place to witness the normal day-life of our Muslim brothers. In front of the mosque is where the Abdusakur Tan Square found. A small park and a good spot to see the whole structure of the Central Mosque.
Wander Around Jolo Market & Souvenir Shop
If you are eyeing to buy authentic “malong” for a very acceptable price, you go check the Jolo market. You will find a variety of native wear in vibrant colors and shapes. I Love Jolo signage is also nearby.
Buy ref magnet or key chain at the souvenir shops.
Watch the Sunset in Maubuh Beach
To cap off our Sulu day tour adventure, we went to Maubuh Beach in Patikul, Sulu to watch the sunset and enjoy the soothing sea view.
We ended the tour with a good chat with our police escort and guides while enjoying the scenic view with kids happily playing along the shore.
We were accompanied to Jolo Port and they bought us our dinner before we said our goodbyes.
Sulu is such a lovely place full of potentials. We hope that in the near future, all the negativity and tension will totally vanish and the province will move forward as one of the country’s top destinations.
Magsukul Sulu for one great and memorable experience of our life!
Other Tourist Attractions in Sulu
What we’ve featured is only a tip of the iceberg. There are many other locations in Sulu that you can travel to. Check the list for additional reference.
- Mangrove tour at Kannaway
- Visit Lagasan to witness hand embroidery home to Darhata Sawabi, GAMABA Awardee
- Tanduh Beach in Parang, Sulu
- Island Hopping in Panglima Tahil and visit Lahat-Lahat Island, Bubuan Island and Bangas Island (this is another option for a day tour with Jolo city tour)
- Mount Daho National Park and Patikul Peak
- Cabucan Island, Marungas Island, Pangasinan Island
Where to Eat in Sulu
There are many regular eateries and small cafeterias in Sulu but here are some of the recommended places to eat.
Shara’s Coffee Shop
This is normally part of your tour in Sulu. A good place to eat your breakfast and experience Kahawa Sug and Bangbang Sug.
This is one of the most popular restaurants in the province that serves Tausug dishes in Dulang, a set of dishes with Tiulah Itum (comparable to Tinola in Tagalog) but with distinctive black soup.
Sample Day Tour Itinerary in Sulu
Here is our sample day tour itinerary in Sulu. Please note that the destinations may change depending on Sulu Provincial Tourism office advice.
Package Rate – Day Tour in Sulu
The current rate depends on the number of headcount. As of February 2020, here are the rates with iTRAVEL TOURIST LANE. The more joiners in the tour the lesser rates you will pay.
No. of Headcount Rates
6 – 10 lesser rates
If you want to explore more locations in Sulu, at least spend 2 – 3 days.
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