Sta Cruz Island, Zamboanga | More than a 'Pretty in Pink' Beach

The idea of walking over the pretty pink sands of Sta Cruz Island in Zamboanga City had me LSS-ing on a classic Psychedelic Furs song and recounting a young Molly Ringwald. After a couple of cancelled Zamboanga trips in the past, I finally found myself blissfully seated on a small boat heading to island of Sta. Cruz—otherwise known as “The Pink Island”. With my eyes staring ahead to the spread out patched of glistening shoreline, I was quickly arrested by the enveloping hues of green flora in the not so far distant. Wide-eyed with wonder, everything felt good that even the engine's revving sounded as if it was a soundtrack to a must-watch travel film. 

Audrey Trinidad
The inviting clear waters of Sta Cruz Island
It only takes a Zephyr

Getting to Sta Cruz Island is just a breeze because it is situated a mere 20 minutes away by boat from the port near Paseo Del Mar in Zamboanga City. Visit to this island is closely regulated to control the influx of tourists and also to safeguard the natural prettiness of the island. Island junkies can enjoy this blushing beach starting in the morning up to 4pm in the afternoon only. To maximize your visit, I suggest booking through ITravel TouristLane to facilitate your Sta Cruz Island incursion.

A traditional Pangalay performance from the Sama-Bangingi
We were lucky to chance upon this cultural performance

A traditional Pangalay performance from the Sama-Bangingi

After docking at the island, we learned that our trip coincided with the month-long Summer Fiesta. Throughout the month, a group of performers belonging to the island’s Sama-Bangingi community, performs a Pangalay dance to the beat of a kulintangan song to greet the visitors.

A traditional Pangalay performance from the Sama-Bangingi
Graceful choreography emphasizing on the movement of their fingers

A sub-group of the larger Sama people, the Bangingis live in the islands located in the Sulu Archipelago. As decades went by, this ethno-linguistic group scattered throughout the western and southern coasts of Zamboanga Peninsula with a few of them settling in the island of Sta Cruz.

The long fingernails is the main feature of the Pangalay dance

Pangalay is a traditional dance of the Tausug people of Sulu. This style of dance commands skillful flexibility of the wrists, shoulders and elbows as part of its main dance movements culminating in a showy routine of the dancer showing off his/her long fingernails in an impressive manner of choreography.

Marky Ramone Go
Posing with Zamboanga's iconic vintas

The Kulintangan song is a prevalent traditional music in the Eastern Malay Archipelago which includes the Southern Philippines. A vital part of the gong-chime culture of Southeast Asia, this type of music is played through a set of brass kettle gongs producing a lively beat perfectly for the movements of the Pangalay.

where to eat in Zamboanga
Platters of some Sulu Delicacies

Chupa-kulo, Oko-Oko and Seafood Feast

Apart from the giant crabs and a variety of seafood dishes, I was also able to try out for the first time; chupa kulo and oko-oko.

Oko-oko is typically rice but cooked inside a sea urchin shell. This is how the Sama Bangingi people normally prepare this staple food.

Chupa kulo are snails simmered in coconut milk and served with squashed - uhm well, the fruit of squash. It delivers a milky and rich texture, but it summons an extra effort for sucking.

Our feast of a lunch main starring the curacha crabs

Parade of the Colorful Vintas

No trip to Zamboanga is complete without laying eyes on its iconic vintas. These traditional sailboats of the Badjao, Sama and Tausug people carry along its colorful sails – a rich history and culture of the Muslim community.

Seeing several vintas glide over the clear waters of Sta Cruz Island provided us with another visual spectacle as the different colors shone against the morning sun and the gleaming sands—as if dancing to the beat of the kulintangan tune.


The Other Side | the Mangroves

PAMU (Protected Area Management Unit) Head Richard Aliangan guided us to the other side of Sta Cruz island; where the heart of the place' biodiversity area hides a lush mangrove forest and a lagoon serving as a haven for innumerable stingless jellyfish.

The Mangrove forest in Sta Cruz Island summons a Zen state of mind

With a flair for hilarious story-telling, Sir Aliangan imparted to us some knowledge about the different species of mangrove trees; citing that it also has male and female genders. The male mangrove tree form leaves or flowers with sagging fringes, while the female mangrove tree produces flowers with tinier spikes.

A more appealing version of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing
The highlight of our early afternoon was when Aliangan taught us how to properly touch and gently pick up a stingless jellyfish. I carefully picked up one to get a sensation of it inside my hands. It felt softer and smoother than a lady’s breast, and after a few seconds I mildly returned it back to the water where I watch it slowly slid back underneath to join the others.  

softer and smoother than a lady’s breast

Is it Really Pink?

At initial glimpse, the sands of Sta Cruz appears as one of the archetypal beaches in the Philippines. Upon closer examination though, you will see a heavy concentration of pink colored granules.

It is said, the sand appears pinker during early morning when the sun is rising or late in the afternoon when the glow of the setting sun shows the pink particles shine brighter. During the mid-morning sun, it doesn’t seem as pink at first glance.

What makes the sand pink? Accordingly, the presence of crushed red organ pipe coral or scientifically known as the tubipora musica, mixed with the white sands have resulted in the island's pink colorization.

Kara Santos of Traveling-Up paddles aboard a Vinta

All in a Day’s Dip

As I took a dip into the clear waters of the island, I marveled at my surrounding – from the lush tree line to the famed pink sands – I almost forgot the presence of a few marines manning the area. With the security of the Zamboanga peninsula vastly improving in recent years – even before and during the infamous Zamboanga siege a couple of years ago – Sta Cruz Island has remained safe and welcoming of visitors. Today, this island remains a model for every nature and biodiversity protected area and a shining example of how an LGU unit empowers the local community as well in helping safeguard the natural beauty of their place.

Caroline laughs, and it's raining all day, loves to be one of the girls. She lives in the place in the side of our lives, where nothing is ever put straight. Pretty in pink, isn't she? I hummed the Psychedelic song in my head as I imagine a young Molly Ringwald and relive the softness of the stingless jellyfish in my hand.