Tawi-Tawi Travel Guide | Places to See and Other Things to Do

As the southernmost province in the Philippines, Tawi-Tawi boasts of a number of destinations still considered to belong along the off-the-beaten path. Home to diversity and a colorful culture that has flourished and preserved for hundreds of years, visitors to this province are sure to be gifted with a memorable experience. Previously overlooked and unreasonably associated with security concerns, Tawi-Tawi is quickly becoming a favorite option for travelers in search of a place teeming with cultural wonders and unforgettable sights. To the lucky and adventurous traveler willing to explore Tawi-Tawi, here are just some of the many places worth visiting.

The Agal-Agal Festival is held every September in Tawi-Tawi 

Panampangan Island

An hour away from Bongao by a fast boat, one arrives at probably one of the most stunning islands in the country, Panampangan Island. It’s believed to have the longest sandbar in the Philippines. According to environment and mapping advocate Ervin Malicdem “during low tide, the sandbar extends far out to about three kilometers to its neighboring islet, Basibuli; also, in the same reef.

Lush greens composed of towering coconut trees occupy a large section of the island. These provide adequate shade, while the rest of the island is composed of a picturesque snaking sandbar framed by the crystal-clear waters of Celebes Sea. A day trip here screams of nothing but a fantastic experience.

Bud Bongao Peak

Tawi-Tawi’s sacred mountain of Bud Bongao is only 1,100 feet above sea level, but it holds a taller significance to the history, culture and religion in the province. Some even believe that one of the followers of Karim ul-Makhdum — the Arab preacher who first brought Islam to the country more than 600 years ago — was buried here. 

View from the top of the sacred Bud Bongao
Today, Bud Bongao remains much revered by the locals. It’s also a biodiversity area that spans 250 hectares, protected by both the local government of Bongao and the hundreds of playful long-tailed macaques who hang out along the trail to the top.

Old Chinese Port

Apart from the bustling seaside activities, the colorful row of lantsa—motorized wooden boats—docked at the old Chinese Port in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, instantly arrests your attention. It was the main trading port between the Arab, Malays and Chinese merchants hundreds of years ago. 

Colorful boats seen docked at the Old Chinese Port
Today, it still serves as a chief fishing and trading port aside from being an important sea hub to the many islands of Tawi-Tawi and as some would say, even to Malaysia and Indonesia.

Sheik Karim al Makdum Mosque

Located in the island of Simunul, this mosque is considered the oldest in the Philippines. It was built in 1380 and was named after its builder, Arab merchant and Islamic preacher Sheik Makdum Karim. While the mosque has been rebuilt many times, four of the original wooden pillars inside the mosque miraculously still exist.

One of the four original 14th century pillars of the mosque is still kept inside
The graveyard at the back is believed to be where the remains of Sheik Makdum Karim was buried.

Bajau Village in Bongao

Witness a day in the life of the Sama Dilaut people who live in stilt houses adjacent to the wooden footbridge leading to the sea. This community in the municipality of Bongao provides a wonderful peek into the culture of the Bajaus (Badjao). 

White Mosque by the Bay" in Bongao is another popular attraction in Tawi-Taw
Apart from learning about their oceanic style of living, one will also be amazed by their craftsmanship in weaving, particularly the various colorful banig (handwoven mat) a lot of them make every day.

Sama Dilaut and Tausug Stilt Houses in Sitangkai

Another fascinating picture exists in the island of Sitangkai, where most Sama Dilaut and Tausug people prefer to live on stilt houses on the water than to settle on dry land. These stilt houses can be seen surrounding the island’s turquoise waters and into inner canals leading to several the island’s municipalities.

Aside from this interesting way of living, Sitangkai also holds the reputation of being Tawi-Tawi’s seaweed capital.

Tawi-Tawi Provincial Capitol

Standing atop a hill, the Provincial Capitol of Tawi-Tawi highlights a mosque dome to perfectly accompany its appealing Islamic architecture design. A morning jog to this spot gives you a great spot to catch your breath as you stare at the magnificent view of Bongao below.