Most people, including my Mom, are probably wondering how I ended up here. Lol. But if you are a frequent traveler or someone doing the Project 82 challenge, I’m not surprised you’re in this blog right now. So it’s either you clicked this write-up because (A) you’re curious and (B) you’re a traveler who’s looking for an ARMM Itinerary.
Nevertheless, let me start this blog by saying MINDANAO HAS THE MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS in the Philippines. For someone who has visited 71/82 provinces (updated as of March 2023) I can definitely say that most jaw-dropping places are in Mindanao.
Located in the Western part of Mindanao — ARMM comprises of 5 predominantly Muslim provinces which are: (1) Maguindanao, (2) Lanao del Sur, (3) Basilan, (4) Sulu and (5) Tawi-Tawi.
Table of Contents
My Experience Visiting ARMM
People have this notion that it’s not safe to travel to these places. And this is exactly the rhetorical effect of having the media publishing only the infamous events in provinces like Basilan, Sulu and Lanao del Sur.
Contrary to popular belief, these provinces actually have the most warm-hearted people I’ve ever met while traveling. For instance, the Muslims I’ve met who helped me around and provided shelter for me and my friends in Tawi-tawi, the PNP and military soldiers destined in Sulu and the local Muslims we met in Marawi City..
It is not about the bad things that happened to these places. It is also about the good people, good place, and good food that people fail to recognize because of its bad history. Remember, the locals who lived here never wanted it to happen to them. Nobody does.
The 5 Provinces Of ARMM
It took me 3 backpacking trips to cover all 5 provinces of ARMM. The first was our ZAMBASULTA trip, then our SOCCSKSARGEN trip and lastly was Northern Mindanao plus Lanao del Sur and Norte backpacking. Whew! That was actually easier said than done.
Now if you’re looking to complete ARMM in 1 backpacking trip, it’s a very inconvenient thing to do but possible if you have the time and money. If you will look at the map, some provinces of ARMM are far from each other. So you’ll need to cross some provinces outside ARMM to get to the other side. But if you’re a person who enjoys long hours on the road then nothing is impossible I guess.
Moreover, if you want to visit all 5 provinces in 1 trip then I highly suggest booking a flight to Zamboanga City and exit flight in Cotabato City.
In Maguindanao, we visited the famous Pink Mosque located in Datu Saudi-Ampatuan, Maguindanao as part of our SOCCKSARGEN backpacking trip. It was so huge and impressive that my heart fell in love by its exquisite beauty. Disclaimer, I am not a Muslim but I have this thing for Mosques. I appreciate these structures so much and I feel so honored whenever I stand near one.
Friendly reminder: please wear appropriate clothing.
2. Lanao del Sur
Home to the 2nd largest lake in the Philippines, Lake Lanao is something to lookout for when in Lanao del Sur. Visiting Marawi City can be the best day tour trip in the province. Why? For instance it includes visiting the Grand Mosque, Kilometer 0 of Mindanao, the Lake Lanao itself, Mindanao State University and the Aga Khan museum.
Day tour is also available in Basilan but 2 days will be the best option to visit the 2 cities of Basilan which are (1) Isabela and (2) Lamitan. You can visit Bulingan Falls in Lamitan City and Malamawi Beach and the Rubber Tree Plantation in Isabela City. For more details about this trip, click on the travel guide links below.
One of the best beaches I’ve seen in the Philippines is in the province of Sulu. Too bad I did not have a drone back then. A word of advise, do not attempt to do DIY trips in Sulu. It is not highly recommended. Make sure to book a guided tour from the Tourism Office. Click the link below for the step by step guide.
Tawi-Tawi has so much to offer! From trekking to Bud Bongao’s sunset watching to caves and island hopping trips. Tawi-Tawi is home to the longest sandbar and very first Mosque in the Philippines.
Not only that, you must also try the food here since Tawi-Tawi has a mix of Malaysian and Indonesian culture. Highly recommend their common food Mie Goreng and Maggi Kari noodles!
If you can spare 3-4 days in Tawi-Tawi, I highly recommend visiting Sitangkai which is the Southern most island in Tawi-Tawi.
Sample ARMM Itinerary
This itinerary is assuming that your entry flight is in Zamboanga City and exit flight is in Cotabato. Furthermore, Zamboanga Port will be your gateway to Basilan and Sulu. While for Tawi-Tawi you have to book another flight from Zamboanga City to Tawi-Tawi. Take note that there are no direct flights from Manila to Tawi-Tawi, you have to fly to Zamboanga first and take another flight to Tawi.
After finishing the 3 provinces (Basilan, Sulu and Tawi), ride a bus going to Iligan City then transfer to a van/bus to Marawi. Travel time is about 10-11 hours. I highly recommend traveling at night to save day time for traveling.
DAY 1: BASILAN (Bulingan Falls and Malamawi Beach)
5:00AM Wake up time, breakfast, go to Zamboanga Port
6:00AM Buy ticket to Lamitan City in Basilan AND ferry ticket to Sulu for later that night
6:45AM First trip of ferry to Lamitan City
9:00AM Rent a tricycle that will take you to Bulingan Falls, rubber trees, museum and Yakan village
1:00PM Proceed to Malamawi Beach in Isabela City
4:45PM Ride the last trip of ferry back to Zamboanga
6:00PM Early dinner, get baggage from Casa Canelar
8:00PM Ferry to Sulu
DAY 2: SULU (City Tour and Tandu Beach)
5:00AM Arrival in Jolo Port, wait for escort and tour guide from the tourism office at the port
((WHOLE DAY TRIP IN SULU WITH THE TOURISM OFFICE))
8:00PM Ferry from Sulu back to Zamboanga
DAY 3: TAWI-TAWI (Bud Bongao, Chinese Pier, Boloboc Cave, Badjao Village)
5:00AM Wake up time, prepare, check out
7:00AM Take the first flight from Zamboanga to Tawi-Tawi
8:00AM Arrive in Tawi. Go to Ate Nursida’s home just walking distance from the airport
9:00AM – 5:00PM Tawi-Tawi land tour: Boloboc cave, Chinese pier, Bud bongao, etc.
7:00PM Early dinner, socials
9:00PM Lights out
DAY 4: TAWI-TAWI (Island hopping to Panampangan, Simunol and Sangay Siapo)
6:00AM Wake up time, breakfast
7:00AM – 5:00PM Island hopping in Tawi-Tawi: Panampangan island, Simunol island and Sangay Siapo Island.
6:00PM Back in the house, wash up, prepare for dinner
9:00PM Lights out
DAY 5: (Travel to Lanao del Sur OR side trip at Sta. Cruz Island Pink Beach in Zamboanga)
5:00AM Wake up time, prepare, breakfast
7:00AM Take first flight from Tawi to Zamboanga
8:00AM Arrive in Zamboanga, hire a taxi take you to Canelar Barter Trade and buy pasalubong
10:00AM – 4:00PM Sta. Cruz Island hopping, chill time
5:00PM Candelar Barter Trade for pasalubong
9:00PM Ride a bus from Zamboanga to Iligan City
DAY 6: LANAO DEL SUR (Marawi day tour)
7:00AM Ride a bus from Iligan City to Marawi
8:00AM – 2:00PM Marawi day tour
3:00PM Ride a bus from Marawi to Iligan City
4:00PM Ride a bus from Iligan City to Cotabato
9:00PM ETA Cotabato City, late check in
DAY 7: MAGUINDANAO
6:00AM Wake up time, breakfast
7:00AM Ride a bus from Cotabato to Sultan Kudarat, tell the driver to drop you off at Pink Mosque
8:00AM ETA Pink Mosque
10:00AM ETD to Cotabato
11:00AM ETA Cotabato City, check out
2:00PM Flight back to Manila
END OF TRAVEL
Tips From Joan’s Footprints
- Is It Safe To Travel In Mindanao? Yes if you are bringing a humble attitude and no if you disrespect the destination and/or people.
- My top tip for my readers whenever visiting an Islamic City is to respect the culture of our Muslim brothers and sisters. With this being said, please wear appropriate clothing especially to women. Wear modest clothes and do not wear short shorts/shirts or sleeveless tops. If you can buy and use a hijab, that would be better!
- Take note that in Sulu and Marawi City in Lanao del Sur, the Tourism Office will require you to book an advance guided tour from them. Read my travel guides for the important contacts and how to book a guided tour.
- Whilst there are ATM machines available in most Cities, bring enough cash with you as there are areas that are limited of ATM machines.
- Travel essentials: power-bank, water bottle and a neck pillow for most land travels.
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