P500-P1300 budget guide: Pink beach, rainbow vintas, stingless jellyfish lagoons, & more at Santa Cruz Island, Zamboanga

While it is not the only pink beach in the Philippines, Santa Cruz Island in Zamboanga City is the one that undoubtedly put pink beaches on the country’s tourism map. It is also on National Geographic’s list of the world’s top 21 beaches. And, the island has more to offer aside from its pinkish white sands and clear waters – it also has a crystal-clear lagoon fringed with mangrove forests, trees abundant with bats, and stingless jellyfish. For those who want a cultural experience, you can sail in Zamboanga’s iconic rainbow vinta and visit the seaside Badjao cemetery (the traditional cemetery of indigenous Moro sea nomads, the Sama Dilaut).

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Santa Cruz’s pinkish white sand comes from crushed red organ pipe corals.

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The beach does not look so pink under the noonday sunlight, but is beautiful nevertheless.

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The pinkish white is not so obvious, and is usually more visible when the sand is wet.

Our travelers’ group started early in the morning, around 7 am, and rode to Paseo del Mar, the city’s jumpoff to Sta. Cruz Island. After registering, we got a tour briefing. Sta. Cruz Island is part of a nationally protected area. The island is well-conserved, and stringent measures like anti-littering and a limit on visitors per day is in place.

Technically, there are two Sta. Cruz Islands – the Great Sta. Cruz Island (where we were headed) and the Little Sta. Cruz Island (a military post).

After around a 30-minute boat ride, we arrived at the island’s pristine shores. We were greeted by a huge, colorful signage of the province perfect for picture taking.

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Arriving at the island

After some rest, we were taken to the lagoon on the other side of the island. We transferred to yellow paddle boats and cruised around mangrove forests.

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Cruising through the quiet lagoon

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There were narrow waterways like this that brought us closer to the trees.

It was my second time here in this island. The first time, years ago, I was able to see mangrove trees peppered with bats. This time around, while we were not able to spot bats, we found abundant stingless jellyfish in the lagoon’s clear waters. I was excited, as I thought only Surigao’s Bucas Grande has stingless jellyfish. Bucas Grande is considered one of the most beautiful places in the Philippines, according to travelers who have been to all the country’s 81 provinces. (READ: The Philippines’ Most Beautiful Places)

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Inverted jellyfish on the seabed!

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Stingless jellyfish up close

After the lagoon  tour, we were greeted by a row of rainbow vintas, Zamboanga’s iconic symbol and traditional transportation. We had the privilege of trying to sail on these.

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Zamboanga’s rainbow vintas

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Some of us tried sailing for a round in the lagoon

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Locals sailing the vintas

After the tour, we went back to our cottage in the island and had a sumptuous seafood lunch prepared by the tour group that organized our trip. Must-try is Zamboanga’s famous curacha (deep-sea crab) and oko-oko (rice cooked in sea urchin shell)!

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Part of our generous buffet lunch spread provided by a local tour group

Close to our cottage are some local vendors selling handmade jewelry and souvenirs. These are locals who live on the island.

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Ate Vanessa with her wares

A ten-minute walk to the left of the island is the Badjao Cemetery, which I visited with one of our guides. The Badjaos (Sama Dilaut) had interesting grave markers reflective of their nomadic sea culture.

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Boats as grave markers at the Badjao Cemetery

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Meanwhile. this has a family as a grave marker.

After taking a dip at Sta. Cruz’s clear waters, we went to the sand bar at Little Sta. Cruz Island. Good thing the tide was low!

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Little Sta. Cruz Island’s sand bar

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Walking along the sand bar

The sand bar was our last stop before we went back to the city.

How to get there:

Take a flight to Zamboanga City. From the airport,  you can take a motorela (tricycle) to Paseo del Mar, the jump-off to Sta. Cruz Island. Cost of the tricycle is usually less than P100. Haggle with the tricycle driver.

Sample DIY budget/fees for 10 people (less than P500 per person):

Roundtrip boat good for 10 persons – P1,000 (P100 per person if boat has 10 people). If you want to go to the lagoon and to the sandbar of Little Sta. Cruz Island, haggle with the boatman and add some amount. Let us assume it will be around P500 (P50 per person). The boat ride takes around 20-30 minutes.
Island entrance feeP20
Terminal feeP5
Cottage rental – P200 good for 10 people (P20 per person). Cottage good for 6 is P100, pavilion good for 15-20 is P500
Lunch – Estimated P150-P200 if you bring your own modest lunch (You can buy from the food establishments around Paseo del Mar or on the way. You can also buy fresh seafood to grill from the city market and bring it to the island to cook).
TOTAL PER PERSON: P345 (Estimated P395 or more if going to lagoon and Little Sta. Cruz Island sand bar)

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The island’s cottages

Sample budget/fees for 10 people on local guided tour (P800-P1,300 per person):

On my latest Sta. Cruz Island experience, a local tour operator, ITravelTouristLane, arranged our experience. It included:
– Roundtrip boat
– All entrance fees and cottage rentals
– Cruise and tour in lagoon and mangrove forests
– Encounter with stingless jellyfish
– Bat sighting (We didn’t get to see some during this trip, but I remember this on my first trip and it is included in the guided tour experience)
– Harvesting of fresh lato (local sea grapes/seaweed)
– Sailing in vinta
– Visit to Badjao (Sama Dilaut) Cemetery
– Sand bar of Little Sta. Cruz Island (tide-dependent)
– Guided tour at all the sights
– Seafood lunch buffet
Rate for each person for a group of 10 for all the inclusions above is P1,313.
Rate for each person for a group of 10 (without buffet lunch) is P788. (If you bring your own modest lunch for P150 or P200, your budget will still be P1000)

I personally recommend the guided tour for a more comprehensive and informative trip.

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Rainbow vintas ready for use

Some important notes

  • As the island has a cap on visitors per day at 400, make sure to arrange your visit ahead of time. If doing DIY,  contact the tourism office at +63927-2835684. If booking a tour, contact ITravelTouristLane.
  • The island can only be visited between 7 am and 2 pm so start your day early!
  • Sta. Cruz is a protected area. Listen well to the tour briefing and follow rules like no littering. Violations will incur fines.
  • Liquor is not allowed on the island.
  • You will likely have police or military escorts. This is part of Zamboanga City’s standard security protocol.

Enjoy your visit to the island!

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