Have you ever heard of pink sand? There's white sand, and yes there are also pink sand beaches.
The Santa Cruz Islands are actually composed of the Great Santa Cruz Island and the Little Santa Cruz Island. The former one being the pink sand beach and the latter one being a white sand beach.
You're probably wondering how the sands here became pink, right? Well, as with white sand beaches (which got into that state because of the crashed shells and coral), the pink sand beach in Zamboanga city came to be because of a coloration effect of pulverized rare red Organ-pipe Coral ( tubipora musica ) mixed with white sand.
The Sta Cruz Islands are composed of the Great and the Little Sta Cuz Islands. Of these two, it is just the Great Sta Cruz Island that receives visitors.
Sta Cruz is a boat ride away from Paseo del Mar in mainland Zamboanga city. Paseo del Mar is an esplanade with a musically gyrating fountain and restaurants. Visitors are encouraged to make a courtesy call at the city tourism office (also located inside the Paseo del Mar). The bancas (that take tourists to the Great Sta Cruz Island) dock at a small wharf which can be found besides Kape Zambo (a coffeeshop inside the Paseo del Mar).
Zamboanga city has, as of late, been promoting Sta Cruz Island as a tourist destination. In fact, from January to May 2014, there have already been 4290 visitors to the island. Admittedly, this is still few. There are only a few tourists in the Santa Cruz Islands primarily because it is not well marketed. Also, there is a great misconception about security brought about by the media. The only good thing about this is that it means that the island is very virgin and unspoiled unlike the more popular Boracay.
The low tourist arrivals in the area also means that trash is almost unheard of in the Sta Cruz islands. Water visibility is quite good.
The bad thing about low tourist arrivals though is that it means there are only a few facilities in the island. In fact there are no accommodations for an overnight stay, only picnic huts. There are no resorts or restaurants so food must be brought along when considering a trip here. One can also use the grilling facilities to cook food. Thankfully though, there are bathrooms in the area. Recently, the government has been installing basic facilities in the island like toilets, picnic huts, potable water, and commercial stalls. Some locals will sell tourists freshly caught COOKED seafood and souvenirs like shells and necklaces.
The Great Sta Cruz island can be reached by boat in about 15-20 minutes from mainland Zamboanga city. The boat trip costs 1,000 (for 10 persons). You may also go with another group to lessen the cost of the boat trip. No prior reservations are required so boat trips are on a first come first served basis. Entrance fee to the island is 20 pesos (per person) and there is a terminal fee of 5 pesos (per person).
Other attractions located in the Sta Cruz islands is the Badjao cemetery and mangrove forest. The mangrove forest is worth mentioning here because it will be of great interest to people interested in the ecology of the island. The Badjao cemetery makes the island really unique, it is an old Muslim cemetery where the Badjaos are buried. This makes Sta Cruz island a perfect destination not just for nature lovers but for culture and history buffs as well. Snorkeling and diving is also good in the islands.
The nearest hotel to Sta Cruz island would have to be the Lantaka hotel by the sea. It is an old hotel with old world charm. This hotel is just a short walk from the Paseo del Mar.
Typically, a round trip ticket from Manila to Zamboanga would cost more or less 3500 pesos with Cebu Pacific. Of course, you can try to catch Piso Fares which will drastically reduce that cost by more than half. There are buses if you are coming from a town or city in the Zamboanga peninsula (travel time will be an average of 7 hours depending on where you will be coming from). Flights to Zamboanga from Cebu, Tawi-Tawi, Cagayan de Oro, and Davao are also available.
I remember an incident during my account interview with Sykes Asia, Inc. It was a travel account and the interviewer was asking me to sell Zamboanga city. I remember telling him about the Santa Cruz Islands in Zamboanga city, about how it has pink sand and all and he was really shocked at the existence of a pink sand beach. I myself, did not know about the Santa Cruz Islands having pink sand beaches until a year ago when I came across that information on the Internet.
It is sad that such a treasure in Zamboanga city exists and it doesn't even benefit the locals. The local government should market Santa Cruz Island to the world, it being one of the only few pink sand beaches in existence. I am all in favor of turning Zamboanga into a Vigan in the south (although admittedly there is more to be done in this particular tourism campaigns such as heritage building restorations) but the Santa Cruz Islands really has more potential and could be marketed globally.
According to one of the locals, the Sta Cruz islands were frequented by German and Italian tourists in the 1970s and called it their hidden paradise in the little Spain of Asia. How marvelous would it be to bring back those times!
Please visit the following pages for more information on the Sta Cruz Islands: