The famous pinks sands of the Great Sta Cruz Island

The famous pinks sands of the Great Sta Cruz Island

Even before Boracay and Puerto Galera got its fame as some of the most popular beaches in the country, there was the Great Santa Cruz Islands and its famous rare pink sand beach stretching three miles across the island shores. An old coral vendor on the island reminisced the days when they would get a large number of tourist in the area and they would get considerable profits selling some of their wares. But since the kidnapping and abduction incidents in the nearby areas, people are now scared to visit the island and its popularity went downhill from there.

Speckles of Pink Sands detail

Speckles of Pink Sands detail

A pink sand beach is very rare and there are only a few of them around the globe. They can be found in Horseshoe Bay in Bermuda, 3 islands from the Bahamas, Culebra in Puerto Rico, Maui in Hawaii, Santorini in Greece, Barbuda in the Carribean, Crane Beach in Barbados, and here in The Great Santa Cruz Islands in the Philippines.

Red Corals, source of the Pink Sands

Red Organ-Pipe Corals, source of the Pink Sands

So how did this beach got its pink sand qualities? It’s mainly because of these endangered Red Organ-Pipe Corals. From eons of natural surf erosion, these red organ-pipe corals were pulverized and mixed with the white sands resulting to its colorization. These corals are considered rare due to it’s unique qualities of a soft coral having a hard skeleton.

Snorkeling along the shores with the Little Sta Cruz Island on the horizon

Snorkeling along the shores with the Little Sta Cruz Island on the horizon

The Great Santa Cruz Island is indeed picturesque, when we were there, there were like a few groups along with us. There are cottages and other facilities there but no accommodation for an overnight stay. There’s a rental for cottages differing from Php 100 to Php 200. We were so used not paying for anything, we almost forgot not to pay for the cottages because this time there was someone manning the are. The beach is not ideal for kids since the sea bed quickly drops a great height about 10 feet away from the shore and it is advisable to wear booties or any footing since the sea bed has lots of crushed corals which can be stingy to the feet. And unfortunate to the island, the once rich coral reef nearby the shores are already heavily damaged due to some bombings and illegal coral reef mining. However if you are diligent enough, my friend who was able to go skin dive to about 30-40 feet were able to find some nice corals and fishes.

Fishermen near the little Sta Cruz Shores

Fishermen near the little Sta Cruz Shores

Just meters in distance from the Great Sta Cruz island is its sibling, the Little Sta Cruz Island. We originally planned to visit the place but we were warned earlier that at this time it’s an off limits area since there were Military Balikatan Exercises being held there. So don’t be surprised if you’re strolling by the Pink Sand beach and a low flying helicopter flies pass by. The Little Sta Cruz Island is actually a protected area and has a military installation on the island. And because of these, its surrounding reefs and the island itself were spared of any damage that’s why we really hoping to visit the area. We were a stubborn lot and we will have our way.

Raul, our PNP escort at the Islands

Raul, our PNP escort at the Islands and our little boat boy

We tried asking our PNP escort, Raul, on how we can visit the island. He said that we had to radio the command center there and have to ask permission to approach the island. Again a PNP escort is required when visiting the islands. I asked why, and he said that there were some incidents that there were boats being intercepted by who knows who before the visitors could reach the island so proper. So, for safety precautions, they are each visiting group should have an escort.

Snorkeling off the shores of Little Sta Cruz Islands

Snorkeling off the shores of Little Sta Cruz Islands

Luckily we chanced upon this group of divers which includes 2 foreigners which I remember came from Poland to dive near the Sta Cruz Island. Again, our PR person worked her magic and we were able to convince our boat man, who were also the same guys taking these divers the Little Sta Cruz Island to take as there as well. We need not dock on the island. We can stay on the boat and snorkel nearby. So after bringing the divers there, they came back after around 20 minutes and we hopped on our boat and headed to the Little Santa Cruz Island.

Soft and hard corals

Colorful soft and hard corals abound

When we got nearby the island we were able to see a few number of soldiers by the beach who seem to be doing some military exercise, crawling along the sand with their guns and ready to pursue an enemy. We passed by them and also some of the dive group we saw before. As for our, we were on our world of or own as we donned our snorkel gears and fins and jumped into the clear blue waters and see some fishes and corals.

Ocean floor at around 10-15 feet

Ocean floor at around 10-15 feet

It’s been some time since I last snorkeled so I was really excited to visit the underwater world again. I brought along with me my tough and handy 6+ years old Canon AS1 film camera to take pictures of the seascape here. And its a great thing, the water visibility here is quite good.

Come out Nemo!

Stop hiding there Nemo!

For a person who’s been out of the water for a while, I really enjoyed the place. A number of soft and hard corals, from brain corals, tables and other colorful kinds can be found there. A number of interesting fishes as well. Aside from the common clown fish, there were kinds I’ve seen from other reefs as well. I also got curious with this burrowing fishes, I don’t know what they are called though.

Burrowing fishes on the sand

Burrowing fishes on the sand

Interestingly the reefs here is okay and in fine condition, but honestly it’s not the best reefs I’ve snorkeled in. I still rank Club Noah in Taytay Palawan and Apo Reef and Pandan island in Mindoro Occidental as the best I’ve seen. Yet still, the reef here is worth checking out if you are already in the area.

The wacky water

The wacky water ‘loveliness’ formation

By noon we headed back to the Great Santa Cruz Island to have our lunch. And after which we had our free time to just sleep and relax or swim to our heart’s content until around 4pm when we leave and head back to the city. As for me, I popped up some music from my SE K800i and listened to some music while I drift off to sleep lying on one of the bench cottage enjoying the wind and the relaxing setting. We were able to leave around by 4:30pm since we had to have our last minute wacky shots by the water. I was trying to exhaust all the remaining film shots from my camera.

Me saying hi.. or bye for now

Me saying hi.. or bye for now

All in all the visit to the islands of Great and Little Santa Cruz Islands has been lots of fun. Its sad to learn about how the place fell from popularity but maybe its also an advantage now since only a few brave tourist will be able to enjoy the place sans the crowd other popular beaches have. If you are interested to visit the islands you have to book your trip trough the DOT (Department of Tourism) in Zamboanga City which can be found in Lantaka Hotel by the Sea in Valderosa Street. They can also be reached through this numbers (63) 9910218 and (63) 9926242. The island is a Protected Area, booking can only go through them. They will also provide the PNP escorts needed and the boat back and forth good for 6-8 pax all in all for Php 800. There are no resorts or food establishment on the islands so it is best to bring along food. You can also cook food there as there are grilling facilities in the area.

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Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.

46 Responses to “Zamboanga City: The Great and Little Santa Cruz Islands”

  1. When I was a kid we used to frequent this place and back in those years, a lot of tourists comes here and on Sunday Sta. Cruz would be filled with beachgoers. But those wre the days—ngayon medyo hesitant na ang mga tao pumunta doon. But I hope in the future, peace and order here would really improve generally and once again the pink sands of Sta. Cruz island would be alive again.

  2. Kyels

    Wow, the photos are amazing, even the underwater ones. How did you take them; with your camera in an underwater casing?


    And the whole place looks so inviting!


  3. hahaha. you had to pay for the cottages kasi merong nagbabantay. 😀

    Skin diving about 30-40 feet? Don’t his ears pop from the pressure?

    It’d be nice to get an underwater camera although I’ve only been snorkeling once, so I don’t know if I’d use it too much.

  4. photocache

    i wonder how pink sand looks in real life. you lucky dog you. great adventure again. i reckon you got more adventures just waiting to be published in that backpack of yours. keep travelling and we’ll keep reading.

  5. Zamboanga is one of the most beautiful cities in the country..but because of this terrorisms the tourism level went down….I just remember the last time I went there 2002…the usual muslim traditional clothes were so cheap and the danggit and daing were cheap too…

  6. waaah! ang unfair! been here, but didn’t see this gorgeous sand. read about it and tried to look for it, pro inabot na kame ng paglubog ng araw, di namin natuntun. 🙁

    i’ll PM you how we can go…might go back there again for an inspection, isabay ko na din ang lakwatsa 🙂

  7. without the conflicts in mindanao, i think it can give any other islands a run for their money, it maybe far but still reachable, pagudpud was far and unknown before, but look at it now.

    wish to visit the island…

  8. now this is rediscovery! thanks for showing us another beautiful yet forgotten treasure from down south. it’s just sad that current circumstances preclude many of us from truly enjoying this little paradise.

  9. pink sand beaches–i’ve never heard of such a thing, much less seen one. wow!

    you had armed pnp escorts as a precaution against marauding pirates? that is truly an adventure.

  10. Hi! So excited to read your post on Sta Cruz! I actually just returned from Zamboanga last week and we visited Sta. Cruz while we were there…had a wonderful time! It is so beautiful and I’m glad to see someone else writing about it 🙂 I hope you don’t mind but I placed a link in my post to yours so any readers can get more info on Sta. Cruz 🙂 Nice site!

  11. Hi. I’m seriously planning to go there this october to celebrate my birthday. It’s sure to be an adventure. I have been gawking at your photos and reading your entries for awhile now. This is a really nice site you have and I’m so envious of your travels ! 🙂 I hope you can help me a bit to plan my zamboanga trip ! I basically just wanna follow the itinerary you had – from the silts, to the weavers, the church and the pink beach. 🙂

  12. JC Perlas

    Wow! i missed the Santa Cruz Grande Island. It is good to know that after twelve years (2007-1995), the beauty of the beach is still the same. Yes, the sand is pink (from corals). I missed my chance to visit the Sta. Cruz Poco (small) Island. I simply love the water. There (in Grande) I discovered my love to sleep on the beach sand. It seems to me you missed Malamawi Island fronting Isabela proper, Basilan, Now, I will start preparing to go back to Zambo to visit my friends there and in Basilan, too. I just remember the beautiful dusk at Lamitan. Wow. Go and Visit Zamboanga City. Better if you have friends there.

    Thank you for the beautiful shots and for blogging your travails. I envy you man.

  13. I just love the way you described our Sta. Cruz Island. Truly, it is a hidden paradise. Even locals of Zamboanga City do not know much of this fantastic island. I just love its pink sand! Truly amazing… I just hope the city government will realize more of its potential and add up amenities for the benefit of its tourists.

    Thanks for featuring this on your site. More power!

  14. cj marc

    we missed this island nung nagpunta kami zamboanga city feb 21-23, 2009, kahit 15-20mins lang sea travel, afraid baka may sumalubong na mga abu or mi na naka speed boat hehehhehe….. tapos kami motorized lang even if we have pnp escorts. eto ang babalikan namin someday para makita yung pink sands, ganda kasi ng kuha mo ironwulf!!!!

  15. marie javier

    i’s a very nice beach …. one that we should be very proud of… let’s promote Sta. cruz island to invite foerign and local tourists…. and i wish their will be budget tour packages for the middle class….

  16. Hi there! this is really great! Me and my fiance’ are planning to go there this coming June 25-26, Hope somebody would tell me how to go there publicly. We are backpack travelers and bloggers actually. Let’s help promote our country’s wonders 🙂

    Thanks a lot <3

  17. jessel

    Hi Ma’am/Sir,

    I just wanna ask if we can have a Private Camping at Great Sta. Cruz Islands for about 2-3days?
    Hoping for your response.

    Best Regards,


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