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Travel Warning WARNING: Governments advise against all travel to the Sulu Archipelago because of terrorist activity, kidnappings, and clashes between the military and insurgent groups.
Government travel advisories
(Information last updated 29 Jan 2024)

The Sulu Islands are a region of the Philippines, an island chain that stretches from near Zamboanga City, at the southwestern tip of Mindanao, almost to the Malaysian province of Sabah, at the eastern end of Borneo. Politically, they are part of the Philippines but culturally they are close to Malaysia and Indonesia; in particular they are almost entirely Muslim.

The Sultanate of Sulu lasted from 1405 to 1915; at its peak it included all of these islands plus Palawan, Sabah, and parts of mainland Mindanao. It was largely a pirate kingdom and Jolo, on Sulu, had the largest slave market in Asia.


Sulu Archipelago

The main islands of the chain, each the center of a province, are Basilan, Sulu and Tawi Tawi. There are many smaller islands, all included in those provinces for administrative purposes.


  • 1 Isabela City – the regional center of Basilan, with a mix of Christian and Muslim Filipino culture and some undiscovered sights.
  • 2 Jolo Jolo, Sulu on Wikipedia – the capital of Sulu Province.
  • 3 Bongao – the capital of Tawi-Tawi Province.

Other destinations[edit]


The Sulu island chain has some pristine beaches and colorful culture. Basilan island has the most vibrant tourism scene, but it has been affected by an ongoing Islamist insurgency. Skirmishes and terror attacks continue to happen throughout the archipelago, and as part of the Bangsamoro, they are included in travel warnings as well.

In administrative terms, the islands are part of the Bangsamoro (the former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or ARMM), though geographically they are separate islands, off mainland Mindanao.

Most of the people are either Yakan or Tausug, and there are also a minority of Chavacano speakers from Zamboanga. Other ethnolinguistic groups are the Sama-Bajau (Badjao), who live in the sea and rely heavily on fishing as a source of livelihood.


For most of the islands, Tausug serves as the lingua franca. While related to the languages of the Visayas, it incorporates a lot of Arabic loanwords, reflecting Arab and Islamic influence. Most Sulu Muslims have at least some basic knowledge of Arabic, especially when memorizing the Qur'an. Chavacano, a Spanish-based creole introduced by Zamboanga City locals, serves a similar purpose in Basilan, and Muslims and Christians alike speak and understand Chavacano.

Get in[edit]

By plane[edit]

All the provinces have at least one airport at the main island except for Basilan, which has only airstrips used by general aviation. Tawi-tawi has one airport at Bongao, Sanga-Sanga Airport (TWT IATA), served by Cebgo and PAL Express from Zamboanga. Jolo has one airport, Jolo Airport (JOL IATA), served only by Platinum Skies from Zamboanga.

Get around[edit]





Stay safe[edit]

Go next[edit]

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