hermosa festival 
Source: Eazy Traveler

Hermosa Festival: Zamboanga’s Celebration of Colors

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  • Post last modified:November 18, 2023
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Zamboanga Hermosa, also known as Fiesta Pilar or Hermosa Festival, is one of the brightest and most famous Philippine festivals. This yearly festival features beats of drums, colors of vintas, charm of dance, and many more. 

And in our opinion, it’s one of the Philippine festivals you shouldn’t miss― not to mention the food that you’ll enjoy during the event. 

So, without further ado, here’s a complete guide to the Hermosa festival made for explorers and foodies.

What Is the Hermosa Festival?

The Hermosa Festival celebrates the Nuestra Señora de la Virgen del Pilar (Our Lady of the Pillar). The city’s saint stands tall and proud in the historic Fort Pilar. 

During the feast day (October 12), Zamboanga City’s locals and tourists hold novena masses in the shrine. With the theme―come and celebrate!― the Hermosa Festival offers locals and tourists an unforgettable experience, thanks to the traditional and modern elements of the festival.

While the Hermosa Festival originally started with Spanish and religious roots, it became more than that. It gradually became a well-loved cultural event locals and tourists love, thanks to the smooth mix between native Filipino customs and modern ones. 

So, if you love exploring culture, spirituality, and delicious food, you got the right festival to join.

Hermosa Festival Costume

hermosa festival costume
Source: Hellotravel

The festival features a lot of costumes that brilliantly mirror Zamboanga’s culture and spiritual sentiments. 

First, we got the iconic vinta-inspired Hermosa Festival costumes. The outfits inspired by this maritime symbol have striking geometric designs and colorful hues like the vinta’s sails. People usually wear them during the boat race, one of Hermosa’s Festival highlights. 

Another Hermosa Festival costume honors Zamboanga’s substantial Moro community: the Moro garb. Women often choose the malong, a multifunctional cloth tube complemented with detailed adornments. Conversely, men may sport the salwar (pants) teamed with a coordinating top and the traditional kupya (cap).

People joining cultural competitions and beauty pageants also wear the timeless mestiza dress, evoking memories of the classic Maria Clara outfit. This attire features butterfly sleeves and expansive skirts.

Some people also wear native accessories during the festival. Also often showcased during the trade exhibits, these accessories include detailed beadworks, ceremonial headgear, and other artisanal accessories reflecting the region’s indigenous craftsmanship.

Zamboanga Hermosa Festival History

The Hermosa Festival in Zamboanga, commonly referred to as Fiesta Pilar, stands as a testament to the city’s rich tapestry of culture and spiritual traditions. With roots tracing back to the Spanish colonization era, the festival honors the city’s guardian, Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Our Lady of the Pillar). 

The reverence began in the 17th century when a humble chapel was erected in her name in a fortified stone structure. The subsequent miracles ascribed to the icon of the Virgin amplified her significance as a spiritual beacon in the community.

Over time, what was once a strictly religious observance adapted to mirror Zamboanga City’s evolving landscape. The festival expanded to include the deep-rooted Catholic practices and the diverse customs introduced by the Muslim and native inhabitants. This evolution transformed the festival into a lively fusion of devotion, artistic displays, exhibitions, and cultural shows.

While the majestic procession in honor of Our Lady of the Pillar stands as a pivotal event, the festival brings to the city’s legacy, from the radiant vinta boat competitions to communal dances. Importantly, in a locale marked by its multifaceted identities—spanning religion, ethnicity, and traditions—the Hermosa Festival proves that diverse backgrounds can come together to celebrate.

When Is the Hermosa Festival Celebrated?

Zamboanga Hermosa or the Hermosa Festival is celebrated during the month of October. The highlight of this month-long celebration usually falls on October 12. During this day, locals come together to pay homage to the Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Our Lady of the Pillar), the city’s guardian. 

Although the festival’s highlight falls on October 12th, other activities fill the whole month of October. These include cultural shows, sports competitions, and the like (more details about the activities below). 

Zamboanga Hermosa Festival Activities

hermosa festival activities
Source: Trip101

The Hermosa Festival in Zamboanga features a delightful mix of cultural shows, competitions, musical events, and more. Here are the most fun activities done during Zamboanga Hermosa: 

1. Art Exhibit

This event allows artists, both local to Zamboanga and from nearby areas, to display their creative work. The displayed art pieces, ranging from paintings to sculptures, resonate with Zamboanga’s rich history and culture.

2. Beauty Pageants

This year, the Hermosa Festival in Zamboanga features two pageants: Miss Philippines Eart Zamboanga and Binibining Zamboanga. 

Aside from featuring physically beautiful candidates, these competitions focus on intelligence, skill, and a sense of cultural pride. Aspiring young ladies from the city present their advocacies, talents, and wit during these competitions. 

3. Sports Competitions

Designed to bolster community spirit and encourage healthful living, a series of athletic events are held. These include the Dance Sport Competition, Gymnastic Cup, Open Chess Championship, Weightlifting Championship, Invitational Swimming Competition, Amateur Boxing Championship, Volleyball Tournament, Invitational Mixed Martial Arts, and Open Arnis Tournament. 

4. Drum and Lyre Competition

Zamboanga Hermosa’s Drum and Lyre Competition is one of the most anticipated events during the month-long celebration. During this competition, the city pits bands against each other in a contest of musical excellence. Featuring drum and lyre performances, the compositions often echo local tunes that enchant listeners.

5. Parade of Lights

As night descends, the city sees the radiant parade where illuminated floats and performers light up the avenues. This splendid spectacle gives the people celebratory vibes and a night you don’t want to miss.

6. Chavacano Pop Music Festival

Zamboanga is known for its distinct Chavacano dialect, a blend of Spanish and local language. During this event, the unique language gets its moment in the spotlight. Regional performers play songs exclusively in Chavacano, giving the locals a great time. And if you know Spanish, you’ll likely understand what they sing, too, since Chavacano rings close to the said language. 

7. Street Dance

This major Zamboanga Hermosa activity sees troupes dancing across the streets, donning vibrant attire. Their performances, set to energetic beats, tell tales of Zamboanga’s past and present through synchronized steps.

8. Mascota de Zamboanga

A fashion contest centered around the mascota (traditional gowns Zamboangueñas worn in the 1900s), these Spanish-influenced gowns offer a glimpse into Zamboanga’s colonial past, with participants presenting intricately designed outfits that honor a bygone era.

9. Zamboanga Peninsula Trade Exposition

This event gives the region’s artisans and traders a chance to present their creations. They range from handcrafted goods to local culinary delights. It also serves as an ideal spot for visitors to buy unique keepsakes, taste culinary gems, and get pasalubong. 

10. Regatta de Zamboanga

An exhilarating maritime competition, this event showcases the iconic vintas, recognized by their vivid sails. Vintas refer to traditional boats used by indigenous people. These vibrant vintas light up  the shores of R.T. Lim Boulevard each year.

Delicacies To Try During Hermosa Festival

The Hermosa Festival is not just a vibrant display of Zamboanga City’s cultural heritage but also a culinary journey. Here are some delectable delicacies that you must try during the festivities:

1. Curacha

hermosa festival curacha

Native to the Sulu Archipelago, this marine crab stands out with its unique reddish-pink color and spider-esque form. Curacha’s appeal stems from its sweet, fleshy meat, devoid of the earthy aftertaste found in some other crabs. Immersed in a rich concoction of coconut milk and enhanced with aromatic spices such as lemongrass and chili, it becomes an unforgettable gastronomic delight.

2. Alavar Sauce

hermosa festival alavar sauce
Source: Nestle

A Zamboangueño special, Alavar sauce is a gastronomic masterpiece crafted with a secret medley of spices. Its velvety consistency, derived from coconut milk and paired with the savory richness of shrimp paste, makes it a coveted pair to seafood dishes in local households.

3. Satti

hermosa festival satti

With its origins in Tausug cuisine, Satti looks like barbecued skewers but packs a zestier punch. Cooks flame-grill the skewers, filled with chunks of meat or seafood, to get a smoky, charred finish. Served with a robust, spicy peanut sauce, each morsel offers an amazing clash of flavors.

4. Bagon de Gata

bagon de gata

This Filipino dish refers to fermented shrimp paste that many Filipinos love. However, the variant from Zamboanga distinguishes itself by blending it with coconut milk. This softens the sharp salinity of the paste, giving it a velvety texture.

5. Tiyula Itum

tiyula itum
Source: Ang Sarap

Originally an iconic Tausug delicacy, Tiyula Itum has a striking dark broth, thanks to the burnt coconut flesh and its outer layer. Accentuated with aromatic spices such as turmeric and ginger, this beef-based dish promises a rich interplay of smoky, savory, and zesty undertones.

6. Latal

Source: Escape Manila

This dish offers a gentle sweetness and soft texture. The combination of sticky rice and the lusciousness of coconut milk results in a heartwarming palate experience. Cooks also wrap it in banana leaf for a quaint charm and pleasing aroma.

7. Zambo Rolls

Zambo Rolls
Source: X

These spring rolls feature a crispy shell with a moist, savory core. The harmony of minced pork, succulent shrimp, and crisp veggies, all embraced by regional spices, will make your taste buds dance in joy. 

8. Knickerbocker

knicker bocker

Dubbed as Zamboanga’s answer to the classic summer treat, halo-halo, the knickerbocker stands out. It layers vibrant tropical fruits with silky custard and the crispness of crushed ice. Cooks then top them off with a lavish dollop of ice cream. Locals love this halo-halo variant, especially during the hot season.

9. Pastil

Source: Maggi

The pastil refers to a dish wrapped in a lively green banana leaf, presenting a layer of tenderly steamed rice. Under this, you’ll find chicken or fish filling seasoned with aromatic spices such as turmeric, garlic, and occasionally a hint of local herbs. 

This compact and tantalizing package, with its balance of simplicity and robust flavors, reflects not just the region’s rich gastronomic traditions but also a daily staple. Frequently chosen by locals for its convenience and taste, it seamlessly fits into the hustle and bustle of their daily routines and is often eaten during commutes or brief breaks.

10. Tamal


Despite bearing a resemblance in name to its Mexican counterpart, Zamboanga’s Tamal boasts a distinct flavor profile. It features a luscious blend of rice flour and coconut milk. In the center, you’ll find spiced chicken or fish augmented with a hint of peanuts. Like the pastil, cooks wrap tamal in banana leaves and steam it. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is Hermosa Festival held?

The Hermosa Festival is held in Zamboanga City each year.  The city is located in the Zamboanga Peninsula region in the Philippines.

What are the activities of Zamboanga Hermosa Festival?

The activities of Zamboanga Hermosa Festival include the Art Exhibit, Miss Philippines Earth Zamboanga and Binibining Zamboanga pageants, Sports Competitions, Drum and Lyre Competition, Parade of Lights, Chavacano Pop Music Festival, Street Dance, Mascota de Zamboanga, Zamboanga Peninsula Trade Exposition, and Regatta de Zamboanga.

Is Hermosa Festival religious or secular?

The Hermosa Festival is a religious event that celebrates the city’s patron saint, the Nuestra Señora de la Virgen del Pilar (Our Lady of the Pillar). 

Why is Hermosa Festival celebrated?

The Hermosa Festival is celebrated because of the Nuestra Senora la Virgen del Pilar (Our Lady of Pillar). The festival honors and celebrates the saint, which helped protect the city from an attack and earthquake. 

What is the biggest and most colorful event in the annual Zamboanga Hermosa Festival?

The biggest and most colorful event in the annual Zamboanga Hermosa Festival is the Regatta de Zamboanga, which is a race of colorful vintas. 


Beyond the captivating performances and gastronomic delights, Zamboanga Hermosa features collective joy, making it a spectacle for anyone who wants to experience the Philippines. So, what are you waiting for? Go pack and book a ticket to Zamboanga City now! 


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