More and more travelers are making their way to South Cotabato, and for many good reasons. Comprising one-fifth of Mindanao’s SOCCSKSARGEN region, the province is one of the most famous destinations for travelers seeking adventure, culture, and good food.
Here is why you should check out this unspoiled gem down South.
1. It hosts the Budayaw Festival.
In September 2017, the Philippines played host to its first Budayaw Festival. A multi-faceted cultural event, it showcased the country’s diverse culture, as well as that of several other ASEAN countries, including Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam, and Malaysia. The first of its kind in the country, the extravagant festival included a fashion show featuring indigenous fabrics from various parts of the Philippines.
Guests were also treated to entertaining cultural performances from each participating country and a sumptuous spread of Mindanaoan food, from pastil to desserts. Though the event was and will be annually held in General Santos, the city is geographically located within the province, just a stone’s throw away from hotels and attractions. If you want to experience rich ASEAN culture, there is no better local event to attend than this.
2. It’s a melting pot of cultures.
Home to various heritages, South Cotabato is a UNESCO-recognized cultural landscape and is one of the country’s most diversified provinces in terms of people. In Lake Sebu alone, various ethnic groups such as the T’boli, Manobo, and Blaan co-exist. Visiting Lake Sebu, one will see well-preserved ethnic cultures with traditional dances, livelihood, and clothing still in place. In neighboring towns, you will find other tribal groups like the Ubo and Tasaday.
3. You can experience Lake Sebu’s natural offerings three ways: hiking, zipline, or a lake cruise.
Covering over 42,000 hectares of lush rainforests, Lake Sebu is among the most wildlife-rich spots in South Cotabato. Surrounded by hills, mountains, and falls in Allah Valley, the municipality is home to various endangered species, including deers, boars, and birds–and you can experience them all in three unique ways.
For thrill-seekers, there’s the Lake Sebu zipline, which affords a bird’s eye view of six out of seven falls and surrounding greenery. Said to be the highest zipline in Southeast Asia, the ride consists of two ziplines: a 740-meter high one that hovers over Falls 1 to 5, and a 400-meter high one that brings you from Falls 5 to to Falls 2 near the parking area.
An alternative, albeit longer, way to see the seven falls is by hiking, which starts at Falls 1, or Hikong Alo, then Falls 2, or Hikong Bente, which requires a walk up a 774-step trail. To reach the other falls, trekkers need to pass through a vegetated trail, steep cliffs, and a river.
Another popular feature of Lake Sebu are its three contiguous lakes: Lake Lahit (smallest), Lake Seloton (deepest), and Lake Sebu (largest). Punta Isla Lake Resort offers a floating restaurant cruise that takes guests across all three lakes while watching native T’boli dances and musical performances and enjoying tilapia dishes.
For those who are staying the night, catch the sunrise the next morning on board an owong, a native canoe fashioned from lawaan wood. During the cruise, tourists can see locals fishing and hundreds of lotuses blooming above water.
4. You can eat as much tilapia and durian as you like.
Spanning 354 hectares, Lake Sebu’s three lakes are home to one of the biggest populations of tilapia in the country. The livelihood of locals thrive on tilapia fishing, and restaurants offer tilapia dishes cooked in every way you can imagine, from pinaputok to alfredo.
Head to Tupi Fruit Park for a wide and affordable selection of local fruits, including durian and mangoes. Harvested straight from the farms in Mt. Matutum, you can be sure that each piece is the freshest of the crop.
5. You can see firsthand how brass accessories and T’nalak are made.
Also called the Land of the Dreamweavers, South Cotabato (Lake Sebu in particular) is home to various artisans, most prominently T’boli brass casters and T’nalak weavers. At the Lang Dulay Weaving Center, you will find women weaving these indigenous cloths from scratch, using only a wooden implement.
Each handmade T’nalak possesses unique origins. Dreamweavers create “dream” patterns, which locals believe is the work of Fu Dalu, the god of abaca. T’nalak is considered sacred. During the months-long creation process, weavers are prohibited from having sexual intercourse with their husbands.
Meanwhile, in Bundos Fara’s home, Lake Sebu’s premier third-generation brass maker, brass materials ranging from faucets to metal scraps are thawed with coal, then forged into beautiful ornaments like gongs, swords, bells, and accessories. These pieces are sold cheap on site and sent to Manila to be used by renowned shops like Kultura. The traditional technique is unique to Lake Sebu, and Fara and his family will be more than happy to show how it is done.