A peaceful municipality nestled over the breezy mountains of South Cotabato, haven of the peaceful T’boli people. Located in the Southwestern region of Mindanao Island, visiting or travelling this place is stereotyped as risky. But understanding the topography and nature of its locals, the stereotyped impression would dissipate from your thoughts. Lake Sebu is seemingly peaceful, serene and tranquil. Another destination to be – blessed with mother nature’s gift, this should be ticked from a traveller’s bucket list because of its promising tourism activities.
It is a first class municipality located in the Southwest border of South Cotabato province. It is known for the famous Lake Sebu, at approximately 3000 ft above sea level, and neighbouring Lake Lahit and Lake Seloton. At that altitude, weather is cooler compared to the nearest cities, Koronadal City and Tacurong City. As you tread the main thoroughfares of Lake Sebu, you would notice highland pine trees, a clear indication of its altitude, and the cooler breeze.
HOW TO GO THERE
The nearest airport is from General Santos City. From the airport, charter a trike o taxi to the nearest bus terminal and hop on a bus going to Koronadal City, aka Marbel. From Koronadal City, hop on a van going to Surallah, and from Surallah, there are vans going to Lake Sebu.
- Arrive in General Santos International Airport
- Taxi to Bus terminal (less than 20 mins)
- Bus ride to Koronadal City, aka Marbel (less than 2.5 hrs)
- Van ride from Koronadal City to Surralah (less than 1 hr)
- There are occassional vans from Koronadal City that goes straight to Lake Sebu, via Surralah
- Van ride from Surralah to Lake Sebu (less than 1 hr)
From my experience and as an alternative, I flew to Cotabato City and hop on a van bound to Koronadal City. You can alight to Isulan and take another van to Surallah and finally a van again to Lake Sebu.
Summary on what we really did:
- Arrive in Cotabato City Awang Airport
- Board a tricycle, Payong Payong as locals call it, to highway (less than 10 mins)
- from Highway board a multicab to city (less than 20 mins)
- Alight in PUV or PUB terminals bound to Koronadal City (less than 4 hours)
- Alight to Isulan Grand terminal and board a Van to Surralah (less than 1 hr)
- Once in Surralah terminal, board a Van to Lake Sebu (less than 1 hr)
WHERE DID WE SLEEP?
We opted to spend our night in School of Living Tradition, a homestay and a local cultural school owned by Maria Todi, a T’boli culture teacher and keeper. Due to her busy schedule, the arrangement of homestay is managed by her daughter, Ms. Karina Todi Wanan. Most of the contact number among blogs and online articles that I tried to reach are not updated, fortunately, I have the helping hand of one of my Instagram resources, by his IG account @theyolove, Sir Isko. He was able to give me the contact and at the last minute, made a successful reservation with the homestay.
Cost per head at the time of our stay is Php 350.00 per night including breakfast. The homestay is located beside the main road, atop a hill, landmark is in front of the Greenbox store which is open until 11:00 PM.
My stay in Lake Sebu was indeed remarkable, augmented by the highly accommodating demeanor of Ms. Karina. We are to stay in Lake Sebu for less than 24 hours because our tight itinerary and Ms. Karina was able to shed a light to my many inquiries on how to maximize our tour.
EXPLORING LAKE SEBU
To make it possible for us to visit all the set itineraries, she suggested us to hire a habal habal (motorcycle) and start before dawn.
We started our tour before dawn at Lake Seloton. A 15-20 minute ride from the homestay to the lake, there are portions of the road that are bumpy, but the surrounding scenery would compensate.
We parked at a lakeside resort and hurried to the shore where we can marvel the sunrise and observe the blooming of the lotus flowers. The atmosphere was so serene and tranquil as you can almost only hear the locals paddling their dug out canoes as they tend their fish pens and squawk of the wild birds hunting over the lake.
You would have an option to go fishing but you have to pay your catch per kilogram – a nice bonding activity with the family and friends, if you have the luxury of time.
We left the Lake Seloton as the rays of the sun started to creep over the surrounding mountains and the thin fog started to dissipate.
CANOEING IN LAKE SEBU
It is highly recommended start your tour in Lake Sebu early morning and witness the blooming of the thousand lotus flowers scattered around the lake. Added with the indelible experience is the absolute serenity and tranquility of the place.
For almost an hour, our boatman has paddled us around the lake giving us a better perspective of the innumerable lotus flowers and the surrounding local community.
LANG DULAY WEAVING CENTER
Another cultural icon in Lake Sebu, Lang Dulay, highly respected and reputable woman is known for her hardwork with T’nalak cloth – a prized T’boli craft perfected by tedious process and labor of love. I was thinking that time we would personally meet her, but it is with heavy hard that we learned she already passed away in the year 2015 when we arrived at the center.
The weaving center is continued by her students, and their highly valued masterpiece, the T’Nalak cloth and other souvenir items are on display. Mind that T’nalak cloths do come in hefty prices as to compensate with the laborious process in undergoes.
I happen to ask one of the weavers for the process. It is a tedious one and requires copious amounts of patience and love of the craft. Starts from harvesing the abaca fibres, cleaning, dyeing, knotting, placing the fibres in the loom, placing the design and actual weaving process where the ladies pour their labor of love with the craft.
An indispensable act to all travelers is to visit a local museum should there be one. Housed in a modest T’boli style structure, the interactive displays would give you a glimpse of the T’boli culture, its past and present.
SEVEN WATERFALLS NATURE PARK AND ZIP LINE
Proving mother nature’s graceful beauty and elegance, Lake Sebu has this gem lying in its belly for travellers to witness and savor its astonishing view – the Seven Waterfalls Nature Park. Boasting its zip line course dubbed as the Highest in Asia, visitors would enjoy the bird’s eye view of all the 7 waterfalls which proves to be an exhaustive and off beaten to be discovered on foot.
As you grace the entrance of the park, souvenir stores and snack shops lined the pathways as you stroll to the descending pathway leading to the zip line platform. It is that commanding and panoramic that gives the adrenaline-feel to visitors. As you wait for your turn in the platform, you can opt to visit the bridge near the Hikong Alu falls (Falls #1), where you can have a photograph wearing the traditional T’boli clothing – another one ticked from my list.
Let me have this floor to share that in all my travel history, it is my first time to ride a zip line and I could say all adjectives in superlative state. Almost wounded my voice box in screaming my heart out – the view is unquestionably breathtaking.
At Php 250.00 on weekdays, flying over these majestic waterfalls and noted as highest in South East Asia is an awesome deal! You will have two separate rides from Point A to Point B and then Point B to Point C.
Visit Datu Bundos Fara – a skilled brass artist
Another local handicraft was T’boli artistry and love of crafts are manifested in the intricate brass designs. If not of our limited baggage allowance for our return flight back to Manila, we could have brought few brass articles as souvenirs. Being last in our list in Lake Sebu, our driver brought us to Datu Bundos Fara, one of the known and experts in the art of creating brass masterpieces. He happily displayed the brass articles and masterpieces designed by his very hands – intricate designs that would easily reveal his craftsmanship.
Buying Souvenir at a local store
COWHED (Cooperative Women in Health and Dev’t)
An imperative act to all travellers to support the thriving local livelihood – this would sustain the daily family lives and help spur local economy. There are number of souvenir shops around the municipality and some are clustered within the proximity of major tourist spots. Our guide has brought us to COWHED where the team bought souvenirs. Amongst on display are T’boli costumes and bracelets, trinkets, keychains and brass items. The souvenir store also boast a good view of the lake.
Eating what Lake Sebu offers – BOB NOWONG RESTAURANT
Who would say no to a freshly grilled tilapia or crispy fried chicharon tilapia? This are one of the few must try staples in Lake Sebu. Tilapia farming is one of the major livelihood here – fish pens distributed across the 3 lakes – Lake Lahit, Lake Seloton and the largest among the three, Lake Sebu.
Seemingly a far flung town nestled on the waists of the South Cotabato’s mountain ranges but does not run out of surprises and novelty restaurants – a must stop and eat-at – Bob Nowong, where he had our dinner in Lake Sebu. From the road, the architecture and design is easily recognizable because of its open air balcony area and unique interior design – reminiscent of some cafes and restaurants in Tagaytay and Baguio City. The restaurant has its upper floor for the dining area and lower floor for recreation. It also boasts its scenic garden where you can have a photo op between the huge BOB NOWONG letters.
The following day, we have our lunch in a local eatery after we visited our last itinerary. We ordered crispy fried and grilled tilapia. We chose an eatery that boast a good view of the lake, and why on earth did I forget the name of the restaurant?
THANK YOU LAKE SEBU!!
In total, we explored Lake Sebu in less than 12 hours and had set foot on its known tourist destination. It is with great pleasure and honour to have had met a cultural icon, Ma’am Maria Todi and her congenial eldest, Ma’am Kay, and an awesome experience to have understand the T’boli culture pronto.
You can contact Ma’am Kay at +63 905 590 7472
HOW MUCH IT COST US?
We traveled five in a group spent at least Php 3,000.00 each from Manila and back inclusive of our commute from Cotabato City to Lake Sebu and back, food, tour guide fee and entrance fees.
WHAT OTHERS EXPERIENCED IN LAKE SEBU?
“Lake Sebu is an adventure one should include in ones PH bucketlist. Enjoy flying the most awesome zip line with the amazing view of the seven falls. Be relaxed with the beautiful scenery of the lake where lotus flowers bloom and try their crunchy chicharon tilapia! One can try a wooden boat ride too :)” – @ray_michael
“It was my first time in the place and I wished not leaving there. The people are amiable and have experienced the cruise buffet with T’boli locals performing live as we wade the waters of Lake Sebu.
Never ever leave Lake Sebu without trying the zip line, personally, it is the best.” – @raffybabila
“Serene. One with nature. Breathtaking!” – @t_paxx
“Lake Sebu caters a unique living tradition and a well-diversed ecosystem. The well preserved culture offers assurance for the future generations to witness their culture and its majestic beauty. The vast landscape from man-made ecosystem to their community based management falls showed how they valued their resources” – @otepmercado
“If you’re looking for an awesome twist of art and nature, Lake Sebu is the one for you. It offers more than just its beautiful landscape, it is also home of the T’boli’s rich culture and amazing traditions.
This place is perfect for adventure freaks who love chasing majestic waterfalls and for laid-back travellers who find serenity by cruising around solemn waters of the lake. The entire community itself is very friendly and accommodating and not to mention, it’s the fresh tilapia everywhere that adds flavor to the whole experience.” – @bryehero
“Lake Sebu is a must visit town in Mindanao. 3D2N is not enough to explore the place. It’s a paradise surrounded by hills and mountains. I wish we had more time to trek the seven falls. (Yes, it’s possible according to one of the blogs I read). A commendation to their delicious tilapia dishes. 🙂
FYI: Tourism office has newly implemented an identification system for habal habal driver / tourist guide for the safety of their visitors.” – @vinsonmartin
“As a person who loves waterfalls, I sauntering my way to all 7 waterfalls plus ending my trek with a zip line makes my Lake Sebu experience worthy” – @no_juan_is_an_island