It is located in the island of Mindanao in Southern Philippines, home to diverse communites and the fast-rising rising eco-tourism superstar in the region.
Why go to South Cotabato?
[Louie] Let’s just say South Cotabato satisfies your senses. Really!
The province offers more than every kind of traveler wishes to experience: adventure, authentic culture, the stillness of nature, great food, and pleasant people.
As a mountaineer, I can say that the province is home to some of the most scenic mountains in the country. So you get to meet the Tboli, B’laan and Ubo indigenous peoples with interesting tales of heritage, faith, art and survival.
If you love to chase waterfalls South Cotabato has an endless list of tiered wonders. Or if you want to just spend your lazy days in the stillness of nature, pack your bags and head on to this “Land of the Dreamweavers.”
Drop your hesitation with the province’s last name. Experience for yourself how people of different religious beliefs and ethnicity live here in peace and harmony.
[Brennan] South Cotabato holds a very special place in my heart because this place inspired me to write my first ever travel entry. It showed me that there is more to life beyond my office cubicle – trekking to a hidden waterfall, overindulging on an assortment of tilapia dishes and experiencing Tboli hospitality.
Go then to South Cotabato if you want to momentarily escape from it all. After a weekend of adventure, culture and nature, you might hopefully return to your cubes, rejuvenated, inspired and even hungry for more.
How do you get there and how do you get around?
[Brennan] There are daily flights from Iloilo, Cebu and Manila that fly to the General Santos International Airport, which serves as the main entry point to the region. From General Santos, one can hop on a bus to wherever your next pitstop will be.
[Louie] Buses, Vans and Tricycles are the ways to get around the 10 towns and lone city of the province. In upland towns, however, the ubiquitous habal-habal (extended single motorcycle) is the exciting way to get around.
What can you do there?
[Louie] Explore on foot the famed seven waterfalls in the forests of highland town of Lake Sebu. If trekking is not your thing you may see at least five of the seven falls from the bird’s eye view 200 meters from the ground by riding the 800 and 740 meters long zip lines.
Meditate in the stillness of the town’s three mountain lakes surrounded by lush tropical mountains. Lake Sebu has a subtropical-like climate comparable to Tagaytay’s.
Tour the City of Koronadal and learn of its colorful history and how its people survived the second World War, how the settlers turned the once barren land into the progressive city that it is today. More historical places include the towns of Banga and Surallah.
Meet the Tboli people. Experience homestay and immerse with the indigenous peoples in the School of Living Tradition managed by cultural worker and Tboli woman Ate Mayang Todi.
Go mountain trekking. The most scenic mountain destinations I’ve been to are found here in my home province. Climb Mt. Matutum in Tupi, Mt. Melibingoy (Mt Parker) or its volcanic caldera, Lake Holon and Mt. Melibato in Tboli town, Mt. Three Kings in Lake Sebu or explore the endless Siok River and Falls in Quezon Mountain Range in Koronadal City.
Meet Lang Dulay, one of the oldest Tnalak weaver, honored with Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan or the National Living Treasures Award by the National Commission for culture and the Arts (NCCA) for being one of the “finest traditional artists of the land” for “dream weaving”. Tnalak designs are said be based from geometrical patterns of various flora and fauna as seen by the women weavers from their dreams.
The best time to visit the province is in July, the time for the week-long Tnalak Festival that concludes on the 18th of the month.
[Brennan] Louie, you have outlined everything already! 🙂
I’d also like to add the various ‘stopovers‘ you can during the brief drive from General Santos to Koranadal. Score an insider invite to Kalsangi Clubhouse in Polomolok and try their steaks and burgers. If that doesn’t work out for you, you can always drop by Kablon Fruitstand in Tupi for very affordable fruits to nibble on and the Apareja Buko Halo-Halo for a quick, heat-busting halo-halo snack.
Where can you spend the night?
[Brennan] Of the few times that I’ve been to Koronadal, I usually spend the night either outdoors or at a friend’s house. But there are a lot of affordable accommodations to choose from. Ramona Plaza Hotel seems like a top choice should I find myself back in the city. Although I would like to squeeze in (read: save for) an evening at The Farm at Carpenter Hill.
[Louie] Good choices, Brennan.
When in Lake Sebu, the province’s tourism center, there are around 15 resorts to choose from. My recommended resorts from among them are: Mountain Lake Eco Resort, Mountain Log Resort, Punta Isla Lake Resort and the Monte Cielo Resort.
In Koronadal city, the Farm at Carpenter Hill, a laidback Class AA garden resort/hotel really is the place to be if you want to stay in a classy accommodation venue a bit away from the city. Other hotels and inns within the city center are the FB Hotel, Paraiso Verde and Greenstate Suites.
For backpackers, Kabana Hostel, Grand Westerly Inn and EMR Suites would surely fit your budget.
What food stops should you not miss?
[Louie] Join the long queue of patrons waiting to have a fill of the famous buko halo-halo along the national highway in Barangay Saravia.
The Farm at Carpenter Hill offers appetizing Western and Asian dishes. Sa Balay Bistro, an ancestral house converted into a resto, serves tasty Filipino dishes. For the batchoy lovers Koronadal City have the local names as Popoy’s and Hapit-Anay. For street foods and satay ala Larsians of Cebu, Koronadal a.k.a Marbel has the B-walk (Barbeque walk) at the back of the compound of the old city hall.
When in Lake Sebu try the different Tilapia dishes cooked in more than 50 ways. My personal favorites are Buntis na Tilapia by Mountain Lake Eco Resort, a steamed tilapia with spices and whole hardboiled egg stuffed inside its belly, and the Sisig Tilapia served in restos along the highway at the entrance of Seven Falls Park.
[Brennan] Thanks mig. Now I know where to eat around in South Cotabato.
What pasalubong options would you recommend?
[Brennan] It has to be the T’nalak, the traditional woven cloth in these parts. Buy this intricately woven cloth when you get to visit Lang Dulay’s longhouse at Sitio Tukolefa, Lamdalag. I haven’t visited this place yet, but it’s already included in my never-ending South Cotabato bucket list.
What food items must I buy for my friends, Louie?
[Louie] Kablon Farm produces organically-grown, locally-made, well-packaged and international quality farm products. They have a shop in Koronadal City and in local malls. My personal favorites are guyabano and mango jams and cacao tableas (chocolate tablets).
Saravia’s Best is a community-based enterprise run by women in Barangay Saravia in Koronadal City that produces the best Sinamak (vinegar with spices) and other spice and coconut-based products.
For fresh fruits at very cheap price, the fruit stands along national highway in Barangay Kablon in Tupi are a must-visit.
For Tboli-inspired native accessories and authentic Tnalak cloth that are of high quality, the Cooperative of Women in Health and Development (COWHED), a cooperative run by indigenous Tboli women have a shop in Lake Sebu.
What do you think does this province does best compared to anywhere else in the world?
[Louie] South Cotabato need not be compared to any other place in the world. It’s a unique cultural, historical, adventure and nature destination by itself. It can be a one stop shop for a traveler with multiple standards and a long list of travel bucket list.
Quick hops or slow travel, South Cot is the place to be.
[Brennan] If you want to dance the night way to the tune of the latest EDM, South Cotabato is definitely not the place for that.
But if you want to have a totally different vacation or backpacking experience, particularly one that has nature+culture+adventure rolled in one, then South Cotabato does that really, really well.
Born and raised in South Cotabato, Louie Pacardo is indeed the go-to guy for the province’s many outdoor adventures, cultural immersions and everything else in between. He considers himself a nomad, roaming around the Philippines and beyond, yet always mindful to both his roots and his immediate universe.