incredible sunset in lake sebu
The enchanting Lake Sebu, in the Allah Valley in South Cotabato, is a contender for the Philippines’ most exotic destination. The vibe here around one of Mindanao’s iconic lakes is quite unlike mainstream Filipino culture – from the unintelligible cacophony of the local language to the intriguing practice of horse fighting – it certainly is not like the Philippines that I am familiar with. And then there are the T’boli, the local tribes people best known for their colorful costumes who have a real knack for decoration and music and who fought very hard to preserve the traditions of their ancestral homeland. All this makes Lake Sebu a really beguiling destination which I had been longing to visit for years.
being given a warm welcome by the local tribes people – the t’boli – in lake sebu
Despite the traditional way of life still practiced by the T’boli, the lake itself is not especially remote. The nearest major urban center is General Santos City, from where the placid locale is about 2 hours drive by car. This was the route I took to visit the lake. On the way, I passed by some interesting points – such as the Dole plantation in Polomolok, the provincial capital of Koronadal and the smaller town of Surallah, the last point before venturing into the lake area.
hikong alu – one of the seven falls
The first place we reached before actually getting to the lake was the Seven Falls. It’s a glorious exhibition of that same number of waterfalls within a relatively small area, cascading from various elevations. There is also a zipline (Php 350, both ways) that enabled me to gain a bird’s eye view of these majestic chutes, with the protected forest of the T’boli ancestral area surrounding each one. This was the second time in my life that I’d tried riding a zipline – the first one I had also done in Mindanao, in Bukidnon. The experience was as much for the thrill of being several hundred meters above the surface as it was for the incomparable vistas. The ride through the zipline was the only way to see many of the falls without actually having to trek.
placid scene on the lake
From the Seven Falls area, it was just a short ride to Lake Sebu. I couldn’t help thinking as I arrived at the lakeside that perhaps I visited far too late. While traditional life here is still very much evident, it was a bit more commercialized than I had expected. There were rows of resorts – practically side by side each other – in some portions of the lake. I ate at the most famous one – Punta Isla Resort – and tried the specialty tilapia which was cooked different ways. From sisig na tilapia to crunchy tilapia and even sinigang na tilapia, I ended up consuming a year’s worth of the fish in one sitting!
the t’nalak weaving process
What followed consisted of some of the closest interactions with the T’boli during my time there – a visit to witness some authentic T’nalak weaving and an audience with National Living Treasure awardee and master weaver, Lang Dulay. The weaving of T’boli cloth is a dying form of livelihood. It is a tedious job, where it takes months to complete a single roll of patterned cloth. But a group of master weavers led by the national living treasure still have the tenacity to continue the craft.
Not having gotten enough of the outdoors, I basically spent the rest of the afternoon admiring the impressive vistas around the lake from various view points. As much as there are several lake side resorts in Lake Sebu, there are also a couple of hilltop ones that are worthy of a stay, if only for the view.
rice paddies around lake sebu
As there is no pronounced dry season around these parts, the rice paddies were as verdant as can be with the undulating slopes of the mountains in the distance seemingly sheltering the area. I was told by some of the locals of a pristine lake not far away from the place – Lake Holon. Unfortunately, the only way to get there was a three day trek which I had no luxury for. Perhaps for another time.
lilies of the lake
morning activities in lake seloton
Sunrise the next day was another highlight for me. For that, we woke up extra early and ventured to the aptly named Sunrise Garden Resort at neighboring Lake Seloton for some early morning shots. While I missed the actual sunrise by a few minutes, I got to witness some of the local life on the lake. There seemed to be a lot more fish pens here than in Lake Sebu itself, with nets and wooden dividers scattered everywhere. Nevertheless, life here is still very traditional – with locals using the narrow banca (boat) rather than the longer, more spacious ones I saw prevailing at the larger lake.
We returned to Lake Sebu not long after that, for the touristy but eye-opening boat ride around the lake (Php 600 for about 45 minutes). Life here reminded me a lot of Inle Lake, where the local life indeed revolved around the body of water. Going deeper, I noticed a few small islands which were inhabited by a few local folk. They were very friendly, and smiled as we passed by, capping a great ending to a visit to this serene and inspiring locale.
Seven Falls + Zipline
T’nalak weaving center
Marveling the majestic sunset by the lake 🙂
Sunrise at Lake Seloton
Boat ride around Lake Sebu – recommended for early morning around 7:30 to 8 AM when the water is relatively calm