Believe it or not, it has been years since I’ve started dreaming of visiting Lake Sebu, an eco-cultural travel destination in South Cotabato, in my home country, the Philippines. I’ve been wanting to meet a few from the Tboli tribe, one of the indigenous groups of people from southern Mindanao. I’ve been wanting to discover their unique and colourful culture, and learn a bit about their modest lifestyle. I’ve been wanting to cruise that famous Lake Sebu, paddled in a traditional wooden T’boli boat early in the morning, simply to witness the blooming of a countless lotus flowers. As I currently live amidst world’s tallest skyscrapers, I’ve been wanting to see lush greens, inhale fresh air and think of nothing even for a while. Everything fell into place when I went home from Dubai last November 2017. Alas, I finally got a chance to fly from Manila to Mindanao, and travel my way to Lake Sebu!
HOW I REACHED LAKE SEBU FROM MANILA
- I booked the earliest flight of Cebu Pacific from Manila to General Santos.
- Then, from General Santos Airport, I took a taxi cab to Bulaong bus Terminal.
- Paid taxi fare of PhP 250 (USD 5) for about half-hour trip.
- As per my Pinoy Travel Blogger fellow, Darwin of @thetreasuretracker, who was there a week prior to my arrival, there are vans that ply directly from Bulaong Terminal to Lake Sebu Terminal (which I took on my return).
- I took the bus from Bulaong Terminal to Denmark Terminal in Marbel, Koronadal for PhP 80 (USD 1.60).
- Then, transferred to a van from Denmark Terminal in Marbel, Koronadal (by passing Surralah Bus Terminal) that goes directly to Lake Sebu Terminal for another PhP 80.
- The entire trip from the General Santos Airport to Lake Sebu Terminal took me around 2.5 hours.
WHO’S MY LOCAL TOUR GUIDE AND HABAL-HABAL DRIVER
- Unless you book for an entire van from a resort for your (family and friends’) tour, then the only means of to explore around Lake Sebu is through a habal-habal driver from the terminal.
- Once a public van arrives in Lake Sebu Terminal, passengers would meet many local tour guides who also serve as habal-habal (highly improvised two-wheeled single motorcycle usually ridden beyond its passenger capacity) drivers. They have an association in Lake Sebu, so they wear official uniform with badges and logos.
- The same friend mentioned above recommended Kuya Rolly who became my tour guide and habal-habal driver in Lake Sebu.
- His contact number +639261103157. His photo appears below.
- Kuya Rolly’s service fees were standard as the other tour guides and drivers : PhP 400 (USD 8) for half day tour, and PhP 600 (USD 12) for whole day.
- Kuya Rolly also served as my boat man for our sunrise tour at Lake Sebu to witness the blooming of a hundred lotus flowers; boat service fee was PhP 200 (USD 4). All rates mentioned were as of November 2017, and may vary accordingly.
- I’m not getting commission for mentioning him of course, however, please give my warm regards to Kuya Rolly should you decide to book him for your Lake Sebu tour.
WHERE TO STAY IN LAKE SEBU
- For cultural immersion, you may opt to stay with Home Stay of SLT or School of Living Traditions manned by Ms. Maria Todi (Her photo is posted below as well).
- My first choice of accomodation was supposedly Punta Isla Resort, where Lake Sebu and the lotus flowers are, however, they’re fully booked at the time of my visit, hence, I decided to stay at a room in Sunrise Garden Lake Resort which also has the perfect location with the view of Lake Seloton.
- Sunrise Garden Lake Resort is located about 2km away from Lake Sebu Terminal. It has reasonable and very affordable rates for rooms and I also personally liked their simple yet freshly cook Tilapia dishes from their restaurant’s menu.
MY TRAVEL ITINERARIES IN LAKE SEBU
- Following my signing at the log book of tourists and passengers at the Lake Sebu Bus Terminal upon my arrival, Kuya Rolly showed me a huge white board with list of places of interest. I only had a very short visit of 2 days and 1 night in Lake Sebu hence, I only chose and went to the following sites right after my hotel checked in :
- Lake Seloton (viewed from my hotel).
- School of Living Traditions and Home Stay (where local kids are taught of traditional games, music, dances and way of life of Tboli tribe. Teachings are conducted by Maria Todi. Visitors may also purchase handcrafted souvenirs and I highly encourage you to donate to support the cause of the school and home stay).
- Lang Dulay Tnalak Weaving Center. T’nalak is traditional T’boli cloth handwoven from Abaca fibers, in red, black and natural hue of abaca fiber, with patterns of crocodile, butterfly, clouds and many more (the patterns are said to appear in their dreams, hence, Lake Sebu – the land of the T’boli gained a name as the Land of the Dreamweavers). The center is a typical destination as it’s where the late Lang Dulay used to weave. She was an unparalleled T’nalak weaver and a recipient of National Living Treasure Awardee (Manlilikha ng Bayan) in 1998 from the National Commission for the Cultures and the Arts. She passed away on 30th April 2015, and her textile weaving skills were passed on to the master weaver, Sebulan Dulay. I met Charlie, the grandson of Lang Dulay, from whom I bought some precious souvenirs – a black men’s blazer with hand embroidered Tboli symbols (I can’t wait to wear it on a perfect occasion preferably here in Dubai or elsewhere abroad), a Tboli head scarf, T’nalak coin purses (for me and my few friends, family and relatives).
- COW HED or Cooperative of Women in Health and Development showcases handcrafted traditional items for souvenirs made by Tboli women from various communities or baranggay.
- Tboli Museum features traditional Tboli abode with everything Tbolis.
- 7 Falls and Zipline – The tallest zipline in Asia that stretches 180 meters above the ground with 2 lines that extend over a thousand meters while being treated to a view of lush rainforest and the famous waterfalls of Lake Sebu. It was raining cats and dogs in the afternoon of our visit, hence my lame excuse to pass up the zipline experience. Nonetheless, I made it to first and second falls on foot and via Kuya Rolly’s habal habal (other 5 waterfalls were inaccessible at the time of my visit).
- Evelandia Lake Vista offers sweeping panoramic view of Lake Sebu. A perfect ending to a long and fun first day at Lake Sebu!
- Canoeing to witness the blooming of lotus flowers in Lake Sebu before sunrise (5:30AM-8AM).
- Brunch at Punta Isla Lake Resort.
Here’s my photoessay for my entire Lake Sebu experience. Enjoy!
Priceless view of Lake Seloton from the balcony outside my room.
Lake Seloton. One of the natural lakes where they breed and harvest fresh Tilapia.
Water bikes, kayak and canoeing on Lake Seloton.
Sinugbang Tilapia or Grilled Tilapia was my first meal with Kuya Rolly at the resort.
School of Living Tradition (SLT) and Home Stay, manned by Maria Todi.
Local traditional teacher, Maria Todi with the kids from Tboli community.
Musical heritage from Tboli tribe of Lake Sebu.
Little T’boli sculptures handcrafted in bronze from SLT.
Handmade bronze bells and traditionally handwoven T’boli head scarves from SLT.
Lang Dulay T’nalak Weaving Centre.
Gorgeous & intricately handwoven T’nalak cloth from Lang Dulay T’nalak Weaving Centre
All for sale. Handwoven scarves to traditional upper garments and beaded necklaces.
Purchasing these T’boli handicrafts means supporting their tradition & culture & helping the community to thrive as well. Please do buy when you visit SLT, Lang Dulay Weaving Center & CowHed.
T’boli Museum. Entrance fee : PhP 20 (USD 0.40).
Agung ensables are big gongs shaped like a kettle.
COW HED or Cooperative of Women in Health and Development.
T’nalak cloth from COWHED.
Support T’boli communities by purchasing beautiful beaded necklaces from COWHED.
7 FALLS -Entrance fee : PhP 20 (USD 0.40). Hikong Alo (Passage Falls) falls #1.
Hikong Bente (Immeasurable Falls) : Falls #2. The other falls are Hikong B’Lebel (Zigzag Falls), Hiking Lowig (Booth Falls), Hikong K’Fo-I (Wild Flower Falls), Hikong Ukol (Short Falls), and Hikong Tonok (Soil Falls).
Standing small in front of Hikong Bente, 2nd of the 7 Falls of Lake Sebu.
Evelandia Lake Vista offers picturesque views of Lake Sebu and lush green rice fields.
Evelandia Lake Vista’s Admission fee : PhP 30 (USD 0.60).
A far cry view from my daily view of towering skyscrapers.
You’re pretty inspiring, Lake Sebu!
Pancit Guisado, a favorite Filipino noodle dish + Calamansi juice capped my awesome day!
Woke up to this view of Lake Seloton.
The lotus flowers at Lake Seloton started to bloom as sun rises from the horizon.
At 5:30AM, Kuya Rolly picked me up and we went to Punta Isla Resort for more lotus!
He paddled the traditional wooden canoe as we started to cruise the placid Lake Sebu.
The crowing of a rooster, the gush of water, and the morning breeze. Priceless!
The lotus blooms at sunrise in Lake Sebu.
These are some of the moments I wished would not end.
Thank you so much, Kuya Rolly!
Tilapia in Sour Broth with tomatoes and watermelon balls (Sinigang na Tipalia) + Deeply fried Tilapia (Chicharon Tilapia) + rice for brunch. My last meal in Lake Sebu prior heading back to General Santos City.
There are places that surprise you and exceed your expectations. There are travel destinations that take your breath away. There are humble communities that remind you to be more modest and keep your feet on the ground. There are adventures and journeys that are memorable regardless the duration of the trip. Lake Sebu in South Cotabato in Mindanao was all that.
There were still military check points in highways to and from General Santos City however, everything seemed peaceful to me.
I returned to Manila in the evening of the next day, not much with life-changing experiences – except for having my first trip via riding in tandem on a habal habal, however with enough lessons that remind me to continue to be a better person.
Have you been to Lake Sebu? How was your experience?