Upon arriving at General Santos City airport, you immediately notice the hustle and bustle of business life in the city. Foreigners and locals alike stream out of the airport. It’s my first time in General Santos City, and it seems to me that commerce and the march of progress is well underway in this booming port. But the city was not our first destination as we immediately headed to South Cotabato and the enchanting Lake Sebu.
Living amid nature
At the top of a hill overlooking the beautiful and serene Lake Sebu lies Monte Cielo Resort, a secluded rest house and farm. The owner, Marietta Elizabeth Sy, was a very gracious host. She will frequently join your lunch or dinner and entertain you with stories about her life, and her knowledge of local history, cuisine and sights. The resort is cool the whole day, thanks to its relatively high geographical location.
It’s not a lakeside resort, but the rooms and dining areas have spectacular views. The relaxing atmosphere of Monte Cielo Resort does not stop with its breathtaking views. The calming and homey ambiance of the resort can recharge even the weariest and burnt out person. Take a stroll in their farms where you can see ripe fruits that are later served to you for merienda or brunch. Spending a day or two in Monte Cielo Resort is enough to reconnect with nature and shed the stresses of city life.
Eco and cultural tourism
At Lake Sebu’s local tourism office, you can arrange trips to the many natural wonders in Lake Sebu. Certain farms allow visitors to participate, help out, and really feel what it is to farm. You can ride a carabao or harvest foodstuff from actual farms in the area. Also, ask a local to arrange a visit to the local Tiboli tribes in the area. Visit the only museum in the Philippines owned by an indigenous tribe. The museum is full of relics from the Tiboli people. There are swords that were given by royalty from Brunei to the local datus of the Tiboli, and bronze gongs, hundreds of years old. The museum is a wonder to behold. Arrange a visit to the weaving school of the Tiboli and see the beauty and craftsmanship of our ancestors still being kept alive by the Tiboli tribe.
Seven Falls Zipline
The wildest and most famous attraction in the area is Lake Sebu’s Seven Falls Zipline. Lake Sebu is a lake inside a mountain. Though very much like Taal, Lake Sebu is wholly unique in that you can explore the mountain and its lake areas more intimately. Walk the mountain trails to discover the seven beautiful layered cascading waterfalls, promptly named Seven Falls, and then jump off a mountain cliff to see the falls upside down using the Seven Falls Zipline. I thought I would be terrified since it’s one of the tallest ziplines in Asia, but when I was ziplining from one point to the next, I felt a strange feeling of calmness. I was entranced by the beauty of the falls beneath me. I even spotted a rainbow while I was zipping through the valley—a truly unique and wonderful experience. The zipline, however, is not the main attraction; the view from the zipline, with the beautiful falls and gorge beneath you, is the real treat.
‘Tilapia’ cooked 50 ways
Punta Isla Resort is a true lakeside resort. With commanding views and direct lake access, Punta Isla is the perfect stop for travelers after a tiring day of exploring Lake Sebu and its many natural and cultural wonders. It prides itself with its many dishes made from tilapia, such as tilapia kare-kare, made daily in the resort. The place also offers daily boat rides around Lake Sebu nature preserve. After a hearty dinner full of different tilapia dishes, we watched their in-house Tiboli dancers. The cultural show was beautiful, and all the dancers used authentic woven costumes and musical instruments from the Tiboli tribe. After watching the cultural show, I was filled with national pride; truly, no one can say that the Filipinos had no culture before the Spaniards arrived. Our culture was developed and thriving even before the westerners arrived, and the Tiboli, with their fierce love for their culture and traditions, is thankfully here to preserve these heritages of the Filipino nation.
After our visit to Lake Sebu, we headed back to General Santos City. Mt. Sabrina Resort is at the heart of the city. The resort, built around a hill overlooking the city, affords guests panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, the seaport, and the many lights and buildings of General Santos City itself. It has a number of guest room options for those who are looking for a premium resort with all the modern amenities like a swimming pool, flat-screen TV sets, and a restaurant that serves amazing dishes.
We sampled tuna cooked different ways but it was the freshness and quality that were unequaled.
The march of progress is indeed in this city. SM General Santos City, now two years old, is the center of shopping and recreational life in GenSan. A complete mall, it has all the shops that malls in Metro Manila have; SM Department Store, SM Supermarket, Toy Kingdom, Ace Hardware, the works. And it is the only mall in its class to have an SM Prestige Lounge. Guests at the lounge can relax, read newspapers or magazines, freshen up in the private toilets, and get a glass of iced tea or coffee.
During our visit, we sampled the fare of six homegrown businesses that found their new home in SM General Santos City.
Cocina de Batangueño
A homegrown business in General Santos City, Cocina de Batangueño is owned by Lilia D. Egar and her son Dunstan, native Batangueños. The family longs to showcase and share the food they grew up with and enjoyed.
Mary Lyn M. Uy started this as a small restaurant on Quirino Avenue, General Santos City, in 1990. The family currently has three branches. It originally started out with the simple and classic batchoy dish, but as time passed, it started to innovate and add creative touches to its dishes. It now has seafood batchoy and their bestseller, the spicy batchoy variant. Dinuguan is also served with homemade puto. They also have their famous Spicy Peanut Brittle, sold in their shops and in other outlets all over the town.
Korean Noodle House
Offering authentic Korean cuisine, owner Chang Suc Joo personally developed the menu, and tells us that his shop is the first truly Korean food outlet in General Santos City. Look for his delicious samgyetang, or whole chicken stewed in gingery broth. The rice stuffed inside the chicken makes the dish a complete meal.
Owner Armina K. Juliano brings to General Santos City a truly Ilonggo culinary experience. KBL (kadyos, baboy, langka), Casa Ilongga’s most famous dish, is my favorite, sour with a slight hint of sweetness. Other dishes include Pata Balbacua, Dinuguan, and Crablet. Ilonggo dishes are popular with the people of GenSan, 70 percent of whom are Ilonggo.
Tuna by Chona’s
More tuna goodness is served at Chona U. Cariaga’s Tuna by Chona. Fresh from General Santos’ fish ports, all variants of tuna dishes are served in this resto.
Ranchero’s Grill and Seafood Restaurant
Rachelle Sunglao’s family owns a ranch near the General Santos City airport. The meat in their restaurant comes directly from their farm, truly a farm-to-table restaurant experience. They label their dishes a “Pinoy feast” as all their dishes have big servings and are based on native Filipino recipes. A crowd favorite is their Baby Back Ribs. You can really taste the freshness of the meat, and ribs are cooked to perfection. Rachelle tells us that regular customers order their famous ribs for takeout and then bring it to Cebu or to Manila. And if I had half a chance to do that, I would. It’s that good.