The town of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato is one of the Philippines’ hidden travel gems. Culture, nature and adventure-Lake Sebu has it all. Though it may not be the easiest place to get to, the town is rapidly gaining popularity as a tourist destination, thanks to its unique attractions.
Lake Sebu’s shores and surrounding rainforest are home to various indigenous tribes including the T’bolis. The town is also blessed with a cool climate, beautiful lakes and majestic waterfalls. If you’re looking for something off the beaten path for your next trip or your Valentine weekend date, here’s a quick rundown of what you can do in this picturesque town.
1. Visit the Seven Waterfalls. The Seven Waterfalls park is considered the town’s major tourist attraction. The first two waterfalls are easily accessible by foot, while getting to the rest involves longer hikes and a guide. The traditional T’boli name of the first falls is Hikong Alu (“Hikong” means falls, while “Alu” means passage). The quaint symmetrical falls is 35 feet high and is an easy five-minute walk from the park’s parking area. The second falls, Hikong Bente, (which means immeasurable) is the highest and most beautiful among the seven falls, cascading from a height of 70 feet. Getting to this majestic falls involves a short hike down a footpath. Depending on the time of your visit, you may even catch a view of a rainbow formed by the waterfalls’ mist which appears at the foot of the falls.
2. Zip over the amazing view. Yes I know, ziplines are a dime a dozen these days. But this one is special. Lake Sebu offers what is probably the most picturesque zipline in the country. Suspended at a height of 200 meters from the ground and 300 meters above sea level, the Seven Falls Zipline offers a unique vantage point that lets you soar over lush greenery and glimpse some of the other cascades that fringe the mountain. If you think the view of the falls from below is spectacular, the view from above is even more amazing. Visitors can choose to experience this surreal and exhilarating ride in pairs or solo.
3. Go boating on the lake. Lake Sebu is one of the most important watershed areas in the country and is home to three lakes-Lake Lahit (27 hectares), Lake Seloton (47 hectares) and Lake Sebu (354 hectares). Resorts offer 30-minute boat tours around the lake for visitors to see its natural beauty up close. Lake Sebu has 11 islets, some of which are inhabited. From Punta Isla Lake Resort, you can rent a motorboat good for 8 to 10 persons for roughly P500, which comes with a tour guide and a boat man.
4. Immerse yourself in T’boli culture. If you’re staying a few days, there are a number of resorts scattered around the banks of the lake to choose from, but for a more special cultural experience, visitors can arrange to stay with T’boli hosts to learn more about their way of life. This Land of Dreamweavers offers a treasure trove of stories about age-old traditions and inspiring individuals. If you’re on a short trip, make sure to visit the T’boli Museum, a small structure patterned after a traditional T’boli hut that contains a collection of traditional artifacts, costumes, sculptures, accessories, native musical instruments and photos. You can also visit the School of Indigenous Knowledge and Tradition (SIKAT), to get a glimpse of how indigenous traditions are passed on to future generations. SIKAT also organizes traditional dance and musical performances. To experience the T’boli culture in full, visit South Cotabato in July when they hold the Tinalak Festival (which celebrates their traditional T’boli textile woven from abaca) or in November, during the Helobong or Lemlunay Festival, (which highlights the art, culture and tribal games of the T’boli people).
5. Hop on a habal-habal. Getting around Lake Sebu is an experience in itself, as riding a habal-habal (motorcycle taxi) through mountain roads is the easiest way to get around. Habal-habals are the primary and most convenient means of transportation around town. Though riding one over the roads (right next to streams or on narrow winding paths) may seem daunting at first, this offers the best view of the mountain scenery and the lake. To see more of Lake Sebu for yourself, you can negotiate with a driver for daily rates. If there are more than three people on a habal-habal, it may be safer to get off and walk while the driver navigates some of the rocky areas.
6. Go on a tilapia food trip. Lake Sebu is a major producer of tilapia in the province, so expect to eat a lot of tilapia dishes while you’re there, and not just the fried variety. Daing na tilapia (dried), fuyong (omelette), kilawin (ceviche), paksiw (stewed in vinegar and garlic), lumpia (spring rolls), and tocino (sweetened and cured) are just a few of the many ways tilapia is cooked in restaurants here. Punta Isla Resort has a floating restaurant and several lakeside huts overlooking the lake where you can enjoy over 50 different tilapia dishes including their specialty chicharong tilapia (crispy tilapia rinds). You can also take home packs of tilapia burger patties, tilapia fish fingers, and tilapia longganisa (sausages) from this resort and from other hotels like the Estares Lake Resort.
7. Take home a piece of culture. Before you head home, be sure to drop by the Cooperative of Women in Health and Development (COWHED), a one-stop shop for all your souvenir needs. The souvenir center, a nipa hut on stilts, showcases an assortment of traditional handicrafts including t’nalak, intricate beadwork, delicate embroidery, brassware production and wood carvings. COWHED is run by development workers and all the souvenirs sold here are made by T’boli women. Not only will you be taking home a piece of unique culture with you, you’ll also be helping improve the quality of life of its members by supporting the fair trade market. •