Sunday, March 8, 2015

Five Day Excursion to South Cotabato and Sarangani: Itinerary, Guide, and Travel Expenses

Ever since I have read an article from a famous travel blogger about his trip to Lake Sebu, I had been telling my friends about it and asked them to go with me. I could have risked going solo, but I hesitated every time I try to book that trip. It is Southern Mindanao after all, hearing bad news every day on the television about the region and officemates telling me stories about how they know someone having a bad experience traveling there, you couldn’t really blame someone who has lived at Metro Manila for so long to not be in doubt with their safety when in Mindanao. I knew I just had to have someone accompany me on my first trip to this part of the country. Luckily, I was able to convince a good friend to go, and like me, she got excited when I showed her pictures of Lake Sebu and Enchanted River (which we also visited on the first part of our trip. I knew then that finally, this trip will push through.

south cotabato sarangani itinerary

When we booked this trip to Mindanao, we had specific places in mind that we wanted to see, Surigao del Sur and Lake Sebu. We knew they were far away from each other; they are actually located on opposite sides, but a few days before we push through with our travel, we found out that Surigao is on the north-east and South Cotabato almost south-west of Mindanao. Traveling from one place to the other would take almost a whole day. But, we didn’t change our plans. What we did is try to squeeze everything to two days for Surigao del Sur and allot one day for travel to South Cotabato.

How to go reach Lake Sebu, T’boli and Glan
General Santos City is the main transport hub at SOCCSKSARGEN. From here, you can take vans/jeepneys going to the different parts of the region. Terminal for Glan is located at KCC Mall. There are vans heading for Koronadal, locally called as Marbel, wherein you need to transfer to another jeep for T’boli or Lake Sebu.

terminal south cotabato

Lodging is always cheap in the Philippines, most especially if you are traveling in a group. I am glad whenever I travel with a group who is not too picky with where they get to sleep or eat. The cheapest we got are from inns at Lake Sebu, but we specifically chose Sunrise Garden Resort. With a lovely view of Lake Seloton, we were also rewarded of a room for four for only 600 pesos, splitting it to three, 200 pesos only per person. We also did not go wrong with our choice at T’boli, the cozy Sarse’s Paradise Resort was our haven for a day. It was like staying at a 4-star resort at Tagaytay/Baguio for a very affordable price. The weather was superb that time too, no need for fans or air conditiners.

Unfortunately, I had to splurge a little when I was left alone at Gumasa Beach, Glan because there were no cheap options for solo travelers out there. I had to spend 750 pesos for a night with a room that only had very basic facilities. For a unique experience, why not try to do a homestay as well? It’s possible at Lake Sebu with some local T’boli families.

Contact Information:
Sunrise Garden Resort 0927-7500-888, 09274783306, 0909-2217-614
White Haven Resort 826-9319, 826-9341, 09209479148

tboli sarse's
Sarse’s with the Baguio-esque feels
lake sebu homestay
homestay experience with a T'boli family

Habal habal or skylabs are dime a dozen, it is actually even cheaper if you just hail one when going to another destination. They charge similar with tricycle drivers in Manila. But at Lake Sebu, we figured we wanted to just hire a habal-habal to save time. Rates are subject to change, as of Dec 2013, standard half day rate is 300 pesos. Do inquire first.
Kuya Paning - 09057163942
Kuya Enteng - 09364175139

For five days of traveling around SOCCSKSARGEN, we spent around 8714 pesos. That’s a combination of shared expenses with a group and for solo as well. I spent a little over my budget because I couldn’t resist buying pasalubong. hehe

Ever since my travel to China last 2013, I decided to keep a close look at my expenses during travels, so I was able to document everything during this outing to Mindanao as well. You may get a copy of our T'boli, Glan and Lake Sebu itinerary and breakdown of expenditures by going to this link. * Transportation costs include our bus ride from Bislig-Davao-Koronadal.

lake sebu south cotabato expenses


Day 1-2
As I mentioned earlier, we dedicated one whole day to travel from Bislig, Surigao del Sur to T’boli. Both cities were at the opposite sides of Mindanao and we needed to take five transfers just so we could make it possible. Once we arrived at T’boli, we were just dead beat and our butts felt like they have been mashed and crushed. We needed a break. Our prayers were answered at Sarse’s Paradise Resort. It really looked like a little paradise at the middle of nowhere. The small cottages served as our humble abode for the night, even without electric fans we were able to survive the night because the nights at T’boli are perfect. It is just the Filipino ideal cold weather, similar to that of Tagaytay or Baguio.

tboli south cotabato

Now you may wonder, why did we travel all the way from Surigao to T’boli? It’s all for Lake Holon. The staff from the tourist office introduced us to a group of hikers who were doing outreach activities at a nearby barangay, Sitio Nabol, and I have never been so glad to have joined an a group of hikers before, because this feeding program was something I needed the most at that moment. I have to admit I got a little emotional seeing all the locals with smile on their faces when they received their Christmas gifts and finally get to taste some fastfood goodies that we can just normally have in the city. To live at a secluded place where it’s difficult to receive medical help and education, they still manage to live a contented and happy life.

filipino smiles

tboli hike
cultural exchange with the local T'boli folks from Sitio Nabol

I have never felt so physically challenged until I hiked my way to Lake Holon. Haha Just kidding. The path is actually easy and meant to be taken by beginners but it has been a while since I did some strenuous activity that I forgot how it felt like. It really reminded me how much I have been out of shape ever since I joined the community of employees working their butts off ten hours a day. Good thing I managed the trek all the way there because Lake Holon it is nothing but magical! You know those mountainscapes you thought you could only see at Canada or New Zealand, who would have thought you can also see it here in the Philippines, minus the snow of course. It’s the best place to be one with nature again.

lake holon
sleep tight at Lake Holon

Day 3-4
Lake Sebu
We were greeted by heavy rains on our first day at Lake Sebu, we even booked to stay at Sunrise Garden Resort, hoping to have the most glamorous sight of the day breaking at Lake Soloton but to no avail. Nevertheless, we still pushed through with our plans, after all, my companions are supposed to leave at noon that day so we tried to see all the highlights of Lake Sebu within the remaining time.

lake sebu

I was surprised that Lake Sebu has a lot to offer, aside from of course seeing Lake Sebu. I thought there is only one lake at this small municipality of South Cotabato, but there are actually three of them. Lake Sebu, the largest, then Lake Seloton and Lake Lahit. This place is also famous for thrill-seekers, I tried a zipline that traverses through the different waterfalls in the area. No other heart-racing way to see nature than that!

lake sebu zipline
zipping my way through the majestic falls of Lake Sebu

Day 5
Glan and General Santos
On my last day, I set off to Gumasa Beach of Glan, Sarangani, hoping to have a change of scenery. After all, we’ve been to lakes, falls, islands, a river and I figured, a white beach is the last thing I missed to see. I was finally able to feel the rough sand and hear the gentle waves of the sea. However, I felt that going to a beach alone wasn’t fun at all, so I did the thing that I absolutely love, eating! I failed to try some of Gen San’s fresh seafood, but I was still able to try recommended restaurants around the area wherein I splurged the remaining money left from my wallet. Craving satisified.

white sand at Gumasa Beach

I guess I was totally wrong of being afraid to travel to Mindanao. It’s true that the region is known for terrible acts of terrorism and violence, especially with the recent SAF 44 Massacre, but you just need to be aware of your surroundings and be up-to-date with the news. There are still a lot of places in Mindanao that is safe to explore, whether you’re a male or female, traveling solo or with a group.

I had no idea that I will totally enjoy this side of the Mindanao, aside from the scenic views of the countryside, I totally felt at home because I was welcomed by open arms by the locals who shared their culture and generosity with us. I have learned a lot from this trip to Southern Mindanao and I hope this post would also compel you to book a flight and visit these provinces.

Day 0: T'boli
Traveling to South Cotabato

Day 1: T'boli
Mt.Parker and T'boli Locals

Day 2: T'boli
Lake Holon

Day 3: Lake Sebu
Tour of the Lakes

Seven Falls

Day 4: Lake Sebu
More of the Lakes

What to do at Lake Sebu

Day 5: Gumasa - General Santos City
Gumasa Beach

Food Tour

5 Day Trip
Itinerary & Budget

T'boli Culture

More of Mindanao here


  1. Hi Mariane,

    Ask ko lang kung nasa Davao City ako, possible ba na ma-visit ang enchanted river AND lake sebu? Mga 5-6 hours from Davao to enchanted river and then 6 hrs din from Davao to Lake Sebu? Not in one day of course haha. Mga 6 days siguro.

    Feasible ba yung travel plan? Or dapat ibahin ko yung itinerary?

    1. Hey Allan, Doable naman. In our case 2 days kami sa Surigao then 1 day travel Surigao-South Cotabato kasi di namin naabot yung overnight buses to Davao ng 5pm na yung last trip, from Bislig pala to btw. Di ko lang masyadong sigurado pag galing Hinatuan baka mas maaga yung last trip nila. 2 Days din kami sa Lake Sebu so kaya naman.

  2. Is that 8k per head? Yung budget po ninyo for the whole trip? TIA

    1. yup per head, i thin you can minimize costs if di kayo mahilig bumili ng pasalubong and if you prefer to take single habal habal trips rather than renting it for a whole/half day since mas mahal yun

  3. Kamusta naman po ang environment? May planned trip din po kami to SOCCSKSARGEN this month, but I'm having second thought of not pushing it though just because.. hmmm.. election period :( Any advice po? Thanks :)

    1. Sobrang malinis naman, I don't think you have anything to worry, safe naman na area ng SoCor and GenSan basta

  4. Hi,

    going to Lake Sebu via GenSan and out from Davao. I was planning to combine Lake Sebu and Lake Holon sana, but found out na sarado pa pala Lake Holon until early March. What itinerary can you recommend? I have four days for this trip.


    1. oh no, why is it closed? sayang naman. i think there are also a waterfall you can explore (just not sure what it's called locally) and visit a local tribe.
      or spend more time in Lake Sebu and GenSan na lang, you can hike and visit Saranggani Highlands. Are you going solo? If not, then I suggest going to Asik asik falls it's in North Cotabato though so if you are coming from Lake Sebu you need to go back to Surallah and take a van to Sultan Kudarat iirc. :)

    2. It was closed dahil madami daw pumunta nung December. Giving time back for the trail & lake to recover, which is good naman. I'll just wait na lang for it to be open again and come back :) Ended up staying in Lake Sebu for my 4 days which i thoroughly enjoyed! Stayed at Ma'am Maria's homestay where we were lucky cause they also had an activity discussing/showing T'boli culture, went trekking to the 7 falls & cold spring, and had a taste of the different T'boli food - camote, river snails, fish & frogs! - at Boi Lemingon's (the chanter) place high in one of the hills.

      Now cant wait to go back in July to see Lake Holon and hopefully Asik asik falls too! :)



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