Been asked this a number of times already: "What's there to see or do?". I usually get this question every time I invite friends to come over and visit my home province. I have to admit I balked a couple of times in giving out something like a "top ten must-see or must-do" in South Cotabato. Do I know my province well enough? Its often the case that we are strangers in our own home towns or provinces. So consider this as my best effort in promoting my province :).
The fact that its in Mindanao, and it has the word "Cotabato" [conflict area during the 70s] in it is enough to dissuade most folks to come over; there is immediately a big X mark on travel. Its really a bit unfair and folks who have visited most provinces in Mindanao, or particularly South Cotabato, would swear they had a wonderful experience. I don't want to sugarcoat anything, and there are areas of course that should be avoided - that's the reality, but South Cotabato is certainly not one of them.
South Cotabato used to be a large province that included the coastal towns before these towns were included into a separate province called Sarangani [from the name of the bay]. During those days, South Cotabato boasts of attractions from the beach to the mountains.
Instead of doing a top 10 or top 20 list, I'll list destinations/activities per town/city, starting from Polomolok - the first town out of General Santos, and the move inland towards Lake Sebu. General Santos is the most logical fly-in if you want to visit as there are multiple flights daily. Some would fly in via Davao, but then this route will need a 3 hour bus ride to General Santos. Another option is via Cotabato City.
(1) see the pineapple fields and Kalsangi
About 15,000 hectares of the town is planted with pineapples. Polomolok is where Dole Philippines' plantation and cannery is located. Its really something to stand in the middle of an undulating sea of pineapples. A trip to Kalsangi Golf Club could be worth your while as well, but its an exclusive place and requires you to be with a member or sponsor [a Dole employee].
(2) reflect at the Trappistine Monastery
Located at the foot of Mt. Matutum in Landan, its considered to be the first monastery for nuns in the Philippines. More photos and details on how to get there here. Don't forget to buy their famous cookies while you are there.
(3) climb Mt. Matutum
This ubiquitous peak can be seen from almost any point in the province, and if you are the adventurous type, a trek up to its peak might be just your cup of tea or coffee [alamid coffee or civet coffee is available in South Cotabato]. Check this out for a sample itinerary. Note that there are existing jump-off points in Polomolok as well.
(4) see the tarsiers in Linan
Yup, its not just in Bohol. We have a tarsier sanctuary in Linan (though not as well established as the ones in Bohol).
Once a quaint farming town to a bustling city and one of the most progressive cities in Mindanao. This is the capital of the province, the regional center of Region XII, and where I was born and raised.
(5) T'nalak festival
Held every year in July, this marks the establishment of South Cotabato as a province [July 18] and there are activities all week long. The festival highlights and celebrates the province's cultural symbol: the T'nalak cloth woven by the T'boli tribe. This however is a fairly new festival among the famous festivals in the Philippines. And ironically I have not been able to shoot this yet! [as I am based in Manila for work]
(6) Hinugyaw Festival and Siok Extreme Eco-AdventureHinugyaw Festival coincides with Koronadal's Foundation Anniversary every January 10. Its usually an activity filled week
One of the recurring activities during Koronadal's Hinugyaw Festival is the Siok Extreme Eco-Adventure. This will take you to Korondal's beautiful rivers and watefalls, perfect if you love trekking, river crossings, rock climbing, rappelling, and roughing it out in the great outdoors.
(7) trek and camp in Lake Holon
A highland town further inland, T'boli is blessed with countless waterfalls, beautiful rivers and streams. But what you should not miss is a trek to Lake Holon [aka Lake Maughan]. Its a caldera lake on Mt. Parker [locally known as Melibengoy] situated about 1700 meters above sea. A Facebook page called Takladtamig organizes treks to Lake Holon.
Home of the T'boli and Ubo tribe, its probably THE destination in the province. Its three lakes, 7 waterfalls, zip-line, and culture can keep you occupied for days. Where are some of the things that you can do in Lake Sebu:
(8) explore the 3 lakes
There are three lakes in the town: Lake Sebu [from which the town was named from], Lake Seloton [the sunrise lake], and Lake Lahit [the smallest of the 3]. You can rent a habal-habal to take you around the lakes or go on a boat tour of Lake Sebu from one of the resorts.
(9) see the Seven Falls
(10) take a dip in the icy cold waters of Traang-kini
A short motorcycle ride from town, this series of cascades with icy cold water is not to be missed. Unlike the 7-falls, there's usually no crowd here.
(11) fly above the falls
Seems like every tourist destination in the Philippines now has a zip line, some even just a couple of meters. You might as well try Lake Sebu's two-section zip line and fly above the falls.
(12) visit the T'nalak dreamweavers
Visit Lang Dulay [considered as national living treasure] or one of the T'nalak masters and learn how this mystical T'nalak cloth is woven.
(13) hear the songs of a hegulong master
Spend a night or two at Ma Fil's long house in Tasiman with a great overlooking view of Lake Sebu and hear him sing and play T'boli's traditional 2-stringed guitar. He loves to talk about the messages of his songs as well.
[ This is in no way complete, not even close. I am sure South Cotabato has more to offer. Why don't you help me explore it :) ]