8 Popular and Not-So-Popular Places Worth Visiting in Lake Sebu
November 8, 2018
In a span of one year, my best friend Hanna and I planned for a backpacking trip only to end up canceling it twice. We initially intended to travel around the country for 30 days starting from Mindanao, then move up to Visayas, and lastly in Luzon region. But considering our budget and freelance work, it was not plausible. Our resolve was to focus on Mindanao.
Back in July this year, our dream of doing a month-long backpacking trip around Mindanao finally happened. The first stop of our adventure was Lake Sebu. It is where we spent the most time during our Mindanao trip—19 days out of 33, to be exact.
Lake Sebu is a municipality in the province of South Cotabato. Because of its high elevation at approximately 1,000 meters above sea level, it has a relatively cool weather. The lack of beaches is hardly noticeable because of its abundance in both nature and culture: majestic waterfalls, cold springs and rivers, scenic lakes, green mountains, lush forests, rich Tboli culture—you name it, Lake Sebu has it all!
So without further ado, here are eight popular and not-so-popular destinations in Lake Sebu that are worth visiting and I highly recommend adding in your itinerary.
1. Sunrise Garden Resort
Lake Sebu is the name of both the municipality and the lake. It is composed of three lakes, namely Lake Sebu (the largest one which the town is named after), Lake Seloton, and Lake Lahit. In Sunrise Garden Resort, you will get a good view of Lake Seloton, the second largest lake among the three.
The best time to visit the resort is early in the morning for obvious reasons: to catch the sunrise. It is one of the best places to witness how Lake Sebu starts its day. As the sun rises, you’ll be enjoying the calm waters of the lake and being greeted by pink water lilies. We didn’t avail of their accommodation because we only took a quick trip here as part of our day tour. In our case, we got in for free with the help of our guide who spoke to the guard-on-duty.
We arrived minutes before sunrise, but unfortunately, Mr. Sun was hesitant to reveal himself. However, I saw right in front of me how this slice of paradise looks before the rest of the world wakes up—locals rowing their owo, the local term for their wooden boat; water lilies starting to bloom; and fishermen feeding their tilapias. Since Lake Sebu is rich in freshwater, a major source of its livelihood is the aquaculture of tilapia grown in large fish cages floating in the lake. Once you visit Lake Sebu, you’ll see plenty of fish farms scattered in different parts of the lake.
2. Lotus Flower Watching Area
There is a wide portion in Lake Sebu that is dotted with pink tropical water lilies. Yes, you heard me right. The locals thought of them as lotus flowers, but as I researched, they are evidently water lilies. A perfect time to visit is early in the morning when the water lilies have just opened. The rent for the owo is Php 100 per person.
Once you get here, it becomes hard to decide where to start looking because you are surrounded by pink patches everywhere. The boatman told us that this area didn’t exist before. The water lilies were scattered in different parts of the lake. Some boatmen had difficulty passing through the water lilies because they sometimes end up getting stuck with it, but instead of removing them they decided to gather the water lilies in one place and make it a tourist spot. Although, you would still occasionally find small numbers of water lilies spread throughout the lake.
3. Seven Falls
When you say Lake Sebu, the first thing that comes to mind is its famous zip line. It is the highest in Southeast Asia at 180 meters above the ground. The zip line ride costs Php 300 on weekdays, and Php 350 on weekends and holidays.
By the name itself, the place has seven waterfalls; namely Hikong Alo, Hikong Bente, Hikong B’Lebel, Hikong Lowig, Hikong K’Fo-I, Hikong Ukol, and Hikong Tonok. Among the seven falls, only the first and second are easily accessible. The rest can be seen through a bird’s eye view as you cross the lush greeneries on a zip line.
The entrance fee to the Seven Falls is Php 20 per person. While you’re here, don’t miss out on visiting the first two waterfalls. If you ever decide to go closer to them, be ready to get soaked. Hikong Alo, the first of the seven waterfalls, is 35 feet high and is the most accessible. It’s only a short walk from the entrance of Seven Falls.
Going to Hikong Alo, you’ll pass by a small bridge where a stall stands offering visitors to rent out traditional Tboli costumes for Php 50. Make sure to take photos while wearing their traditional costume with Hikong Alo as your background. Additionally, please keep in mind that you are engaging in someone else’s culture so please don’t do anything that will disrespect the Tboli tribe such as dancing or posing inappropriately while wearing their costume.
Next, to get to Hikong Bente, the second waterfalls, you have two options. First, you can walk down the 774-step stairway after visiting the first waterfall. Second, if you want a more convenient way, you can visit it after riding the zip line. The last stop of the ride is the parking area near the second waterfalls. You need to do a short trek to the viewing deck. You’ll come across wild monkeys dangling from nearby trees.
Once you see Hikong Bente up-close, you’ll be surprised at how massive and splendid it is. It is the highest waterfall at 70 feet high and definitely the most beautiful, gorgeous, stunning, and breathtaking waterfall I have ever laid my eyes on. No jest. Standing a few meters from Hikong Bente is a humbling experience. Plus, the mist from the falls creates an ethereal atmosphere.
Every inch of me was terrified while preparing for the zip line ride. Hanna and I were the first people to do it on the day we visited. As soon we launched, my shouting was unstoppable; but midway through the ride, the ‘waaahhh’ was replaced with ‘wow’. The beautiful treat from nature was totally mesmerizing—the thick forest, the cascading waterfalls, and a rainbow. We were lucky to spot a rainbow underneath us. It often appears in the morning, so if you want higher chances of catching it, take the zip line in the A.M.
The zip line is divided into two sections: the first one is a 740-meter ride which can be completed in one minute, and the second is a 420-meter ride that will last for 35-40 seconds. The first ride is longer and it will offer you a breathtaking view of Hikong Bente, the second waterfalls, to your right. The second ride is shorter where you will see three waterfalls cascading like a single waterfall to your left: Hikong B’Lebel, the third waterfall; Hikong Lowig, the fourth waterfall; and Hikong K’Fo-I, the fifth waterfall.
Hanna and I on the zip line with Hikong Bente in the background.
4. Tboli Museum
A private museum designed like a traditional Tboli house that gives visitors a glimpse of the Tboli culture. It has an entrance fee of Php 20. The Tboli museum holds a collection of antiques, native clothing, brass works, and musical instruments. It is a place where you can briefly immerse in the way of life of the Tbolis, such as playing their musical instruments, wearing their traditional costume, observing age-old household items, and admiring their different works of art.
5. Sepaka River
The river is crystal-clear and cold. If you ever include this place in your itinerary, I recommend bringing swimming clothes and food. The entrance fee is Php 25. If you prefer to stay for a couple of hours, there are cottages for rent in the area. We only spent less than an hour here just enough to dip our feet, listen to the raging waters, and of course, take photos of this gorgeous place. I wanted to stay longer but we had other places to go and our time was limited that day. Once you get to visit Sepaka River, spend more time to dip and drench yourself to the cold stream of water.
6. Lake Lahit
As I mentioned earlier in this post, Lake Sebu has three lakes. Lake Lahit is the smallest among the three. It is located along a highway. Unlike the other lakes, you won’t find any fish cages in Lake Lahit. If you get the chance to pass by the lake, make sure to take a quick stop and admire its beauty. During sunrise, the surrounding trees reflect on the water. I happen to pass by Lake Lahit numerous times and it’s as beautiful as any time of day.
7. Lang Dulay T’nalak Weaving Center
Lake Sebu is home to several indigenous tribes including the Tboli. One integral aspect that identifies the Tboli culture is their T’nalak, a traditional hand-woven cloth made from abaca fibers. The unique designs and patterns of the T’nalak are inspired by the dreams of the weavers. It has three traditional colors – red, black, and white.
The production of t’nalak is a tedious and intricate process that requires intensive skills. The process starts from the stripping of the fibers to arranging them into strands. Next, the bed-tying which defines the design of the cloth. Usually, it takes one month or longer to complete it. Then what comes next is dyeing the abaca strands. They boil it first with a black dye for 7 days, and then with a red dye for another 2-3 days. The black dye is taken from the leaves of the kanalum tree, and the red comes from the roots and skin of the loko tree. The white is the original color of the strands. Afterwards, they start weaving the dried abaca fiber. The duration varies depending on the complexity of the pattern. The final process involves ironing and shining the fabric. It takes several months to produce a single T’nalak cloth.
Sebulan Dulay, Lang Dulay’s daughter-in-law, is working on the bed-tying.
Lang Dulay was a traditional weaver of T’nalak and a recipient of the National Living Treasure Award, or the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan, in 1998 for her contribution in preserving the Tboli culture through the art of T’nalak weaving. She opened the weaving center to train the younger generation of the process of making a T’nalak. Her grandson mentioned to us that Lang Dulay knows a hundred designs. Seventy-five of these designs were based on her dreams and the others were passed down by her ancestor. It is no wonder that Lang Dulay is called a national artist and a master dreamweaver. She passed away in 2015 but her legacy lives on.
Once you visit the Lang Dulay T’nalak Weaving Center, you will witness the different process of making a t’nalak. There are also portraits of and articles about Lang Dulay hanging on one side of the room. There’s no entrance fee, however, there’s a donation box where you can put any amount of money. You can also purchase t’nalak cloth and other handcrafted products as a way of helping and supporting the community.
Photos of and articles about the great Lang Dulay
8. Traan Kini/Cold Spring
Because Lake Sebu is known for its waterfalls and zip line, not a lot of tourists are familiar with this cold spring. Traan Kini is accessible by motorcycles and cars. The road is not paved so expect a bumpy ride. The entrance fee is Php 20.
We went here on a weekend and the place was a little bit crowded. We asked our guide to bring us to a secluded spot. Luckily, he knew one. He led us to the rearmost part where barely anyone would stay. It’s a 10-15 minutes trek from the jump off site. We got the place almost all to ourselves.
The water is extremely cold (no, I’m not exaggerating), yet it is also refreshing and enticing. Plus, the surroundings are filled with lush green trees. As much as I wanted to stay longer, I only took a quick dip. The icy cold water became unbearable after plunging for a few minutes. But the whole experience was a treat to the senses.
If you are planning to explore Lake Sebu, I would recommend getting a day tour from one of the local habal-habal drivers. These drivers are trained and accredited by the Tourism Office. They will serve as the tour guide and photographer, and they will take you to your desired destinations safely. The cost will depend on how many places you’ll visit in one day. For a half-day tour, it will cost Php 500 good for 1-2 persons which will cover four destinations of your choice. A whole day tour is Php 750 with six destinations.
Don’t stick to the places mentioned in this post alone. There are more tourist spots that you could visit. Explore and discover!
Once you arrive at Lake Sebu’s terminal, there’s a tourist information bulletin that is a really great point of reference for travelers. It has a list of local accommodations, attractions, and destination rates. You can check it here.
You don’t have to worry about finding a guide because once you arrive at the terminal, there are plenty of habal-habal drivers who offer packaged tours.
As soon as you arrive in Lake Sebu, you will immediately feel the kindness and hospitality of the locals. Don’t be surprised! They are genuinely thoughtful people.
P.S. I’ll be posting more about my recent Mindanao trip soon. I hope to have you on my next post. 😉