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South Cotabato is blessed with so much natural wonder, you’ll wonder why you haven’t booked a trip to this regional paradise sooner. You can even come and enjoy festivals like Hinugyaw Festival and Tuna Festival in Koronadal and General Santos City.
South Cotabato is a province located in the southern section of central Mindanao, one of the three major regions that make up the Philippines. It is bordered by Sarangani Bay to the southeast. The province is mostly flatlands, but there are also some hills and mountains in certain areas.
If you’re heading to South Cotabato, you can check out the province’s capital, Koronadal City, or Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao's hometown, which is General Santos City.
You need a combination of air and land travel to make it to South Cotabato, depending on your itinerary. There are daily flights from Manila to General Santos City, from which you can take a bus to travel to any destination within South Cotabato.
You also have the option to travel by sea and land. Take a RORO via Philtranco Bus - Manila (Pasay and Cubao terminals) to Davao City. From there, you can take scheduled bus trips from Davao City to Koronadal or General Santos.
The tricycle, which is a closed sidecar attached to a motorcycle, is a fun way to go around the province’s towns and cities. Recently, certain tourist spots in South Cotabato can now be visited via van or a special jeep from the city or town center.
The Grand Mosque in Cotabato City, or the Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid, is the largest mosque in the Philippines. You’ll immediately feel Taj Mahal vibes when you visit this majestic structure, which is located along Tamontaka Bubong Road. The structure has four minarets standing as high as a 15-storey building, and can accommodate as much as 1200 worshippers daily.
At the base of Mount Matutum is 12,000 hectares of pineapple plantations belonging to multinational company DOLE Philippines. The plantations would be an interesting spot for you to take your travel selfies. If you do need to take a break from exploring the plantations, there’s a 9-hole golf course to practice your swing and a residential clubhouse, where you can try their region-famous steak.
The Surallah Rotunda is also worth a visit. Unveiled in 2011 and built by Kublai Ponce Millan, it towers over 60 feet and is inspired by the 2-string lute called he’galong by local tribe the T’boli. The structure also showcases the tri-people of Surallah performing in the region’s native instruments, planting, and harvesting.
Lake Sebu should be the first thing on your itinerary. This natural lake is home of the T’boli and the Ubo tribes. You can rent a kayak and explore the lake’s habitat, or witness the weaving magic of Lang Dulay, a National Living Treasure Awardee renowned for her skills as a T’nalak cloth weaver. Some native folk will also do tribal dances to welcome visitors at the lake.
While you’re there, experience the Seven Falls Zipline. The zipline will offer you a spectacular views of 4 of the 7 falls canopy, the lush forest, and the river system at 180 meters (600ft) high. You’ll zip through the lines at 740 meters (40 seconds travel) on the first leg and 420 meters (20 seconds travel) on the second leg.
You can also try river trekking at Koronadal City. Schedule a tour at Siok Falls. This natural wonder features a 40-foot waterfall and an opportunity for you to take a dip in its cool waters.
If you’re craving for some vitamin sea, visit the “Boracay of Mindanao.” The white sand beach in Gumasa in Glan, Sarangani will remind you of the earlier, unpopulated days of the famous beach haven in Aklan.
A must-try at Lake Sebu are the local dishes made with tilapia, a freshwater fish. One signature specialty you shouldn’t miss is chicharon tilapia.
The abundance of plantations in South Cotabato definitely calls for you to taste the local fruits. Durian is a smelly, spiked fruit from the outside with a sweet, meaty custard inside. Definitely do not miss the province’s pineapples. Locals trek to Tupi Fruit Stand, which is a highway destination in South Cotabato for fresh fruits and vegetables.
If you’re craving for halo-halo, best go to Apareja Buko Halo-Halo, which is located along the highway near the city’s welcome arch. The small eatery offers a version with the freshest of ingredients, including fresh coconut.
Nightlife in this part of the country is milder than most of the popular tourist destinations in the Philippines. Other than the usual resorts with bars and restaurants offering pipe-in, live band performances, and karaoke, locals prefer to chill in eateries nursing cheap beer and grilled delicacies.
If this would be your first time in South Cotabato, it’s best to check with the local tourism office for recommendations. Major cities like Koronadal, General Santos, and Cotabato, and popular hot spots like Lake Sebu have business hotels and resorts where you can book accommodations. Some of the more popular ones are The Farm at Carpenter Hill, Paraiso Verde Resort, Mountain Lake Eco Resort, and Dolores Farm Resort.
If you are on a budget, there are a lot of traveler inns, pension houses, and homestays that you can book a room or a bed in.
Try to dress more conservatively when traveling here, especially if you’re visiting holy sites, like the Grand Mosque. Avoid using tiny shorts and blouses or sleeveless shirts that show off cleavage.
For security purposes, coordinate with the local tourism office for your planned trip and accommodations. Don’t book a trip when the region or a town issues a red alert.
Portable toilets may be unavailable, especially if you’re heading to a natural habitat or hotspot. Try to do your business ahead or at a nearest gas station or establishment.