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A Journey to the Peaceful Town of Lake Sebu

lake sebu

My second solo travel to the land of promise brought me to Lake Sebu, 90 miles away from Davao City, a first class municipality, 26 miles away from its capital. It is surrounded by mountains covered with rainforest and hills and serves as the home of the indigenous T’bioli tribe, one of the most colorful and culturally rich ethnic groups in the Philippines. It is famous for its 7 waterfalls, spring, river, and lake. It’s the place where I found tranquility in a region believed to be without peace; Lake Sebu.


T'boli Tribe


I arrived before sunrise in Davao City, which is about 6 hours away from Lake Sebu. They say that it’s best to go there via General Santos to lessen the travel time. Visiting South Cotabato was not part of my plan, but that’s what I ended up doing. The 6 hours travel time didn’t stop me from seeing the beauty of Lake Sebu.


Getting there may involve a little adventure because of the lack of direct transport. From Davao Airport, I told the taxi driver to bring me to Ecoland Bus Terminal. Before we left the airport, someone was knocking on the window. I didn’t open it because I was busy browsing on my phone, but the taxi driver told me to please open it so I did. A guy in a military uniform asked, “Name Sir?”

I didn’t respond until he said it again for 2 to 3 times. The driver called my attention and said, Sir, ano daw pong pangalan nyo? (Sir, he is asking for your name)


The Road to Lake Sebu


I was surprised that someone was asking my name before I leave the airport; I found that very unusual. Even so, I gave my name and that’s the only time we were allowed to leave. I asked the driver why they had to ask my name. He explained that in Davao, it is a protocol to get the names of the tourists. Turns out, it is part of their security measure so in case something bad happens to you, they can easily identify you. Well, that makes sense and it certainly made me feel safer inside the cab. Davao city brags that they are the safest city in the Philippines, in fairness, I did feel safe there.

On our way to the bus terminal, the driver suggested dropping me somewhere along the national highway. I insisted that I want to go to the bus terminal but he explained that the buses from the terminal would pass through that highway. We waited together but not a single bus passed even after 30 minutes. I kept calm when he told me that he needed to go. He said that I could just stay there and wait for the bus going to South Cotabato.

The sun was about to rise, still, no bus heading to South Cotabato came. In my desperation, I stopped some van vehicles and asked if they would be going to Koronadal; none of them was familiar with Koronadal. I kept telling them that it’s somewhere in South Cotabato. They said they didn’t know such a place and that they were heading to North Cotabato. I was deeply confused because Koronadal is the capital of South Cotabato, how come these people don’t know where it is.


Jeep to Lake Sebu


Finally, I found a driver who said that they’re going to Koronadal and he let me jump in. I called Kat, my friend from SoCot and told her that the people are not familiar with Koronadal. She then explained that they know the place as “Marbel,” the former name of the city. I had a feeling that just like the other vans, the driver would go to the North, not the South; I was right. When I asked the driver if he would go to Marbel, he said he was heading to Kidapawan.

Immediately, I browsed my Google map and learned that it would turn right somewhere in Digos City to Kidapawan. I told the driver to drop me at Digos City where luckily, I found another vehicle going to General Santos. From Gensan, everything went smoothly. I just took the yellow bus going to Koronadal City and from there, I took another bus to Surallah Terminal. From there, I took a jeep that goes to Lake Sebu. It took me more than 6 hours to get from Davao City to Lake Sebu because of all the hassles I went through.


School of Living Tradition

Upon arrival at the terminal at Lake Sebu, expect to be welcomed by locals offering tour around the area. I already have my contact, Sir Jun Aranas (0906-7586256) who was referred to me by a friend. We went to the house of Ms. Maria “Oyog” Todi, A T’boli cultural worker who runs the Tboli house of School of Living Traditions. I wanted to experience staying in a homestay to learn from their rich culture. Unfortunately, her house was closed and we were informed that she went to Davao.


Tolento Lodge


I told Kuya Jun to look for an affordable place where I could spend the night and he recommended, Tolento Lodge Resort. I think this is just the right place to stay in Lake Sebu if you are on a budget. I got a fan room for 500php or 11usd. It comes with a comfortable bed, private restroom, and an old television but it’s not working. It has a partial view of the lake from the window. I noticed that there were only a few tourists visiting the area. I even think I was the only guest at that time. Their staff is accommodating, but I find the food quite expensive.  Make sure to eat tilapia if you visit Lake Sebu. Most resorts, restaurants, and eateries here offer different dishes of tilapia fresh from the lake.


Hikong Alo Falls


Because I have a limited time in Lake Sebu, we immediately went to the 7 Falls, which is approximately less than 30mins away from the town center. Habal-Habal is the main mode of transportation in the area. I rarely saw a four-wheeled vehicle during my stay. According to my guide, we could trek all 7 Falls if we started early in the morning. But since I arrived late, we could only visit two falls.


Hikong Bente


The most exciting part of this trip was the zip line, dubbed as the highest zip line in Southeast Asia at the height of almost 600 feet. I don’t have a fear of heights so I was not scared to do this activity. The view was absolutely stunning that I couldn’t help but shout my amazement. The feeling of flying way above the trees and the view of the 7 Falls flowing strongly was indeed electrifying. This activity is something you can’t afford to miss when visiting Lake Sebu.


Lang Dulay


Our next stop was the home of late Lang Dulay, a national artist and Gawad Manlilikha awardee for her outstanding masterpieces that made tnalak, the Tboli cloth woven out of abaca fiber and natural dyes, known worldwide. I have regrets that I wasn’t able to see her alive, but I’m still happy that I was able to visit her home. There, I had an opportunity to interact with the tribe and watch them closely as they did their weaving.




Your visit to Lake Sebu would never be complete without kayaking at the lake. I thought that it was going to be just a usual kayaking. The lake is not bluish in color but it’s clean. As we sailed along, I looked on the water and was delighted to see the garden of water lilies. I was amazed to see hundreds of flowers, birds flying freely in the blue sky, the beautiful mountains in the background, with nothing but the smooth sound of the paddle hitting the water as we moved along. It was calm and peaceful, a totally different view that betrays the negative notion that people have towards Mindanao. I never thought to have this kind of comfort in a region where most of my countrymen struggle due to an ongoing war and terrorism.


Lake Sebu


Lake Sebu


Water lilies


I spent the rest of the day roaming around the municipality of Lake Sebu, interacting with locals, visiting museum and church. The place is modest and quiet and the people are kind and friendly.


Tboli Museum


I ended this journey watching the sunset at a nearby eatery while eating BBQ. This was one of my most undisturbed travels and I didn’t expect that I would find this tranquility in the southern section of central Mindanao.


Sunset at Lake Sebu


  • […] and promotion in terms of tourism is South-Central Mindanao. Composed of six provinces namely South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and General Santos, it is known by the acronym SOCCSKSARGEN. […]

  • […] had the chance to plant rice in Buscalan and live like the locals, and not everyone who visited South Cotabato showcased how peaceful this part of Mindanao […]

  • Pa pm nmn po ng details ng IT at ng accomodation. Papunta kami dyan sa August 13, 2016

  • Very helpful article! Amazing pictures as well! 🙂 I’m visiting Lake Sebu this weekend, albeit not strictly for leisure, but for my course thesis. Thank you so much for all the helpful info!

  • Looks like an amazing place!
    BTW, I loved your pictures!

  • Hi, was wondering, may you please share your detail itinerary on this trip.

    I will be touring Mindanao for 12 days and Lake Sebu is part of the plan.

  • that kayak route looks like such a dream!! I would love to paddle there. Seems like a beautiful place, and those waterfalls too… wow! Every time I read your posts Cai they make me wanderlust so hard for the PhIlippines haha.

  • Thank you so much for taking us to the south! I’ve been wanting to visit Mindanao, but just like others, I get quite worried about security. 🙂 It’s nice to know I have nothing to be afraid about. The lake is just fabulous, it looks so picturesque and serene! I hope many could also see this beauty. Thanks for the travel tips!

  • Would definitely visit just for the 7 falls! Its great that they asked for your name for safety reasons, I would feel assured knowing they put so much thought into safety.

  • What an adventure you had! You’re so courageous for going to an unfamiliar place alone and given that some parts of Mindanao are considered unsafe. Well, Lake Sebu is already a tourist spot. But still… Going there alone. Wow! Also, the place looks tranquil and it’s quite interesting to see T’Bolis weaving. I’ve always heard of that tribe, but I never researched on where they particularly live. Now I know based your post. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • The first leg of your trip had me questioning why you wanted to go there so bad. As I continued reading, I couldn’t help but see why! The place is breathtaking and you’re definitely right, you can’t leave Lake Sebu without kayaking! The water lilies are so beautiful, I’ve never seen so many of them. Everything just looks so peaceful there.

    • Thanks Karla, I heard a lot of good things about this small town in South Cotabato. Beyond the lake and the falls. I would like to meet people from t’boli tribe 🙂

  • What a gem! I definitely want to go here someday and learn more about the natives and their culture.

  • I have a weakness for flowers and your pic of the lovely pink lotuses has made up my mind to visit Lake Sebu, at least for the sake of these gorgeous blooms! The town is pretty and I was actually looking forward to see the pics of the zipline. Add them if you have any. I am a bummer for heights and would love to see how it looks like at least in pics 🙂

    • Ohh Sorry Ashwini I don’t have photo since I’m afraid to use my phone during the activity. it might fall hehehe 😉

  • This place looks stunning! I bet this was quite the adventure, I love the photos of the lake, it looks gorgeous! Zip lining has always been one of my favourite experiences, but I think doing it here would be fantastic!

  • How gorgeous! I love how traditional the women are dressed. The natural landscape is unscathed by high-rise resorts and tourists. Beautiful!

  • Oh my God! It must have been such an adventure! We can never expect what’s gonna happen, right? I love this kind of ‘tropical villages’ and I would really love to explore the Sebu lake!

  • What an interesting post! Really good you spoke the language. I love the pics – they perfectly capturing the atmosphere over there. Great piece of work 🙂

  • So many adventures! I think it’s really interesting that they asked your name in the cab 😛 odd! But kinda makes sense? Would love to zip line and kayak here someday! Looks super serene and adventurous.

  • The lake looks gorgeous, and those flower and kayak photos are my favorite. Ziplining is really high on my to do list, but I’ve never had a chance to try it, despite my love for this kind of adventures. Maybe on my next trip that isn’t work related, I can squeeze it in 😀

  • Solo trips are always nice, taking a little time off for yourself and this place looks amazing! Even though I’m a city girl, I love going out into nature. Those flowers look beautiful and that waterfall! Seems like such a perfect place to sit and think.

  • What a beautiful place, does seem like quite an adventure to get there! Probably why it isn’t too crowded which is a good thing haha. Looks like you had a great time, lovely photos.
    xx, Kusum |

  • Wow it seems like you had quit the adventure! The millitary asking my name would have made me feel ore nervous, I think. It’s great you got to do the zip line, that’s always so fun and exhilarating!

  • Love your waterfall pictures! Looks like a lovely place to walk around and just enjoy being outside.

  • After the trouble you went through to get there, it sounds like you had a great time! The lake is beautiful, I’d love to see it in person.

  • Another lovely post on a hidden gem! I’m really enjoying following your travels, I desperately want to do the same!

  • You have had quite an eventful trip and visited some really cool places. I lived the colourful attire of the T’Bioli tribe and the beauty of the waterfalls.

  • It’s a good thing you could understand the language. I can’t imagine doing all the transfers you did without knowing what everyone was saying! Your pictures of the lake are just gorgeous. What an interesting post!

  • Wow Cai! This post made me so inspired to write my own Lake Sebu trip a few weeks back. Though I only explored the waterfalls and zipline. It was still an unforgettable experience since it was also a solo trip for me.

    Sorry to hear about the hassles you encountered in your travel via Davao. Next time you go via Gensan ok? Thats what I did and the travel was fast and smooth. When I got to Marbel I rode the van directly to Lake Sebu and not through bus and jeep.

    Well, all in all I agree that Lake Sebu is a beautiful town and so peaceful. ?

    • Thank Jon, I’ll wait for your article. Yeah, If only I know that I didn’t stay in Davao. I should book a flight direct to Gen. San. Indeed Super quiet and peaceful 🙂

  • I love the pictures of the seven falls and I have seen a few blogs on the Philippines and there is so much beautiful nature there and I love that you can capture this great place in your pictures.

  • Very beautiful place! I love to travel to villages, its where you would learn the most and where you are able to relax and rethink about life.

  • We are on a SE Asia trip now to Myanmar, China, Mongolia, Korea and Japan. Our original plan was to leave Japan and go to the Philippines for a few months. We had been rethinking that trip until I read your post and now I think we will continue on that road. Your pictures were great and Lake Sebu is well worth a visit and some time spent. What were your other favorite places on your tirp.

    John and Laurel

    • I love the Zip line and the 7 falls. Come see us here in the Philippines. We have over 7,000 islands. If you need help feel free to message me. Ill be glad to assist u.

  • Wow… how many kg can such a small kayak hold do you know? Must have been such a beautiful experience for you especially surrounded by all those water lilies!

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