Exploring Southern Mindanao: Sarangani + South Cotabato

Exploring Southern Mindanao: Sarangani + South Cotabato

Wanting an adventure away from the usual hotspots around the country, my friends and I spontaneously booked a flight to General Santos City (or GenSan, for short) in Mindanao. But why GenSan?! No reason— other than it was the cheapest we could find during one of Cebu Pacific’s crazy seat sales. There were nine of us at the time of booking— but a couple of days before our departure, two of them backed out due to work opportunities. Still, seven of us as a group was the biggest I’ve travelled with, and it turned out to be quite a blast!

I have to admit that when I think about GenSan, the only thing that comes to mind is that it’s the hometown of Manny Pacquiao and Melai

So what’s in GenSan?

Mansh: MANNY PACQUIAO MUSEUMS
Sammy: GIANT TUNAS
Me: …

It’s worth noting that though we flew into and out of GenSan, we lingered at anywhere but the city itself. Which I regretted a little, because I was really damn looking forward to the PacMan attractions as well as shopping for tunas. 😛

Which is why I titled this post as exploring Southern Mindanao, otherwise known as the SOCCSKSARGEN region— an acronym for SOuth Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, SARangani, and GENeral Santos. I don’t know about you, but I fancy how SOCCSKSARGEN sounds like a European province, like in Switzerland or something.

Map & Itinerary of our Southern Mindanao Trip

For our trip, we managed to form an itinerary out of suggestions from friends and strangers. This included traveling to Isla Jardin Del Mar in Sarangani and Lake Sebu + Seven Falls in South Cotabato:

route

DAY 1: Flying to General Santos City

What really caught my eye while flying over the region was this endless expanse of rugged mountains. They were breathtaking— from being completely covered with greenery to sparsely dotted and bare-earth brown. I couldn’t help but think how it looked like God pressed his fingertips upon the clay of the earth. Gosh, I love mountains and the sense of awe they always give me.

As soon as we landed in GenSan, we got a ride to a mall where we bought our food, snacks, drinks, and (in my case) slippers ’cause I somehow always forget to bring a pair for the beach lol. We then hopped into a van bound for Isla Jardin Del Mar in Glan, Sarangani; a 1.5-hour ride.

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#SQUAD L-R: Ton, me, Sammy, Mansh, Ban, Jammy, Luis.

Taking the van to the town of Glan

Hey, that rhymed! We stopped for this scenic view on the way…

Arriving at Isla Jardin Del Mar Resort

When we got to the resort we lounged around ’til we checked in. The beach also looked really inviting; rocky in some parts but with such a pretty palette how could you be disappointed?

sea-tree

We settled in our huts (which I affectionately called Jabba *wink*) which were air-conditioned and had their own toilet + bath inside! Right after, we just napped and waited ’til sunset to take a dip…

sunset-lounge2^ Perhaps one of the best cotton-candy clouds I’ve ever seen that even my phone couldn’t perfectly capture how pink they were, but this is close enough!

Discovering Tuna Kinilaw by accident

That evening we checked out the resort’s only restaurant, and this was where I found a new favorite Pinoy dish by accident! Here’s how it happened: my friend Mansh and I were at the counter ordering all our food while trying to decipher the badly-designed menu on the wall. I remember her clearly ordering a kilo of something along with other dishes. Then we got to our table and our food arrived shortly thereafter, and one of those dishes was something none of us ordered… we assumed that it probably got mixed with another table’s orders but after clarifying with the waiter, he insisted that we did indeed order it, the “Tuna Kinilaw”. Still confuzzled, we ate it anyway… whereupon both Mansh and I instantly realized that our “kilo” order was mistakenly heard as “…Kinilaw”! We had such laughs about it and I honestly didn’t mind at all because the TUNA KINILAW WAS AWESOME. It quickly became the dish I’d order every meal. Haha! It’s basically a raw fish salad of tuna sashimi mixed with vinegar, calamansi juice, small cucumber and mango slices… quite similar to a ceviche ❤

DAY 2: Finding a Beautiful Dock 

The next day was spent exploring! Sammy and I followed a pathway along the rocky coast.

to-the-dock

At the end of the trail was this Instagram-worthy dock. Of course we gleefully ran across it and took lots of photos!

docksiesalty1saltswim

We spent time there just swimming in the really salty water with plenty of corals, barnacles, and starfish! I have to admit, I was pretty hesitant to get in the water without any sort of gear, but I quickly got used to it as long as I kept myself horizontal and floated my cares away… (I did get a small cut on my knee from the corals, ouch but worth it haha)

We then made our way back to look for the others and joined them for lunch. Eat, nap, swim, repeat, haha livin’ the beach life yo!

On the other side of the resort we spent more time beaching, hiking, and witnessing a glorious golden sunset.

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I kid you not, this particular beach had the softest sand that I can remember ever touching… and Mansh caught me having a moment with it (cupfuls of sand in hand 😂)

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By nightfall, it was time to wash up and bond over another feast. We laid on the sand under the night sky; talked, laughed, drank. Played crazy rounds of SNAP! and other card games as well as an INTENSE game of Werewolf for hours. Looking back, it’s easily one of my favorite nights.

DAY 3: Waking up to a strange occurrence

Something weird happened the next morning. Around 7am, Mansh, Ban, and I were still asleep in our hut when a loud banging came on our door, followed by a yell of “ROOOOM SERVICE!!” in an exaggerated queer accent. The three of us lay still in the dark of our room, groggy and wondering out aloud if any of us requested room service, or if there was even any sort of “room service” at all. The knocking came again a couple of times, when Mansh called out
“Go away we didn’t ask for any room service”
Sige na, pooo” the stranger outside pleaded, asking to open our door.
We ignored him. I think it was several minutes later ’til we were sure he wasn’t outside our door anymore.

We brought it up to the others during breakfast later, and they thought it was hilarious. But I was quite terrified, honestly. The way me, Mansh, and Ban interpreted the situation was that a stranger trespassed on the resort grounds and knocked on the huts, either as a prank or with malicious intent. Sounds kinda paranoid, but what the hell… we still don’t understand what really happened.

Onwards to Lake Sebu in South Cotabato

Anyhow, it was time to travel to Lake Sebu! Jammy’s friend who was a local picked us up and treated us for lunch at a Chicken Inasal place. A couple of hours on the road later and we finally made it to Punta Isla Lake Resort, overlooking the beautiful silver lake. The place is so serene and even had a zen-like soundtrack that played throughout the area. You have to see it for yourself! Watch this short clip I took on the banks of the lake (HD, please!):

(That was Sammy in the end playing an ethnic instrument XD)

An unexpected ride on a fish-feeder’s boat

We stood there admiring the mirror-like body of water, and greeted a fish-feeder who was gliding past us…  when Sammy being the daring lass that she is, actually asked the woman if she could take us around the lake on her little boat. She agreed that she could take 3 of us on board.

That boat ride turned out to be the defining moment of the trip for us <3
Of course, we also gave a token amount to the lady in appreciation of her kindness.

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That evening we had a wonderful dinner on a floating restaurant! We were the only diners there so it felt like we owned the place. 😉

View from Punta Isla Resort’s restaurant

Day 4: Visiting the Seven Falls

Soon it was time to complete the final activity of our trip: visit the Seven Falls. It was at least a 30-min habal-habal ride to get there. As the name reveals, our destination consists of seven waterfalls near one another. Since we had limited time, we only got to visit the nearest 2 out of 7 falls: Hikong Alo (35 ft.), and Hikong Bente (70 ft.)


fallshikong-benteiPhoneography Tip: turn your phone to the side and use the panorama feature to capture down to up. Now you have no problem fitting in a tall subject in your photos! 😉

To get to the second falls, people can either hike down to it or take the zipline. Mansh, Ban, and I took the latter because why wouldn’t we?! You get to see the other five falls from up there! There’s always something about waterfalls that are so enchanting, and these two up close are no less beautiful.

Detour: A refreshing dip in a cold spring

Before going back to our hostel and packing up, our drivers suggested we take a dip in a cold spring. We made our way there and were so happy to be able to take a refreshing bath— we joked that all we needed was shampoo and soap! I didn’t bother taking any photos other than the two below because I was already excited to jump in XD

spring

Aaaaaand that concludes our Southern Mindanao adventure!

P.S. on our plane back to Manila, it was fun to find that one of the flight attendants was my classmate back in college!

resort-keys

I’m starting a project and documenting keys/knick-knacks with their place of origin in the background. ❤

I’m curious: would you go on a trip like this, too?

Check out more of my posts about Mindanao here.

Hannah is a visual creative/semi-digital nomad based in Manila. When she's not pushing pixels, she can be found cuddling with her cat, chilling in cafés, adventuring with her amigas, or finding her next flight out. She enjoys tea lattes and making alliterations.

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