The T’boli tribe, who call this beautiful lake their home, are the gentlest and most hospitable among the Philippine indigenous people.
Lake Sebu is considered the ancestral domain of the T’boli tribe and the lesser known Ubu tribe. There are actually three lakes in Lake Sebu, namely, Sebu, Siloton and Lahit. At an elevation of about 800 meters, the lakes of the Lake Sebu are probably the most scenic mountain lakes in the Philippines.
The T’boli tribe are the most colourful among the Philippine ethnic tribes. They continue to live the way their ancestors lived hundreds of years before. They wear distinct colorful costumes made from natural fibres such as abaca and cotton, mostly adorned with intricate beadworks, and accentuated with accessories made from brass and gold and animal bones.
Their culture is richly connected with nature. They believe that the spirits of their ancestors still live in the lakes and mountains surrounding Lake Sebu, and their spirits continue to guide them and provide them with bountiful harvests.
The T’Bolis also have their own unique way of celebrating every important stages of life. Their music and dance mimics the sounds and actions of such animals like monkeys and birds. They have their own unique dialect and they continue to teach the young generation the same dialect that their ancestors have spoken before.
The main source of livelihood in Lake Sebu is still farming and fishing. Weaving, brass and crafts making are usually done for local consumption, but have recently become an alternative source of income because of the growing inflow of tourists.
The T’boli tribe usually wear their traditional colorful costumes on special events such as the annual Helubong, a festival in celebration of bountiful harvest. Outside the festival, the T’boli still wear their traditional clothing during weddings and other family gatherings. Old men and women still wear the traditional garbs during market day held every Saturday, where the T’boli from far away villages come down to the town center in their finest T’boli costumes.
How to get there
Going to Lake Sebu is not that difficult or dangerous as many people tend to believe. It is located in South Cotabato, where most of the migrants are either Ilongos or Ilocanos, and they blend well with over a dozen indigenous tribes such as the B’laans, Tasadays and T’bolis.
The easiest way to reach South Cotabato is via the General Santos Airport. From the airport, take either a taxi (fare us about P300), a tricycle (P200) or a habal-habal (P100) to get to the bus terminal at the city proper. There are regular buses to Koronadal (P80 for a one-hour, 40-kilometer ride). From Koronadal, take another bus to Surallah (P24 for an 18-km, 30-minute ride), and then a van or a jeepney that will take the uphill road to Lake Sebu (P30 for a 15-km, 30-minute ride).
What to do, what to see
Lake Sebu offers many exciting attractions for the growing eco-adventure market.
Still the main attraction in Lake Sebu is the main lake. At any given time of the day, the lake provides a glimpse of how the T’bolis have learned how make use of this body of water for their day-to-day existence. And the best way to explore the lake is when the sun starts to rise in the morning, when the water of the lake slowly warms up from a cold slumber. It is during this time, when the water slowly wakes up that the whole lake becomes foggy. Taking a boat ride, either in a motorized boat or their local canoe, as the sun slowly rises from the east is probably one of the best adventures one can do in Lake Sebu.
Another must-do activity is the trek to the seven waterfalls. The three lakes of Lake Sebu actually feed the water that flow through the seven waterfalls. To locate the waterfalls, either hire a local guide that will take you through the trail or find a habal-habal driver who can take you to the site. The location is about 2 kilometers from town center and visitors are now required to pay entrance fee for park maintenance. The waterfalls are known mainly by their numbers. Falls No. 1 is only less than 200 meters from the park entrance. Falls No. 2 requires some minor trekking – either through the 774-step monkey trail or through the main road. Falls No. 2 is the highest at more than 100 feet, the most majestic and most picturesque among the seven. Falls Nos. 3 to 7 follow the river downstream. Most people tend to skip the remaining falls once they see Falls No. 2.
There is a new attraction in Lake Sebu – the zip line. Located in Falls No. 1, the zip line provides a towering view of Falls Nos. 2 to 5. The operator brags that this is “the highest, most scenic, most affordable and accessible zip line rides in SocSarGen.” The two-stage ride (700 meters and 400 meters) cost only P250 on weekdays and P300 on weekends and holidays.
Visit also the longhouse where Lang Dulang, a National Living Treasure of the Philippines, continue to teach young T’boli women the ancient art of T’nalak weaving.
Explore the whole town. There are many trails to explore, either the circular road that follows the main like or the back roads passing through the rice fields leading to the upland communities.
Where to stay, what to eat
There are many lodging options in Lake Sebu: from the premier Punta Isla Resort and Estares Resort; to the backpacker-friendly Tourism Cottages; and to the mountain hideaways Tonex Farm Resort and Mountain Log Resort.
Dining in Lake Sebu means trying out their local tilapia, in every which way possible. According to a local grower, it must be the weather, the elevation, the way they care for their tilapias, the moving water, and the spirit of their ancestors who look after them, and many more reasons that makes the Lake Sebu tilapia the tastiest and most delicious in the Philippines. The T’bolis have developed many dishes from the local tilapia – from sugba to fried to chicharon to sinigang to paksiw.
Other items not to be missed in Lake Sebu are the local fruits that grow abundantly around the lake. Depending on season, one can enjoy native durian, marang, rambutan, banana and many more.
But the best way to enjoy Lake Sebu is to simply relax and be one with nature.