IT was as if the vast verdant valley – called Allah Valley – has beckoned, welcoming adventurers who are brave enough to explore its bosom. The valley has kept its secrets for so long, but finally it is ready to reveal them, one by one, to anyone who willing to treasure its beauty.
For years, Allah Valley has been kept out of the tourism loop primarily because of civil unrest and natural disasters in Mindanao. Environmental issues also affected its forested valley that spreads across the provinces of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.
In 19å96 and 2002, both provinces experienced severe flooding when the water from Lake Maughan spilled over to the valley down to the neighboring towns because of heavy rains. Many areas of the two provinces were destroyed, thousands of people displaced, and about 20 people died when the lake’s walls collapsed.
With every flooding, the rivers in Allah Valley changed their courses. And with every change in river course, the towns surrounding the valley face disasters and hazards because of the unpredictable water discharges. As a response, South Cotabato, along with its municipalities Lake Sebu, T’boli, Surallah, Santo Nino, Banga and Norala, and Sultan Kudarat province with Tacurong City and municipalities of Isulan, Esperanza, Lambayong and Bagumbayan created the Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance, which is a multi-stakeholder program focused on managing the protected area and sustaining the socio-economic conditions of the people.
The group created a Tourism Circuit, one of the solutions aimed at giving alternative means of livelihood to the people so they would not resort to kaingin (slash and burn farming), logging, mining and charcoal-making, all of which are harmful to the environment.
Today, Allah Valley is like a sleeping giant waking up from its deep slumber and is taking a giant leap to claim its rightful place in the Philippine tourism map.
At Allah Valley, you will witness a convergence of cultures, where Muslims, Christians and indigenous tribes peacefully co-exist. You will also experience a preserved paradise, where people honor and celebrate nature, and where nature nurtures them in return. You will also behold the valley’s mystical marvels, where dreams flow from the fingertips of weavers and artisans.
Allah Valley covers two provinces in Region 12, namely South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat. It is rich in natural wonders and the area is filled with lush tropical forests, spanned by two rivers, dotted with four different lakes and surrounded by mountain ranges. It is also the home of a unique cultural heritage and tradition of the indigenous tribes of the Tiduray, T’Boli and B’laan.
The Valley of Wonders
Reaching Allah Valley requires a quick one-hour plane ride from Manila, via General Santos City Airport. One can also fly from Cebu directly to General Santos. From the city proper, take a bus bound to Marbel, the local name for Koronadal. Halfway through, fields upon fields of pineapple will greet you that will make you know you have reached town of Polomolok.
From the bus station at Koronadal (Marbel), take another bus (Yellow Bus Line) to Surrallah. Travel time is about 30 minutes. Bus fare is P28.
From General Santos city proper, ride a tricycle to take you to the bus terminal. Take a bus (Yellow Bus Line) bound to Koronadal (Marbel). Fare is about P65 for the non-air-conditioned bus. Travel time is roughly one hour.
The Tri-People Monument in Surallah
Kublai Millan is one of the treasured artists from Mindanao who created some of the most noted sculptures displayed publicly in the Philippines. The giant sculptures by Kublai in Surallah is more than just art as it depicts the uniqueness of South Cotabato, particularly its diverse cultures, traditions and religions.
Discovering Lake Holon, the Crater Lake
Lake Holon is a place that must be checked in your list of places to visit. It is the perfect epitome for peace, beauty and magic. It is situated in the crater of Mount Melibingoy, T’boli, South Cotabato.
Lake Tour in Lake Sebu
If South Cotabato is a music album, Lake Sebu must be its carrier single. It is the most popular place in the province with their finest tilapia grown in the lake.
Zip Line Adventures in Lake Sebu
Your adventure to Lake Sebu wouldn’t be complete without visiting the magnificent seven falls. What better way to enjoy the waterfalls by clinging from a zip line, overlooking the raging but beautiful waterfalls below.
Migratory birds of Baras, Tacurong City
If your experience of encountering wildlife is just through clicking the remote control to Animal Planet, better visit the Bird Sanctuary of Baras situated not far from Tacurong City. There you will see the shifting of the nocturnal and diurnal different species of herons found in the same habitat.
The landlocked municipality of Lake Sebu is a countryside escape of rolling mist-filled hills, vast plantations and placid lakes. Located in South Cotabato, it is one of the most peaceful destinations in Mindanao, untainted by commercialism and mass tourism.
Locals here thrive on aquaculture and agriculture. The locals are also a major producer of rattan, bamboo, tilapia and the cultural emblem of the T’bolis – the T’nalak cloth that is made of abaca fibers. Although the majority of the locals here are T’boli, an indigenous group of South Cotabato, it is also a melting pot of diverse cultures of the Manobos, Ubos, and the Tirurays.
On my second visit here during the Allah Valley tour, I got to experience other adventures besides cruising the majestic lake. The unassuming town dappled with waterfalls is collectively called as the Seven Falls. If you don’t have a private vehicle, you can charter a habal-habal (motorcycle) to take you here.
Take a Canopy Walk
The Seven Falls were given T’boli names. The most famous of them are the Falls 1 called Hikong Alu or passage falls and Falls 2 known as Hikong Bente or the immeasurable falls. They are also the most accessible of all the waterfalls. If you still have enough energy, you can take a canopy walk from Falls 1 to Falls 7. You may also hike the 700 steps trail from Falls 1 to Falls 2 near the gate. Meanwhile, Falls 3 is called the zigzag waterfalls or Hikong B’lebed, Falls 4 is Hikong Lowig meaning booth and Falls 5 is the wild flower or Hikong Kefo-i. The uncharted Falls 6 or the short falls is known as Hikong Ukol while Falls 7 is known as Hikong Tonok that means soil.
Opened sometime in 2009, the Seven Falls zipline is one of the most scenic ziplines in the country. Rate on weekdays is P250 and P300 a person on weekends and holidays. The first leg of the Seven Falls zipline is at 740 meters long and 200 meters high while the second leg of the zip line is roughly 400 meters. Make sure you have your video or camera with you to record the experience and the majestic scenery! You’ll zip among the trees and lush wilderness from platform to platform and get a stunning aerial view of Falls 1 to Falls 5 below!
The in-house photographers will take your photos while enjoying the zipline so don’t forget to smile for the camera. Souvenir photographs costs around P100 and you can request for a soft copy too.
Photo op wearing T’boli costumes
The vendors of the souvenir shops usually rent out the T’boli traditional outfits for women and men for P50 each person. Get to experience wearing this traditional clothes and pose outside for some souvenir photos.
Buy T’boli Handicrafts and Souvenirs
At Falls 2, souvenir shops are everywhere. Take home some of the finest handcrafted souvenirs by the T’bolis. Choose from a wide array of colorful necklaces, earrings, T’boli comb ornaments, T’boli traditional textiles with geometric patterns and T’nalak cloths.
The popular twin zip lines in Lake Sebu were established in 2009 and are considered the highest in Southeast Asia at 200 meters from the ground. The first zip line is 740 meters long and will leave you suspended for 35 seconds.
Falls 2 (Hikong Bente), the highest of the seven falls, can give a good glimpse of the rainbow below if you’re lucky. Rainbows are in its most vivid form during noontime or when sunlight is enough to play with the mists. Then there’s the very lush forest below and the cascading Falls 3 and 4 that connects to the evenly stunning Falls 5.
After the zip line rides, rest if you must. But don’t miss to take the canopy walk that is a paved walkway that offers a closer look of all the falls starting from Falls 1 to Falls 6 and 7. If you dare to push some more, the 774 steps steep canopy trail from Falls 2 area to the entrance gate is the answer.
Trek to the peak of a volcano or camp in its caldera
Yes, a volcano locally named Mount Melibingoy (more popularly known as Mount Parker) stands 1,756 meters in the ranges of Tboli town in South Cotabato. It is considered dormant and will not erupt in our lifetime according to predictions by experts. A seven-hour trek to the peak will take you to the thick primary and secondary forests.
From the top one can see Mount Melibato from the same town, Mount Matutum in Tupi, South Cotabato, Mount Apo, the highest peak in the country in Davao, Mount Three Kings in Lake Sebu, the Quezon Mountain Range and Sarangani Bay. For a more relaxed trek and a different perspective of the volcano, take the four-hour hike to the lakeshore campsite in Lake Holon, Mount Melibingoy’s 304-hectare wide caldera of freshwater (not of lava).
There is another hidden paradise in this side of the world where the most elusive birds are taking refuge. Sitio Kangko in Brarangay Lamlahak, Lake Sebu is home to our very own Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), Philippine Hornbill (Buceros hydrocorax) and Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) and several other endemics.
Kangko is frequented by researchers and bird watchers for its ornithological wonders. Eco-guide Roy Ungkal told me foreigners armed with telephoto cameras and government researchers are his frequent visitors to the place.
An hour of away is the Baras Bird
Sanctuary in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat. The 1.3-hectare riverbank lot in the obscured village of Baras that is seven kilometers from the national highway. It is the refuge for some 20,000 migratory birds and new favored destination of bird photographers who want to catch a shot of the flying visitors that come mostly from the northern hemisphere during winter time. Cattle Egrets and Black Crowned Night Heron dominate the dense population of both nocturnal (active at night) and diurnal (loves daylight) birds. It is also home to white egrets (lesser, intermediate and greater egrets), Rufuos night heron and Chinese egrets.
Unlike the other more popular bird sanctuaries where you have to distance yourself to avoid disturbing the birds, here you can walk among and see them just overhead through a paved walkway. Make sure though to wear a headgear to protect your head from the bird poops. Best time to photograph is during early mornings and late afternoons. During these times, you can see birds flooding the salmon sunrise and sunset skies
Lake Sebu and the mountains of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat are the perfect spots for meditating souls. In the silence of the secluded places you can go “emo” as much as you want. Lake Sebu’s three lakes (Lakes Sebu, Seloton and Lahit) offer natural silence especially at night where you can hear only the sound of the wild.
To soothe your tired muscles, try dipping into the pools of Hot and Cold Springs Resort in the secluded Barangay Marguez in Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat. The two adjacent pools have, yes, hot and cold waters that are naturally sourced from the nearby mountain. There, the chorus of the birds and the sound of the flowing water dominate.