Exploring South Cotabato and Maguindanao: Lake Sebu, Seven Waterfalls, Pink Mosque and more

The island of Mindanao has a lot of natural wonders and man-made structures to offer to travelers. Already mentioned in this blog are the largest mosque in the Philippines and one of the most beautiful waterfalls anyone will ever see, which are both located in Region 12 or Soccsksargen. Another province in Region 12 that is home to beautiful travel destinations associated with rich culture is none other than South Cotabato. It is also the place of Lake Sebu, which is the ancestral homeland of the T’boli tribe, one of the country’s ethnic groups. Meanwhile, a province adjacent to Region 12 is the province of Maguindanao that belongs to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Various happenings from the last decade mire the name of this province, but structures not found anywhere else make it worth the visit.

The beautiful Lake Sebu in South Cotabato!
The beautiful Lake Sebu in South Cotabato!

My trip to South Cotabato and Maguindanao was a part of a 4-day adventure in this part of Mindanao. I have previously blogged about my experiences in Cotabato City and Cotabato. This time, I’m going to share my adventures in the provinces of Maguindanao and Cotabato, along with a suggested itinerary of these provinces.

MAGUINDANAO

Map of Maguindanao
Map of Maguindanao (source: Wikipedia)

Maguindanao is the largest (4,871.60 sq km) and most populous (1,173,933 as of 2015) province in the region of ARMM. Located in the middle of Mindanao, Maguindanao was once a part of the province of Cotabato. In 1967, the Province of Cotabato was divided into two: South Cotabato and Cotabato, which was eventually divided into the provinces of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao.

Maguindanaoans comprise mostly of Muslims with a minority of Christians (mostly Catholics). Its main language is Maguindanao, though Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Chavacano, Tagalog, English and Arabic are also spoken.

What to see in Maguindanao

Since we only had a half day to explore Maguindanao, we opted to go to places that only recently came to popular consciousness: the Blue Lagoon of Datu Odin Sinsuat and the Pink Mosque of Datu Saudi Ampatuan. Unseen circumstances led us to another destination in Maguindanao: its old provincial capitol that serves as training ground for the military forces.

BLUE LAGOON OF DATU ODIN SINSUAT

The Blue Lagoon Of Maguindanao
The Blue Lagoon Of Maguindanao

A beautiful lagoon hidden in the middle of Maguindanao, this blue lagoon is mostly enjoyed by the locals of Barangay Margues. When we went here, there were a few who were enjoying its waters. You can also dip in if you want to. 

PINK MOSQUE OF DATU SAUDI AMPATUAN

The Pink Mosque of Maguindanao
The Pink Mosque of Maguindanao

Masjid Dimaukom, or Pink Mosque, is a mosque found in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao. The mosque is constructed by the town mayor, Samsodin Dimaukom. It is said that the mayor and his wife chose to paint the mosque pink as a color that symbolizes peace and love, two things they want to show what their place is about. When I first saw the town, which has many structures painted in pink, I smiled; more so when I saw the pink mosque right in front of me. I felt then what the city mayor wanted for the people to experience.

 MAGUINDANAO’S OLD PROVINCIAL CAPITOL

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The Old Provincial Capitol of Maguindanao

 I was surprised to find out that the supposedly old capitol of Maguindanao in the town of Shariff Aguak has only been opened before the May 2007 elections. When we visited it, it was not used for work of the local government but for training exercises of the military. News outlets said that some of the government officials opted not to use this capitol but the one found in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat.

In front of the old provincial capitol of Maguindanao
In front of the old provincial capitol of Maguindanao

How to go to Maguindanao

Coming from the hotel where we were staying in Cotabato City, we went to Husky Bus Terminal. There we were able to talk to Kuya Datu Basco, our guide/habal-habal driver, and made an arrangement for him to accompany us in going to the key spots of Maguindanao. If ever you need his services, he can be contacted with this number: 09275160387.

Our original plan was to go to the Blue Lagoon and Pink Mosque then ride a van headed to Insulan in Sultan Kudarat. However, because Kuya Datu left his cellphone at home, he wasn’t able to contact his van driver friends that would be coming from Cotabato City. He opted to go to a jeepney/van stop in Shariff Aguak where we waited for a van to pass by. We were a bit nervous at that time because our trip here didn’t go as planned, but all’s well that ends well because a van carrying passengers going to Insulan passed by after 10 to 15 minuets of waiting.

SOUTH COTABATO

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South Cotabato, one of the most progressive provinces in the country, is located in the southern part of Mindanao. Having a total area of 3,706 square kilometers, it is bounded by Sultan Kudarat in the west and the north and Sarangani in the east. It has ten (10) municipalities and one (1) city, which is also its capital (Koronadal City). For this trip, we explored its second largest municipality: Lake Sebu.

Serenity
Serenity in Lake Sebu

Known as the ancestral homeland of the T’boli tribe or the dream weavers, Lake Sebu is a great place to be if you’re looking for serenity. You can mingle with the dream weavers and immerse yourself in their rich culture. But make no mistake, this mystic land not only will allure you to its beauty and people, it’s also bound to thrill you with adrenaline-pumping activities. Take for example the must-do activity of zip-lining above its famous 7 Waterfalls, which was listed in my bucket list before I made this trip!

What to explore in South Cotabato

LAKE SEBU

Lake Sebu!
Lake Sebu!

Lake Sebu is a must-see travel destination when going to South Cotabato. It is one of the three lakes found in the first class municipality of the same name, Lake Sebu, which is home to some of the country’s ethnic tribes including the T’boli. (The other two lakes are Lake Siloton and Lake Lahit. Considered to be one of the country’s most important watersheds, Lake Sebu provides irrigation to the province of South Cotabato and the nearby province of Sultan Kudarat.  It is also hailed as one of the Top 100 Sustainable Destinations in the World, along with South Cotabato’s Lake Holon.

Lake Sebu's beautiful water lilies

Lake Sebu’s beautiful water lilies

Travelers often go here to get a glimpse of the beautiful water lilies that abound the lake. Just make sure to go here early in the morning so that you will see them open as they close towards noon time. You’d have to rent and ride a small boat to be able to look closely at the water lilies.

SEVEN WATERFALLS

GETTING HIGH OVER THE SEVEN WATERFALLS. Here's how happy I am as I tick off one item in my bucket list! :-D
GETTING HIGH OVER THE SEVEN WATERFALLS. Here’s how happy I am as I tick off one item in my bucket list! 😀

 Another major attraction in this side of South Cotabato is the seven majestic waterfalls of Lake Sebu. Found in Barangay Siloton, the seven waterfalls provide another reason for travelers to visit the place as they can not only experience nature by visiting these waterfalls, they can also enjoy one thrilling activity here.

Falls # 1 - Hikong Alo
HIKONG ALO. The tourism officers in Seven Waterfalls provide tourists the option to wear traditional costume of the T’boli tribe for a minimal fee. Here I am donning one in front of Falls # 1, Hikong Alo.

Two of the seven waterfalls can be easily accessed (Falls # 1- Hikong Alo, which means “passage;” Falls # 2 – Hikong Bente, which means “immeasurable”) while the other five are not (Falls # 3 – Hikong B’Lebel, which means “coil/zigzag;” Falls # 4 –  Hikong Lowig, which means “booth;” Falls # 5 – Hikong Ukol, which means “wild flower;” Falls # 6 – Hikong K’Fo, which means “short;” and Falls # 7 – Hikong Tonok, which means “soil”). By the way, the best way to experience the seven waterfalls is none other than riding the zipline overlooking them all! It costs P250 only, but if you want to take a photo op just like my picture up there while ziplining, you’d have to provide for additional fees.

THE LATE LANG DULAY’S WORKSHOP AT THE MANLILIKHA BAYAN CENTER IN SITIO TUKOLEFA

With the T'boli dream weavers of Lake Sebu
With me are the  T’boli dream weavers of Lake Sebu, two of which are grandchildren of Lang Dulay

As mentioned earlier, Lake Sebu is the homeland of the T’boli, one of the country’s indigenous people. As such, it is the home place of then National Living Treasure awardee and T’boli dream weaver, Lang Dulay. While still living, Lang Dulay was able to produce 100 designs for the T’nalak, T’boli’s hand-woven, traditional cloth made up of fine, abaca fibers and is reflective of their people’s art and stories.

Lang Dulay has already passed away in 2015 but her work is continued by her grandchildren who still undergo the tedious process of weaving to produce high quality T’nalak. We can help continue the legacy of Lang Dulay by buying the T’nalak products of the T’boli weavers. 🙂

T’BOLI MUSEUM

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The T’boli Museum is where you can experience the unique culture and see invaluable treasures of the T’boli people. In here you can see (and even wear!) the T’nalak but you need assistance by the person manning the museum. Go over the T’boli crafts and age-old musical instruments, as well as purchase some of their ethnic necklaces and bracelets.

How to go to South Cotabato

Coming from Maguindanao: As mentioned above, we rode a van in Shariff Aguak towards Insulan in Sultan Kudarat. In Insulan, we then boarded a jeepney bounded for Surallah, South Cotabato. In the terminal of Surallah, we rode a van that’s headed to Lake Sebu.

Coming from Cotabato City: There are vans headed to Surallah from Cotabato City. You can do this if you want to skip Maguindanao in your itinerary.

***

This trip of mine in Mindanao has been one of the most memorable trips that I have. Being able to venture into places people regard as dangerous or tagged as critical areas is not just any kind of feat. It’s one feat that shows why people should consider visiting these places. Of course, we should always take heed and be extra careful but not just while going to these places, but to any other place as well.

Puges Trip to Lake Sebu!
PUGES’ TRIP TO LAKE SEBU! Here’s my friend, Don, who served as my companion during my SOX trip!

 

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