If you love eating tuna or have watched a boxing match of one of the greatest boxers of all time, Manny “PacMan” Pacquiao, then let me take you to this destination city.
General Santos or “GenSan,” in short, is the Tuna Capital of the Philippines. We export tuna to Japan’s fish markets and delis in the U.S. Likewise, it is the gateway to Saranggani Province, the hometown of Filipino pound-for-pound boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, who is now an elected senator serving his 6-year term representing his province.
Two days before my friend’s flight to General Santos City to visit her long-lost buddies (and now found), I personally delivered her flight itinerary and plane e-ticket. Over a cup of coffee, Winnie asked if I could come along with her. Since she is traveling alone and will also be celebrating her birthday during that following week, she has been deliberating on who she could ask to come with her.
At first, I was a bit hesitant for several reasons: (1) with a 1-1/2 day last-minute invitation, I have a series to to-do lists to finish up; (2) I also have a Sunday commitment that I do not want to miss; and (3) I am a “tag-along” and I do not know if I will be welcomed too.
Then she said that it is the hometown of our boxing champ “PacMan” and we are going to be accommodated by her friend who owns Phil Florencia Seaside Resort. Ding!!! Then I thought, those reasons by itself would be a very good story to tell everyone being in the tourism business.
Getting past the reluctant stage, I agreed to come along. It was a spontaneous 7-day vacation filled with great adventures for a first-timer to the southernmost city in the Philippines in the island of Mindanao.
Day 1: Manila / General Santos / Saranggani
The flight was very early at 6:55 am and we arrived in GenSan after almost 2 hours via Philippine Airlines. At the airport, we were welcomed by Ate Marci, the owner of the resort. After pleasantries and introductions, we headed to Phil Florencia where we will be spending our several nights while we’re there.
Phil Florencia Seaside Resort is a picnic/swimming destination resort. You can reserve a cottage during the day or evening for 8 hours. No strict check-in time – the time of arrival is the start of the guests’ 8-hour clock. They have small and big picnic cottages, together with fan room accommodations.
While this resort is still on its development stage being in operation for only 2 years, it has been gaining popularity with the nearby towns and cities because of its very close proximity from the airport (20 minutes driving distance), friendly atmosphere and beautiful mangrove trees by the shore. Most of the day were spent on catching up with the days gone by.
Day 2: Saranggani / South Cotabato / Sultan Kudarat
This day was Winnie’s grand birthday celebration. I considered this as the most compressed day touring several attractions.
Winnie and I do not have the slightest idea of what the itinerary looks like. Although, we were told that we are going to Banga and Lake Sebu, we were really clueless as to where that exactly in reference to the geography of the island.
I was in on the surprise myself! Being a travel consultant and always been the designated planner on any trip itinerary whether for family or clients, this was something new for me. We totally handed over the travel arrangement to our hosts. After all, they know well of the area and the local people to contact way much more than we do.
From barangay Maasim in Saranggani, we drove about 2 hours to Koronadal, South Cotabato; stopped by at Mang Gorio Restaurant for a quick lunch, where Winnie had her first bunch of waiters singing a special happy birthday song to her. Afterwards, we met another family and chatted for a while until we are ready for our next trek.
Back on the road, another hour drive and we were in Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat to visit Baras Bird Sanctuary. We were told that the best time to drop in is around 2 hours before sunset in order for us to witness the “day birds” come home and the “night birds” fly out for food (now that makes sense!)
A short history of this place: Back in 1996 when it was a 1.3 hectare peppercorn farm, the owner, Rey Malana, spotted 4 birds resting on the tree but later flew away. What makes this place very special was…every morning since, more and more birds started coming in upon the discovers’ invitation until they became a home to more than 20,000 of their flocks today. The peppercorn farm no longer exists as the birds had taken over to make this place their sanctuary. (Note: This destination deserves an entire article dedicated to it.)
The culmination of the day was a joint birthday dinner at The Farm @ Carpenter Hill in Koronadal City for Winnie and another friend. Great food! And because this region is the Tuna Capital of the Philippines, tuna never goes out of style in every meal.
Day 3: South Cotabato / Saranggani
Phil Florencia also has a pool resort in Banga, San Jose. After our morning swim, we checked out and headed to Lake Sebu (where again…? we thought). Lake Sebu is a first class municipality in South Cotabato.
We proceeded to the 7 Waterfalls. As the name suggests, there are 7 majestic waterfalls coming from Lake Sebu and Lake Siloton. The best way to see all 7 in such a short time without the hike is through the 2-stage ziplines – a 740 and 400-meter separate rides in a superman-style, 600 meters above ground! It was so scenic and exhilarating that I assure you will get rid of your fear of heights and flying with the experience!
If there is only 1 zipline you plan to take in your lifetime…THIS IS IT!
After our descent and meeting the rest of the group, we headed to Punta Isla Lakeside Resort for lunch and had the freshest grilled “tilapias” straight from the lake to the kitchen and to our table.
Tagging along with our Department of Tourism guide on his regular inspections, we went boating on Lake Sebu. We were told that this lake is miraculous in a sense that even during the hottest and driest months, the lake never goes dry.
Day 4: Saranggani / South Cotabato
Next day, we headed to Kalsangi to check out the Dole Plantation and Restaurant for lunch. On our way, we were met with hectares upon hectares of pineapple plantations as far as our eyes can see. This is where the pineapples get picked for canning and distribution around the world; its counterpart is in Hawaii.
Arriving in a town called Polomolok, Kalsangi Clubhouse and Restaurant is an exclusive community where expatriates and top management of Dole Philippines reside. It has a 9-hole golf course surrounded by pine trees and crisp cool temperature. Entrance is upon invitation only.
As a heads-up for future visitors, I have a very important tip! They have a dress code! No slippers, no short-shorts and no plunging tank tops; otherwise no entrance! So make sure you have something to cover yourself up with like a scarf.
Day 5: Saranggani
On the remaining days of our vacation, we went to several other resorts for ocular visits in the towns of Glan and nearby Maasim. We were even able to visit PacMan Resort which is undergoing development with a new management.
Day 6: Saranggani
During our last day, we explored the seaside and mountainside of Phil Florencia. We have been so busy exploring elsewhere that we didn’t had a chance to enjoy the beach until now. I have been hoping that I will be able to catch the sunrise for the last time; however, it has remained elusive.
We were the only guests at daytime and felt the exclusivity and the privacy of our stay until towards late afternoon.
Indeed, it was such a fun-filled and a memorable week and we are ready to head back home to the face reality of Manila once again.
Day 7: GenSan / Manila
Our ultimate last day!
Although I had so much fresh tuna and seafood during the last week, there is still one more thing to do…
On our way to the airport, we stopped by the nearby store to buy frozen packaged tuna to bring home to share – 7 kilos total! The store did a good job packing it up for us to check it in. It was a breeze!
Prologue: Some Misconceptions
It is worth mentioning that there are a lot of misconceptions about the island of Mindanao. Just by merely mentioning the word, people usually asks, “…Is it safe there?” Some offers you counsel and prayers for protection and be kept out of harm’s way. Some of my friends were even wondering what was I doing there.
My response was “we never felt unsafe when we were there.” My new-found friends were the kindest and one of the most hospitable people I have ever met.
Due to the political headlines of terrorist activities we hear and see in the news, Mindanao is not JUST Maguindanao or Jolo or Sulu or the Abu Sayaff Group.
Mindanao is the Philippines’ 3rd biggest island, a place of beautiful, friendly and warm people with scenic and white sand beach resorts. The diversity of ethnicity ranged from Ilocano, Ilonggo, Waray to Cebuano, Tagalog and Bisaya. By this, I can surmise that people get along pretty well, setting aside their differences of whether being Christian or Muslim. Most residents speak Tagalog and English so we go around real easy.
As reluctant as I was initially of going to this trip, I now hold so many memorable stories and felt grateful for being convinced to come along to enjoy this spontaneous yet once-in-a-lifetime ultimate vacation.
How about you? Do you have a particular impulsive and unplanned trip that you eventually ended up having the best time of your life in spite of an impossible schedule? Let’s reminisce and please share with your comments below.