Somewhere down south, in a remote town that is known to be the home of one of the most colorful and with the richest cultural heritage of tribes in the entire Philippine archipelago lies one of nature’s treasures in the form of a caldera lake. Growing up as a local of this town, I have heard of countless narratives of otherworldly encounters of people who live close by that range from dreamlike to bizarre–all of which could not be explained by science, fossilized in our minds and continue to exist as a mystery as deep as the unfathomable depth of this body of water.
Enchanting is the first word that comes to mind the very first time you lay eyes on this placid beauty. However, the moment you tread the steep trail down at the mouth of Mt. Melibengoy to meet the lake, you get this feeling of nature talking to you that the most apt word is sacred.
The trail is densely-forested, huge branches of age-old trees and thick foliage of ferns and other creeping vines hover above you. You can hear bird and monkey calls, insects sounds and various other noises of God knows what. I personally anticipated to be startled by a wild boar or a huge python by the bamboo bush, but I’m thankful that none of those happened. I have no qualms seeing a tarsier or a baby monkey, though. My imagination runs wild, my senses active, making each careful step devoid of unnecessary noise that might disturb whatever is beneath the fallen tree or hiding behind the shrubs. Oh, this place has a lot of stories to tell and adventures to give, so fitting to nature lovers and the thrill-seekers!
Lake Holon is a body of water that, as a result of a huge eruption, formed right inside the mouth of Mt. Melibengoy, which is an active stratovolcano. It is the main tourist destination that is currently being developed by the local government of Tboli, South Cotabato. Tboli is a progressive town in the southwestern highlands of the Mindanao island. Lake Holon is a natural reserve, hence any human interference is closely monitored.
Official Name: Lake Holon (formerly Lake Maughan)
Volcano Name: Mt. Melibengoy (also known as Mt. Parker)
Distance from the receiving center/starting point in Barangay Salacafe: 7 kilometers
Area: 304 hectares
Elevation: 1350 meters
Trek/Hike Time: 3-4 hours to the crater and 2-3 hours back (depending on your hiking pace)
Lake Holon is one of the cleanest lakes in the Philippines.
How to get to Tboli
- There are a number of flights available from Manila, Iloilo, or Cebu to General Santos (Gensan)International Airport via the Philippine Airlines or PAL Express and Cebu Pacific. Travel time is approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes from Manila to General Santos.
- From Gensan airport there are taxi cabs, rent-a-car, and shuttle services (vans, multicabs, jeepneys) to the city proper in Bulaong, General Santos City. Travel time is approximately 15-20 minutes. Fare: PHP50-300.
- If you are coming from Davao, take the Yellow Bus Line to Gensan. Travel time is approximately 2 hours.
- Take the Yellow Bus Line from Gensan to Koronadal City (Marbel). There are aircon and non-aircon buses. Travel time is approximately 45 minutes. Fare PHP107 for an aircon bus.
- From Koronadal City Yellow Bus terminal, take another bus to Surallah. Travel time is approximately 30 minutes.
- From Surallah public terminal, take a van to Tboli. Travel time is approximately 20-30 minutes. Fare: PHP30
- You have an option to take the van from Koronadal (Marbel) to Tboli. From the Yellow Bus terminal, ride a tricycle to the van terminal. Van fare from Marbel to Tboli town proper (Poblacion): PHP65.
Upon arrival at Poblacion, Tboli
- From the public terminal, walk to the Tourism office for registration. The distance is about 5-10 minutes by foot. The Tourism office is open Mondays to Fridays, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Registration fee is PHP30.
Important: Make sure that you have notified the Tourism Office of your arrival and necessary arrangements have been made like briefing before departure, transportation to and from Barangay Salacafe, and assignment of tour guide. There are also travel and tour companies that offer travel packages to Lake Holon. Do your research. Call the local Tourism Office at this number (+63) 83 237 1014
- From Poblacion, one of the easiest and fastest modes of transport to Barangay Salacafe is Skylab (or Habal-habal), a Honda TMX motorcycle that has been modified to accommodate 4-5 passengers including the driver. The fare is PHP70-100 per person. Travel time is approximately 45 minutes to an hour. I highly recommend this for optimum adventure. The road to Barangay Salacafe is a well-maintaned dirt road of gravel, soil and sand, but gets rough and really sandy when you pass by the banana plantation area in Sitio Lacag.
- Upon your arrival at the receiving center in Barangay Salacafe, a local staff will welcome you. You will then be introduced to your tour guide. Tour guide fee is PHP300 a day.
- The 3-4 hour hike to Lake Holon starts from the arrival area. The tour guides sometimes drop by at the house of Sitio Leader Celso Kutan for a quick rest. If you are offered a hot cup of locally produced brewed coffee, don’t hesitate to drink, the taste is so good — light and mild yet aromatic with a flavor note of berry.
What to do at the Lake
- Pitch a tent and lounge around. You have a majestic view of the lake and the forest, a music of nature sounds, and cool gentle breeze touching your skin.
- The local tourism office offers kayaking adventure. A kayak will be brought up when you want to experience it. Please ask the local tourism office for the price.
- There are local fishermen who fish on the lake on wooden canoes, you can join one of them. Take a tour of the lake or try to go fishing if there’s a fishing rod. Please remember to pay the fisherman a decent amount for the time and service he gave you.
- Swim if you are a good swimmer or bold enough. The local tourism office can provide life vests if you request for them.
- Meditate or commune with nature. Enjoy the calm.
- Read a book.
- Hang a hammock on a tree or tie it between trees and take a nap or just relax.
- Climb a tree. There’s a guava tree by the lake.
- Make a bonfire at nightfall and while away the hours by drinking, sharing stories with your companion/company, or playing cards.
- Fish foot spa by the lake. It’s free, indulge to your heart’s content!
- Stargaze. The place has one of the most brilliant night skies.
- If you don’t have an active lifestyle, please prepare for the long hike by brisk-walking or jogging or doing any active sports and fitness activities at least 2 weeks prior to the climb. The long climb up and the heat will wear you out easily when you are not physically ready.
- Walk at you own pace. You can stop as much as you want, whenever you feel the need to rest. The hike is not a contest, your tour guide won’t mind your stopping or resting no matter how frequent. Just make sure you get to the lake before it gets dark.
- Hydrate. Bring bottles of mineral water and power food like bread, chocolate bars, or trail mixes.
- Wear sunscreen, a cap or a hat or a bandana, sunnies, long-sleeved top in dri-fit fabric, leggings or comfy & light-weight pants, and light but sturdy trekking or running shoes.
- If you are staying overnight, you can bring cooked or canned food to last until breakfast the following day.
- You can bring rice and other food that require heating or quick cooking, your tour guide can cook per your request.
- The lake water is clean, by all means you can drink from it.
- There is a caretaker that stays at the cottage by the lake, he sells cut wood for bonfires for PHP20 each bundle. Buy from him, you will most likely need the bonfire when the night gets pitch-black and chilly.
- Buy some freshly-caught tilapia from the local fisherman. They are organic produce, and juicy with sweet and clean taste when grilled.
- Bundle up. Bring enough clothing to keep you warm. It seriously gets cold and windy at night even on dry or hot season.
- Respect the sanctity of the place. “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”
- Do not litter. Bring your trash back with you.
- Be nice and kind to your Tour Guide and the locals that you meet along the way. Tbolis, as well as Blaans (another IP inhabitants of Tboli), are meek and friendly group of people.
Where to stay in Tboli
- You can stay overnight at the receiving center in Barangay Salacafe. There is a tribal house that can accommodate you. The local staff can also cook for you if you request for it at minimal cost.
- Sarse’s Paradise Resort (Poblacion)
- Francor’s Travellers’ Inn (Poblacion)
Must-Eats at Poblacion (town center)
- Ponce’s Roast Chicken (public market) – Well-cooked and stuffed with the tastiest secret concoction. Truly a must-try!
- Budabons (Public Market Bulding K, Stall 12) – This resto serves delicious food and refreshments of all sorts.
- Archie’s Buko Halo-Halo (public market) – The best buko halo-halo in town. Halo-halo served in fresh young coconut shell and topped with a scoop of the yummiest home-made ube ice cream.
Tourism Office Poblacion, Tboli, South Cotabato Contact Number: (+63) 83 237 1014 Contact Person: Rodel Hilado
Tboli Knoon! (Beautiful Tboli!)