Backpacking Philippines,  Mindanao,  Philippines,  Travel Guides,  Travels

SOCCSKSARGEN DIY Travel Guide 2024 for Backpackers

Missed flights, four backpackers down to three, unexpected inclement weather, no concrete plans, closed tourist spots without prior notice; yet we managed to pull it off. These misadventures actually made us consider this trip to be among our top favorites and the most epic. We sure felt like freewheeling backpackers in dealing with these mishaps and it was liberating – like how traveling is supposed to be. We’re glad that it happened in in this region which made it easier for us to turn it all around: thanks to its stunning sceneries, diverse, well-preserved culture, extraordinary hospitality and exhilarating adventure! If you also look forward to experiencing these, here’s a detailed SOCCSKSARGEN DIY travel guide to help you with!


SOCCSKSARGEN is a term coined after the names of the four provinces and a highly urbanized city belonging to the 12th region of the Philippines formerly known as the Central Mindanao. These are South Cotabato, Cotabato City, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos City.

The region’s population is surprisingly a melting pot of disparate races and culture. Most of the ones whom we were able to meet during the trip moved all the way from Luzon and other provinces from Visayas. Also, though adjacent to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), a large portion of SOX’s people are Christians or Catholics. SOCCSKSARGEN Region is also among the best places to visit and experience the rich, preserved culture of well-known Indigenous Peoples (IP) group in the country including the B’laans and T’boli. The T’boli tribe, known for dreamweavers, is notable for their weaving tradition called T’Nalak. The patterns in the T’Nalak cloth are believed to be received by the women in their dreams as sent by the Abaca goddess, Fu Dalu.

Language Spoken

The languages that are largely spoken in the region are Hiligaynon (Ilonggo), Cebuano and Chavacano (a Spanish-based creole) though most could also converse fluently in Tagalog and English. The Indigenous Peoples (IP) speak Austronesian languages but developed a dialect that varies from a group to another (i.e. B’laans and T’boli).For instance, we learned that the language spoken by the B’laans that we came across with in Sultan Kudarat is almost the same as that of T’bolis in South Cotabato but with a bit of a variation in terms of dominant phoneme and several words, too (i.e. B’laan is more of /f/ and T’boli /h/ but of the same words). My inner Linguist geeked out on these findings.

Getting To, Around and Away SOCCSKSARGEN

How to Get There

By Land:

From Davao City, make your way to Ecoland Bus terminal. From here, board a Mindanao Star or Yellow bus going to General Santos City’s Bulaong Terminal or to Cotabato City. Fare ranges from Php 200.00 to Php 300.00 for the Davao-GenSan route and about PHp 400.00 to Php 500.00 for the Davao-Cotabato route. The land trip from Davao City to General Santos City may take 2 to 3 hours while Davao City to Cotabato may take 5 to 6 hours.

By Air:

If you’re flying to Mindanao, there are two airports that may serve as your entry or exit point in this backpacking trip: Awang Airport (CBO) in Cotabato City and General Santos International Airport (GES) in General Santos City. Cebu Pacific Air and Philippine Airlines have [at least two] regular flights daily to these airports. It is advisable that you take the earliest flight for the arrival and a later one for the departure. Book one of the two as your entry point and the other, your exit.

Getting Around

The following are the main means of transportation when traveling from one point to another in this SOCCSKSARGEN DIY trip:

  • Bus – the cheapest way to travel from one town, city or province to another. Fare usually ranges from Php 60.00 to Php 70.00
  • Van – the fastest and most convenient way to travel from one town or city to another. Fare usually ranges from Php 150.00 to Php 200.00. The vans’ last trip is usually around 4:00 to 6:00PM.
  • Tawnis – These are the colored multi-cabs enroute around a particular town only. You’d often see them around Cotabato City and Sultan Kudarat. Fare ranges from Php 20.00 to Php 50.00 from one point to another. They are usually available only up to 6:00 PM.
  • Tricycle – A mode of transportation (especially in the city) ideal from transferring from one point to another within the town. Fare starts at Php 20.00 per head from one point that is less than a kilometer.
  • Payong-payong – One of the most interesting mode of transportation in the region. Payong Payong is a single motorcycle woth a make-shift sidecar. It’s called as such since its roofing is made of a giant, sturdy umbrella (called as payong in Tagalog) Minimum fare is at Php 10.00 and it’s usually available in the city.
  • Habal-habal – The most versatile and the best ride especially if you’re going off road is habal habal. It’s a single motorcycle that can carry up to three people (including the driver). You may rent a habal for a day to take you from one place to another.

Sample 6 Days 5 Nights SOCCSKSARGEN DIY Itinerary

Take note that our entry in this SOCCSKSARGEN DIY backpacking trip is at Awang Airport in Cotabato city and exit at General Santos International Airport on our 6th day. This also adds another province from a neighboring region, Maguindanao.

Day 1 – Cotabato City with Maguindanao

8:00 AM – Expected time of Arrival at Awang Airport/ Breakfast outside the airport
9:00 AM – Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque also known as the Grand Mosque
10:30 AM – Masjid Al-Nasser Abpi also known as White Mosque
12:00 NN – Lunch
1:00 PM – Masjid Dimaukom also known as Pink Mosque (Maguindanao)
3:00 PM – Sultan Kudarat Capitol
3:30 PM – Tacurong City
5:00 PM – Datu Paglas/ meet the habal driver who will take us to La Palmera Mountain Ridge
6:00 PM – Dinner at Datu Paglas
8:00 PM – La Palmera Mountain Ridge
9:00 PM – Freshen up and lights off

Note: Since Asik-asik falls is closed during our visit, we opted to go on a Mosque day trip around Cotabato City and Maguindanao on our first day and proceeded to Sultan Kudarat on our second. We were supposed to travel to Alamada after visiting White Mosque and visit the majestic Asik-asik falls on the second day.

Day 2 – Sultan Kudarat

La Palmera Mountain Ridge

Note: You may visit Fekung Bula and Pangadilan Falls shall you consider a day trip in La Palmera Mountain Ridge.

Day 3 – Sultan Kudarat

8:00 AM – La Palmera Mountain Ridge (breakfast)
11:00 AM – Pangadilan Falls
12:30 NN – Travel to Tacurong City
1:30 PM – Lunch at Tacurong City
2:30 PM – Board a bus to Marbel (Koronadal City, South Cotabato)
4:00 PM – Marbel (Koronadal city) snack at KCC Mall
5:00 PM – van to Lake Sebu at Koronadal Integrated Terminal
6:00 PM – Depart for Lake Sebu
7:30 PM – Arrival at Lake Sebu/ Check in to School of Living Traditions Homestay
8:00 PM – Dinner
9:00 PM – Lights Off

Note: If you’re up for some challenging hike, you may want to consider hiking to Ugis Peak in Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat.

Day 4 – Lake Sebu, South Cotabato

5:00 AM – Rise and Shine!
5:30 AM – Lotus Flower Garden
7:00 AM – Back to School of Living Traditions for Breakfast
8:00 AM – SOX Paragliding Adventure (Lake Sebu)
11:00 AM – Lunch
12:30 NN – T’Boli Museum
1:30 PM – Seven Falls (zipline, Hikong Alu and Hikong Bente)
3:30 PM – Lang Dulay Weaving Center
4:30 PM – Back to SLT Homestay to pack up
5:00 PM – van to Marbel (Koronadal City)
6:00 PM – van to General Santos City
8:00 PM – Dinner
9:00 PM – Check in to Limelily Pension House

Day 5 – Sarangani Province

5:30 AM – Rise and shine!
6:00 AM – Breakfast
7:30 AM – KCC Terminal
8:00 AM – Depart for Glan, Sarangani
9:30 AM – ETA at Glan/ charter for a tricycle or Habal habal
10:00 AM – Gumasa Beach (Coco Beach Resort)
12:00 NN – Isla Jardin Del Mar/ Lunch
2:00 PM – Horizon Beach Resort
3:00 PM – Back to Glan/ board a van to General Santos City
4:30 PM – General Santos City/ back to pension house (shower/ freshen up)
6:00 PM – Dinner at Tiongson Arcade (Tuna and seafood grill galore!)
8:00 PM – Back to Pension House/ lights off

Day 6 – Home bound

If you booked for a later flight on your departure from General Santos City, you may opt to visit the Tuna Fish Port early in the morning. You may need to go back to your accommodation to shower as you may smell fishy the moment you step out of the port.

Sample 6 Days 5 Nights SOCCSKSARGEN DIY Budget

Day 1 – Cotabato City with Maguindanao

Habal habal to Grand and White Mosque – Php 350.00
Abaya and hijab rental at Grand Mosque – Php 100.00
Food – Php 250.00
van to Tacurong – Php 150.00
Tawnis to Datu Paglas – Php 50.00
Day 1 Total: Php 900.00

Day 2 – Sultan Kudarat

La Palmera entrance fee – Php 100.00
Accommodation – Php 1,800.00/3 – Php 600.00
Food – Php 300.00
Day 2 Total: Php 1,000.00

Day 3 – Sultan Kudarat

2-day habal rental (pick up and drop off at Datu Paglas) – Php 800.00
Habal rental to Pangadilan falls – Php 300.00
Pangadilan falls entrance fee – Php 50.00
La Palmera (second night) accommodation – Php 1,800.00/3 – Php 600.00
Bus to Tacurong – Php 62.00
Bus to Marbel – Php 78.00
van to Lake Sebu – Php 150.00
School of Living Traditions Homestay (accommodation) – Php 350.00
Food – Php 300.00
Day 3 Total: Php 2,690.00

Day 4 – Lake Sebu, South Cotabato

Boat rental to Lotus Flower Garden – Php 200.00 per head
T’boli Costume rental – Php 200.00
Paragliding – Php 3,000.00
T’boli Museum – Php Php 30.00
Seven Falls (two-way) zipline – Php 350.00 (weekend rate/ head)
Seven Falls entrance fee – Php 20.00
Lake Sebu habal rental + guide fee – Php 750.00
van to Marbel – Php 150.00
bus to General Santos City – Php 80.00
Limelily Pension House Day 1 accommodation – Php 1,350.00/3 – Php 450.00
Day 4 total: Php 5,230.00

Day 5 – Sarangani Province

tricycle to KCC Terminal – Php 20.00
van to Glan – Php 200.00
tricycle rental from Glan – Php 750.00/3 – Php 250.00
van from Glan to General Santos City – Php 200.00
Isla Jardin Entrance fee – Php 70.00
Horizon Beach Resort entrance fee – Php 100.00
Food – Php 600.00
Limelily Pension House Day 2 accommodation – Php 1,350.00/3 – Php 450.00
Day 5 total – Php 1,890.00

Day 6 – Home bound

Taxi to General Santos International Airport – Php 500.00/3 – Php 167.00
Breakfast – Php 100.00
Day 6 Total: Php 267.00

SOCCSKSARGEN DIY Backpacking Trip Total Budget: Php 11,977.00

Take note that this sample budget does not include the flight tickets, souvenirs and other expenses.

Where we Stayed

La Palmera Mountain Ridge (Columbio, Sultan Kudarat)

The accommodation at La Palmera Mountain Ridge Station 2

We stayed for two nights in La Palmera Mountain Ridge Station 2. The modern (fan) room costs Php 1,500.00 per night but this rate is only good for two people with breakfast. We added Php 300.00 for an additional pax since we were three.

School of Living Traditions (Lake Sebu, South Cotabato)

On our third day in this SOCCSKSARGEN DIY backpacking trip, we stayed at SLT or School of Living Traditions in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. We paid Php 350.00 for a night of stay inclusive of a healthy, hearty breakfast. It is quite accessible as it is just along the highway where there are also stores and restaurants nearby. One of the best things about this accommodation is that, you can also rent the T’boli costume from here that you can use for your Lotus Flower Garden tour and learn more about the T’boli culture and traditions from the host, Ma’am Maria. The place may not have a free Wi-Fi but mobile reception for data connection is good for both Smart and Globe network.

Limelily Pension House (General Santos City)

We honestly did not book any accommodation in the latter part of this trip since we were literally going with the flow and staying in places we feel like staying longer. On the last leg, we roamed the streets of General Santos City to look for a cheap accommodation. We then found Limelily Pension House few blocks away from SM City GenSan. We paid Php 1,350.00 per night for an air-conditioned room good for three. It has a private bathroom with hot and cold shower and with towels, too. The pension house has a free Wi-Fi. There are no restaurants nearby but we had fun walking around the city looking for a place to eat.

Things to Remember When Visiting SOCCSKSARGEN

  1. Bring enough cash. Most of the establishments in the region are in cash basis transaction. Some, though, uses the GCash mobile application for payment and money transfer.
  2. Dress modestly especially in Cotabato City and some areas of Sultan Kudarat. Strictly observe doing so when visiting the mosques.
  3. See to it that you’ll not to be traveling late at night unless you are going to drive a private vehicle. Most of the PUJ/PUB trips around the region are only up to 4:00PM (some, 6:00 PM especially in Koronadal and Tacurong City).
  4. Expect civilian or security checkpoints. Bring a valid ID for the checkpoint if ever.
  5. Bring power banks and charging cords at all times as you may be in transit or on the road most of the time.
  6. Establish contact with tour guides in the provinces that you’ll visit.
  7. Always check with the tour guides and the Local Tourism Office if the places in your itinerary are open for tourists at the moment. Some attractions are closed with no prior notice.
  8. It’s best to take the taxi from General Santos City to the airport since tricycles are not allowed to enter the airport. Doing the latter means walking several meters to the airport’s halls.

Important Contact Information

SOCCSKSARGEN DIY Backpacking, In a Nutshell

This trip made us embrace the idea that some things are beyond our control and the only choice we have is to enjoy the turn of events. Also, this SOCCSKSARGEN DIY backpacking trip made us realize how beautiful Mindanao is. We experienced the best of nature, culture and adventure in this region. It also made us realize how safe it is to travel in this part of the Philippines and how nice people are to us as strangers and tourists. Let this be a reason for you to look forward to experiencing these things to and say, SOX is next!

Shoutout to my friends whom I traveled with in this SOCCSKSARGEN DIY Backpacking trip – Ramon Franco and Lou Radnie! It wouldn’t be this fun and unforgettable without you, two!

Explore Mindanao!

Visit the following places in Mindanao:

Anne Elizabeth Gumiran, also known as Queenie, is a 20-something, full-time public school teacher, a part-time travel blogger and a freediver. She started putting her stories of adventures and misadventures into words and pictures in 2017 and continues to do so as she shares her advocacy, Sustainable Traveling.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *