(By: Bernard L. Supetran)
Like a string of thousands of idyllic islands, the Philippines is a wondrous water world where rich bodies of water abound at the bosom of the mountains, plains, and its coastline which stretches almost infinitely.
Sarangani province is a shining, shimmering proof of why the archipelago is the ultimate natural playground for water lovers. Embraced by the Sarangani Bay in Mindanao, this unheralded getaway will surely dazzle beach bums, be it for aqua sports or simply frolicking on the beach or the refreshing splash of rushing rivers.
Declared a Protected Seascape and a Key Marine Biodiversity Area, this gigantic 226-km cove offers enthralling beach escapades both on the surface and beneath.
Scuba divers will be mesmerized by the remarkable assemblage of coral and aquatic animal life at the Tinoto Wall right below Lemlunay Resort in Maasim town, the province’s prime dive spot. Within the municipal waters is Maasim Reef which abounds in juvenile white-tipped sharks, huge fan corals and gigantic bat fishes, and astounding gardens of marine flora.
At various points of the bay, divers can sight yellowfin tuna, dolphins, clown fishes, lionfishes, sergeant fishes, sea turtles, whale sharks, cheilinus undulatos (Mameng), dugongs (sea cows), and an assortment of exotic aquatic life.
Because of its marine diversity, this underwater world has been named by the Department of Tourism as the scuba diving haven of the Soccsksargen Region.
Beach lovers will find a charming retreat in Gumasa Beach in Glan, a mile-long stretch of powdery white sand and crystalline water which is a quiet escape without the madding crowd. The coastline is dotted with cozy boutique resorts and restaurants that offer culinary treats, not to mention stunning panoramas during sunsets.
These sleepy shores turn into a hive of watersports and family-oriented recreation with the Sarangani Bay (SarBay) Festival which draws mammoth crowds during summer. The annual event has been on a hiatus, though, due to the pandemic and eager southerners can’t wait to have this outdoor party back soon.
Another exciting aquatic experience in this beach colony is scuba diving, with the recent opening of the town’s dive tourism program and expanding the sites within the bay.
Sun worshippers can also laze in the sun, sea, and sand at Tuka Beach, a patch of powdery sand tucked at a secluded cove in Kiamba. Its marine park is a protected sanctuary where fishes spawn, making it a haven for snorkeling and freediving.
After basking in the sea, one can hike off to the town’s upland area to chill and rinse at the refreshing waters of the three-tiered Bocay-el Falls which form an icy natural basin.
A must-try is the whitewater tube ride at Pangi River where one can get an adrenaline rush along the waist-deep rapids. Situated at Maitum’s interior near the foot of Mt. Busa, it is a community-oriented eco-adventure tourism spot that is ideal for close-to-nature activities.
Guests can indulge in the ancient art of weaving from both the indigenous lumad and Moro tribes with the rich tapestry from all cultural stripes. Visitors can immerse themselves at the Lamlifew Community Village Museum in Malungon town, the first of its kind in the country, which chronicles the ethnic heritage, organic agriculture, and the intricate mabal tabih weaving of the Blaan tribes.
This award-winning cultural project is as close as one can get to the authentic Blaan way of life as guests are welcomed by villagers in traditional regalia to the beat of percussion instruments and the music of the two-stringed faglong guitar.
It takes pride in its museum and School of Living Tradition where native women spin the mabal tabih, an exquisite abaca fiber that is regarded as Sarangani’s crown jewel of cultural resources.
Further up into the hinterlands of Malungon is the Tagakaolo tribe, a lesser-known but equally-colorful lumad tribe which takes pride in its exotic tapestry.
Another gem of fabric is inaul, the traditional silky fabric of the Maguindanaon community which has found its way into the world’s prestigious catwalks as accents of Filipino haute couture. Handwoven by local women, you can witness its magical weaving at the Balungis Weaving Center in Malapatan town.
A unique traditional craft is igem (mat) weaving by a Blaan community in an upland sitio which is the home of master weaver Bai Estelita Bantilan, a Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan (National Living Treasure) awardee, the highest government recognition to folk artists.
With the confluence of its Waterworld and weaves, Sarangani is a wonderland that packs a knockout punch much like its famed world boxing champ.