Guide to Lake Holon Hiking and Camping | South Cotabato


Lake Holon, with its picture-perfect backdrop and spectacular natural features carved by Mother Nature over millions of years, is without a doubt one of Mindanao's, if not the Philippines', most beautiful destinations.

Ayi Del Rosario
On a sunny and bright day, the view of Lake Holon becomes clearer here on the viewdeck coming from Kule trail

Mount Holon, an active volcano, is found inside the crater of Mount Mélébingóy. The peak is also known as Mount Parker, after an American general who led an expedition to examine the mountain after observing it from a plane in 1934.

Mishi Magno
Lake Holon during sunrise

The crater lake (Lake Holon) was formed by the last reported eruption of Mount Parker on January 4, 1641. While Mount Parker has a total elevation of 1,784 meters, you do not need to trek to the highest point when visiting Lake Holon. You will just climb to another peak at approximately 1,540 meters where you will have an unobstructed view of Lake Holon before descending for about half an hour to the lake itself.

How Long Does it Take to Reach Lake Holon

There are two ways that lead to Lake Holon. These are the Salacafe and Kule trails.

South Cotabato Travel Guide
There are several species of pitcher plants that can be seen in Lake Holon

The Salacafe trail, albeit longer at over 9 kilometers, is easier because it mostly follows a gently sloped terrain and only requires 3 to 4 hours before you reach the lake. The shorter but more difficult Kule route, which is around 7.5 kilometers long, features a sharp ascent, and takes about five or six hours on average to arrive to Lake Holon. The Kule Trail is preferable since it offers a more picturesque experience, as it goes through a natural viewing platform of Mount Parker. From there, you can enjoy gazing at the expansive view of Lake Holon.

Levy Amosin
Be on the lookout for century trees along the trail

Don’t worry, the trail is never boring and will keep your curiosity piqued as it winds its way through a corn plantation, a dense forest, and a variety of plants and trees, including pitcher plants, coffee plants, abaca trees, and century-old trees.

April Enerio
The trail to Lake Holon is filled with different kinds of plants and flowers

After descending from the view deck and into the lake itself, you still need to take a 5-minute boat ride to the campsite, which is a spacious, grassy lot surrounded by water.

What to Expect in Lake Holon

As one would expect for a weekend, the Lake Holon campground was packed with campers, giving the impression of a small Vikings-era town in the middle of the woods (thankfully, without Halloween's Jason Vorhees).

April Enerio
The 5-minute scenic boat ride to the campsite

Despite the crowd, one can easily find a quiet spot to admire the picturesque scenery of Lake Holon. The sheer beauty of the lake would easily lull you into quiet contemplation. Sounds like what a nature retreat should be.

Marky Ramone Go
Despite the crowded campsite on a weekend, you can still find spots for quiet contemplation with nature

As the sun rises and sets, it casts a mystical glow over the lake and the verdant mountains of Mount Parker, reflecting the sky above like a mirror. If you spend all day taking in the breathtaking scenery of the lake, you won't want to leave.

Thea Ifurung
One of the friendly dogs in the campsite

If you're looking for a more secluded experience, consider visiting during the weekdays when there are fewer crowds. However, regardless of when you visit, make sure to follow the camping guidelines. Quiet down, turn off the lights at 10 o'clock, and tidy up as you go.

Activities in Lake Holon

Other than enjoying the best of nature, you can also enjoy other activities such as kayaking and swimming. A refreshing dip in Lake Holon, widely recognized as one of the Philippines' purest bodies of water, is sure to relax you and give you a one-of-a-kind experience, as you soak in the breathtaking scenery of Mount Mélébingóy’s verdant ridges.

Stef Juan
The campsite appears like a small mountain or lakeside colony from above

There is also a designated spot in the camping area where you can sit on a platform and dip your legs into the water for some kind of fish spa experience.

Hiking and Camping Fees

Before proceeding to the jump-off, you need to register and pay an entrance fee of 100 pesos and an environmental fee of 50 pesos at the Tourism Office.

Thea Ifurung
The glasslike water of Lake Holon

Hiring a tour guide is required when hiking to Lake Holon. This not only gives locals extra income, but it also guarantees your safety. A tour guide’s fee is 800 pesos for guests of up to 5 persons.

Charisse Vilchez
Mount Parker is usually covered with fog in the afternoon

If you don’t have any camping equipment, you can also rent a tent for 300-350 pesos depending on size per night plus a 100 pesos ground rental at the campsite.

Marky Ramone Go
At the fog-covered view deck

Porters are also available to carry your stuff and are paid 30 pesos per kilo. Too tired to hike all the way to Lake Holon? You can ride a horse for 500 pesos per way.

Michelle Lim Gcash
Postcard images at every angle

The habal-habal ride from the Tourism Office to the jump-off area in Kule is 640 pesos for up to 2 passengers.

For other services such as cooking your food, you can coordinate beforehand with your guide so you can pass by the local market and ask someone to cook it for you.

There is a bathroom and a toilet in the camping area where you can also take a shower with fees ranging from 5 pesos to 30 pesos (for shower).

Things to Bring

You need to bring all the items required to enjoy a hassle-free hiking and camping trip. These includes the following:

Marky Ramone Go
Don't be like me who forgot to bring a waterproof jacket

-  Hiking Shoes

-  Windbreaker and waterproof jackets

-  Raincover for your backpack and drybag

-  Lightweight shirts, shorts and pants

-  Extra clothes and socks. Ziplocked them to ensure dryness

-  Tent, cooking stove, utensils, sleeping bag, toiletries and a blanket

- Drinking water and trail food

-  Camping food (preferably easy to cook ones)

-  Other items you deem important such as power bank, head lamp, book and camera of course

-  Garbage bag to store all your trash

Remember to always take nothing but picture, leave nothing but footprints and kill nothing but time.

April Enerio
You can buy a hiking pole for only 200 pesos

Also, if you want to carry less stuff, you can hire a porter to take some of your things or rent a tent and cooking stove from your tour provider if you don’t have any camping equipment.

How to Get to T’boli Town and Lake Holon Jump-off

General Santos City has the closest airport to T'boli, South Cotabato. Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific Air provide many weekly flights from Manila to General Santos City.

What to do in Lake Holon
Native wooden boats in Lake Holon

From General Santos, take a bus headed for Koronadal or Marbel from the GenSan Bus Terminal. When you arrive in Marbel, take the UV Express (passenger vans) to T'boli. The whole journey time is approximately 2 hours.

Upon arriving at T'boli Town, proceed to the Municipal Tourism Office to register and hire guides or porters for your Lake Holon hike. It is also here where you can also charter a habal-habal (motorbike) ride going to the jump-off in Barangay Salacafe.

South Cotabato Travel Guide
The bumby habal habal ride to the jump off point

The one and a half hour habal-habal ride to the jump-off was a very difficult but fun part. Once the motorcycle ran out of concrete roads, it was all bumpy and dirt trails from there on. As the habal-habal driver expertly navigates the steep path at speeds of roughly 60–80 kph, you'll need to learn the art of repositioning your butt on the seat on the go to maintain forward momentum. But on one hand, this is also one of the most exciting parts of the trip to Lake Holon.

Lake Holon Travel Guide
These bamboo mugs are great souvenir items

Upon arrival at the jump-off place of Kule, visitors are asked to proceed to the "Big House" for an orientation on the many do's and don’ts in the mountain.

Alyanna Bromeo
The unique architectural design of a Gono Bong

This orientation place is an attraction in itself.  Traditional T'boli houses like this, known as the T'boli Gono Bong ("Big House"), feature distinctive T'boli architectural features such the absence of walls and the use of cogon grass for roofing. These houses serve as ceremonial centers for their respective communities.

Marky Ramone Go
The spacious interior of a Gono Bong House

These days, other than being the orientation place, the Gono Bong also serves as a homestay for guests.

This article first appeared on SpotPH