Balben Family Cove: Exploring the "Hidden Garden" of Lake Sebu

Lake Sebu
The summer capital of Southern Mindanao
"A long time ago, a local princess had a dream of coming to the mountain lands of Sebu. The princess saw a big leaf. When she opened it up a frog leaped out along with a gush of water which flooded the land and became the lake. From the heavens she threw here pythons to the earth which formed the islands at the lake. And in order for the princess to pass by the lake, her brother parted the islands. The name Sebu actually came from the loyal servant of the princess who fell and died on this lake during his service."

(from the upper plateau of the garden: top view of the lake)

Geography and Climate
The placid lake of Lake Sebu can be found in Alah Valley near the municipality of Surallah, South Cotabato. Surrounded by rolling hills and mountains covered with thick rain forest. The total area of the lake is 891.38 km², with an elevation of approximately 1000 m.

The natives
The lake's shores and the surrounding rainforest are home to the indigenous T'bolis, Tirurays, Ubos and Manobos. One of the major tribes, the T'bolis are known for their weaving skills and brassware production as well as fishing skills. The rest of the population are made of Ilonggos, Bicolanos and Ilocanos.

On the way to the site...

2 years after my last visit to Lake Sebu, I was back with a bestfriend in hand - Canon's Digital IXUS 80IS. The site is roughly an hour and a half ride from the town of Koronadal. Best vehicles for this rough road trip are 4wds. For commuters from Surallah to Lake Sebu, one can hop a ride called Skyline also known as habal-habal.

Good news, new development projects like road widening are currently on going. So unlike before, it is a lot easier to hit the road.

Sister Germaine's 60th birthday

"I was just 13 years old when i first stepped into this humble "resort-feel" garden with 3 huge nipa huts facing a beautiful lake. The year 1990s. It was then the much awaited first "Grand Reunion" of the Suedad family."

Another reason to celebrate!! The Suedad clan, though not complete, still managed to hold a 2 day feast. Aside from Lake Sebu's native cuisine which is the very delicious and very fresh inihaw na tilapia, we also filled our stomachs with Ate Mechi's famous grilled barbeque. Also in the menu - crispy bighead, tinolang manok, but-ong (illongo term for triangle form suman), paksiw na tilapia, biko, fishball, potato fish salad, kalamayhati and so much more!

Everyone extended their best wishes and happy greetings to one of my beloved aunts Sister Germaine
The Garden Tour
view from the Main Hall
When was it built?
The year was 1994 when the Suedad family headed by our lola, Balbina Amboy-Suedad visited Lake Sebu particularly the 600 sq.m site offered to the family. Having lola's approval of the place, Uncle Nonoy, Auntie Malen, Uncle Larry, Bentoy and a tiboli from Talahik Surallah started to plan the best positioning of the house on June 22 1994. One of the native family tradition performed to be assured of the best building position of was cutting a guava stem, putting it in the middle of the latid (lot area) and check three days after if the guava leaves will fall. The family was able to check the said plant three weeks already and the leaves were still there. Another pamahiin carried out to see if the land was good was when both Auntie Malen and Uncle Nonoy slept with the wrapped soil from the lot under their pillow for three days. This was accomplished to see if the spirits of nature within the area welcomes the family. Good thing they had really good sleeps.

The very first house construction started on July 8, 1994. The second lot was bought on January 1995. There were renovations done to defend the houses from cold weather conditions, more stand the test of time!

Balben Family Cove Main Hall
Today, this lake front property is open to public and is now registered with DTI and named as BALBEN FAMILY COVE. Guests can also visit another site owned by a family member located at Barrio Siete, a 15 minute ride from the garden. Best for adventurous persons, the site is best for trekking and mountain climbing. It also boasts a wonderful waterfall where everyone can take a cool fresh bath. (read our mountain hiking adventure)

Most of these natural beauties are not visible in the cities. Truly one of the lake's precious mysteries.

Garden enthusiasts, landscape architects and florists are all enthusiastic when staying here.

Just choose your dessert!
The garden is also a home to various fruit trees such as apple, mulberry, rambutan, durian, pomelo, macopa, mangosteen, avocado, ponkan to name a few.

NATURE spirits
stories about fairies, dwarfs, animals, sightings and other mysteries could be read in one of this blog's post (Top 10 Mystical Stories).

Native Blessing
A native ritual headed by Nang Candi was made particularly at the new building as a sign of "cleansing" and to ask "blessing" from the spirits of nature.

Being a witness to this native ritual, I'm confident to say that the place is truly blessed. What happened next really gave me the chill. Just right after the last few words has been said, there was ghust of good heavy rainfall and to think that was a sunny morning. Guess, there are really some things we can't explain, we just have to believe...

Check out Balben Family Cove's official site at     


  1. i've heard so much good reviews about lake sebu. thanks for this post, now i really wanna visit this place some time in the future!

  2. Lake Sebu is indeed a gorgeous place to enjoy. Hope you could get to visit there soon Gay :)

  3. Sarah, binalikan ko itong post mo na ito at talagang super nai-inspire ako to visit Lake Sebu :)

    1. You should visit Lake Sebu na Ms. N. Ang fog, the t'boli people, tilapia, mountain trails, banca ride... Pang no. 8 na siya sa Top 10 Must-See Places in the Philippines accdg to GMA's show, Ang Pinaka. ^_^


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