Among the 33 highly urbanized cities in the country, General Santos, or Gensan, is a business hub and the tourism gateway of SOCCSKSARGEN (Region 12). 

It is best known for two things: One, being the tuna capital of the Philippines, and two, its moniker as the “home of the champions.” The latter owes to the fact that boxing superstars like Manny Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire, and Rolando Navarette call the city as home. 

Gensan is at the head of Sarangani Bay of the Celebes Sea along the southern shore of Mindanao. While it is geographically located within the province of South Cotabato, it is administratively independent due to its distinction as a highly urbanized city.

The city is the commercial and entertainment center, as well as cultural and educational hub of Region 12.  

It has malls and convenience stores, commercial banks, government offices of the city and the region, fast food and fine dining establishments, hotels and convention facilities. Gensan also has four tertiary hospitals. 

Its Makar Port is a principal shipping point and is the port of entry in the region. It also has an airport that serves the greater area of the region and is wide enough for bigger aircraft such as the Boeing 777.

Tourism in Gensan

Gensan is home to several natural sites that have become favorite spots of tourists, such as the Kalaja Karst, Malakong Gorge, and Nopol Hills. 

The Malakong Cave in Gensan. Photo by Jing Velos courtesy of the Department of Tourism – Region 12.

Some of its scenic spots have been turned into farm tourism destinations, like the famous Felicidad Orchard and Garden Organics, the first farm tourism site accredited by the Department of Tourism (DOT) in Region 12.

However, tourism in Gensan is still centered on its most prized resource—tuna. The Tuna Adventour explores the city’s tuna industry and related enterprises—from the unloading, weighing and classifying of tuna, up to the various tuna dishes that are served in food establishments in Gensan.

And since Gensan is the hometown of Pacquiao, the first and only eight-division boxing world champion, a Pacman Adventour was created to allow tourists to have a glimpse of his lifestyle and know more about his humble beginnings.

To capitalize on the city’s main tourism products, the DOT Regional Office 12 developed a circuit that merges these three strengths. Dubbed the Champions and Tuna Tours, the circuit was also developed as part of the region’s tourism recovery program.

Champions and Tuna Tours

The tour starts early at the Gensan Fish Port Complex, a 32-hectare facility that supplies sashimi grade tuna to the world. Over 80 percent of fish unloaded at the city’s fish port are tuna and a major destination for export is Japan.

At the Gensan Fish Port Complex, each tuna is weighed and examined to determine if it is best for export, canning, or local consumption. Photo by Ivan Carlo H. Santillana courtesy of the Department of Tourism – Region 12.

Entrance is free but you need to rent a pair of rubber boots for Php35 and wear it while inside the facility. You also need to wear long pants, and need to be at the fish port by 5:00 A.M. to see the day’s catch and observe tuna weighing, grading, and trading. 

Each tuna is classified to determine if it will go for export, for canning, or for local consumption. Seven tuna canneries in the country are in Gensan and a visit to one of these can be included in the itinerary so you can observe how the canned tuna you buy in the groceries are being processed. 

If you want to bring home some fish from Gensan, probably the best way is to get the dried ones. Just a few minutes away from the fish port is the Calumpang Dried Fish Complex where varieties of this delicacy are being sold. They say that the dried fish here has a distinct flavor because these are sun- and air-dried onboard tuna fishing vessels as fishermen go about their tuna fishing.

Stunning view

After an early morning fish port and market tour, the next stop would be breakfast at Sarangani Highlands Garden and Restaurant. It is situated on a hilltop overlooking the vast expanse of Sarangani Bay, to which it was named after, and a panoramic view of Mt. Matutum.

Initially built as a restaurant, Sarangani Highlands Garden and Restaurant expanded to cater to visitors who want to relax and commune with nature. Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism – Region 12.

There, breakfast could be a seafood platter served in gata (coconut milk), grilled tuna belly, and sashimi, among other delectable dishes.

It’s also in Sarangani Highlands where you can have Tuna Lechon, but this would probably be too much for breakfast as an average tuna weighs at least 35 kilograms. A tuna lechon costs anywhere between Php10,000 and Php12,000. You’ll also have to request this at least a day before so they have time to prepare.

Sarangani Highlands used to be just a garden restaurant, but is now a resort complete with accommodation facilities and function halls. It takes great pride in its beautiful landscaping. Lush plants, flowers and a neatly trimmed lawn welcome you upon entering the garden. You can go biking on the paved portion of the resort, or take a stroll in their Bonsai and Bougainvillea Garden. 

Aside from its beautiful landscape, Sarangani Highlands Garden and Restaurant is famous for serving delectable tuna dishes, including Tuna Lechon. Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism – Region 12.

Residents of Gensan frequent the place to relax. Here, you can view the sunrise and the sunset, star-gaze, or meditate. If you wish to stay here for the night, their room rates range from Php2,800 for a Single Room up to Php4,750 for a Quad Room. 

Another picturesque resort that is part of the itinerary is the Mt. Sabrina Hotel and Resort, one of the newest mountain resorts of Gensan. The resort is considerably remote from the city to maximize relaxation. 

It also features a tuna-shaped swimming pool where you can take a dip, or you may want to stroll in the landscaped resort so your tummy can make room for the next part of the itinerary—the Tuna Food Tours

Mt. Sabrina Hotel and Resort provides respite from the busy city life. Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism  – Region 12.

Fresh catch

If you want to taste various tuna recipes, the Tuna Food Tours will satisfy such craving. 

It is centered on Tiongson Arcade, a strip of food stalls along Tiongson Street in Barangay Lagao. Here you can choose from a variety of seafood—shells, squid, shrimps, yellowfin tuna, blue marlin, tilapia, catfish—and have it cooked the way you want. They also serve chicken and other meat products. 

Of course, the highlight is tuna, which is served as kinilaw (ceviche) or sinugba (roasted). But you can also try Bistek Tuna Belly, Sinigang na Tuna sa Miso, and Tuna Paksiw. 

While the belly and panga (jaw) are the favored tuna parts, they also use bagaybay (sperm sac) and bihod (roe) for adobo or on sizzling plates. Prices range from Php200 to Php400 per dish that is good for 2-3 persons.

After lunch, next stop is the Champions Adventours, featuring a journey through Senator Pacquiao’s lifestyle and his humble beginnings. 

Notable names

The tour was developed to enable people to be inspired by the rags to riches story of Pacman, who has brought pride to the Philippines for his impressive boxing career.

It includes a visit to the different properties of Pacquiao in Gensan, such as Mansion 1, Mansion 2, Wildcard Gym, PacMan Stadium, Pacman Beach Resort, PacMan Farm, and PacMan Hotel. 

Most notable of the properties is the Pacquiao Mansion 1, which was their family’s dream house and was one of the first fruits of the boxing triumphs. It’s like a museum where you can learn about Pacman’s history through photographs.

At present, the DOT Region 12 Office is developing the Champions Adventours to include sites that would feature stories of other Gensan champions and other famous personalities who were born or grew up in the city. These include Navarette, Donaire, XB Gensan, Gerald Anderson, Melai Cantiveros, and 2011 Ms. Universe Third Runner Up, Shamcey Supsup.

Farm life

Last stop for this Region 12 circuit is the Felicidad Orchard and Garden Organics, the first DOT-accredited farm tourism site in the region. It is owned by Captain James Reamon, a former pilot who is now a full time farmer.

Here they grow organic vegetables, fruits, cacao, fish and livestock.

Visitors can engage in different farm activities like planting, harvesting, feeding animals, and fishing. You can also learn about agriculture and technology from Captain Reamon himself, who invented a lot of the machines they use in the farm. These include their Rex Compost Tea Brewer, Rex Multi-task Vehicle, Jimbo Ventilation System, Aerodynamic Telescopic Sail, and Jimbo Vent.

Explore the farm life, discover techniques on growing all-natural agricultural products, and experience farm-to-table dining at Felicidad Orchard and Garden Organics. Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism – Region 12.

The most famous of Captain Reamon’s inventions is the aerodynamically-designed Gizelle Windmill, which serves as a water pump for the farm. It has won many awards, including the Presidential Gold Medal award, and World Intellectual Property Organization Gold Medal award at the Exhibition of Young Inventors in Plodiv, Bulgaria 1985.

The farm tour costs Php150/head, which includes a serving of organic salad and juice. But because this is the last stop for the tour, you can also have your dinner here featuring dishes that are made from ingredients straight from the farm: braised duck, native tinolang manok, tender beef afritada, sautéed green beans with tofu, black rice, fresh fruit and veggie combo. 

To cap a long day, try some of their famous desserts, like their leche flan wherein they use carabao’s milk, and their pugon-baked rice cakes or bibingka.

Region 12’s Champions and Tuna Tours tourism circuit is offered by Romano Travel and Tours, Inc. for Php3,450/head for a group of eight persons. 

The package is inclusive of the fees for the whole day tour, full board meals, van rentals and fuel, tour guide’s fee and meals, and driver’s meal. If a day is too short for the entire tour, you can request a customized tour.

They can also arrange accommodation packages with their partner hotels. Room rates range between Php2,785 and Php5,885 per head for a group of eight persons and is inclusive of two-night accommodation and roundtrip airport transfers.

You may contact Romano Travel and Tours via email [email protected] and [email protected], or through these numbers +63 (083) 5543588, +63 (083) 3059801, and +639672273100.

How to get there:

From Manila, take a plane via Philippine Airlines or Cebu Pacific to General Santos International Airport. Travel time is one hour and 45 minutes. 

Travelers from other regions may fly to Davao City, then take a bus at Davao City Ecoland Bus Terminal for a two to three hours ride to Gensan.

Travel safely!

All of these tourist destinations have health and safety protocols in place to protect locals and visitors alike. Everyone is expected to comply by wearing face masks, regularly washing their hands, and practicing physical distancing.

To know the latest updates and travel advisories about the Philippines, visit https://www.philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.