General Santos City
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General Santos City

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General Santos is the Philippines ‘Tuna Capital’ with over US$400 million in export revenues from canned and fresh frozen tuna products. Some 120,000 residents are directly and indirectly dependent on the tuna industry and ancillary businesses.
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The city boasts a world standard wharf and airport, the latter being funded by the US and Japan-backed Philippine Assistance Plan, including the most modern fishing port facility in the country.
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General Santos City lies on the southernmost part of southcentral Mindanao and is easily accessible by land, sea and air.  (Three hours of moderate and leisurely driving from Davao City).
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The city is something of a melting pot, with almost 90 per cent of its residents being migrants from Luzon and the Visayas.  Cebuano, Ilonggo and Tagalog are the commonly spoken dialects but people here generally understand and speak English quite well.


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Pristine white sandy beaches and mountain trails are no more than an hour away from the city and Sarangani Bay offers magnificent morning and late afternoon breezes.  If you are lucky, you will get to see dolphins, whale sharks, manta rays and turtles swimming in the bay.
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If one wants to explore Mindanao as an island, must-see places include Davao City, Zamboanga City, Cagayan de Oro Siargao Island, Samal Island and Camiguin Island.
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What you should do if you only have 24 hours
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A quick drive to Gumasa’s white sandy beaches (located in Glan, Sarangani – some 65 kilometers away) is highly recommended. If you are into watersports, you can dive and explore the world class Tintoto Reef in Maasim, also in Sarangani (33 kilometers away from the city) or the Tuka Point protected marine sanctuary in Kiamba, Sarangani (some 75 kilometers away).
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An early-morning visit to the General Santos City Fishing Port complex when tuna are being unloaded is an alternative and gives an interesting insight into the massive scale of the tuna industry here.


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Favourite spot you won’t find in the guidebooks
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Rappelling and mountain trekking in Olympog (where you can see the city’s skyline at night) or at the foot of Mt. Matutum are some of the adventures that remain among those that have not been widely published and heard about.
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Dining
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For the uppity, you have the Ranchero Grill and Paseo del Sol which offers the best and succulent Baby Back Ribs and prime beef steaks in town. You can also order roasted beef hind. If you are into crustaceans, there is the Grab and Crab Resto and Coffee Bar (on JP Laureal and one at Robinson’s Place) or you can go to the spartan Arpochi’s Seafoods on Mansanitas Street and Red Trellis in Lagao. For steaks, there is Roland’s Steak and Burger House on J. Catolico St., Big Ben’s at Robinson’s Place, Euro Kitchen on Tiongson St, and The Old South on Mabuhay Road for Mediterranean cuisine.  For ala carte dining and budget meals, just ask the driver to bring you to San Pedro Street and Tiongson arcade (not for the squeamish, though). Most of these dining places also offer grilled tuna as well as tuna salads and sashimi.
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There are a number of coffee shops in town too: Sunset Café, Fagioli, McGregor, Café Amore, Blue Gre, etc.
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Getting around
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The best way around is to hire a van or a car (the hotel staff will readily get one for you).  The charges range from US$30 to $70 per day, excluding fuel.
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There are four daily flights from Manila to General Santos and one flight each day from Cebu.  

 

Nightlife
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The recently opened JMIX Music bar owned by Filipino boxing champion Manny Pacquiao (left) is a nice place for winding up the night. There are also pool tables. For live music, one can go to Cassado’s Billiard Bar at the arcade of East Asia Royal Hotel, Big Shot Resto Bar, Andrea Ticia at Family Country Hotel.  Or if you want to shake that booty and sway to the beat, you can dance your troubles away at Babes Bar at East Asia Royal Hotel. If you want to belt out some tunes, you can grab the microphone at Tierra Montana, at Moon Gate Videoke Bar or at the Amigotel.

 

Dangers & Annoyances
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The city is relatively safe for tourists.  Just don’t venture into the city’s side streets and alleys.  While there is no real danger in quieter areas, prudence dictates that busy, public places are the best areas to go to.

 

Shopping
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There are three major shopping malls in the city: Gaisano, KCC and Robinson’s Place.  If you are lucky, you can find some good bargains.

 

Sports
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Manny Pacquiao is still the city’s most popular sports figure.  If you are lucky, you can find him late in the evening or early at dawn at JMIX playing pool and drinking beer.
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Scuba diving and white water tubing (using large interiors of tire trucks as opposed to rafts) are good options, while open sea fishing is also popular.
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Currently a freelance journalist after a distinguished career in print and the web, Edwin Espejo has been a resident of General Santos for the last 40 years.