Cotabato City Travel Guide and Itinerary

Two members of the T'boli tribe in Cotabato

Life pulses by the river that runs through the heart of this city, the unofficial halal capital of the Philippines. 

About Cotabato City 

Located in Mindanao in Southern Philippines, nearly 1,300km south of Manila, Cotabato City is geographically inside Maguindanao province, but remains an independent city with its own set of regulations and political jurisdiction. Curiously, it’s not located in Cotabato province, which is to the east of Maguindanao, and whose capital is Kidapawan City.  

Just a short trip from Awang Airport, Cotabato City welcomes visitors with a large sign set against a backdrop of colorful houses on Pedro Colina Hill (also known as PC Hill). The hill was once a fort where natives kept an eye out for invaders and was called Kutang Bato — “stone fort” in Malay. The rainbow-colored houses feature design elements rooted in local culture and are a cheerful symbol of the city’s progress.   

 

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Though more malls, restaurants and other commercial establishments are being built in the center of the city, there are still thousands of hectares of fishing ponds and swamp areas in the rural outskirts. Fishing is one of the city’s major economic driving forces. 

Despite its rocky history, Cotabato City is now the most competitive city in the region and is steadily becoming more popular with tourists. This improvement is directly attributed to the region’s peace and security efforts, enhanced infrastructure and an uptick in the number of hotels and inns.  

 

Highlights for the Traveler 

Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque comes alive with festivities during Eid al-Fitr, the holy feast marking the end of Ramadan. The typically quiet place of worship teems with people of the Islamic faith and curious tourists who want to catch a glimpse of the celebrations. Also known as the Grand Mosque of Cotabato, and the country’s largest, it has become a top tourist destination in the city.  

Adventurous tourists can enjoy the sights via pump boats (narrow canoes propelled by water pumps instead of conventional motors) on the Pulangi River, which runs through the center of the city. Along its banks are thriving communities and fishing villages with rustic stilt houses. 

If you’re more of a shopper than an adventurer, head to the Barter Trade Center along Governor Gutierrez Avenue for local clothing and handicrafts like malongs (tube skirts), traditional garb and handcrafted furniture and decor.  

Hungry? Local food is easy to find — and affordable! Cotabato City’s cuisine is “tourist-friendly” and unintimidating: Try the sinina, beef or goat stew with coconut milk and spices; tinapayan, fried fermented mudfish; and, for dessert, dodol (a coconut and sticky rice confection) and tinagtag (a rice flour and sugar delicacy).  With a predominantly Muslim population, Cotabato City is also known as a halal hub and has a halal butchery serving Central Mindanao. 

The local religion also heavily influences Cotabato City’s culture. One of the city’s biggest festivals, the Shariff Kabunsuan Festival, is a celebration honoring the Arab missionary who arrived in Mindanao in the 16th century. The festival takes place every December, culminating in the Guinakit Fluvial Parade on the Rio Grande de Mindanao. 

 

 By Raymond Maymay, as of January 2020.


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