Experiencing the Beauty of Bicol
One of the provinces in the Philippines, Bicol is considered to have a lot of economic and historical value. This is what it will mean when traveling to this place—apart, of course, from the beaches and the whale watching and even the water sports complex ever famous in the province. Historically speaking, Bicol was one of the places where Christianity first spread; this fact makes it more historically valuable when visiting.
On my trip to Bicol, it spanned for almost a week where I was able to travel from Legazpi to Balatan to Iriga then to Naga before heading back to Manila. It was a trip that did require a lot of research and planning budget-wise before being done so. But I must admit that this was one of the most enjoyable trips I had; and this is especially exciting when traveling with a loved one.
It would be great to note that off-season traveling is always a good idea especially because you would not have to deal with the inconvenience of having too many people around when visiting sights. This is what I did when I traveled to Bicol and I would say that it has been such a great opportunity to be able to have a multitude of things you could do.
Budget and Planning
Before going out on any trip, it is important to be able to plan your budget and your itinerary. This is more important especially if you are a planner by heart and you cannot stand being lost in an unfamiliar place where people do not talk the way you understand. Depending on what you want to do and how long you plan to stay in Bicol, you need a proper budget. You will need to take into consideration the following:
These are the most basic expenses you need to fit right into your budget, and these will also take into consideration everything you might also spend for during your travel. Of course, planning your vacation will require for you to also look at your itinerary; you need to make sure that your itinerary fits within the time frame of your vacation including the travel time between places.
In my case, my plan was traveling to Legazpi, looking at the sites, traveling to Balatan to experience the beaches, traveling to Iriga City to see the development, and to Naga City to see the different churches. This was all in a span of 5 days. Talk about planning! The budget here accommodated every one of those things I mentioned above. And for this kind of travel, my travel partner and I allotted Php 12,000.
Taking the Bus
If you are not driving your car to Bicol, it is always a good option to take the bus. You might want to note that you can also fly to either Pili or Legazpi depending on your choice. A bus is usually the best option for getting there although you might take note that you need to allot between 8 to 12 hours of travel time. With the upgraded bus transportation system in Araneta Center, Cubao, booking a seat on a bus anywhere in the south has become much easier.
If I will be recommending a bus companies to take when booking for a bus, there will be great options for you. There are some big companies like DLTB, Alps, and Isarog—these companies are ones that have good service and great buses. They all have their good and bad qualities, though which you might also want to take into consideration.
Isarog have new buses which are extremely ergonomic in design and you will be sure to have a good travel experience with them; you could take either their regular, their 2-by-1 buses, their lazy boy buses, or even their sleepers. I would not recommend for you to choose them if you are on a budget constraint with the bus expenses since booking buses by Isarog will cost you between Php 800 and Php 1,000—you might also want to know that Isarog has a lot of stopovers and this can, sometimes, extend the travel time by 1 to 2 hours.
DLTB also have great buses that are a mix between ergonomic and regular designs. They have some good quality buses, especially if you are looking to take the 2-by-1 bus or lazy boy bus; they have a good service and can send you on your way on time—I would not say this is consistent, however, since it would depend on the bus that you take. Their price are the same as Isarog so taking this bus might be difficult if you are on a budget.
What I did was book a seat going to Legazpi with Alps for a 9:00 PM travel, which cost about Php 850. What’s beautiful about this kind of travel is that I could simply sleep the whole night and I would be there when I wake up. In addition to this, I would get to Legazpi early enough for me to settle down before going to the sights around.
Being a backpacker in Bicol gave me so many options for inexpensive accommodations. I was able to stay for two nights in Legazpi, three nights in Balatan, and one night in Iriga—for all these places, summoning my resourcefulness and negotiation skills made the best of my stay. I would also like to note that the beauty of traveling during off-season is that I was able to get accommodations quickly and it was easier to book places to stay at a discounted price. Here are the places I stayed at in Bicol.
Because of the new construction of roads heading up north, I was able to get to Baguio City in 4 hours; and back then, it would take you up to 8 hours to get there. In 4 hours, they will also be allotting time for stopover just past NLEx. A little nap during the travel and you’ll soon wake up with the clouds floating right beside you.
Being in Bicol gave me so much to appreciate when it comes to the beauty of nature. My whole stay there had me immersed in historical and natural values that made me all the more appreciative of Bicol. For my whole stay, I was able to travel to Legazpi City, Balatan, Iriga City, and Naga City. Here are only a few of the places I went to visit:
During my one and a half day stay in Legazpi City, there was a lot of things I was able to do—when planning what you want to do, it is vital that you can arrange your visits in the most time efficient and convenient way. There were four places I was able to go to when I went there.
The ever-famous Cagsawa Ruins was what I went to first when on my trip to Legazpi, because of the beauty of this places—especially with the view of Mt. Mayon in the background—it seemed to me like the perfect place to go to when first getting there. This is, of course, aside from the convenience of going there first because it is the one farthest from the inn. The place, despite it being off-season, was nonetheless filled with tourists. Perhaps because there were kids who were on their educational tour at that time.
The entrance fee costs Php 20 per head, a good price especially if you plan to stay there for a period of time. It was still enjoyable because the sight was amazing to see. The ruins gave me a feel of nostalgia, not because it felt haunted but more because it had seen so many happenings before. I appreciate especially looking at the lone standing bell tower in front of Mt. Mayon—the view of the beautiful mountain had been one of the best sights for me. Mayon is short for magayon which is actually the Rinconada for “beautiful.”
As a side note, there are a lot of dialects in the Bicol province since the whole province is divided into a lot of towns and cities. Mt. Mayon is place, of course, at the center of Legazpi so you would see its full size from there. At Cagsawa Ruins, it was almost as if I was at the foot of Mt. Mayon. It was only unfortunate at that time that it was raining every now and then so the clouds were hiding Mt. Mayon; I thought it was sort of a coy and playful thing for her to be hiding behind the clouds. It was, nevertheless, a beautiful experience for me. I was there for about an hour before heading to the next destination.
Lignon Hill is much closer to Legazpi proper than Cagsawa Ruins, so heading there next was the best decision. When you get to Lignon Hill, you will find that the beauty you will be looking to see is located at the top of the hill; there are two different options for you to get up there. You can either ride a tricycle that the tourist place services or take a trek up to the top. You will need, of course to pay about Php 20 per person to get up the hill.
I decided to walk the way up to the top which would be a great choice especially if you are looking to keep healthy and active while on your travel. This was a great cardio exercise for me and the experience made getting up to the top all the more worth it because the moment I got there, I was nothing short of amazed especially because Lignon Hill had the best view of Mt. Mayon. The place was beautiful and there was a center building where you can buy souvenirs or eat some of their food, they also have sili ice cream available there.
What I found most beautiful about Lignon Hill is that I could simply sit on a bench and look at the mountain while soft, cold breezes of air brushed against my face. Again, the beauty of off-season is that there are not too many people around which made the experience all the more amazing.
As I have mentioned earlier, Puro in Sabang is the last place I went to during my stay in Legazpi City. The most ideal time of day to visit here is at night time, this is why I went here once day fell. The street lights were brightly lined and it was breezy and beautiful. It was only walking distance from Jirah’s Inn which was great because I would not have to spend anything going there. Going to Puro was only a 10 minute walk and the moment I got there, it was just like being in Manila Bay.
The street was lined with bright lights along the coast and the wind was so strong that it almost lifted me up considering my small physique. And yet it was also what was most beautiful about the place. It was right beside the sea and the tide was high, hitting the coast strong enough that water would spray onto everyone hanging out there. It was a wonder strolling along the beach, enjoying the waves and the lights. There were a lot of people hanging out there: having a picnic for dinner, jogging or biking, or simply having a stroll there with a loved one.
There was even a skateboard park there where kids kept playing and doing tricks, it was enjoyable watching the kids there. Lined up across the street were restaurants, bar and grills, and bars where you could also hang out with friends. It was a perfect time for me to go there since the hour-long stroll reaching the end of Puro was enough for me to be famished. There are a lot of local eateries there as well if you are not into eating at the fancy restaurants and grills.
This is not necessarily a sight for you to go to, but this is where the famous and extremely tasty mazapan is. Over the years, numerous celebrities have come here to buy different delicacies made only in Bicol and pili is the most famous delicacy in the province. Pili can be cooked in different ways: there are roasted pili, sugar-coated pili, and honey-dipped pili, among others. But the most famous delicacy made from pili is the mazapan.
Mazapan is basically a candy bar made of pili and it will be chewy but will have just the right amount of crunchiness. There will also be whole pili inside the mazapan which is always a pleasant surprise. This is what I bought, by a lot, as pasalubong to people I love at home; and this is always a great place to go to when you need something to buy for anyone.
Again, this is not a sight—but in all of Bicol, First Colonial is a restaurant that serves the ever-famous sili ice cream. Sili ice cream is an ice cream that, after all the sweetness, will send fiery spice down your throat which is an amazing experience especially if you are a spicy foodie. Sili ice cream has never been made to be this tasty. In this restaurant, there are also other Bicolano dishes that you might especially like when exploring food. But then again, there is nothing much better than homemade food served in local eateries.
Pacific Mall in Legazpi City where First Colonial restaurant is located .
Balatan is one of the lesser known beaches all over the Bicol region—and the reason I chose to travel here is because it is one of the more inexpensive choices as well as the place where only few people know to go. This is located just out of Nabua which is in Camarines Sur and going there will need for you to go to Nabua, riding a jeep there heading to Balatan. Just as with any beach all over the country, Balatan is lined with beach resorts which can accommodate tourists and vacationers and their rates will depend on their amenities and convenience of going to their resort from the town proper.
The beaches in Balatan is surprisingly cleaner than other better known beaches around the country—this could also be because it is well maintained and there are only a few people visiting this place. Nonetheless, this would be the best place to go to if you want to have a peaceful and quiet time away from the hustling and bustling world. This is exactly the reason why I stayed there for three days and two nights.
Iriga city is one of the lesser known cities in Camarines Sur but it is one of the first towns in the province to have become a city because of the volume of residents. Although, admittedly, Naga City and Legazpi City are the ones that have advanced when it comes to tourism, Iriga City is one of the places already becoming increasingly known because they have already begun developing their tourism.
The sight they are currently developing is Nuestra Señora de las Angustias Shrine or better known as Inorogan—this is a developing pilgrimage site where you would be able to know, not only the religious history in Iriga City but also, the historical connection of religion to Iriga City. Since time immemorial, people have been going here especially during the Holy Week but this has begun to develop into a more comprehensive sight as part of the city’s growth into a center of tourism.
What I found beautiful about going to Inorogan is the amazing view it has. The moment I reached the top of the hill where the small chapel is situated, I was able to have a 360-degree view of the Iriga City, Nabua, and even a small view of Mt. Mayon from afar. I was able to appreciate the view here and the breeze touching my face, but more so, the view of the sunset here is more amazing than I would have imagined. I cannot wait to come back there and see the place completely developed—I think they are even thinking of enhancing the ecotourism in this place.
This city, is one of the most famous cities when you think about Bicol. It does deserve this kind of recognition especially because of the sights and the historical and religious value it has on the Filipino culture. When I reached this, I was able to see the different churches in the city—this is a great choice for traveling especially if you are the type who likes examining the architectural structure and value of these churches.
Our Lady of Peñafrancia Basilica
This basilica is the most famous church everyone goes to, especially during the Holy Week, this is a huge church on a wide land. The walls are painted white and beige, and there is a huge pavilion in front of the basilica. The reason that a lot of people visit this place is because of Our Lady of Peñafrancia; locals in Bicol call her “Ina” or mother, in English. She is especially revered because she is considered the mother of Bicol region, people from all over the province come here during the fiesta of Our Lady of Peñafrancia because of that.
She has been said to have all done all sorts of things for her people in mysterious ways and this was an amazing learning experience for me learning about the importance of religion to majority of Catholics in the region.
Our Lady of Peñafrancia Basilica
My last stop was the Naga Cathedral which is located at the center of Naga and is standing right beside the Holy Rosary Minor Seminary and the parochial school. Visiting this place gave me a sense of religiosity because of how the church looms over you as you approach it. With this Baroque style architecture, the church gave a sense of seriousness when it comes to religion. It would give you a moment of awe once you enter it and this is exactly what I felt during my visit there.
To be completely honest, traveling the whole of Bicol can never be squeezed into a few days. You would have to allot a whole month to be able to travel Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, and all the way to Sorsogon (where the famous whale watching can be done)—during this travel of mine, I was able to see everything I wanted to see with the proper planning and a sort of agile methodology in adjusting to different changes during the travel. Ultimately, Bicol has a lot of a hidden gems and pleasant surprises that even travel buffs are yet to know and some of it, I shared here on this article. So, if you are planning to travel to Bicol, do not forget to look this up. Have fun on your travels!