Albay: Exploring Bicol's Gem in a Day (Updated Travel Guide)

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Albay, best-known as the home of the enchantingly beautiful Mayon Volcano, is a province rich in heritage sites as well as natural and man-made attractions.

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Albay, best-known as the home of the enchantingly beautiful Mayon Volcano, is a province rich in heritage sites as well as natural and man-made attractions.

Mayon Volcano as seen from Legazpi Domestic Airport in Albay
View of Mayon Volcano from Legazpi Domestic Airport

Albay: Exploring Bicol's Gem in a Day (Updated Travel Guide)


    A visit to Albay is a must if you are on the lookout for adventure, delicious Bicolano food, and stunning landscapes. 


    Breathtaking Bicol


    I have always dreamed of exploring Bicol. I am not sure what spurred it but perhaps it was my love for locomotives and railroads. When I was young, I heard that to go from Bicol to Metro Manila, one had to take a train. I thought that a long train ride with a view of the countryside would be such an adventure.

    View of Mayon Volcano from Albay Gulf
    Albay Gulf and Mt. Mayon behind us

    As I grew up, I became drawn by Bicol's fertile volcanic soil, fascinating heritage and traditions, and uniquely fiery cuisine.

    The Bicol Region is composed of six provinces: Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Sorsogon, Catanduanes, and Masbate. With the diverse sites, taste, and experience that Bicol has to offer, it wouldn't come as a surprise that it is a dream destination for any savvy traveler or newbie explorers.

    Among all the beautiful sights in Bicol, Mayon and the Cagsawa Ruins were at the top of our list. As such, we made a plan to explore Albay. I also wanted to see old churches, antique houses, and beaches if time will permit. 


    How to go to Albay


    The fastest and most convenient way to go to Albay is via air travel. Sometimes, it's also the most cost-effective option especially with the abundance of seat sales.

    Arrival at Legazpi Domestic Airport in Albay
    Arrival at Legazpi Domestic Airport

    There are daily flights from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to the Legazpi Domestic Airport. We booked a Cebu Pacific flight and we were in Legazpi City in an hour or so.

    The other option to get to Albay from Manila is via land travel. There are daily buses that ply the Albay-Metro Manila route (and vice-versa). If this is your transportation of choice, you may opt to go to the following bus terminals where there are scheduled trips from Metro Manila to Legazpi City:

    Araneta Center Bus Station
    • Legaspi St. Jude Transport (7:30 PM) 

    EDSA-Cubao
    • Penafrancia Tours (6:00 AM, 7:30 AM, 8:30 AM, and 9:00 PM)
    • Isarog Lines (7:00 PM, 8:00 PM, 8:30 PM, and 9:00 PM)

    LRT-Buendia
    • DLTB Co. (8:00 AM and 8:30 PM)

    Pasay
    • Legaspi St. Jude Transport (8:00 AM, 12:00 NN, 3:00 PM, 5:00 PM, 8:00 PM)

    Alabang
    • Penafrancia Tours (8:30 AM, 9:30 AM, 7:00 PM, 8:15 PM, and 10:00 PM)
    • DLTB Co. (9:15 AM, 6:30 PM, and 9:45 PM)
    • Legaspi St. Jude Transport (7:00 PM)
    • Isarog Lines (8:00 PM, 9:00 PM, 9:30 PM, and 10:00 PM)
    *trip information from escapemanila.com

    Price per bus line may vary albeit only slightly except sleeper bus types that cost almost double the regular fares. Sleeper buses are more comfortable as compared to regular buses and perhaps the second-best choice after air travel

    MAP OF LEGAZPI CITY

    How to get around Albay


    It's easy to get around Albay and we recommend that you hire a van to take you around the most famous landmarks of Albay. When we exited the Legazpi Domestic Airport, we were greeted by a multitude of drivers barkers who were offering taxi, van, and tricycle services.

    Outside Legazpi Domestic Airport in Albay
    Outside Legazpi Domestic Airport

    We spoke to a van owner who was willing to take us around the most popular destinations in Albay for P2,500. Not bad, considering that it will be a whole day trip.

    Before proceeding to our trip, we left our bags at Balay de la Rama, a well-known bed and breakfast in Legazpi City where we were initially checked in. Yes, "initially" because we transferred to another inn after a brief mix-up but more about that later on.

    Top things to do in Albay


    We did not really prepare any cohesive itinerary for our trip to Albay but we told our driver that we wanted to go to a spot with a good view of Mayon Volcano and also to visit the Cagsawa Ruins. The rest of our trip could be flexible or even spontaneous.

    Fortunately, our driver, who has been taking tourists around Albay for several years already, told us to just sit back and relax and leave everything to him. He will ensure that we would have a worthwhile and memorable day exploring Albay's tourist spots. Of course, we were more than happy to comply save for some small requests along the way, which our driver was kind enough to accommodate.

    Nevertheless, if it's also your first time in Albay, to give you an idea of what to expect, here is a list of the top things to see and do in the province:

    Eat at Bigg's Diner

    Location: Old Albay District, Legazpi City

    After we have deposited our bags at Balay de la Rama, we asked the receptionist for a recommendation on where best to eat in Legazpi City. She gamely suggested Biggs Diner which is located at the city center and accessible via tricycle.

    Bigg's Diner in Legazpi City, Albay
    Bigg's Diner

    Our driver, who went to refuel his van while we were checking in at Balay de la Rama, still has not yet arrived, hence, we decided to just proceed via tricycle since Bigg's Diner was just a few meters away. We asked the receptionist at Balay de la Rama to tell the driver to just meet us at Bigg's Diner.

    The interiors of Bigg's Diner in Legazpi City, Albay
    The interiors of Bigg's Diner

    An old typewriter hanging on a wall in Bigg's Diner in Legazpi City, Albay
    An old typewriter

    I was not really expecting anything spectacular because I just wanted to have a good and comfortable meal. When we got to Biggs Diner though, I was surprised with how good-looking it was. Now, this restaurant is one fine gem.

    Retro seats at Bigg's Diner in Legazpi City, Albay
    Retro seats

    An old tractor hanging on a wall in Bigg's Diner in Legazpi City, Albay
    An old tractor

    You will immediately fall in love with its retro look, the typical image of an American diner you see in movies and travel shows. The walls are embellished with classic movie posters and antique items. Even the seats look classic!

    Bacon, eggs, and rice for breakfast at Bigg's Diner in Legazpi City, Albay
    Bacon and eggs for breakfast

    We immediately proceeded to order breakfast since it was already close to 9:00 AM. I got myself rice, bacon and eggs, and strong coffee, of course. Khris, meanwhile, ordered rice, sausages, and eggs.

    Goto topped with chicharon at Bigg's Diner in Legazpi City, Albay
    Goto topped with chicharon

    We were famished so we ordered an extra bowl of goto. This goto deserves an honorable mention; it had generous slivers of ox tripe and it smelled of fragrant ginger. Most special about it was the big chunks of chicharon toppings. It was indeed warming and filling.

    Go to Daraga Church

    Location: Sta. Maria Street, Daraga, Albay

    After our hearty breakfast at Bigg's Diner, our driver, who arrived a few minutes before we finished our meal, suggested that we go and see Daraga Church first.

    Daraga Church in Albay
    Souvenir shot in front of Daraga Church

    We drove to Daraga town, which was just a few minutes away from Legazpi City. The centuries-old Daraga Church, also known as Nuestra Señora de la Porteria Parish Church and Our Lady of the Gate Parish Church, is perched atop a hill, so to get there, one has to climb a steep flight of stairs.

    Facade of Daraga Church in Albay
    Façade of Daraga Church

    The architecture of this baroque church is stunning! The façade is painted white but it was peeling; even so, it only added to the appeal of Daraga Church.

    The interiors of Daraga Church in Albay
    The interiors of Daraga Church

    From the church square, one may get a breathtaking view of Mayon Volcano as well as the vast green landscape at the foot of the mountain.



    Visit Cagsawa Ruins

    Location: Daraga. Albay

    From Daraga Church, we next went to Cagsawa Ruins. Aside from Mayon Volcano, the Cagsawa Ruins is one of the most iconic landmarks of Albay.

    In front of Cagsawa Ruins in Albay
    Cagsawa Ruins

    The Cagsawa Ruins is the belfry of an old Franciscan church which was destroyed by Mayon Volcano's strongest eruption during the early 1800s.

    My memory of Mayon Volcano's photos in my elementary textbooks is always with Cagsawa Ruins. It's always like that; tall and imposing Mayon Volcano in the background and Cagsawa Ruins at its foot although in varying proportions throughout my elementary years. Notwithstanding, it left me yearning to see Mayon Volcano and Cagsawa Ruins in person someday.

    Exploring Cagsawa Ruins in Albay
    Part of the Cagsawa Ruins is the old foundation of the church

    I grew excited when we were on the road to Cagsawa Ruins. As such, I imagined our trip to be somewhat dramatic like a hike through rugged terrain dotted with a volcanic rock until we arrive at a clearing where the Cagsawa Ruins will come into view with Mayon as the backdrop. Well, it wasn't like that at all. As soon as we got to Cagsawa Park, the church tower is already there right in front of us. There was no surprise or moments of suspense.

    A segment of the wall of Cagsawa Ruins in Albay
    The old walls of Cagsawa Ruins

    It was still beautiful though, the sort of mysterious appeal exuded by ancient landmarks and ruined structures. The quaintness of the surroundings added to the beauty of this famous tourist spot.

    The old walls and aisle of Cagsawa Ruins in Albay
    The old walls and floor of Cagsawa Ruins

    By the way, while you are at Cagsawa Park, you might want to try sili (chili) ice cream sold in one of the food shops there. I did not get to try it but I heard that the spicy chili provided an interesting flavor (and kick) to the usual sweet and creamy ice cream.

    Marvel at Mayon from Ligñon Hill Nature Park

    Location: Legazpi City, Albay

    The Ligñon Hill Nature Park, located near the Legazpi Domestic Airport, is home to the Mayon Volcano Observatory, a public park, and souvenir and food shops. When we arrived the place is already full of tourists having breakfast or scouring for souvenirs.

    Mayon Volcano as seen from Lignon Hill in Albay
    A panoramic shot of Mayon Volcano from Lignon Hill

    There is a viewing deck at Ligñon Hill where guests may use coin-operated telescopes to view Mayon Volcano. However, even without a telescope, Ligñon Hill already provided us a good vantage point of Mayon Volcano.

    Trek to Vera Falls

    Location: Malinao, Albay

    Vera Falls is located at the Municipality of Malinao, about two hours away from Legazpi City. Vera Falls is open to the public and can be reached via a short trek through narrow paths.

    Vera Falls in Albay
    Vera Falls behind us

    There was no steep slope or any arduous climbing involved, thus, Vera Falls is perfect for those who have no patience in challenging or physically-intensive treks. Still, be very careful since there are sharp rocks beside the pathways.

    A couple enjoying the water of Vera Falls in Albay
    Enjoying the water of Vera Falls

    A couple relaxing in Vera Falls' stream in Albay
    Relaxing in Vera Falls

    Vera Falls is a small waterfall but it is still a good-looking natural wonder. The water is clear and cold; it's perfect but we were not able to try it because we did not bring any swimming attire with us. There are cottages around the stream so guests may bring food with them and have a picnic while swimming.

    Visit Tabaco Church

    Location: Tabaco City, Albay

    Tabaco City is home to the San Juan Bautista Church or Tabaco Church, a good-looking church made out of volcanic rocks, giving it that distinct dark color. It was completed in the late 1870s, around fifteen years after the construction of the church commenced.

    Facade of Tabaco Church in Albay
    Façade of Tabaco Church

    The interiors of Tabaco Church in Albay
    The interiors of Tabaco Church

    The Tabaco Church has been designated as a National Culture Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines.

    The bell tower of Tabaco Church in Albay
    The bell tower of Tabaco Church

    A sculpture at the square in front of Tabaco Church in Albay
    A statue at the square in front of Tabaco Church

    The church is likewise known for its bell tower featuring intricate designs. Tabaco Church is one of the few churches in the Philippines with a bell tower constructed separately from the main building.



    Have a pilgrimage at Kawa-Kawa Hill and Natural Park

    Location: Ligao City, Albay

    From Tabaco City, we drove to Ligao City to visit Kawa-Kawa Hill and Natural Park. While on the way, keep your eyes on the beautiful terrain along the road. As the name suggests, Kawa-Kawa Hill and Natural Park features hiking trails for tourists as well as a majestic view of the surrounding environs.

    Last supper stature in Kawa Kawa Hill in Albay
    Last supper statue in Kawa-Kawa Hill

    Kawa-Kawa Hill's most distinguishing features, however, are the life-size statues of Jesus and the apostles depicting the fourteen stations of the cross. There is also a sculpture of the Last Supper at the foot of the hill, again featuring life-size statues made of concrete.

    Enjoying ice cream in Kawa Kawa Hill in Albay
    Enjoying ice cream in Kawa-Kawa Hill

    There were souvenir and food shops near the parking area. Since we were a bit sweaty from all the climbing and walking, we decided to have ice cream before proceeding to our next destination. 

    Taste Bicol's signature dishes


    It was past lunchtime when we left Kawa-Kawa Hill. We still had one more place to go before we conclude our tour but we were already hungry. We asked our driver to recommend a restaurant offering authentic Bicolano dishes.

    He said he knew of a place that served delicious Bicolano food. He took us to a roadside restaurant, not too big as it featured less than ten tables. It looked like a family-owned restaurant, which bode well for what was in store for us for lunch.

    Plate of famous Bicolano dishes in Albay
    Plate of Laing, Pinangat, and Bicol Express

    We ordered Laing (dried taro leaves in coconut milk), Bicol Express (green chili and pork with coconut milk), Tilmok (steamed crab meat with coconut milk), Pinangat (meat with shredded taro leaves and chilies, wrapped in a taro leaf and steamed in coconut milk), and Kinunot na Pagi (stingray meat cooked in coconut milk). In about 20 minutes, our food arrived and the aromas of which told us that we made the right decision.

    I took a spoonful of each dish and made some sort of a sampler plate because I wanted to taste each of the food we ordered. The flavors were explosive; they were much deeper, bolder, richer, and spicier than the ones that we get to taste in restaurants in Metro Manila. It was a lovely lunch, a whole experience in itself.

    As I always say, if you do not have the luxury of time and money to explore a place and get acquainted with its culture, then have a taste of local flavors to get to know the place better.

    Cool down with halo-halo at DJC Restaurant

    Location: Pacific Mall, Legazpi City, Albay

    Upon returning to Legazpi City, we asked our driver to drop us off at Pacific Mall, a local department store so that we can shop for toiletries.

    Along the way to Legazpi City, we stopped by a small store selling pili nut products like caramel-coated and plain salted pili nuts. The owner showed us how a pili tree and fruit looked like as well as the nuts taken out of their shells and being readied for processing. Of course, we got to taste the fresh pili nuts.

    Halo-halo from DJC Restaurant in Legazpi City, Albay
    DJC Restaurant's halo-halo 

    When we arrived at Pacific Mall, it was already mid-afternoon. One of our friends told us that we should try halo-halo at DJC Restaurant. We readily agreed because we wanted dessert plus the weather outside was a bit hot.

    DJC Restaurant was still full of diners when we got there but we soon got a table after a brief wait. We each ordered the special halo-halo, and we were glad that we did so. We were not disappointed with the generous amounts of sweets and toppings of our halo-halo.

    What was unique about this version of halo-halo was that it was topped with cheese which lent a hint of saltiness to this sweet treat.

    Visit Embarcadero de Legazpi

    Location: Legazpi City, Albay

    Our last stop for the day was Embarcadero de Legazpi, Legazpi City's well-known harborside shopping mall and multi-purpose activity center. This two-level shopping mall features shops, restaurants, a central event area, and business offices.

    Embarcadero de Legazpi in Albay
    Embarcadero de Legazpi

    Located in the heart of this development is Embarcadero Hotel, a unique nautical-themed hotel that provides a stunning view of Mayon Volcano and Albay Gulf.

    Exploring Embarcadero de Legazpi in Albay
    Exploring Embarcadero de Legazpi

    It was already late afternoon by the time we got to Embarcadero de Legazpi though so we did not stay long. We decided to go back to our hotel so that we can already have dinner and go to bed early.

    Where to stay in Albay


    Albay is home to a variety of hotels, bed and breakfasts, and inns. However, choosing your accommodation in Albay does not pose a challenge at all because your decision will depend on your budget and your choice of location. Personally, I like hotels that are near the airport so that already narrows the choices down.

    Nonetheless, here is a list of the best hotels in Albay that you may want to consider when you visit the province.

    1. Balay de la Rama Bed and Breakfast

    Address: Banag, Daraga, Legazpi City, Albay

    Balay de la Rama Bed and Breakfast is one of the best hotels that you can book when in Legazpi City. It was an antique house that was converted to a bed and breakfast. It was lovely, homey, and had local decorations so it was a beautiful accommodation overall. We found it perfect because it had a limited number of rooms which meant fewer people or not too crowded elevators and check-in counters.

    Balay dela Rama Bed and Breakfast in Legazpi City, Albay
    Balay de la Rama Bed and Breakfast

    As I had mentioned earlier, we were initially checked in at Balay de la Rama but due to an unfortunate turn of events, we had to cancel our booking and transfer to another hotel. There was a mix-up because Balay de la Rama's information was not updated in Agoda. According to the website, all rooms featured separate showers and toilets, so we booked three family rooms.

    When we got to our rooms, we were shocked to find out that it had shared bathrooms and toilets. As it turned out, only the three deluxe rooms had separate baths and showers while the three family rooms had shared showers and toilets. Only one deluxe room was available so we could not transfer anymore.

    We requested for cancellation and the owner of Balay de la Rama was kind enough to cancel our booking and help us find a new hotel where we could stay for the night. We were able to book three rooms at Neuhaus Inn, and Balay de la Rama's owner was gracious enough to even drive us to Neuhaus Inn at no cost. That is admirable customer service. We were actually sorry with what happened because Balay de la Rama looked really good, smelled clean, and was well-maintained.

    2. Neuhaus Inn

    Address: Magayon Drive, Maroroy, Daraga, Legazpi City, Albay

    From Balay de la Rama, we checked in at Neuhaus Inn. It featured clean and decent rooms at an affordable price but, to be honest, it felt like a downgrade. It's an average-looking accommodation and is perfect if you are looking for a place to spend a night or two. The lobby as well as the rest of the building looked plain. Neuhaus Inn offers good food though. I remember ordering rice, noodles, and bulalo soup here and the food was really delicious.

    3. Lotus Blu Hotel

    Address: Terminal Road, Brgy. Bitano, Ilawod, Legazpi City, Albay

    Lotus Blu Hotel is one of the newer hotels in Legazpi City. It is best known for its convenient location which is just a stone's throw from some of the popular commercial areas of Legazpi City. Former guests said that the hotel lobby can get crowded at times because of its size. Service is consistently good though from the hotel's staff.

    4. The Oriental Hotel Legazpi

    Address: Sto. Nino Village, Old Albay, Legazpi City, Albay

    The Oriental Hotel Legazpi is well-known for providing guests a great view of Mayon Volcano. Visitors who have checked-in to this hotel have left commendation for its ideal location, delicious food, and the quality of service from the staff.

    5. Embarcadero Hotel

    Address: Embarcadero de Legazpi, Oro Site, Legazpi City, Albay

    Embarcadero Hotel is one of the most recognizable hotels in Legazpi City. it provides a picturesque view of Albay Gulf with Mt. Mayon in the background. Embarcadero Hotel is also near some of the city's attractions as well as the airport, making it an easy choice for travelers.



    Sample Itinerary


    If you are planning a trip to Albay soon, you may refer to the sample itinerary below. This is an easy itinerary based on the places that our driver suggested. Feel free to make adjustments like adding a new place or two to this list.

    Alternatively, when you get to Albay, you may want to ask around for non-touristy or off-the-beaten-path places from the locals if you want to see or discover a new destination. Lastly, since we traveled to Legazpi City by air, we will use that as a reference.

    • NAIA departure - 6:00 AM
    • Legazpi Domestic Airport arrival - 7:00 AM
    • Rent a van - 7:15 AM
    • Travel to the hotel - 7:30 AM
    • Check-in - 8:15 AM
    • Breakfast - 9:15 AM
    • Daraga Church - 9:45 AM
    • Cagsawa Ruins - 10:15 AM
    • Lignon Hill Nature Park - 12:15 PM
    • Vera Falls - 1:15 PM
    • Tabaco Church - 1:45 PM
    • Kawa-Kawa Hill and Natural Park - 2:15 PM
    • Lunch - 3:00 PM
    • DJC Halo-Halo or sili ice cream - 4:15 PM
    • Embarcadero de Legazpi - 4:45 PM
    • Return to the hotel - 5:00 PM
    • Dinner - 6:00 PM

      Epilogue


      Albay is a destination that is fairly easy to explore. It can be explored via private or public transportation. However, we do recommend renting a van because locals would now their home province better.

      In terms of sights, Mayon Volcano is always at the top of every traveler's list. While Mayon dominates Albay's geography, you can always ask your tour provider to take you to a location that provides a good view of the volcano. Alternatively, you can book a Mayon skyline tour for a more magnificent view of the volcano.


      Lastly, Albay is rich in history and heritage, so do take advantage of the opportunity to get to know the province better. All in all, we consider our Albay trip as one of our most unforgettable.

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      4 comments

      1. Such an adventure, totally make me miss Philippines more lol. I miss the food so bad there, great post.

        www.aprilwashere.com

        ReplyDelete
      2. Looks like such an amazing trip! Beautiful scenery and amazing food....does it get any better?

        -Clarissa @ The View From Here

        ReplyDelete
      3. Wow that looks like such a fun trip. I would love to go sometime, thanks for sharing!

        ReplyDelete
      4. The food looks amazing and those views are fabulous! Great review!

        ReplyDelete

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