Majestic Mount Mayon may be Bicol’s most famous tourist attraction, but there’s more to the region than the world’s most perfectly-formed cone volcano. Klara Iskra Añonuevo explored Sorsogon and Albay, where breathtaking natural wonders, adrenaline-inducing activities, and scrumptious food await adventure seekers.
WRITTEN AND PHOTOGRAPHED BY KLARA ISKRA AÑONUEVO
ADDITIONAL PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE ORIENTAL HOTELS AND RESORTS AND MISIBIS BAY
SPECIAL THANKS TO THE PHILIPPINE TOUR OPERATORS ASSOCIATION
“I have never been so tired in my whole life,” I thought as I plopped into bed after coming home from a five-day trip to Albay and Sorsogon. Don’t get me wrong, my first time to Bicol was tiring, but it was the good kind of exhaustion, brought about by non-stop exploration.
DAY 1 | COMMUNING WITH NATURE
Our first stop was the EDC BacMan Geothermal Production Field (BGPF), located in Bacon, Sorsogon, and Manito, Albay (BacMan was actually named after the two municipalities). While it is largely known for supplying clean and sustainable power to the Luzon Grid, the BGPF is also home to the BGPF Butterfly Garden and the Wildlife Conservation and Rescue Center, making it a Department of Tourism certified ecotourism destination.
I adore butterflies but very rarely see them in the city, so imagine my delight as we entered the Butterfly Garden and met dozens of butterflies! While some of them fluttered high above us, evading the lenses of our cameras and smartphones, some were adventurous enough to land on our hands, our heads, and even our noses! One of our guides told us that more than just a nursery for seven species of butterflies, the Butterfly Garden also serves as an indicator of air quality, because butterflies’ short life cycles make them sensitive to climate change and pollution. “If butterflies are thriving, it means the air is healthy, and so is the ecosystem,” she said (I guess that explains why I don’t see them often in the city).
Just some meters away was the Wildlife Conservation and Rescue Center (WCRC), which nurses recovered animals (most of which are rescued from illegal hunters) back to health before they are freed into the wild. The WCRC is also helping repopulate endangered species like the Philippine Brown Deer and the Philippine Warty Pig. We were able to feed a herd of deer, which included one growing its antlers out.
Our last stop for the day, still within the BGPF, was the Botong Twin Falls. While there are many falls located in Bicol, what makes the Botong Twin Falls special are its two different water sources. Blue sulfuric water cascades down one stream, while clear fresh spring water falls down the other. While the difference isn’t immediately clear as you look up the 150-foot-high waterfalls, looking at the bottom is a dead giveaway— the left side of the lagoon is aquamarine, while the right is dark green.
DAY 2 | ISLAND AND VOLCANO HOPPING
It was raining the next morning, but we pressed on to explore more of Sorsogon. After boarding a small motor boat at Matnog Port, we headed to Tikling Island. The boat ride took only around 20 minutes, so it was a surprise to see an unspoiled beach, where the white-pinkish sands went inland to meet lush greenery. Feeling the warm sand between my toes was wonderful, but turning around to see the clear blue waters was even more spectacular. If not for the green hills and mountains that popped up from the surrounding islands, one would think that the blue could stretch on forever.
We spent the rest of the morning and lunch at Subic Beach. Located in Calintaan Island, the beach had two stretches called Liit and Laki, both full of fine white and pinkish sands. It’s no wonder it is hailed as one of the best beaches in Sorsogon.
Back at the mainland, we visited the Bulusan Volcano Natural Park (BVNP). By this time the morning drizzle had turned into afternoon rain, but this didn’t keep us from exploring the Bulusan Lake, located at the center of the park. Our guides had hyped the lake up, telling us that it has been dubbed “The Switzerland of the Orient.” Although it was partially covered with fog, it was clear why the lake would inspire such a moniker. The lake perfectly mirrored the green mountains surrounding it, disturbed only by drops of rain. Kayaks, canoes, and aquacycles lined the water near the shore, but however inviting they all seemed, we had to call it a day because the weather was getting worse.
DAY 3 | A TASTE OF ADVENTURE
The weather had improved a bit the next morning, and just in time, as we were scheduled to do more outdoor activities in Albay. But before that, our guides took us to the Albay Pilinut Candy store, the first pili nut candy factory in Bicol. I was surprised at the many ways they candied one type of nut. They had Crispy Pili with Honey, Pili Crunch, Pilinut Brittle, Toffee Rolls, Turroncitos de Pili, and (my favorite) Pili Butternuts. We all bought bagfuls meant for pasalubong, but curiosity got the best of us. We sampled the products on the way to 1st Colonial Grill, but one bite led to another, and by the time we arrived at the restaurant, we had finished about a third of our stash.
1st Colonial Grill is known for their Tinapa Fried Rice and Tinutungang Manok (chicken cooked in coconut milk), and while both made for a tasty lunch, the main reason locals and tourists dine here is the Sili Ice Cream. It comes in 10 different levels of hotness with Level 10 being the hottest. I am not a fan of spicy food, especially not in my dessert, but I gingerly tasted a small amount of the Level 2 Sili Ice Cream and discovered that it was like vanilla ice cream… except for the aftertaste. A couple of seconds later, I felt it—a sharp burning sensation at the back of my mouth and my throat. Realizing that the kick was only in the aftertaste, I changed my strategy and devoured it by the mouthfuls. I emptied my bowl in a matter of minutes.
Our next stop was Camalig’s Hoyop-Hoyopan Caves, which according to legend was a primitive habitat of the natives. The caves had many tunnels leading to different chambers filled with stalactites and stalagmites. Some of the stalactites were still dripping mineral-rich water on the cave floors, and I was glad to have worn boots (which had a pretty good grip on its soles) because it made some parts of the cave slippery.
After that, we got the chance to take a closer look at Mayon by taking All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) to the Mayon Lava Front. As my companions scrambled to get onto one, I found myself vehicle-less and had to settle as one of their passengers (which is code for I-deliberately-slowed-down-because-I’m-not-much-of-a-driver). For the most part, the ride was bumpy, as the route was full of humps and craters shaped by lava flow and the weather. Even if I wasn’t driving, it gave me an adrenaline-rush.
We reached the Mayon Lava Wall, and seeing that the four-storey high wall of black lava rocks went almost straight up, climbing it was the last thing on my mind. I guess my companions thought the same, because when we were told to climb it (with no safety harnesses), I was only one of two people who fell in line. Being one of the first up the wall had its perks though, because when we reached the helipad at the top, we saw an amazing view of Mayon, its several lava flows, the Albay Gulf, and the neighboring towns, and we were able to take photos without having to ask people to walk out of the frame.
Going up required a lot of effort, but going down the same way was even harder and way scarier. It took more concentration too, as one wrong step could send you sliding down. As I finally put both feet on solid ground, I silently thanked all the cardio I had been doing recently for helping me make it.
DAYS 4 AND 5 | LUXURIATING AT MISIBIS BAY
The next day we caught a speedboat from Embarcadero De Legazpi (a waterfront mall located at the Legazpi City Harbor) to Misibis Bay Resort and Casino, in Cagraray Island, our home for the next day and a half. I wasn’t too keen on being cooped up in a luxury resort after our adventures the previous days, but then I realized there were so many activities that I could try, like windsurfing, wakeboarding, and Jetskiing. Excited as I was, I narrowed it down to diving, stand up paddle surfing, and an ATV ride.
It was my first time to dive. While I was able to reach the ocean floor and interact with the many fish and the giant clams, I had to surface before the water pressure gave me a bad case of vertigo. Stand up paddle surfing (where one had to balance on a big board and row with a long paddle) was an entirely different thing. As I watched other people try it before me and fall off seconds after standing up, I was convinced I’d wipe out the same way. But despite the waves generated by the Jetskis around me, I spent the whole afternoon on the board without falling off.
We had to wake up at 5AM the next morning to try and catch the sunrise at the hilltops of Cagraray Island via ATV. This time, I really wanted to drive because the route seemed smoother and safer, but I still ended up as a passenger. This actually ended up in my favor, as the hilltop terrain was actually more rugged and more dangerous—one wrong move could send you to the bottom of a ravine. The sun had already risen when we reached the lookout point, but our guide had a surprise for us—he had brought along pandesal, kesong puti, and coffee for us to enjoy while we took in the almost 360-degree view of the surrounding waters, islands, and the top of Mount Mayon.
This was one of my favorite moments because it had all the elements of what made my trip to Albay and Sorsogon unforgettable: being surrounded by nature, experiencing never-ending adventure, sampling great food, and of course, seeing Mount Mayon. I couldn’t think of a better way to end my Bicol adventure.