Bicol 101: A Summer Guide To Living La Vida Local In Albay
For those of you looking for more than the usual destinations this summer like Boracay, Palawan, or Siargao, you might want to consider going to Legazpi, Albay for a few days to get a holistic experience of provincial life at its finest. Albay has more to offer than just an Instagram-worthy view of Mt. Mayon. But to really get to know the place, you need to get yourself a local tour guide for a more enjoyable and authentic experience.
How to Get There
It takes about 12 hours to get to Legazpi by land if you’re thinking about driving. Or else you can take the bus (Isarog Bus, Penafrancia Tours, Philtranco, DLTB Bus, to name a few) to Legazpi. Plane fares are cheap if you get them ahead of time or during their promos. Roundtrip fares can cost anywhere from P2,000 to P10,000, if you book too late.
Where to Stay
There are hotels, bed and breakfasts, and small inns available in the city of Legazpi for every budget. For premium accommodation, you can check out The Oriental perched atop a mountain with a nice view of Mayon.
Lobby of Oriental
You can lounge by the pool or get some coffee while overlooking this majestic volcano.
If you’re more of a budget traveler, the Legazpi Tourist Inn at the city center is a good place to park your bags as you traverse the busy streets and explore the city.
The inn has aircon and non-aircon rooms, ranging from P600 to P1,800. Not bad for any budget!
Deluxe room at Legazpi Tourist Inn
Where to Eat
What’s a vacation without thinking about food, right? I was told most of locals eat at home because their home-cooked meals are fantastic and each household makes their own versions of Bicol favorites like pinangat and Bicol express.
But when they do eat out, they gravitate towards these local joints.
Aside from the famous Bigg’s Diner (that’s coming to Manila soon!), locals like parking their cars along the boulevard to enjoy a slice of pizza at Seadog Diner.
For your soft taco craving, Bicolanos like heading to this hole-in-the-wall called Mr. D’s Pizza and Co. I know it says pizza, but they serve a mean soft taco. It’s made with so much TLC that you have to call in advance to order it.
For street food adventurers, there’s a place locals call Hepa Lane. The name doesn’t exactly boost confidence, but when you see where all the stalls converge, the excitement will pump out any hesitation with the aroma of grilled intestines and fried orange quail eggs.
It’s not usual to see calamares being served by a street vendor frying up these babies alongside kwek-kwek and fishballs. The taste is different from the calamares at restaurants because the batter has a sweet flavor to it. At P5 per squid ring, where else can you order calamares by tingi (per piece)?
For lomi, there’s ordinary, semi-ordinary, and special—but in our book, what we ordered was fan-freaking-tastic! In a place like this, you wouldn’t really expect anything this good, but lo and behold, this semi-ordinary was definitely extra.
We noticed a lot of people congregating in this small hut. The turnover was so fast, we soon found ourselves sitting on a stool and ordering the special lugaw for P35 in no time. The gentleman beside us taught us how to mix together the calamansi and patis to get the timpla just right.
For dessert, DJC Halo-Halo is a unanimous decision. The place is always packed with locals and tourists and for good reason:
For something more native in nature, you might want to opt for the local kakanin instead.
We headed out of Legazpi and towards Ligao to get us some native rice cakes, starting with puto macapuno from vendors by the roadside. This treat costs only P25 for 3, which is more than enough to fill your stomach.
Next we tried biniribid, which I found yummier than the puto. I liked its texture, which reminded me of carioca, a glutinous rice snack on a stick usually found around the UP Diliman area.
Baduya (or maruya for others) is essentially banana fritters. They tasted so good I wanted to put some vanilla ice cream on top to complete the experience. But of course this tastes best right out of the wok!
Since Bicol is known for all things spicy, it makes perfect sense to bring home a jar of chili as remembrance. Try this one from Let’s Pinangat as they make good batches.
Speaking of pinangat, it would be a shame if you left Bicol without trying out the region’s most famous dish!
Pinangat is made of gabi or taro leaves, cooked in coconut milk, and wrapped in banana leaf. It isn’t exactly street food per se, but pinangat vendors also line up the streets to sell to passers-by as the dish is really popular in the region.
There are many versions of pinangat around Bicol, and each one offers a different blend of spices. Some taste lighter than others, some spicy while others are super spicy (this is Bicol after all). And take note, when they say spicy, it’s really spicy, so if you’re not used to a big kick, best to stick with the regular version.
And lastly, for your coffee stimulation, there’s a quaint café that sits inside a subdivision, 528 Ilawood that’s good to go to when you just want a quiet space on your own for a few hours.
If you’re lucky enough to be graced by Mt. Mayon’s presence during your visit, there are a few spots where you can take breathtaking photos.
Where to Sight-See
You’ll need to drive a bit to get to this beautiful development in Daraga, but when you see Mayon from across the lake while you’re lounging in your floating cabana, you’ll know the drive was worth it.
There are many beautiful churches around Albay, but this one is special because it offers a gorgeous view of the volcano right outside its windows.
The church itself is a beauty on its own.
Another hotspot for Mayon-viewing is the famous Cagsawa Ruins, located in Daraga as well. This place is comprised of ruins from a 16th century Franciscan church. In 1814, a strong eruption by the volcano buried people who took refuge inside the church. Only the belfry remains standing. Now it serves as a historical landmark for the people of Albay.
For a minimal fee, you can have the tour guide slash photographer take fun photos of you and your friends. (TBF, they’re very good in thinking of creative ways you can bring the background alive!)
The Cagsawa area is also home to a lot of tourist activities like ATV Driving. Bicol Adventure offers a nice trail around Mayon. Just be sure that you listen to your guide and be alert at all times.
If you’re up for a little bit of a hike, you can trek up Lignon Hill to gain a higher perspective of Mayon, although it doesn’t bring you at eye-level, this is probably the closest you’ll get.
The wide spaces offer a tranquil feeling and a good place to do some soul-searching or meditating. But if you’re looking for more adventure, Lignon Hill offers many activities like ATV Driving, zip lining, hiking, etc. All you have to do is ask the guard upon entrance about the activity you want to do.
If you’re the type who likes bodies of water better, you can finish your day along the Embarcadero, where a nice view of the sunset can hit the surroundings just right.
Speaking of bodies of water, you can visit Bulusan Lake for some kayaking or hiking around the perimeter or, time permitting, do a little side trip to Sorsogon where you can swim with the whale sharks or butanding. Now that’s something not everyone gets to experience!
Where to Buy Pasalubong
When you’re ready to buy your pasalubongs for friends and family, head over to Albay Pilinut Candy along Rizal Street. They have a wide assortment of pili goodies to choose from, and they’re export ready too.
And with that, you’re all set! The only thing you need to do now is set a date and go!
Photos by Chris Clemente