"Albay Stole My Heart." - Tourist in the Philippines

Nathan Allen with Mt. Mayon,  Albay
Posing with Mt. Mayon - Photo © Renato Jao

 Foodie?  Nature Lover?  You've Just Met Your Match...

 

About a year ago, the media posted my letter to a Polish blogger: "In defense of Filipino food".  At the top of my list of favorites?  Bicolano cuisine, and "pinangat" from Albay, to be exact.  However, originally I didn't come here for the food...that was just a bonus.  I had come for a glimpse of the world's most "perfect cone" volcano - awe-inspiring Mt. Mayon!

Quitinday Green Hills Nature Park in Albay

 

 Seriously, I think everybody should see Mt. Mayon at least once in their lifetime.  

 

Albay is part of the Bicol region, in the eastern Philippines.  Along with English and Filipino (Tagalog), people here speak their own language called Bicol.  "Magayon" is the Bicol word for "beautiful", and it is the word from which "Mayon" is derived.

 

As you can see below, there was no shortage of things for me to experience here...people come from all over the world to photograph and climb Mt. Mayon, but you can also take a thrilling ATV ride up as far as half way!  Lignon Hill and Cagsawa Ruins (below) are popular tourist destinations to take pictures of Mayon  as well.


(Assortment of Albay Photos - click them for more info)

 

Albay is a very progressive and forward-thinking province, with many environmental, tourism, and safety awards under its belt.    It is the first place I visited in the Philippines where people seemed to be proud of their government officials.  They talk about Governor Joey Salceda as if he was a close friend of theirs!

"Gov" (as they call him), seems to have done a great job bridging the gap between the people and the government - no easy feat in the Philippines!

 

Relaxing at Vera Falls


Need to cool off?  Vera Falls in Malinao is the perfect place to swim and take photos. I was impressed by the local caretaker's dedication to  keeping the area clean and safe. If waterfalls are your thing, also be sure to check out Busay Falls in Malilipot!  (ABS-CBN did some promotion for Albay and interviewed me here.  Thanks Jose, Jonathan + team!) 

 

 

In Albay I saw how some local products are made: “Manila Hemp” from Abaca (in Camalig), Ceramics (in Tiwi), pinangat (@ Zeny’s in Camalig), and Guinobatan longganisa (@ Yangmatt’s in Guinobatan)

You can get “hands on” experience by making them all yourself!

 

(Assortment of Albay Photos - click them for more info)

Island-Hopping


Albay isn't particularly known for beaches, but you can also go island-hopping with Love Boat Tours and experience Guinanayan Island in Rapu Rapu (pictured below)!  Relax, swim - all with a distant view of Mt. Mayon.   Enjoy a “boodle fight” for lunch, which is many local food dishes served “family style”...without plates or utensils - on one giant banana leaf! 

 

Albay Love Boat Tours to Guinanayan Island
Aproaching Guinanayan Island

Itinerary For The ULTIMATE Albay Experience

 

How to get to Legazpi: Overnight bus (Cubao) or 1 hour flight from Manila.  Arrive early in the morning.  Do not miss the affordable and delicious breakfast buffet directly inside the airport!  Take a trike to nearby Lignon Hill (they can bring you up, but it’s beautiful, and many young people like to walk it).  If you're still hungry, don't miss Charisma's eatery near the entry gate.


Take a trike to Cagsawa Ruins to explore and take photos.  Ask where nearby Bicol Adventure ATV is. This tour is a bit pricey, but is a lot of fun!  ATVs are much more stable and easy to ride than motorbikes.  My ride was a bit rainy at the end, but it cooled me off and was a blast - rain or shine!  Note: if you don't want to do the ATV tour, consider going direct from the airport to Daraga Church, then Lignon Hill on the way to Cagsawa.


(Assortment of Albay Photos - click them for more info)


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1st Colonial Grill - For lunch, take a trike to 1st Colonial Grill in Daraga.  Bicolano cuisine is famous for its use of spicy chilis (locally known as “sili”, and coconut milk.  1st Colonial Grill even features “chili ice cream” (which I thought was surprisingly good), but there are many other unique flavors as well!  I enjoyed another local product, the pili nut flavor (also try the pili bread!). 

 

Bahay Kubo Salad - There is a very famous song in the Philippines called “Bahay Kubo”, which means traditional Filipino house.  In the song, all of the vegetables growing in the garden are sung.  1st Colonial Grill created a salad with all those ingredients, and it’s really quite good (pictured above)! 

 

Camalig Pinangat

Next, take a trike to the Legazpi bus terminal, and ask where the jeepney to Camalig is.  You may have to wait until the jeepney fills up.  Make sure the driver knows that you want to get off in Camalig, about 25 minutes away. When you arrive, ask for Zeny’s pinangat at many of the eateries along the highway..  Also consider Dad’s Special Pinangat.  Pinangat is made with gabi (taro) leaves, chili, meat, and coconut milk.  There is really nothing like it! 

 

Also ask a local where Camalig church is, because there are some beautiful photo opportunities there with Mt. Mayon.  There is a fascinating cemetery on the side as well.


Guinobatan Longganisa

A bit further down the jeepney route is Guinobatan, which is famous for its bite-sized longganisa (sausages)…you can visit Yangmatt’s famous eatery for a taste (and possible demo of how it’s made!) You might need to have a local point you to the exact location.  Try the lechon, too!

 

While you’re in the area, consider taking a trike to La Hacienda Spring and Nature Resort for a relaxing swim (pictured further down)!  There is also a nice pool at Charisma Hotel and Catering House.

Oriental Hotel For Dinner

Volcano View from the Oriental - Albay Hotels
View of Mayon from the Oriental Hotel

 

If you still have the energy,  head back to Legazpi on a jeepney, and take a trike to the Oriental Hotel for dinner and an incredible Mayon / sunset view.  Order a burger or calamares (or both!) for the best combination of taste and value:)

 

Digging a Little Deeper...

 

Of course, there's SO MUCH MORE to Albay than just what I've mentioned above...

 

Bicol Express Ice Cream - Ayanna's restaurant in Polangui
Bicol Express Ice Cream!? Yes, and it's surprisngly GOOD - Ayanna's restaurant in Polangui




If you have more time to peel away the layers of Albay, you will be handsomely rewarded!


Tabaco City - the "pedicab capital of the Philippines"

Don't miss one of my favorite places in Albay!  Tabaco is a city of great charm and character - the people are very warm and friendly, and there is a lot of bustling nightlife (+ street food!).  Here you can take a ferry to the rugged island province of Catanduanes.  Until 1945, Catanduanes was actually a part of Albay!

As for Tabaco, though, consider having an affordable pizza or burger at Grazianos Italian Restaurant.  Afterward, take a special trike trip halfway up the volcano to the stunning views at Mayon Resthouse. Then have dinner at Martha’s Kitchen, which in my opinion, is the best that Albay has to offer.  Their to-die-for Bicol Express is pictured below.


(Assortment of Albay Photos - click them for more info)

 

Continuing To Sorsogon

 

Another very epic Bicol adventure would be to spend 1 or 2 days in Albay as listed above, then head south to spend the night at the captivating Siama Hotel.

 

Spend at least 24 hours at the hotel, then continue south to Donsol, Sorsogon, where you can swim with the world-famous whale sharks!  If you could squeeze in a island hopping trip to Juag Lagoon and stunning Subic Beach, Matnog afterward, that really would be an unforgettable experience!

 

Aguas Farm (private house) - Sto. Domingo, Albay
Aguas Farm, Sto. Domingo

 

Sto. Domingo - This small, award-winning town has the only plaza in the Philippines that features a statue of Andres Bonafacio instead of the default national hero, Jose Rizal.  The Filipino chismis (gossip) is that it's because Bonafacio fathered an illegitimate child here.

 

A Few More Worthwhile Experiences...

 

It's impossible to fit all that I want to in this blog, but here are a few more experiences if you have time: Dessert at Balay Cena Una heritage house (Daraga), sushi rolls @ IshiAya's Japanese fusion (Tabaco), Seafood at Layag (Legazpi), and exploring at Huyup Huyupan Cave or Quitinday Green Hills Nature Park (Camalig).  If you happen to be arriving in April, check out the Daragang Magayon festival!


Where To Stay in Albay

To browse ALL hotels, click HERE

 

My Picks For Hotels / Accommodations (priced high to low)

 

 

1. The Oriental Hotel Legazpi  - This hotel is one of Albay’s pride and joys.  If luxury is what you’re after, you’ll get it…along with sweeping views of the surrounding areas!  It pays to book online for the best prices.  Budget-minded people might stop here for lunch, dinner, or views only.  More info HERE

 


2. Hotel St. Ellis (Legazpi) - Travelers agree, this place is a great value.  Decor is beautiful and modern, free breakfast buffet is excellent (can’t remember if pancakes are included, but I’ve eaten them there and loved them!).  Right in city center, and it has a pool:)  More info HERE

 


3. Casablanca Suites (Legazpi) - New hotel with a nice breakfast included.  Great central location and access to restaurants nearby.  View of Mt. Mayon and Lignon Hill from some rooms.  More info HERE

 


4. Ellis Ecotel (Legazpi) - The best option for affordable privacy.  Located in Embarcadero, so it’s good for shopping / Legazpi Boulevard nightlife.  More info HERE

 


5. JJ Middcity Inn (Tabaco) - I loved this place so much.  Very well maintained, with great service and excellent pricing.  Aircon and wifi were working like champs, and the location in the city center can’t be beat!  More info HERE

 


6. Mayon Backpackers Hostel (Legazpi) - An affordable price for dorm-style aircon rooms.  Free simple breakfast and unlimited coffee.  Right off the main road.  On a tight budget?  This is your winner.  More info HERE

 

 

Unforgettable...That's What You Are.

 

The provincial government was a big help to me during visit here, and I'm very grateful for that.  I spoke to other foreigners in the Philippines who agree - no matter how long we stay here, we still can't get over the sheer size and inescapable beauty of Mt. Mayon. 

 

To say that the food, the people, and the places in Albay had an impact on me is an understatement...in fact, I spent so much time in this region that I find myself answering people in Bicol - even when I'm in other countries!  Haha.

 

Yes, Albay has a lot to offer - and a lot to be proud of

 

Magayon sunset photo

 - Nathan Allen



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