All we really wanted was to see Mayon. Caramoan was a last minute addition to our Bicol trip. The original plan is to go straight to Legazpi via sleeper train and spend the entire duration of what was then a three to four days vacation exploring the city and the surrounding towns.
The more my research of places to see in Bicol progresses, the longer the list of places I wanted to see became. Due to bad weather, we ended up extending our stay in Gota Village and spent a total of four days in Caramoan instead of the planned 3 days.
Four people in one row of seat with absolutely no room to stretch your legs in a two to three hour journey. A scene we’re all too familiar with, from our commute from Naga to Sabang then back to Naga via UV Express vans. So this time, we decided to take a bus to Legazpi.
According to most blogs I’ve read, Naga to Legazpi by van takes only two hours; half the travel time as compared to taking the bus. We were willing to sacrifice a couple of hours for comfort.
I spoke too soon. The air inside the bus is a bit stuffy, the air-conditioning system is having a hard time keeping the bus cool. Much like vans, there’s barely any leg room. The bus loads/unloads at every town, no wonder it took us over four hours to reach Legazpi. It also didn’t take long for the entire aisle of the bus to be crammed with people. It got really crowded. So much for travelling in comfort. :)
The Legazpi leg of the trip, supposedly the only place we were to visit, is ironically one of the most poorly planned vacation we’ve had. We usually have a minimum of three hotels in our list of places to stay. This time we only have one, Sampaguita Tourist Inn. We’re not picky with our accommodations, we don’t mind roughing it out when we travel. But when a hotel has a huge fire hazard warning in front of it… No thank you.
With the little remaining battery left in our gadgets we weren’t able to go online to look for a hotel. The only option we have is to walk around the old city area of Legazpi to look for a place to stay. After about a couple of hours walking, we ended up in Casablanca Hotel (port area).
The facade and lobby of the hotel was promising. It looked newly renovated. The newly painted walls and ceilings of the hotel did little to hide its true age. It reminded us of a hotel we stayed in at Bondowoso on our way to Mt Bromo in Indonesia. The shower curtain is moldy. I didn’t want to step inside the bathroom. Some good points, the hot shower works as it should, the a/c gets the job done, and the staff are friendly.
Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this place. The Php 1,250 per night price tag (promo without breakfast) would have been reasonable if it were in a better location.
The majestic Mayon dominates over the skyline of the entire city of Legazpi. The volcano has been called a “shy beauty” by some as it usually hides behind a veil of clouds. The best time to appreciate the full splendor of Mayon is early morning. We left for Cagsawa around 6 am.
To get to Cagsawa from Legazpi, take a Guinobatan or Polangui bound jeepney (Php 12). It’s around 45 mins to an hour ride. Unlike in Metro Manila, most jeepneys in Legazpi don’t have signboards, routes are written on their sides. From the main road, you may either walk 500 meters or take a tricycle (Php 30) to the ruins itself. Entrance fee is Php 10.
Cagsawa is very touristy. Souvenir shops are everywhere. There are also photographers offering to take trick shots of you with Mayon and the ruins. Then there are the various markers (the one by TV Patrol in particular) that are such eyesores! It’s also disheartening to note that the other ruins inside the park did not get the same attention and care as that of the church.
Despite all these, I was really able to enjoy this place. I can’t get over how stunning Mayon is. Its perfect cone is so unbelievably beautiful!
The jeepney ride (Php 8) from Cagsawa to Daraga’s centro takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Barely having any breakfast, spending a good couple of hours in Cagsawa and spotting a Bigg’s Diner at the centro was the perfect excuse for a brunch before walking to Daraga Church.
Formally known as Our Lady of the Gate Parish, Daraga church was constructed in 1773 and sits atop a hill. Climbing the narrow, winding stairwell has a certain charm to it. Reminded me of scenes from the movie Before Sunrise.
Reaching the top of the hill, the church with its limestone whitewash is quite a sight to behold. It also offers a great view of Mayon. You can also see the ruins of Cagsawa from here. Inside the church, you’ll see old photos of the church and the restoration efforts being made. As well as old photos of Cagsawa and other structures in the surrounding regions.
After having a bowl of Halo-halo at Bigg’s Diner, we hired a tricycle (Php 50) to take us to Ligñon Hill. Ligñon Hill is an outdoor adventure park located near Legazpi International Airport.
I’ve read a lot of blogs saying that the climb up Ligñon Hill takes only about 30 mins. If you’re not physically fit like us, the climb will take much longer. Hahaha! We do walk for an hour, five days a week; still, this was pretty challenging. We regretted not taking the 30-peso motorcycle ride to the top. There is a Php 20 entrance fee.
On the way to the top of the hill, you’ll see a World War II Japanese tunnel and the various activities that can be had. There is a run-down building at the very top of the hill where various, somewhat overpriced souvenirs are being sold.
The 360º view of the surrounding areas at the top of Ligñon Hill is pretty nice; The majestic Mayon to the Northwest, the entire city of Legazpi to the south and Albay Gulf to the east.
Jeepneys plying the Legazpi-Daraga route are few and far between. The abundance of tricycles make up for the lack of it, we hired one to take us to the main highway for Php 30.
Before heading back to our hotel to freshen up, we did a quick stop at St Gregory the Great Cathedral in front of Peñaranda Park.
Good thing we decided to walk back to the hotel. We passed by Smalltalk Cafe, a highly recommended food place among people who’ve been to Legazpi. And there’s good reason why, the food is great!
The last location on our list, the Embarcadero. The Embarcadero de Legazpi is much like most malls; there are shops, boutiques, restaurants, rides, throngs of people… But what this mall has that others don’t is an awesome view of Mayon.
The bay is surprisingly clean. I was thinking, being this close to the city, and a mall at that, it would be littered. There are lots of people sitting by the breakwater munching on snacks, watching the occasional person sliding down the zipline and of course the view of perfect Mayon volcano.
Although we were only able to spend a couple of nights in Legazpi and just one whole day to explore the surrounding towns, Albay definitely made its mark on me.
Albay is a province overflowing with history and beauty. One whole day may be enough to see the usual tourist attractions, but Albay has so much more to offer. From the hot springs, beaches, and other natural wonders, to the restaurants, century-old churches and other man-made marvels. All these serve as an invitation for another visit, and then another, then another…