Bicol

Bicol Travel Guide

Photo by ronniereymanjares on Pixabay // CC0

Photo by ronniereymanjares on Pixabay // CC0

Introduction

Encompassing the narrow, most southern portion of the island of Luzon, the region of Bicol often gets passed over for the north of the island, or the isles of the Visayas. However, those determined to explore off the beaten track will have their curiosity rewarded, as this part of the Philippines is home to fantastic churches, paradise islands, and one of its most prominent volcanoes.

Cultural Attractions

Start your sightseeing in Bicol Province by making a stop at the Basilica of Our Lady of Penafrancia. You might be confused why you are taking time out of your busy schedule to this church, as it appears to be rather modern (it was completed in 1982).

It is a noteworthy stop due to its long-time association with being a Marian (a sect of Christianity) pilgrimage site. On the grounds of this church, you will find a shrine which attracts devotees from across the Philippines and Asia. They come to see a unique image of the Virgin Mary, which was crafted in 1710. Within you’ll also find oil paintings of the Station of the Cross, so take time to check them out before heading on your way.

Those looking for older, aged Roman Catholic churches while travelling in Bicol will love what they find at Daraga Church. Completed by the Franciscans in 1772, this beauty shows the weathering one would expect for a structure which has withstood a tropical climate for centuries, yet its architectural touches remain easily identifiable and appreciated.

Built in the Churrigueresque style (a subset of Baroque architecture), its elaborate design will impress fans of European churches – suffice to say, if it was located there, it wouldn’t look out of place. Given its good looks and its superior views of the Mayon Volcano, try not to miss this attraction.

Not all churches in Bicol have survived the ages intact, as you will see during a tour of Cagsawa Ruins Park. Protecting what are the remains of a 16th-century Franciscan church, this park allows visitors to bear witness to the destructive power to the nearby Mayon Volcano.

An eruption by this feared mount in 1814 destroyed the town of Cagsawa and this place of worship for the 2nd and final time (Dutch pirates burned it to the ground in 1636), leaving behind a bell tower and several wrecked walls which are overgrown by jungle vines in the present day.

The gravity of this place and choice views of the Mayon Volcano make this place worth visiting despite an overabundance of souvenir shops and touts, so be brave and endure the onslaught on your way into the park.

Bicol Province is home to a number of fantastic islands, Caramoan included. Before catching a ferry to one of many islands off the coast, make time in your day to check out the Our Lady of Peace Grotto.

Defined by a gigantic statue of the Virgin Mary, it offers more than just an epic selfie opportunity – the views it offers of the oceans and isles offshore will make the sweaty climb to get the top worth the effort.

Other Attractions

Dominating the skyline through much of Bicol, the Mayon Volcano is easily this region’s most significant natural attraction. A destructive volcano which has laid waste to towns numerous times in its notorious past, climbing it can be a risky proposition at best (it last erupted in January 2018).

However, if threat levels are low enough, there are ATV tours which will take you as close as humanly possible to this smoking giant. Give it a go – you only live once!

As mentioned earlier, there are a number of beautiful tropical islands one can visit while in Bicol. Make Matukad Island your first stop, as it boasts soft, white sand and an abundance of cliffs. Just offshore, there are a number of limestone karsts and sea stacks – while not as extensive as El Nido, it is a pleasant surprise for an island off the beaten track in the Philippines.

Lahos Island is another gem located off the coast of Bicol. Much smaller in stature than Matukad, it is known for a strip of sand which connects two husks of limestone overgrown by vegetation. Ideal as part of a day spent island hopping off this part of Bicol, its crystal clear water will make it tough for you leave this tranquil place.

Think you have to go to Dumaguete to go diving for whale sharks? Thankfully, the town of Donsol offers whale shark diving, negating the need to jump on a plane bound for the south of the Philippines.

As soon as you slip into the water off the coast of this town in Bicol, you’ll understand why so many travellers have this activity on their bucket list. Despite the fearsome name, whale sharks are gentle giants, making an encounter with them nothing short of magical.