When you see photographs of beautiful places you’ve never been to, your mind starts to wonder what it is like to be there and see the place through your very own set of eyes. But your mind’s imagination can only go so far. No matter how long you stare at the picture, it won’t trigger a feeling in your heart in the same way as seeing a photograph of a place you’ve been to and which you’ve experienced yourself first hand.
That’s exactly how I felt whenever I see stunning images of Mt. Mayon. As a kid, I grew up seeing photos of it in school and recently as a grown up, I continue to see it in postcards and in my Facebook feed. Seeing the perfectly-shaped cone made me curious if it was even real or if it was Photoshopped. And so, this year, I decided to book a weekend trip to Legazpi in Bicol to see what I’ve been missing all these years.
I know two ways of getting to Legazpi City. The easier way, which is by plane, will take you there in 50 minutes. But given that our family loves to travel by land and go on very long road trips to see beautiful landscapes, we decided to go there the harder way, which is by bus.
We chose DLTB Co because its Buendia Terminal is very close to Makati where I live. They have daily buses going to Legazpi, but you can’t just show up there expecting to get a ride anytime. As it turns out, long distance trips like these need reservations days in advance.
Fortunately, we were able to reserve their Greyhound bus which has a bigger leg room and carries lesser passengers. The best part of it? It has a built-in restroom.
We left Manila at 5:30 PM on a busy Friday afternoon. Just for the record, DLTB is very on time. When they say that they will leave at 5:30, they will do so at 5:30 sharp. They won’t wait for late passengers. So make sure to be at the terminal 15 minutes before departure time.
Inside the bus, you get to build a profile in your head of what kind of co-passengers you have with you on board. Basically, they are split into two camps: the old-timers and the first-timers.
There are passengers who you just know are natively from Legazpi. You’ll find that they are so used to the long travel because they are prepared with blankets and pillows and all they do is sleep in the bus for the entire duration of the trip. They don’t care about how breath-taking the view outside the bus is, because they’ve probably seen it a hundred times. They are the old-timers. Those who simply appear to not care at all.
And then, there are passengers who you know are first-timers. These are the people you see bringing more food than they can possibly consume during the trip, as if there’s an impending famine. They are also equipped with DSLRs and you’ll notice them taking pictures and posting them on Facebook right away. They are also noticeably talkative during the entire trip. And yes, we belonged to this camp. Haha.
We expected the trip to take 10-12 hours with 3 or 4 stopovers in between where passengers can stretch their legs and grab some snacks along the way. That means we were anticipating to get to Legazpi by 5:30 AM the next day, Saturday. Unfortunately, for us, there was a bridge construction somewhere in Pili Camarines Sur so our trip was significantly delayed. We got there at 10:30 AM, making our trip equivalent to 16 hours. What the heck! Good thing we slept in the bus or else we won’t have energy for the tour.
The Oriental Legazpi Hotel
One of the most difficult things to consider when going for nature trips is the timing. You have to do your homework to research when is the best season to travel. In our case, we opted to visit Legazpi during the summer when the weather is fine and Mayon’s perfect cone is clear and not obstructed by clouds.
At least, that is what we hoped for. But this is what we got when we arrived there on a hot Saturday morning.
Why so shy Mt. Mayon? We travelled overnight for more than 12 hours to see you covered with clouds during the summer month? Bummer.
But I did not worry about it because I knew that in our 3-day stay in Bicol, we’ll surely see that perfect cone especially that we are staying in one of the most strategically-located hotels in the city. You see, when it comes to accommodations, The Oriental Legazpi IS the hotel to book. No more, no less.
This is the only hotel in the city which is situated on top of a hill and which is directly in the line of sight of Mt. Mayon. Don’t believe me? Well how about waking up in the morning with a view that looks like this from the balcony of your hotel room?
Mayon came from the Bicolano term “Magayon”, which means beautiful. Such a fitting name if you ask me. When I opened our hotel window, I gasped with astonishment when I saw its perfectly symmetric cone in full view. God, I don’t want to leave this place.
Let’s talk a bit about the hotel. The Oriental Legazpi is a 4-star hotel which served as the official residence of the recently concluded United Nations World Tourism Organization summit held in Bicol. I’ll try to briefly describe and review my experience in this hotel.
- Facilities & Ambience
The rooms are pretty standard for what you expect in a 4-star hotel. It’s not too spacious, but borders between small to “just right”. Everything is clean, white and odorless.
I do think however, that it is high time for them to do some renovations. I heard before that they were once considered a 5-star hotel, but they are slowly being downgraded in status because their facilities are starting to depreciate. I strongly suggest that they start doing some repainting and upgrading of their equipment like their airconditioners and elevators which seem to be a little faulty at the time we were there.
But of course, one could easily forget these little things when your hotel room has a balcony that is directly facing the ever-majestic Mt. Mayon.
Apart from that, the saving glory of the hotel is their infinity pool which exudes a beach-like ambience facing the volcano. When I went for a swim, I forgot the rest of our itinerary that day. I just wanted to stay there all day long. Haha!
- Food & Service
Most of their staff our local Bicolanos and Bicolanas. They have the charming appeal and are very friendly to guests. I liked how they gave us complimentary welcome drinks upon our arrival.
If you ever read reviews online, you will find that some people say that their restaurant has really bad food. But I disagree. Based from my experience, they don’t have the best food in town, but they don’t have the worst either. Their dishes fall to an above average rating of about 7/10. Not that bad.
Their dinner buffet is priced reasonably at 650 Pesos while their breakfast is at 399 Pesos.
TL;DR: If you are after the view of Mt. Mayon and the wonderful swimming experience, The Oriental Legazp is the place to be. You can reserve a room online through their website. Just make sure that when you book a room, choose the one with Mount Mayon View to get a guaranteed glimpse of the world-famous volcano.
If there is a scenery that you are certainly familiar with (thanks to postcards) and one which you will likely look for when you go to Bicol, it is none other than the Cagsawa Ruins with the Mayon volcano in the background.
In the picture below, I’m sitting on an actual volcanic rock that was spewed by the volcano during one of its worst eruptions in 1814. At the back is the bell tower of the church that once stood there.
During the eruption of Mt. Mayon some 200 years ago, pyroclastic materials, lahar and huge rocks swept away everything in its path more than 11 kilometer radius away from the volcano. Unfortunately, that included the Cagsawa Church, where families who came there for refuge, also perished and were buried alive inside the church. What a disaster! Reminds me of Italy’s Pompeii.
Today, only the belfry of the Church can be seen as standing as well as a few collapsed walls like this one. Underneath this place are bodies which were never recovered.
We also walked around the area and saw piles and piles of black volcanic rocks. I can’t imagine the horror seeing these big rocks rolling down from the mountain and heading towards you.
Mayon is a sight to behold, no doubt. But sometimes, it’s hard to imagine how a beauty like this can also cause so much devastation and misery to people.
Our next destination was Daraga Church which is situated a little uphill from the main roads. Due to its proximity to the Cagsawa Ruins, this became the new parish church of the survivors of the Mayon eruption in 1814.
Here’s a trivia: Look closely at the church’s facade and you’ll notice that it looks blackish. You know why? It’s because the walls are also made up of volcanic material which is pretty common in the surrounding area.
Daraga serves as a tourist spot and more famously, as the wedding church of Legazpi. After all, it’s old picturesque look plus the scenic Mayon view beside it makes it a romantic venue to tie the knot.
We headed to Ligñon Hill afterwards, which is the small hill with a viewing deck where you can see a 360 degree view of Legazpi.
On this hill, they set-up recreational facilities. You can ride ATVs, rappell, paintball, bike and ride a zip line. If you are into extreme sports and adventure, this is the place to go to in Legazpi.
Pili Factory and Chili Ice Cream
If you ever wondered what sorts of food and delicacies are native to Bicol, it would be none other than the addicting Pili nuts. These nuts come in all forms, kinds and flavors it will make you nuts (pun intended 😉 ). Spicy, garlic, salted, sweetened, tarts pili nuts all make very good treats (or pasalubong) for your folks when you get back to Manila.
The Bicolanos are also crazy about spicy food. They have pinangat, Bicol Express and believe it or not: Chili Ice Cream which has 7 levels of spiciness. Given that I’m not a fan of hot food, I skipped all the stuff with chili and stuck with pili nuts instead, which we bought from the Pili Factory. But in case you are up for the level 7 spicyness challenge, then I say go for it when you go to Bicol. I’m just not sure if you need to sign a waiver. Hahaha!
The last place we went to was Legazpi Boulevard. It is a coastal road stretching about 4 kilometers where you can see the seascape view of Albay Gulf by your side while your hair gets blown away by the breeze. This is like the Roxas Boulevard of Legazpi where men jog and women Zumba during early mornings. There is also a huge signage of Legazpi with Mayon in the background where tourists can take souvenir shots to show their family and friends.
Unfortunately, we arrived there in mid afternoon where the sun is high in the sky and the mountain was again covered with clouds. Not an ideal recipe to take pictures, but we just had to shoot them anyway. If you’ll be visiting this place to take photos, I say you put it on the first part of your itinerary.
In our entire trip, you’ll notice that Mt. Mayon is always in the background of our pictures. It’s everywhere. Our tour guide told us a trivia that a good way to find out if you are still in the vicinity of Legazpi is if you can still see Mt. Mayon. If it’s no longer visible, then you’re no longer in Legazpi City.
Having seen Mount Mayon with my very own eyes, looking at panoramic pictures like this now triggers a warm feeling in my heart.
I hope it does the same for you too. If not, then it’s time for you to book your ticket going there.