Albay has been playing host to an enormous number of tourists that in 2011, it recorded about 316,000 arrivals, more than half of them foreigners. And what are all these tourists doing in the province that is situated about 450 kilometers south of Manila?
Firstly, a visit to Albay is not complete without the proverbial moments with the magnificent Mayon Volcano. Hiking up to the crater is a popular activity among outdoor enthusiasts. If trekking is not an option, they would drive along the scenic road towards Mayon Skyline Hotel also known as Mayon Rest House. It is the closest one can get to this alluring volcano known for its perfect cone.
Photo junkies would also head to Barangay Busay in Daraga town for the classic shot of Cagsawa Church Ruins and Mt. Mayon. For more rustic scenery, they explore the surrounding towns at the foothills of the volcano and delight themselves with the boundless photographic opportunities.
Albay Attractions - Mayon Volcano
Those who fancy nature tripping would check out the province’s lovely cascades and bask in its natural countryside charm featuring waterfalls and cool down there. They swim at the refreshing water of Vera Falls near the ascending driveway towards the Mayon Skyline Hotel in Tabaco City or in the splendid cascades of Palale Falls in the quaint town of Malinao.
The adventurous ones hike up Busay Falls and explore the seven falls tucked within the verdant forest of Malilipot town. Bugsucan Falls is another natural treasure located in the geothermal energy-rich municipality of Tiwi that is most visited. It is tiered and set on a beautiful mountainside with its cascading waters blending perfectly with its natural springs. It is a recommended site for bathing, picnics and photography.
Likewise in Albay, tourists don’t find the need to fly to the island of Santorini or across the Pacific to the islands of Hawaii to experience the rare beauty of the best black sand beaches in the world. The province, because of its volcanic origin is home to the most unusual jet-black sandy beaches in the country. Tourists bury their feet in the volcanic black sand beaches that extend from this city to the province’s northern tip in Tiwi.
For more adventures, exploring Albay caves is pretty worthwhile starting with the feel of the gentle breeze that blows through the numerous openings of Hoyop-Hoyopan Cave in Camalig where visitors also marvel at the interesting rock formations and the small bats that inhabit it. For some serious spelunking, the nearby Calabidongan Cave also located in Camalig is an exciting destination. A bit of trekking, some river crossings and swimming across a seven-foot lagoon leads to its spacious and imposing cathedral.
The grotto-like Del Rosario Cave in Jovellar town and the seaside cavern of Minaroso Cave in Rapu-Rapu both offer remote and unexplored spots. Tourists would hike up Lignon Hill here early in the morning before the day gets too hot and the clouds roll in to hide Mayon’s tip. Located not far from the domestic airport, the hill stands at 511 feet tall and has the best view of Mayon and entire landscape of the city, the Albay Gulf and nearby towns of Daraga and Sto. Domingo.
Alternatively, people visit the hill late in the afternoon to catch the sunset and the sparkling night lights and enjoy the 360 degree panoramic view of the city. They also would try the exciting activities on offer at the hill like zip lining, rappelling, paintball and airsoft. Downstairs, adventure sports like ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) riding and biking on dried up gullies at the foot of Mayon are also taken as other exciting activities.
Seasoned travelers who prefer to explore the unspoiled and dramatic part of the country check out four of the Philippines’ wild islands off the Pacific shore of Albay-- San Miguel, Batan, Rapu-Rapu and Cagraray Island, which all offer pristine waters and powdery beaches. Except for Cagraray Island where the luxurious Misibis Bay Resort is located, there are no hotels available on the islands so those who prefer staying overnight set up camps or ask the locals to put them up for the night for a small fee.
While 0n these islands, tourists check out the remains of a seventeenth-century Spanish galleon three kilometers off the coast of Buhatan Beach of Rapu-rapu. The galleon was one of the Spanish trading ships that sailed between Manila and Acapulco, Mexico and is now home to colorful corals, clams, fans as well as tropical fish, sea snakes and nudibranches. They would also dive at San Miguel Marine Reserve, one of the top five dive sites in Bicol and awarded as the 2nd Best Managed Reef in 2001 by PhilReefs.
Culture and architecture junkies, meanwhile, delight themselves with the province’s century-old religious structures and their rich history. Old churches are present in almost every town and municipality. Although many of them had been altered and renovated, some are still worth visiting.
San Juan Bautista Church in Tabaco City is one of the two churches in the region declared as National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum. It was first built in 1616 while the present church was completed in 1879. San Juan Bautista church has an impressive belfry and the stones used to build the church bear the unique markings of the Masons.
The other is Daraga Church of Our Lady of the Gate which is another cultural treasure highly regarded for its indigenous Baroque architecture, richly decorated façade and intricate images carved out from volcanic stones. This massive structure is perched majestically on a hill overlooking Mayon Volcano.
Of course, they won’t miss to check out Camalig Church of St. John the Baptist, one of the province’s strongest, most massive and best-preserved churches. Marvel at the ingenuity of the skillful stone cutters who built this church from solid blocks of lava rock.
Between sorties, they feast on the local cuisine starting with a sample of the fiery Bicol Express (spicy viand of pork with coconut milk) from the local eatery and have a takeaway of the famous Pinangat (taro leaves cooked in coconut milk) of Camalig. Others try the cheap and tasty snacks sold on the streets like the sinapot, ginamsan, balisongsong, dila-dila, puto sa abab or when feeling a bit adventurous, savor a bowl of pancit rinuguan, a noodle dish simmered in meat broth, spices and stew of cubed pork, tripe, various innards and pork blood.
The shopaholics, on the other hand would head to the local market for a wide choice of great value native products, pili nut candies and other sweets. They would buy to take home some dried fish, fresh egg noodles and fresh alamang (small shrimp) which is the distinct ingredient in an authentic Bicol Express.
The elegantly constructed Satellite Market near the futuristic Central Bus Terminal in this city has clusters of shops selling all manners of take home goods and native handicrafts from the finest abaca products like bags, wallets, footwear, colorful home decorations as well as cutlery and pottery.
All these things to do in Albay for tourists places the province third to Cebu and Boracay as the fastest growing destinations in the country with new and diversified tourism come-ons. It has achieved a tourist industry growth rate of more than 109 percent during the last three months, according to the Department of Tourism. (Danny O. Calleja/PNA/LAP/cbd/)