Bicol is the adventure capital of the Philippines, and is well known for its active volcanoes, tranquil whale sharks, secret beaches and spicy food. The destination is popular with Filipinos but fairly unknown to foreign tourists, so this travel guide acts as an introduction to the beautiful region of Bicol Philippines.
Where is Bicol Philippines
The Bicol region is based in the southern part of Luzon, the largest island in the Philippine archipelago. Bicol is a region made up of six provinces, Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Sorsogon and the island provinces of Catanduanes and Masbate, and has its own language, Bikol, which is highly influenced by Spanish. The largest city is Legazpi, the capital of Albay and the Bicol Region is bounded by the Lamon Bay to the north, the Philippine Sea to the east, and the Sibuyan Sea and Ragay Gulf to the west. The northernmost Bicol provinces of Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur, are bordered to the west by the province of Quezon Philippines.
Map of Bicol Region Philippines
How to get to Bicol Philippines
Bicol can be reached by road or air. There are two main airports in Bicol, one in Naga, Naga Airport (WNP) and the other in Legazpi City, Legazpi Airport (LGP). Both of these airports are serviced by major domestic carriers, including Philippines Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Cebgo airlines. There are multiple flights a day between Bicol and other parts of the Philippines such as Cebu and Manila which is only a one hour flight away.
The distance by road from Bicol to Manila is 293 kilometres or 182 miles. The journey takes 8 to 10 hours by public transport from Manila, Cubao and Sampaloc. Travel by private car takes about 6 to 7 hours from Manila to Legazpi City Philippines.
Best Time to Visit Bicol Philippines
As the provinces in Bicol Philippines are an underrated tourist destination there is no peak season (yet!) so it’s theres no need to worry about avoiding the crowds.
Bicol Philippines has an all year round tropical climate, however the wet season is from July to January, when typhoons can be common. April is the driest month of the year so a great time to visit, especially if you want to go island hopping in the Caramoan Islands.
If you would like to experience the festival culture that Bicol is famous for, then check out the calendar here and plan your visit to fall during these times of the year.
Best Places to Visit in Bicol Philippines
Legazpi City in Albay Philippines
The best tourist spot in Bicol is the majestic Mount Mayon, which is found in Legazpi City, the capital of Albay. Mt Mayon is 2,462 meters high and is the world’s most perfectly formed volcano. The active volcano can be seen from nearly anywhere in the city and most activities in Legazpi revolve around Mayon Volcano.
Legazpi City is also home to Cagsawa Ruins, a 16th century church tower, and Sumlang Lake, a water-sports haven with incredible views of Mount Mayon, both the ruins and the lake are popular Bicol tourist attractions.
Donsol in Bicol
Donsol is famous for being the whale shark capital of the world, and these huge fish can be seen all year round. Boats leave daily from the Donsol Whale Shark Interaction Center, so if swimming with whale sharks is on your bucket list Donsol is the place to do it. Diving with manta rays is also a popular activity in Donsol, between December and May.
Naga City Camarines Sur Philippines
Whilst the rest of Bicol is famed for its nature and adventure, Naga City Philippines is the religious centre of Bicol. Home to one of the most popular shrines in the Philippines, the Penafrancia Basilica Minore, is patterned after the Spanish shrine and is often visited by pilgrims and devotees.
Caramoan Island in Camarines Sur
The Caramoan Islands are the Philippines secret paradise. This hidden gem in Camarines Sur is often dubbed the next El Nido, as island hopping from one serene spot to another is the best thing to do in the Caramoan Islands. Spend your days, journeying around the peninsula in search of white sand coves and limestone rocks and even look out for the filming location of the hit US TV show, Survivor.
Camarines Norte Philippines
The most popular spot in the Camarines Norte, is the Catanduanes Islands, north of Luzon, which are a favourite amongst local surfers. They are home to some of the most beautiful Bicol beaches, including Mamangal Beach, a completely untouched spot of paradise in the Catanduanes.
Another popular spot in the Camarines Norte is the city of Daet. A cultural hotspot, home to numerous churches, monuments, and historical sites such as Parroquia de San Juan Bautista – one of the oldest churches in Bicol.
Where to Stay in Bicol Philippines
There are several good places to stay in Bicol, here are my recommendations for the different Bicol provinces.
Legazpi City Philippines – There are plenty of hotels available including the Oriental Hotel Legazpi which is famous for its pool view of Mayon Volcano, and Casa Simeon which would be my first choice, for its history and boutique feel.
Caramoan Island – There are only a handful of accommodation options on the islands of Caramoan, including my favourite, Tugawe Cove Resort. Located at the tip of Camarines Sur peninsula, the resort has a private beach, and infinity swimming pool with sea views. Another highly recommended place to stay in the Caramoan Islands is Gota Village resort near Matukad Island.
Donsol Bicol – For those wanting to swim with the whale sharks a great place to stay in Donsol is Villa Peralta Inn.
The Bicol Region is renowned for its spicy cuisine. Most Bicolano dishes contain, sili (hot chilli pepper) and gata (coconut milk) such as the most popular savoury dish, Bicol Express. Locally, the Bicol Express is known as gulay na lada, and is made from ground pork, sili, baby shrimp, onion, garlic and other spices cooked in coconut milk.
Another popular Bicolano food dish is Pinangat, made from green gabi (taro) leaves wrapped around small pieces of fish, shrimp and/or pork. Both dishes can be served with a vegetarian Bicol favourite, Laing, which is a chopped leafy green vegetable. As for deserts, Legazpi is famous for its hot pink Chilli ice cream and Pili nut candies.
Festivals in Bicol Philippines
Bicol is known for having some of the best festivals in the whole of the Philippines. Some are religious, but others showcase the uniqueness of the Bicol Region.
- In April, Masbate City holds the only rodeo in Asia, Rodeo Masbateño.
- For the duration of May, Albay celebrates, Magayon Festival a month long festival which honours the beauty of Mount Mayon Volcano, which overlooks the city of Legazpi.
- Also in May, is the 8 day long Sarung Banggi Festival, a colourful religious celebration dedicated to Potenciano V Gregorio’s love song ‘Sarung Banggi’.
- During August, Legazpi City holds the Ibalong Festival, decidated to the folk story of Ibalong, where people dance in the streets wearing masks and costumes that represent the heroes and villains in the story.
- In September, Naga City holds one of the busiest festivals in Bicol, attracting more than six million people a year. The Peñafrancia Festival is held to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia.
- During Christmas, Naga Bicol also holds the Kamundagan Festival which includes lighting the Plaza Quezon Grandstand’s Christmas Village, and includes different fantasy themed Christmas shows held each night until Christmas Eve.
I hope this travel guide to Bicol Philippines has been helpful. If you are interested in exploring more Bicol destinations check out the below.
- Legazpi City is the largest city in the region of Bicol, and one of the Philippine’s adventure tourism capitals
- Caramoan Islands is a collection of deserted tropical islands likened to El Nido, but with hardly any tourists.