Aug 02

Swimming with Whalesharks in Donsol, LuzonThe southeastern end of Luzon is a region of plenty.

Rich oceans with an abundance of marine life to excite every hobby scientist, volcanic activities in the form of mountains, hot lakes/springs and picturesque bays to shoot your very own postcard photos, wrecked galleons to dive to, caves to explore – Bicol certainly has it all.

Most activities and famous sights are centered around the regional capital Legazpi in the Albay province; which could be the perfect base for your explorations.

Here is a short overview on what to expect when coming through:

The people of Bicol are said to be friendly and liberal, due to the many fights fought here in its past.

Small Chapel Ruin on the way to ManitoAlso they are less religious and more secular than in the rest of the country. The mass attendance here is about 15% lower than in the rest of the country.

Swim with Whalesharks and Manta Rays near Donsol

If you are into diving and seeing macro life, chances are that you heard of Donsol already. Besides the Maldives and maybe the Great Barrier Reef, this small town of Donsol is maybe *the* place to be, to watch those giant marine animals.

Whalesharks are an endangered species and migratory animals, as they follow their food (mainly small krill and plankton) through the oceans, following seasonal current patterns.

Donsol was anything than well-known until just a few years back; when ecotourism was born. Before, local fishermen were used to try to shy away huge whalesharks from their fishing grounds, until they discovered that tourists are very much interested in them and are willing to pay top dollar for that. You could actually make more money from bringing tourists out here with your boats and showing them the whales than fishing the whole day.

Swimming with Manta RaysThe rest is history – nowadays the name ‘Donsol’ has an awe-inspiring sound in the ears of many. After all there are not many places where you can get so close to the giants of the seas or even swim or snorkel with them. The only catch is – you have to come here between December and May; because that’s the time of years when the Whalesharks and the Manta Rays come through here. Come a few weeks later – like happened to us – and you can come back next year again, this time during the right months. ;-)

If you don’t like water, Donsol is also the place to be if you want to see millions of fireflies in one place. Rent a boat at night and flow down the river. It’s said that it’s hard to tell the difference between the stars and the millions of fireflies residing in the river banks.

Volcanic Activities abound

Mayon Volcano in Bicol, South Luzon - the most perfect cone of them allThe Albay province also has its fair share of volcanic sights; be it the majestic Mayon volcano, with its near-perfect cone or hot lake and springs in its closer proximity. The Mayon Volcano currently shows signs of increased activity, so much so, that villagers of nearby settlements were warned already by the volcanic society and the government to show extra care and avoid the lava fields. Also the tourist spot near the crater ridge was closed already due to the increased activities. Everyone is guessing, when will be the next big outbreak?

Another interesting place to visit is the “Boiling Lake” near Manito, just 40km east of Legazpi. This is a lake of brown, iron-rich water, which is literally smoking hot. The whole lake is steaming and an interesting sight – if you can find it.

Boiling Lake near Manito, about 40km east of LegazpiThe problem with this lake, as with other waterfalls or hot springs – interesting points for tourists are usually not well-developed in the Philippines.

That means, that either the last few kilometers are unpaved, without any direction signs or hard to access with vehicles. That struck us even more so later on Samar Island.

This is unfortunately also the case with the lake near Manito. About 10 kilometers before reaching it, the scenic coastal road suddenly becomes impassable by tricycle or car. Only a few Jeepneys or dirtbikes dare to pass the roads.

And you have to ask your way around, as no sign will point you in the right direction.

Unfinished Tourist Project near Manito Boiling LakeHow did we get there? The first 35 kilometers with our Trike, when the road became unbearable, we boarded a Jeepney, the last 2 kilometer we had to walk. Also on the way back there was no more Jeepney far and wide, so we had to walk about 5 kilometers from the lake back to Manito and ask someone to get us with a dirtbike back to the tricycle. But that’s part of the adventure, right?

The “Boiling Lake” also has a small creek of hot water going into a large, man-made squared basin, which was obviously meant as a tourist project; for people to bath in. Somehow it was never finished, along with the pier near the ocean for boats to land on. The whole project is deserted and nobody is around. Too bad!

Pili Nuts to kill for

Another interesting thing to try out in Bicol are the local Pili Nuts. They are some kind of almond nut, which grow in abundance in the Bicol region, also on other island of the Visayas and Mindanao – but nowhere else on this planet outside the Philippines.

They taste similar to almonds, are just a tad smoother and taste good salted, with caramel or sugar crust or simply pure without anything. You can buy them in Bicol at many local stalls, in malls and made into many sweet delicacies, yes – even Marzipan is made from them, yummmmmmie! ;-)Cagsawa Ruins near Legazpi

Forests, Rivers and Ruins

Driving around Bicol you’ll notice that everything is very green, tropic and covered with lush rain forests. The whole region is covered with rivers also, which allows for activities like River Rafting and Kayaking, Mountain and River Trekking and visiting of Ruins (left from Volcano outbreaks) or the colonial past.

There are still remnants to be seen of the former baroque architecture of the gold-mining, sugar or agricultural barons.

Tricycle Diaries – Repairs and Maintenance

  • Tricycle Diaries - reached 2.000 kms near Legazpi, way to go!Nothing to report this time. Nothing broke down or needed fixing – except topping up the machine oil every 3-4 days or so
  • Reached 2.000 kilometers near Daraga, shortly before Legazpi!

To follow a up2date version of the Tricycle Route, check out this Google Map here, which is updated more often. New pictures are constantly uploaded to Flickr here.

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written by Chris

21 Responses to “Bicol Region – a natural beauty to settle down and grow old”

  1. marina k. villatoroNo Gravatar GUATEMALA Says:

    That does look like a great place to live. Funny enough, if I just looked at the volcano pictures, I’d think it’s a shot from Costa Rica’s active volcano Arenal:)

  2. MJNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    wow! good to hear you have reached bicol :D it has been raining the past few days, i hope you did not encounter some problems. i once experienced being stranded in donsol because of heavy rains. hope you had fun on your bicol adventure! :D

  3. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    marina k. villatoro – yeah, volcanoes are fascinating, aren’t they? I’ve yet to make it to Costa Rica and Guatemala, heard many interesting things about it. Made my PADI OW course on Roatan in Honduras, pretty nice area of this globe, so hopefully one day I will have some more time to roam around Latin and South America.

    MJ, Bicol was certainly fun! Actually we passed it about 4 weeks ago, staying about 1 week in and around Legazpi; but I’m only now catching up to write the articles about it. I’m getting so slowwwww here. We had a typhoon also over the weekend here on Bantayan, but today things are looking a bit clearer again. ;-)

  4. Nomadic PinoyNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    I haven’t explored much of Bicol although many years ago (1998), I joined an adventure club in what was then an exploratory trip to Caramoan peninsula which is also getting a lot of attention these days. I would definitely want to come back next time and hopefully see Mt. Mayon and visit Donsol.

  5. dodong floresNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Hi, Chris. I think what you mean of Daragi is Daraga, a part of Albay – that’s before Legazpi :)

  6. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Nomadic Pinoy, it’s really a nice area, isn’t it? Worth to come back again and again, for sure! ;-)

    Dodong, you are 100% right – as usual, buddy. Corrected that error. :-B

  7. Olympus ToursNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    In Cancun we can see the whale shark season. In fact, there is already a festival to observe the animal so surprising.

  8. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Sounds good Olympus Tours! How much do I have to pay for a Whaleshark tour?

  9. LorraineNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Those are seriously clear pictures of the whaleshark and manta! The whaleshark encounter is definitely one of my favorite experiences. Unfortunately the mantas where nowhere to be found when we did Ticao Island.

    By the way I had a different experience on religiosity in Bicol. My last visit on Legazpi and surrounding towns were around the time of Lent and almost everyone was busy preparing for it. The size of the statues were big and on display on the road sides. When I arrived in Donsol there was a big procession going on and everyone was on foot. It was long procession. I say that is dedication.

  10. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Lorraine, true – those are clear pictures, although I must admit, that they aren’t mine. We were simply too late this year to see both the Whalesharks and the Mantas. But guess what, I will be back next year for sure! ;-)

    Interesting observation regarding Legazpi though, religious dedication seems to be a more widespread phenomenon in the Philippines then. :D

  11. GeotacsNo Gravatar SINGAPORE Says:

    what a cool place to live and retire!

    thanks for sharing!

  12. Captain SparrowNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    i want to go to Bicol :)

  13. AdriNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Hi Chris,

    I tot the whaleshark picture is yours, its really cool! Diving or snorkling with whale shark is one of my top wishlists. I believe you have seen manta when you’re in Bali. I saw lots of manta when diving at Manta Point, Nusa Penida, Bali.


  14. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    I wish they were, Adri. Well, probably next year I will have some of my own also. :D

  15. DaneNo Gravatar CANADA Says:

    Hi Chris,
    Long time.
    Indonesia vs Thailand vs The Philippines? In general, which is better?
    Are you going to retire in The Philippines?

  16. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    There is no better or worse in general, Dane. None of them are perfect, none is really bad. I love Indonesia for its food, friendly people and easy-going life, but loath their Visa system. Thailand is the most-developed, but probably over-commercialized, while the Philippines is the least developed, has maybe the friendliest people, the best Visa system – but lacking infrastructure and food options . Of course I could write a book about each and every one, but it all depends on your preferences. Why not check them out for a while before your decide long-term?

  17. RyanNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Aw come on Chris – no food option?- Philippines has like the most diverse food choices in Asia! My American friend living in BKK has to fly to Manila to get a jerkie- heaps of international cuisine abound! I am not sure with our Visa system (I think it is crap- he he he) But where the hell have you been eating? Hehe. I agree with the lack of infrastructure though – but that makes it more exciting. More adventure I say.

  18. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Ryan, you are right – you have plenty of international food options, mainly in the larger cities or SM and Robinson Malls. I was comparing with tourist destinations like Bali or Phuket in mind, which simply outshine places like Boracay in regards of diversity, quality and value for money for me. Also I must admit that I prefer Indonesian/Thai food over Filipino cuisine; but that is just me (I’m just not a big meat eater). :-o

    The Visa system here in the Philippines I find very pleasant – I can stay in the country up to 18 months and only have to renew every few months, which takes all in all 10 minutes in one of the many immigration offices country-wide. Simple and easy!

    Compare that with Indonesia, the Visa on Arrival system sucks (VOA; leave country every 1 month – and that with those long distances) – an extended tourist visa will let you visit 20 times an immigration office within 6 months (with plenty of time wasted, paperwork and other bureaucracy to take care of).

    Thailand has an even more crappy and expensive Visa-Run policy, where you have to leave the country every 2 or 3 months. Okay, Thailand eased that somewhat for a limited time (until 03/2010 you can get a visa for 2 months free of charge) – but still you have to leave the country every few months just to get that stupid stamp. Come in via a land border (not airport) and they only give you 14 (!) days. x(

  19. EvaNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    :-? Hello! I appreciate your site lots of great info about the land of my birth. I grew up in one of the remote barrios of Donsol, which is San Isidro. I’m seriously contemplating revisiting Donsol after an absence of many years. Is the road going from Legazpi to Donsol in good repair?


  20. porshaNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    Hey Chris,

    Glad to see you’ve enjoyed your stay in Pinas. I’ll be back in Manila towards the end of this year for a vacation..

    When did you go to Donsol for the whaleshark interaction? Am currently planning a trip myself, targeting mid-December. I’m really hoping there’s no typhoon so I can see some whaleshark..

  21. cazare predealNo Gravatar ROMANIA Says:

    I’ve visited the ruins of Cagsawa and I was impressed by the power of the old volcano. I suppose that the old ruins will resist because shows that the history can repeat. Best regards !

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