Bicol - A beautiful hidden treasure for tourists
Land of volcanoes, whale sharks, and hot pepper
It is reputed to be the home of leftists and sympathizers of rebel movements. It lies in the path of typhoons. In fact, a large number of typhoons come through this region first before it hits any other part of Luzon. Yet, there is a joke that people in this region would first save a sili (hot pepper) plant before they even take care of their hut in the face of a raging typhoon. This is the Bicol Region.
Geography and Economy
It occupies the southeastern peninsula of Luzon island including several islands to the east and south. The region consists of six provinces on the peninsula starting from the north: Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, and Sorsogon. Catanduanes is on an island on the east. Masbate is comprised of a group of islands on the south.
There are seven cities in the region: Naga (the cultural and religious center), Legaspi (the political and administrative center), Iriga, Ligao, Masbate City, Sorsogon City, and Tabaco.
There are five volcanoes: Mt. Labo (Camarines Norte), Mt. Malinao (Albay), Mt. Isarog (Camarines Sur), Bulusan Volcano (Sorsogon) and Mayon Volcano (Albay). You can see three mountains when in flight coming into Manila from the south. At 2,421 meters (the highest in the region), Mt. Mayon is reputed to have the world’s most perfect natural cone.
Presently, half of all farm land is planted with coconut, 20% with rice, and 10% with abaca (Manila hemp). “Bicol ranks second to eastern Visayas in abaca production. Rice, the staple [food], is supplemented with corn and root crops. Bicol is currently the largest producer of sweet potato, and the third largest producer of cassava and calamansi. Coffee and cacao are also grown.”
“After the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao [ARMM], Bicol is the poorest region in the country, with about half of the families living below the national annual capita poverty threshold of PhP 10,378 in cash and non-cash income (approx. US$ 204 per year).”
History and Politics
The Bicol region possesses concrete archaeological evidence that it once traded extensively with China, Malaya, and Indonesia back 2,000 years ago, helping debunk an earlier theory of a primitive civilization in the Philippine islands in the 16th century. It was not until 1565, when Mayon Volcano was first sighted by a Spanish treasure-galleon returning to Cebu from Mexico.
"The Bicol region was anciently known as Ibalon, variously interpreted to derive form ibalio, 'to bring to the other side'; ibalon, 'people from the other side' or 'people who are hospitable and give visitors gifts to bring home'; or as a corruption of Gibal-ong, a sitio of Magallanes, Sorsogon where the Spaniards first landed in 1567. The Bico River was first mentioned in Spanish Documents in 1572."
Bicol is not as well-known as other tourist spots in the country, such as Baguio, Boracay, Cebu, and Davao. However, Mayon Volcano is world famous for its natural perfect cone beauty. The name Mayon is known to be derived from the Bicol word magayon, which means "beautiful."
"There are plenty of places to visit, offering opportunities to swim at beautiful beaches, scuba-dive to wrecked galleons, explore caves, climb volcanoes, admire waterfalls, lush vegetation, Baroque architecture, etc. Gold-mining and jewelry manufacture continue to distinguish [Albay].... The region has recently seen a revival in its tourism industry, due mainly to the popularity of whale shark spotting and an increase in the number of upscale resorts around Mayon volcano. Daet has long been a destination for surfers. It is hoped that the planned Legazpi City International Airport will further boost tourism in the region.
Famous tourist sites to visit are:
Mayon Volcano, Albay - "Mayon Volcano is located north of Legaspi City [and] is one of the most visited tourist destinations because of its enchanting scenic view.
Donsol, Sorsogon - Home of the whale shark, the largest fish in the world, called butanding in the native language. Although it is a shark and may look ferocious, it eats microscopic plankton. Tourists are able to swim with these gentle and friendly sharks.
Other tourist sites to visit are:
Puraran Beach (a white sand beach), Busay Falls (seven-tiered cascading waterfalls), Hoyop-hoyopan Cave (a natural tunnel-like structure), Calabidongan Caves (grotto-like formation, good for trekking), and Bulusan Lake (known as the "Switzerland of the Orient"). The latest tourist destination is wakeboarding in Camarines Sur.
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Bicolanos are fond of gata (coconut milk) which they use to prepare appetizers, main dishes, desserts, and snacks. They are also noted for their preference for hot and spicy food. Labuyo (a tiny native hot pepper) is an important ingredient in the kitchen. "Seafood, such as crabs, fish, shrimp, and a wide variety of shellfish abound in the surrounding waters, making it a major part of the Bikolano diet." Pili nuts, which is unique to the Bicol region, is made into sweets.
Although Bicol is not as well-known as Boracay Beach and Baguio, Bicol boasts of Mayon Volcano (the most natural perfect-cone volcano in the world) and the whaleshark (butanding in the local language), which is the largest fish in the world. Did you know that the smallest fish in the world (called sinarapan at only 2.4 mm long can also be found in Lake Buhi, which is in Bicol? There's more to discover in Bicol. It's a hidden treasure!
Recommended Links on Bicol - Where to find more information
- Rediscovering Lake Buhi: Home of the World's Smallest Edible Fish
Feature on Lake Buhi, home of the world's smallest fish
- Wikipedia: Bicol Region
General information on Bicol region
- eVisNet: Region 5
More information on Bicol region
Article on the Bicolano people by Diana Lyn Lopez
- IIRR: Bicol Region
An assessment of the economics of the Bicol Region
- Bicol Region Philippines Travel Guide, Destinations and Attractions
Good information for tourists visiting the Bicol Region
- The Bicol Region
More helpful information on Bicol