In January 2018 the Philippine Province of Bicol was in the news because of the eruption of the Mount Mayon. 40.000 people in the immediate vicinity of the volcano had to be evacuated. A few months later, in March, the moody giant seemed to be sleeping again. A perfect time to visit Legazpi, the city in the shadow of the volcano.
The cheapest way to reach Legaspi is by bus from Manila. The ticket is not expensive, about 650 Pesos (12 USD) and the ride takes about 12 hours, so it is best to take the night bus. Although many bus companies service Legaspi, it can pay to buy your ticket well in advance, because when I wanted to go there in March 2018, all the tickets were sold and I first had to take the bus to the nearby city of Naga.
If you are in Legaspi, you will soon notice that there is less infrastructure for foreign tourists here than in the Visayas or Palawan. This can be a good thing as prices tend to be pretty low. However, your choices as a backpacker will be somewhat limited. I can recommend the Mayon Backpacker Hostel, where you can get a room for 350 Pesos (6,50 USD).
For there you can set off to the Volcano. The best spot to get as close to the Volcano as possible is the Church Ruins of Cagsawa. The church was built in 1587, destroyed by pirates, and levelled again by the eruption of Mt Mayon in 1814. From Legazpi there are regular jeepney that you can take and it is free, but expect a lot of tourists at this popular sight.
Access to the still active volcano is restricted. Therefore, if you want to see the Mayon up close and have a bit of fun in the process, I can recommend a Quad-tour. There are many operators at Cagsawa and driving the thing is quite simple. The light vehicles with the big tyres can cross almost any terrain and all you have to do is accelerate and break. An experienced driver/guide will lead the way and take pictures of you whenever you like. However, you should not wear your best attire as you will drive through mud and water.
There are different tours to choose from. As a rule of thumb: the closer you want to get to the Volcano, the more expensive the tour. For example, of you want to see the cold lava up close, you will have to pay 1500 Pesos (28 USD). However, you should check for special discounts. I was offered a promo tour: 1 hour of driving for 300 Pesos (5,5 USD). I did not get that close to the Volcano, but got a better view than in Cagsawa and had a lot of fun driving my Quad.
If you want to see a beach in Legazpi proper, you can go to Puro Beach. However, do not expect to swim here as the water is very dirty. It is more known as a fishing spots. However, you have a nice view of the bay and the forested hills of the back-country.
If you come to Legazpi in May and are lucky, you can visit the Magayon Festival honoring the tradition of the Mountain Goddess. The fest attracts many visitors and sports a parade. Well in advance the locals prepare colorful wagons to represent their neighbourhood or town, and dancers prepare for their role in the big parade at the opening of Magayon.
If you are as unlucky as me and are unable to purchase a bus ticket to Legazpi, you can still take the detour via Naga. The town itself does not have a lot to offer for tourists. However, if you are already there, you can take a jeepney to Mount Isarog, an inactive volcano 45 minutes away. There you can either hike up the mountain if you are early, or take a short walk to a waterfall. Last entrance is 4 pm, too late for me sadly.
All in all, I liked my trip to Bicol, although it was not a highlight of my travels in the Philippines. The Mount Mayon is an impressive sight, although its top was mostly covered by clouds.
Another reason to visit Bicol is the food, which is praised by many as the best food in the country. The region is home to the famous Bicol Express, pork with coconut milk, ginger and red peppers. This dish shows Bicol´s love for spicy food, spicier than in the rest of the Philippines.
A day in Legazpi, including a bed in a hostel, three meals and a Quad tour cost me 905 Pesos (17 USD).
Accommodation: 350 Pesos
Food: 225 Pesos
Transport (Jeepney): 30 Pesos
Quad Tour: 300 Pesos