Among the many secrets of the Philippines is Bicol, a scenic region of magnificent volcanoes, hot springs and glorious beaches. It is also a place rich in culture and history, with its splendid churches, museums and archeological sites. Not to be missed are its delicacies and spicy dishes cooked in coconut milk and chili peppers.
Not to be missed on a trip to Bicol is the amazing Mayon Volcano. Known worldwide for its nearly-perfect cone, it dominates the view for miles around. Dare to climb its slopes but be sure to contact the Mayon Mountaineers first for a quick climbing guide. Drop by the Phivolcs Observatory and Museum which showcases the volcano’s violent past but also affords a glorious view of the Albay Gulf and the surrounding towns. Take a visit to Cagsawa town and view the lonely ancient bell-tower, the only remaining memento of the church where the people took refuge against the eruption of the volcano in 1814.
Aside from the magnificent Mayon, the mountains of Isarog, Iriga and Bulusan are also found in the Bicol region. They are Mayon’s “little sisters” and are designated National Parks where native flora and fauna are protected. Do contact the local office of the Department of Tourism for climbing instructions before you plan a trek to these mountains, though.
A popular destination for locals is the Tiwi Hot Springs and National Park which is known for its “medicinal waters.” Bath houses abound in the area and the waters are hottest at Naglagbong Lake, a boiling sulfur pool. The Geothermal Electric Power Plant which harnesses steam and turns it into electricity is also located at Tiwi which is also the site of a thriving salt-making industry exported to the rest of the country and around the world. Also worth a visit is Lake Buhi which lies at the foot of Mt. Iriga which created the lake. It is known to be the natural habitat of the smallest fish in the world, the sinarapan. Take a boat ride to La Roca Encantada, the idyllic island that lies in the middle of the lake.
Caves abound in Bicol, among which are the Hoyop-Hoyopan Caves about 15kms from Legazpi. It is the site of an archeological find of artifacts dating back to 50BC. Some of these artifacts are housed at the nearby Camalig Church. The Calabidongan Caves, 2kms from Hoyp-Hoyopan features an underground stream. Pottery, human bones, beadworks and other artifacts believed to be 4,000years old were also excavated from these caves and are likewise housed at the nearby Camalig Church. Del Rosario caves in Jovellar features a grotto-like cavern on a hillside while the Minaroso Caves on Batan Island is a haven for seabirds and swallows.
All these caves are perfect for spelunking and have become popular for it but the Pototan Cave is perhaps the most perfect site for this activity. The cave lies 10 feet above the beach line. Inside it runs an underground river that flows into many chambers and passageways where you can take in the breathtaking views of stalagmites and stalactites of various shapes and sizes.
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