Itinerary from Manila to Bicol (Legaspi and Donsol)

Summer vacation. Perfect time to go on a road trip, whether down to the beach or up to Baguio. Sure, taking the plane is more comfortable, but taking the car could be fun. Those who prefer the beach may go to Boracay, Palawan, Bohol, Subic, Batangas, Pagudpud or other great Philippine beaches. How about going to the beach, seeing Mayon Volcano, and swimming with butanding (whale sharks) in one trip? That, my dear bakasyonista, would lead you to a 550-kilometer journey from Manila to Bicol  (550 kilometers, more or less).

[See also Swimming with the Butanding (Whale Shark) in Donsol, Sorsogon]

Boat in Donsol ready for the Butanding Adventure

We have an itinerary of our trip to Ilocos, discussing directions, routes and places of interest. We also started a planned itinerary of a Bicol trip (go here). We initially thought of dividing the journey into 100-kilometer legs or stretch to make it bearable. The plan, however, is far from what we’ve experienced. The nice roads and easy drive totally blurred the legs of the journey that we’ve planned. For instance, we planned to have crispy pata lunch in Candelaria, Quezon — we were there by 5:20 a.m.

They say a  plan is good only until you start implementing it. Here’s what we found out.

Day 1 of Bicol Trip (Manila to Legaspi, Albay)

The Bicol trip is around 550+ kilometers. We were told that it’s 10-12 hours of travel time, so we set out early, 3:00 a.m., and packed sandwiches for breakfast to save time (besides, we didn’t hear any good suggestion for breakfast in the Bicol route).

We’ve traveled around 104 kms. by the time we reached San Pablo City (1st leg in the plan) at 5 a.m. We reached Pagbilao by 5:50 a.m., stopping at the Pagbilao Church for the first breather. By that time, we’ve already traveled 162 kilometers and have passed Tiaong, Lucena City, Candelaria and Sariaya. We got a glimpse of the golden sun as we left Pagbilao.

  • Tip: The Bitukang Manok or Old Zigzag road is not as scary as others say. Absolutely not a problem if you’re an experienced driver, but a problem if your car is not primed for steep climbs. However, I wouldn’t pass here at night. And I’d be extremely careful when its raining. Roads are slippery because of the asphalt overlay (same is true in most of the roads).

We reached Atimonan (leg 2 of the plan) at 6:40 a.m. (that’s a total 192 kilometers), then through Gumaca (7:00 a.m.) and Calauag (7:30 a.m.). The drive was hassle-free we totally forgot to note the 3rd (Tagkawayan) and 4th legs (Sipocot) of our plan. The next thing we knew we were already at the Sipocot junction (end of Andaya Sr. Highway) by 9:10 a.m.

We were supposed to visit the Basilica Minore in Naga City, but we were advised to take the diversion route because of traffic. We didn’t go inside Naga City, but straight to the neighboring town of Pili, where we stopped to check the CamSur Watersports Complex, wakeboarding capital of the Philippines.

Brief stop at the beautiful Nabua Church and by lunch time, we were already at the Cagsawa Ruins, taking a few photos of the beautiful Mayon Volcano, before heading to Daraga for lunch at Bigg’s Diner. The old Daraga Church is only a few blocks up the restaurant. We still had lots of time to spare when we arrived in Legaspi City after lunch.

  • Tip: The locals recommend that you visit the Cagsawa Ruins early in the morning, preferably between 6 – 8, as clouds would usually cover the upper portion of the cone. So we dropped by again on the way back to Manila.

The good thing about arriving early is the time to catch some sleep. The bad thing about the early arrival in Legaspi, on the other hand, is the disappointing Lignon Hill Nature Park. We sincerely believe that they should revise the policy (if there’s really such a policy) of making visitors walk up the steep hill. Yes, it’s a nature park, we understand, but if that’s the case, ahem, bring the zipline lower level for the benefit of us weight-challenged guests. Science says light and heavy objects fall to the earth at the rate, removing friction, but we went back down the hill first, making it only 3/4 of the way. And those joggers, dang those joggers, rubbing salt to the injury by lightly going up, then down, then back up again.

We spent the rest of the afternoon looking for a great place to taste authentic Bicolano cuisine. Nothing at the Embarcadero, a mall beside Legazpi’s harbor. It has your usual fastfood chains, but no one there could point us to a good laing and Bicol express tandem (there’s a Bigg’s Diner, but we already had that for lunch). We found ourselves at Waway’s Restaurant for dinner. We were bewildered if this is how laing and Bicol express should taste like.

Day 2: Trip to Donsol, Sorsogon

To see the butanding of Donsol is the primary reason of the trip. We left at 6:00 a.m. on the second day, buying drive-through breakfast in the adjacent Daraga (closed roads in Legaspi due to the Magayon Festival), which is along the way. Winding roads to Donsol, Sorsogon. We didn’t mind if we have absolutely no clue where Donsol is, just the general direction. There are billboards and signposts along the way so no sweat. We discovered:

  • We should have registered the day before, because by the time we reached the Tourism Office by 7:30 a.m., we were already in boat 25 of the second batch. Only a maximum of 30 boats are allowed at any one time. Better view of the butanding in the early morning.
  • Not good to drive here late in the evening. Roads are winding and you’d probably miss the turns. It’s difficult to ask for directions when there’s no people on the road. Not to worry about the two cemeteries along those winding roads . . . just don’t look back at the rear view mirror, there might be one more passenger in the car.

Jump-off point of all boats for the butanding adventure is in barangay Dancalan, where the Tourism Office is found. After the spectacular time with the butanding, lunch at the Kawnkita Restaurant of Amor Farm Beach Resort is recommended. It’s just a few minutes drive from the butanding center and along the drive back to Legaspi anyway. We would have opted for the firefly show, also in Donsol, but our hotel is in Legaspi and we didn’t want to drive at night.

  • Tip: Book at least one month in advance if you want to stay in Donsol resorts, as these are usually fully booked, especially at this time of the year. Peak season.

That means we have the afternoon off, perfect time to visit the Sto. Domingo Church, 30 minutes from Legaspi. The welcome bonus is the memorial mausoleum of the composer of Sarung Banggi. Also along the way is the Typhoon Reming Memorial Shrine. We went straight to dinner at a recommended place, Colonial Grill (must try the chili ice cream).

Day 3: Return trip from Bicol to Manila

We didn’t leave early (6:00 a.m.) because we’re already familiar with the route and it’s ok even if we reach Manila at any time of the night. Got a full tank in Legaspi — with spare gas when we reached Manila (7:30 p.m.). That’s one full tank one-way, though there’s no reason to worry because there’s a lot of gas stations along the way.

We dropped by the Cagsawa Ruins for a clearer view of Mayon Volcano on the one-hour trip to Naga City, where we had breakfast at the Red Platter (delicious food) and had our first cup of Starbucks after one day . . . an eternity for coffee junkies like me (this is the only Starbucks in the entire region, so better come warned). The restaurant staff suggested Caramoan if we decide to come back. We visited the Our Lady of Peñafrancia Basilica Minore on our way out of the city.

We passed by St. Anne Shrine, the Leaning Tower of Milaor, reaching the Gumaca Church by lunch time, but we didn’t eat because we’re saving our hungry stomach for the crispy pata of JIJF Lutong Bahay ni Inay (Candelaria, Quezon).

We’ve estimated a total of 4 hours spent for lunch and visits in Cagsawa and various churches in the return trip. That boils down to 11 hours for the return trip, as compared to 9 hours during the Manila to Legaspi trip. On the other hand, we logged 490 kilometers for the return trip, as compared to the 550+ during the Manila-Legaspi trip. Well, doesn’t matter. What’s important is that we saw the beautiful Mayon and the awesome butanding. And we arrived home safe.

18 thoughts on “Itinerary from Manila to Bicol (Legaspi and Donsol)”

  1. We’re planning to see mayon volcano on May 1, 2011. I can’t wait!!! We’re leaving manila at 1am because night road trips are more exciting. I really look forward to seeing places i’ve never been to before. I just can’t wait!!!

  2. Following the directions and itinerary, I was able to explore most of the exciting spots down South. Thanks for the help documenting your experience!

    Stayed at Villa Amada in Daraga instead of Legazpi, just above the Colonial Grill where I had my share of Sili and Malungay ice cream. Not a gata lover so I didn’t bother the laing and etc. 🙂 It’s a small city compare to Manila, so distance will never be a problem if you drive with your own car.

    Yes better visit Cagsawa ruins in the morning. I had my photos taken at 7am with less crowd as well. The thing I missed would be the Waway’s and Sibid-sibid resto. Just can’t find it while exploring the city. Btw, the tourist map of Albay is not updated, need to do more research to make sure you know where the establishments are.

    Donsol’s whale shark experience is great! Too bad it’s Holy week and it was more like a whale hunting instead of whale watching. Too may banca’s than the Butantings. We had almost 20+ boats chasing for a single Butanting… It’s good that we have a guide with sharp eyes who always spotted the Butantings first. Get your gears ready all the time so you won’t miss it when there is a sighting!

    1. @Tom, you’re welcome. And thank you for sharing your Bicol trip experience. We agree with you that there’s much to be done in terms of increasing the tourism awareness of the local population and improve it to something like Ilocos or Bohol (and Donsol, too). Good that you found a tourist map. We didn’t find any (again, compare it to Pagsanjan, which has a fully-functioning and highly-visible Tourism Center, with a briefing of what to expect and what to see, plus a glossy, full-color free brochure). Still, it’s a lovely place.

    2. Sibid-Sibid and Waway’s are just opposite each other located along Penaranda Ext. Bonot, Legazpi City. The road going to Tabaco. Just ask any tricycle driver.

  3. And btw… JIJF’s crispy pata in Candelaria is really great!!!! plus the big sinigang na sugpo!!!! Yummy!!! 🙂

  4. Thank you for the details and the timing – only one out of a dozen sites I’ve seen that actually had these. Very very helpful! Thank you!

  5. @Vizel, the total budget (gas, toll, food, hotel, butanding, etc) for two adults and 1 kid was around P15,000. This amount would go lower if there are more who would share some common expense (gas and hotel room, for instance). Maybe others could tell us their total budget for comparison.

    @Palutang, thanks for the info. We should have known that earlier, before we went there. =)

    @Mandi, thanks for the kind words. Enjoy and have a safe trip.

  6. Hi! we’re from baguio and we are planning to go there by april. Im going with my wife and 2 school-aged kids. can you recommend a place we can stay for the night in cam sur?— a hotel or a resort which sdoes not cost much but is safe for my family.

  7. if you are looking for authentic laing or pinangat in albay, it is located at the camalig area.. there are rows of restaurants selling pinangat or laing hot or frozen..

    my dad is from daraga, albay and yearly we are going there for vacation.. back in 2009, cars are allowed to go up lignon hill nature park.. but an accident that happened early 2010 forced officials to ban vehicles going up (i think so).. we’ve also tried walking up but its at night time and its really tiring..

    we’ve also tried passing bitukang manok at around 4am last april.. it was so dark but we were surprised to see locals using flashlights helping us pass by and giving us warnings of coming vehicles.. better try it next time for adventure’s sake.. hehehe!!

  8. We try to travel using the landtrip from Batangas to Bohol last January 2013 and we find it easy the signage/directions is very informative. We leave in Lipa, Batangas at around 5:30am and arrived in Matnog, Sorsogon at around 6;30pm travel time includes average speed of 60 to 70kph because of the 2 way road and busy streets like passing thru schools and municipal/city proper with slow moving vehicles like padyak motors etc and also includes breakfast in Gumaca Quezon and also personal calls that we need to drop at gasoline station.

    with 2.5engine(unleaded) 5 seater vehicle or AUV,one-way the car fuelled 3 full tanks at est P8,000.00

    Barge fare matnog to Allen car is P960, PPA – P129, mun fees 25@person excluded driver, 130pesos barge fare per passenger excluding driver from Allen, Samar to Bato Leyte leave at port 8:30 arrive at Bato Leyte 7:30am including in this road trip 3 hours rest in Catbalugan Samar and drop by in Gas station for personal needs.

    About the road, from Batangas to Bicol, the road is nice except for a minor repair along Tiquiwan, Quezon and portion in Bicol but not too long its tolerable with various safety warnings it is still safe to travel at night.

    About the sea, its hard to ride a barge during night time from Matnog to Allen masyadong maalon, shakey ang barge. Kakatakot but travel time is 1 and 1/2 hours only.

    From Allen to Bato, you have to pass by at Calbayog, Catbalugan, Samar the road is okay but a portion is damage before Calbayog City it is safe to travel with other vehicles from Allen to Calbayog City according to some of truck drivers you have to drive at the average speed of 80kph while passing the Brgy. San Isidro and other nearby barangays it is quite dangerous with that place. Your in safe when you reach Calbayog City. You can travel alone to Bato Leyte any time even during night its safe na.

    Bato Leyte to Ubay, Bohol the shedule of the barge is 9am and 2pm. Barge travel time is 3 and 1/2 hours no big waves because it is sorounded by Islands.

    Barge fare is 2466 for the car and 270pesos per head for the passenger except driver. Plus terminal fees and PPA 160.00

    I hope this info can help with all other travellers who wanr to explore from Luzon to Visayas.

    1. Hi Chary, thanks for the detailed info! We haven’t tried the route you guys took and it’s nice to know there’s information should we take that road trip one day. If you don’t mind some questions? In all, how many hours? That was straight drive, no stop-over to check-in? Did you notice any online booking or advance booking for the barge? Thank you!

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