There’s a plane from Manila to Legaspi City, the jump-off to Donsol (Sorsogon), world-famous for its whale sharks or butanding. We plan to take a road trip adventure in May if time and health permits. We’ve checked directions and pit stops in the approximately 550+ kilometer-trip, 10-12 hours travel time. This is the plan — and you’re requested to suggest better routes or must-see highlights along the way. Traffic and choke points? Hazards? Delicacy to taste? Revisions will be made from time to time.
First Leg: Manila to San Pablo City
This is the easy part as we’ve traversed this road before as far as Villa Escudero in Tiaong, Quezon Province, right after San Pablo City. From Manila (or Quezon City, Makati or other areas of Metro Manila) we’ll take the SLE/South Luzon Expressway (upper-left of map) until its end, getting off at Sto. Tomas (Batangas) exit, passing by Alaminos before hitting San Pablo City (lower-right of map).
The plan is to leave Manila at 3:00 a.m., reaching San Pablo City by 6:00 a.m. This 3-hour window rules out breakfast at the SLE mega gas stations , though coffee in one of the Starbucks would take around 10 minutes of pit stop. Packed sandwiched for breakfast would do the trick in saving time. That means foregoing Seven Lakes in San Pablo City or revisiting Villa Escudero in Tiaong, as this would require getting off the car and taking a hike. Besides, these destinations deserve at least a night to fully experience and enjoy. Perhaps next time.
Leg 2: San Pablo City to Atimonan, through Lucena City
Lucena City would be the next major place of interest, but it’s only approximately 34 kilometers from San Pablo City, so we’ll skip it and add another 31 kms. from Lucena to Atimonan to complete the second leg. Why classify this is as a separate leg when there’s no plan to visit a significant place? That’s around 70 kilometers of driving. It calls for a bit of leg stretching. That’s why we call this a “leg” rather than a “phase”.
(A few suggestions later, we’re almost convinced by friends to drop by JIFJ (Candelaria) for lunch, with its reportedly great crispy pata and sinigang, and the Quezon National Park between Pagbilao and Atimonan. This leg is not as boring after all.)
Leg 3: Atimonan to Tagkawayan, through Calauag
By this time we should have gone from Metro Manila through the provinces of Laguna, Batangas and Quezon. Atimonan, Tagkayawan (approximately 81 kms. apart) and Calauag are all part of Quezon Province.
We’ve heard that traveling from Atimonan (leftmost of map) through Tagkawayan (middle of map), instead of Daet, Camarines Norte (upper side), would save around 2 hours.
Leg 4: Tagkayawan to Sipocot
The map shows Tagkayawan, Quezon (middle) and Sipocot, Camarines Sur (rightmost, though the towns of Del Castillo and Ragay). We’ve heard this is approximately 94 kms. That should require another leg stretching.
Leg 5: Sipocot to Naga City and Pili
, through Masbate
Sipocot to Naga City (both within Camarines Sur)
, though Masbate, is merely 43 kms but we’ll consider this a leg because we’ll have to drop by the Basilica Minore in Naga City and the CamSur Watersports Complex (CWC) in the next town of Pili (the CWC site has useful information on bus and airline schedule). Besides, Naga to Legaspi City is approximately 86 kms so it’s better to take a break before the long drive.
Leg 6: Naga to Legaspi City
The 86-kilometer Naga (Camarines Sur) to Legaspi (Albay) leg would be interrupted by a detour a from Legaspi — for the Cagsawa Ruins.
Leg 7: Legaspi City to Donsol (Sorsogon)
It will be dark by the time we hit Legaspi. No problem because the butanding tour starts early morning the next day.
There you go, the plan. They say a plan is good only until executed. Thanks in advance for your suggestions.