Legazpi, Philippines has a volcanic skyline
Visiting a city in the shadows of Mayon Volcano
What is Legazpi City known for?
For many decades, Legazpi has been celebrated as a tourist city, mainly due to the world-famous Mayon Volcano. However, today’s Legazpi offers much more than just a front-row view of Mayon or a starting point for exploring Bicol’s attractions. With a blend of nature, adventure, and cultural experiences, Legazpi stands as a complete and captivating destination in its own right.
The smoking, conical cone of the Mayon Volcano is a constant feature of the Legazpi skyline. This is the most active volcano in the Philippines, and over the centuries it’s caused untold destruction when it erupted. The constant, looming presence of the volcano, though, doesn’t stop the locals from getting on with their lives, and these days it’s attracting more and more adventurous travellers who are looking to see this smoking mountain up close.
I started my journey in Legazpi by visiting the Cagsawa Ruins, the remnants of a Franciscan church built by the Spanish hundreds of years ago. The haunting stones are slowly crumbling, but the belfry still stands tall, although not as tall as the volcano which is visible in the distance behind it. The church was destroyed and then abandoned during the 19th century when an eruption took the village by surprise. It’s a haunting reminder of the forces of nature that the people of Legazpi live under.
I wanted to get closer to the volcano though, so with a local guide, I jumped onto an off-road ATV and drove over the rugged terrain, along shallow riverbeds and across dense volcanic soil to reach the end of an enormous lava flow. The solid, volcanic rock leads from the summit down the mountain, and it formed just over a decade ago during an eruption. From here, halfway up the mountain, the volcano’s summit was surrounded in the cloud, but its shape was still somewhat visible through the fog.
This mountain is a place steeped in local mystery and folklore, and with the mysterious volcano ever-present in the background of my trip to Legazpi, I was beginning to understand why.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
Legazpi is found in the southern portion of Luzon, the Philippines’ largest island. It’s the capital of the Bicol region and being a large city, is well connected to the rest of the country. The easiest way to travel to Legazpi is to fly in domestically. The small airport doesn’t cater to international flights, but there are flights almost hourly to the capital, Manila, which is less than one hour’s flying time away.
Manila is well-connected internationally, and you can fly in and transfer on to Legazpi. There are also frequent flights to Cebu City, and to various smaller destinations around the country too. There are flights with several carriers, the most prolific and best value being either Cebu Pacific or PAL (Philippines Airlines).
If you are looking to save money, then a cheaper way to travel to Legazpi from Manila is to take the bus. Long-distance buses take a minimum of 10 hours to cover the distance between the two cities and usually longer given the dense traffic. It can be a more adventurous way to travel, though. From Cebu, you could also take an overseas route, island hopping and riding buses across the Philippines to Legazpi.
Legazpi has a dense network of Jeepneys that traverse the city and the nearby sights. You can reach most major attractions with this iconic Filipino transport, but you will find it a lot easier and less expensive to hire a local tricycle.
Do – Activities & Attractions
Mount Mayon Volcano
Legazpi’s biggest attraction is the Mount Mayon Volcano. This is the most active volcano in the country – and there are a lot of volcanoes in the Philippines. The city is built in the shadow of this perfect, conical volcano and you will find that it is visible from anywhere, as it smokes away in the distance.
An ATV Adventure
The best way to get close to the volcano is to join an ATV adventure. Several companies have sprung up in recent years to take tourists off-road from the city and to the base of a large lava flow from a previous eruption. More adventurous travellers can even ride to a base camp close to the summit, before camping out and trekking to the top the next day.
A few miles from the base of the volcano is the most visible reminder of the destruction that the volcano can cause. The Cagsawa Ruins are the remains of a Spanish colonial church that was destroyed in the 19th century. It’s a haunting but somehow beautiful place to visit.
The Daraga Church is the oldest surviving church in Legazpi and is built in a wonderful Spanish style. There are great views of the volcano from Daraga and some impressive murals depicting the eruption which destroyed Cagsawa and made this church the primary place of worship in the city.
Sumlang Lake is a lovely escape from the city. This pleasant area has great views of Mount Mayon, as you cruise slowly across the water on a rustic bamboo raft.
Stay – Accommodation
Despite being the largest city in Bicol, the range of accommodation options in Legazpi isn’t exactly huge. Hostels are not yet an established style of accommodation in the city, but there are a few budget hotels that are perfect for backpackers looking for simple rooms at a low price.
If you are not travelling on a budget, then there are plenty of mid-range and luxury hotels available in Legazpi, offering modern rooms, services and amenities for reasonable prices. Some of the best are set away from the bustle of the city centre, with excellent views over the Mayon Volcano.
Eat – Restaurants
The Philippines is not particularly renowned as a foodie destination, however there are some great local delicacies to try while visiting Legazpi. Bicol is known for its spicy chilis, and much of the food here is quite literally laced with spice. The most famous local dish is Bicol Express, a creamy chicken dish that’s layered with chilis and fiery to the taste. Even ice cream doesn’t escape the chilli, and you can sample some spicy flavours that are equal parts refreshing in the hot weather and fiery because of the spice.
You will find lots of local eateries in the city centre serving up cheap eats, but head to the S and M Mall to find a huge array of mid-range restaurants, western food chains and an enormous food court that offers a beautiful view of Mount Mayon while you eat quality budget dishes.
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
The Philippines can experience some extreme weather throughout the year, and Bicol and Legazpi can be particularly prone to the elements. One constant is the temperature, and you can expect warm to hot weather all year round. The tropical climate ensures that Legazpi sees a lot of rain, but during the rainy season, this is amplified immensely. May through to October sees the heaviest rainfall, but there can also be lots of rain in winter, from October through to January. Winter can be cooler though, while April and May tend to be the hottest, driest months.
Cyclones can be an issue in the Bicol region, and these have in the past caused huge destruction and loss of life, so always keep an eye on the weather and any predicted storms when you are visiting Legazpi.
Safety – Possible risks
Legazpi is generally a safe and friendly destination to visit, however you do need to be aware of the weather. This can cause massive disruption and as already noted, cyclones can be a regular and deadly occurrence.
Natural disasters have been common through recorded history here, and alongside the cyclones, the region sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and can be prone to earthquakes. The most impressive result of the location though, is also Legazpi’s biggest tourist attraction, the Mount Mayon volcano.
This is the most active volcano in the Philippines and it does erupt on a regular basis. The last eruption was as recently as January 2018, and generally, it erupts every few years. Life in Legazpi really does go on in the shadow of the volcano, so don’t let it stop you visiting as there are systems in place to give forewarning where possible and as a tourist, you would be very unlucky indeed to be caught out.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
The Philippines is generally an inexpensive destination to travel to, with low costs for food and accommodation, and great value transport and activities. In Legazpi, you can expect the cheapest hotels to cost on average 10 USD, with a more comfortable mid-range option costing 20 to 30 USD per night and the most expensive, luxury hotel in the city going up to 200 USD.
Food is inexpensive, and a good meal will cost just a few dollars, while local transport is extremely cheap. Flights from Manila or Cebu are likely to be around USD 50 and perhaps cheaper if you book far in advance, while joining an ATV tour to the Mount Mayon volcano will cost a minimum of 30 USD for a few hours of adventure.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Many Filipino destinations have recently been suffering from over tourism and pollution, but Legazpi has yet to become one of these places. Try to keep it that way and try to cut down on your plastic waste, take reusable bottles and fill them up where you can. Lots of locals rely on tourism for an income, so try to book any tours while you are on the ground to ensure the money goes back into the local communities.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Tourism is rapidly growing in Legazpi and you will find plenty of local Filipino tourists here and infrastructure catering for that demand. Western tourism is somewhat new though, as most foreign tourists visit the Philippines for the beaches and islands, not to adventure around a volcano. Be prepared to be on ‘Filipino Time’, and be patient with services and amenities, as they are not always at international standards. It’s still more a of a raw destination, which really though, is much more adventurous than simply relaxing on a beach.
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Have you ever been to a city that had a really unique historical or cultural feature? Where was it and what made it so unique?
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