Found in southern Luzon, the largest of the over 7000 islands in the Philippines, Legazpi is the capital of the province of Albay and the centre of the wider Bicol Region.
It’s a city that stands in the shadow of Mount Mayon, the most active volcano in the Philippines, and it’s a city that’s rather pleasant to visit when the volcano isn’t erupting.
There are no white sand beaches or island hopping opportunities in Legazpi, so the city gets somewhat overlooked by travellers in search of that classic Filipino escape, but where it lacks in beaches, it more than compensates in adventure tourism and volcanos.
In my opinion, it’s a fantastic place to visit, and to show you just what to do in Legazpi, here are my favourite Legazpi tourist spots (and a few great things to eat in the city too).
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A Brief History of Legazpi, Philippines
Humans have inhabited the Bicol Region of southern Luzon for thousands of years, and in the many caves surrounding Legazpi have been found a plethora of ancient artefacts dating back to the first settlers to make their way here.
The city itself though didn’t begin to expand until the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. Legazpi is named for Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, a Spanish explorer and conquistador who crossed from the Spanish Empire in Mexico to begin several hundred years of colonisation in the Philippines.
The city was governed by Franciscan Friars for much of its history, and during the last few centuries, has experienced massive volcanic eruptions and devasting typhoons. The city stands beneath the imposing Mayon Volcano, and that volcano has shaped the lives of the inhabitants below it.
The last eruption was as recently as January 2018, while the volcano tends to blow its top every few years. The most devastating eruption occurred in 1814 when thousands were lost in violent and sudden lava flows.
During World War II, the Japanese occupied the city and built many tunnels in the surrounding hills, which can still be seen today. Since Filipino independence, the city has continued to grow, and unfortunately, still endures regular natural disasters.
The Best Legazpi Tourist Spots
Legazpi is turning into somewhat of an adventure playground for tourists, as people travel to the city to not only see Mount
There are waterfalls nearby, and lots of local history to delve into at the Cagsawa Ruins and the Daraga Church. Here are my favourite Legazpi tourist spots to visit.
The Cagsawa Ruins
The first Legazpi tourist spot to visit when you arrive in the city, are the Cagsawa Ruins. The haunting, crumbling stone walls of this former church are all that remains of the once thriving village of Cagsawa.
The decrepit belfry still stands, but little else does. In the background, you can clearly see Mount Mayon, just a few miles away, steadily smoking away on the horizon. In 1814, the volcano violently erupted, with little warning for the thousands of people living below.
Huge lava flows stormed down the mountain, and with few options available, the villagers of Cagsawa fled to the stone-walled church. Nothing could stop the power of the volcano though, and the village was destroyed along with most of the church.
You can grab a tricycle from Legazpi City to reach the ruins, a haunting reminder of what Mount Mayon is capable of.
The Daraga Church was built in 1772 by Franciscan Friars, and it was built far enough away to avoid the lava flows of the 1814 eruption. From the church, you can clearly see the volcano in the distance, and in fact, after Cagsawa was destroyed, the few survivors moved to Daraga, on the outskirts of Legazpi City, to rebuild their shattered lives.
Daraga Church became the most important religious centre in the area and although it’s in good need of some refurbishment, it continues to fulfil this role today. If you look inside the church, you can find a harrowing yet strangely gripping painting that depicts the 1814 eruption of Mount Mayon and the survivors fleeing to Daraga.
ATV Ride on the Slopes of Mount Mayon
Adventure tourism is seriously kicking off fast in Legazpi, and the volcano itself is very much central to that fact. From the city, it’s easy to join an ATV tour that takes you up the slopes of Mount Mayon, and it’s one of the best things to do in Legazpi.
I made the journey with Your Brother ATV Tour, the pioneers of ATV tourism in Legazpi. They have a fleet of different sized off-road vehicles, from automatics to beastly multi-seaters that can tackle anything.
There are several routes you can take, but the primary one will see you heading off-road, crossing streams driving through forests until you reach a camp that’s been established at the end of a huge lava flow that is a result of an eruption in 2006.
From here, you can hike along the lava flow itself, which is about a third of the way up the mountain. More adventurous travellers can take a multi-day tour that sees you riding up higher, to a base camp below the summit. You camp overnight and then hike as close as possible to the edge the next day.
Zip Line Down the Volcano
After driving to the lava flow and hiking up the rocks, rather than walking back down again you can in fact hitch onto the zip line and fly down the wire. You zip past the lava and through the forest, to get down in seconds.
It’s a unique way to descend a lava flow and yet another sign of the growing popularity of adventure tourism at Legazpi tourist spots.
Lignon Hill Nature Park
Just outside the city centre can be found Lignon Hill Nature Park, which offers outstanding views across Legazpi, the countryside and of course, Mount Mayon.
Lignon Hill is also turning into an adventure playground too and here you can find more zip lines amongst the charming scenery. It’s a great spot for sunrise or sunset when you can see the sky around the volcano literally turn to fire.
If you want to photograph the volcano itself, head here early, as the clouds that perpetually surround Mount Mayon are at their thinnest in the morning, whereas later in the day, they can easily obscure the view.
Around Lignon Hill you can find some lasting remnants of the Japanese Occupation during World War II. On the side of the road, you’ll see a mock Japanese soldier pointing into the bush. In the rock face, you’ll find a narrow, darkened entrance to a complex cave system that was extended and lengthened by the Japanese during their stay in the city.
They used the tunnels to store ammunition and other supplies, to protect their stores against Allied air raids launched before the retaking of the Philippines in the later stages of the war.
They didn’t quite do the job though, and many were completely destroyed by the bombing, alongside lots of Japanese soldiers. The ones at Lignon Hill are remarkably intact and with a torch in hand, you can explore what remains of them.
Sumlang Lake is possibly the most pleasant tourist spot in Legazpi. This small lake is found in the countryside, just a short drive from the city, and here you can sit back on a bamboo raft while you float across the water and enjoy the magnificent views of Mount Mayon.
Lots of locals use the lake for fishing, and you could even try your hand at this too if you fancied, or you can kick back at the restaurant on the water’s edge and try some great local food.
Embarcadero de Legazpi
The Embarcadero de Legazpi, otherwise known as the Legazpi Boulevard, is a great place for sunrise or sunset, as it offers unrivalled views out over the bay on the coast towards Mount Mayon in the background.
There’s a classic ‘Legazpi’ sign that draws everyone in for photos and plenty of local vendors selling street food, especially Balut.
A bit further out of Legazpi, towards the nearby city of Tabaco – I asked, it wasn’t named by smokers but is in fact named for the local style of machete used by farmers, similar to a Bola – can be found Busay Falls, a great place for cooling off and swimming.
A short walk through the jungle brings you out to a large plunge pool, where ice-cold water is replenished constantly by the crashing waterfall. Interestingly ‘Busay’ means ‘Falls’ in the local language, so resultingly, this waterfall is really called ‘Falls Falls’.
Also close to Tabaco, on the opposite of Mount Mayon to Legazpi, is the Mayon Planetarium. This strange establishment is found almost 900 metres high up in the national park, on the slopes of the volcano, well within the prescribed ‘Danger Zone’ and from the car park, you have impressive views over the countryside.
Inside the Planetarium, you can learn a few things about the stars and galaxies, but also a few things about the volcano itself. It was here that I learnt about the local legend of Mount Mayon, a legend passed down for hundreds of years, involving love, war and betrayal.
Chilli Ice Cream
The Bicol Region is famous for its abundance of spicy chillis, and they are exported across the Philippines and highly regarded for their quality, and fiery flavour. You’ll find chillis in most local dishes, so be prepared for spicy meals out when you’re visiting Legazpi.
What you might not expect to find chilis in however is ice cream, but in Bicol, it’s a local delicacy. Head to the 1st Colonial Grill, a great restaurant in the SM Mall in the city centre, to try their varying degrees of spicy ice cream, which ranges from mild to volcanic.
Another local dish to try is the Bicol Express. This creamy mix of coconut, vegetables and pork that is quite literally slathered in chilli.
You’ll find it in many restaurants around the region, but be well prepared for a fiery experience if you dare to try it.
Pinangat is an unusual but delicious Bicolano dish that’s somewhat of a speciality in the area. Done properly, a blend of meat, vegetables and coconut milk is mixed with tamarind and other ingredients, before being wrapped in Gabi leaves.
SM Mall Food Hall
Visiting the SM Mall, the largest mall in Legazpi, might not seem too adventurous, and it’s not, but the food hall on the top floor has an incredible view of Mayon Volcano.
There’s a great selection of cheap eats, and you can sit back and look out at the smoking volcano while you gorge on your food.
Location of Legazpi Tourist Spots
How to Travel to Legazpi
Legazpi is not exactly connected internationally, but being a provincial capital, it is well connected domestically. There are no international flights into the local airport, which is just a short ten-minute tricycle ride from the city centre (this cost me 50 pesos from the SM Mall), but there are flights almost hourly to Manila, and slightly less frequently to Cebu.
From Manila and Cebu, you can then fly onwards internationally, or connect to other destinations across the Philippines too. The cheapest tickets are usually with Cebu Pacific, but Philippines Airlines also fly the route.
Although flight tickets are never too expensive – I paid around 50 USD for a flight last minute to Manila, and booking in advance will save you even more – you can save money by taking the bus to Manila. The journey is long, but it will be a fraction of the price.
You can also take ferries across to the nearby island of Masbate from the port by Donsol, and from Masbate, you could then take a ferry all the way to Cebu. There would be a lot to see on the way too. Heading south, you could take buses and ferries all the way to Mindanao and Siargao if you had time and were looking for an adventure.
Tricycles are the most convenient way to get around Legazpi, and you can hire these guys to take you out to most of the sights. Heading further afield, you can use the local Jeepneys and vans, which generally all depart from the bus stations right by SM Mall, which is where you can also catch the long distnce buses too.
When to Travel to Legazpi
The best time to travel to Legazpi is when the volcano isn’t exploding. I joke – well, it’s true I suppose – but if it is erupting, it’s probably not a good time to visit. Eruptions come every four years or so, although they are unpredictable of course.
A bigger worry is the rains and typhoons, and you are best travelling to Legazpi in the dry season, and the semi-dry season – it rains a lot in Legazpi. Between November and May you can enjoy the best weather, with a cooler winter or a scorching dry summer. Just keep an eye on weather forecasts and you’ll be alright.
Where to stay in Legazpi
Legazpi has an ever increasing range of accommodation, but nothing on the scale of more popular destinations in the Philippines. You can find a few basic hostels on the outskirts of town and some simple guesthouses if you are looking for a cheap place to rest your head.
More upmarket options include the Oriental Legazpi, which has poolside views of the Mayon Volcano, or out of town, towards Tabaco, you can book into the rustic and charming Casa Simeon, a boutique option with a lot of history behind its walls.
But Really, Could the Volcano Explode?
Yes, yes it very well could. But such is life. It’s never stopped people living here so don’t worry too much about it.
All Words and Photos by Richard Collett