SOUTH LUZON

SOUTH LUZON

The southeastern portion of Luzon is dominated by the Bicol Peninsula, a mountainous and narrow region extending approximately 150 kilometers (93 miles) southeast from the Tayabas Isthmus in Quezon province to the San Bernardino Strait along the coasts of Sorsogon. The area is home to several volcanoes, the most famous of which is the 2,460-meter (8,070 ft) high symmetrically shaped Mayon Volcano in Albay province.

The Sierra Madre range has its southern limits at Quezon province. Prominent mountains dot the landscape, which include Mount Isarog and Mount Iriga in Camarines Sur, and Mount Bulusan in Sorsogon. The peninsula's coastline features several smaller peninsulas, gulfs and bays, which include Lamon Bay, San Miguel Bay, Lagonoy Gulf, Ragay Gulf, and Sorsogon Bay.

Seven major Philippine ethnolinguistic groups predominate Luzon. Tagalogs dominate the Manila area, while Bicolanos populate the southern Bicol peninsula. Due to recent migrations, populations of Chinese and Moros have also been present in urban areas. Agricultural products from regions include rice, bananas, mangoes, coconuts, pineapple, and coffee. Other economic sectors include livestock raising, tourism, mining, and fishing.

SLEX: The Major Highway in Southern Luzon

The South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) is main road in southern Luzon. According to ASIRT: 1) Transport corridor linking Metro Manila and CALABARZON region (CAvite, LAguna, BAtangas, Rizal and provinces). Major cities linked: Metro Manila, Calamba in Laguna Province, Santo Tomas, Lipe and Batangas. 2) SLEX consists of a network of two expressways: Metro Manila Skyway System and South Luzon Tollway (also known as Alabang-Calamba-SantoTomas Expressway or ACTEX). The corridor parallels National Route 1. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), PDF, 2012]

3) Speed limits on SLEX: minimum, 60 kph and maximum, 100 kph. Number of lanes varies:
6-lane divided highway from Paco, Manila to Alabang, Muntinlupa City.
8-lane divided highway from Alabang, Muntinlupa City to Santa Rosa City in Laguna Province.
6-lane divided highway from Santa Rosa City to Calamba City in Laguna Province.
2-lane divided highway from Calamba City to Santo Tomas, Batangas in Province.

“Cameras monitor traffic flow. Warnings of congested traffic are posted on SLEX's website: http://www.mtdsltc.com/. Teams provided roadside assistance. EMS teams provide medical assistance. Upgrading of SLEX roads, bridges and tollbooths is completed. Improvements reduced travel time from Manila to Batangas City from four hours to about one and a half hours.” Quezon Province

Quezon Province is Metropolitan Manila’s gateway to Southern Luzon and the Bicol Region. It is an elongated province east of Manila and the downward chain of Luzon provinces. Although close to the metropolis, it has retained many of its legacies, traditions, and relics.

In terms of land area, Quezon is one of the biggest provinces in the Southern Tagalog region. It spreads over 8706.6 square kilometers along the stretch of theJapan-Philippine Highway, which links Luzon to Visayas and Mindanao. Its boundaries extend as far as the province of Aurora in the north and Camarines Sur in the south. It is bounded on the west by the provinces of Aurora, Nueva Ecija, Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna, and Batangas and on the southeast by Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur.

The province enjoys mild tropical climate and has two pronounced seasons, the dry-cold and dry-warm climate and the cold moist and cold dry climate. The lack of higher mountainous barriers makes some coastal areas prone to the effects of tropical depressions.

The province of Quezon has an estimated population of 1,679,030 as of May 2000, mostly concentrated in the flat-south central portion, which includes Lucena, Sariaya, and Candelaria. The people are characterized as friendly and hardworking. The people’s main sources of livelihood range from land and sea agricultural cultivation to home industries which have lately taken a turn toward the export-oriented light to heavy industries, with the planning and construction of economic zones. Tagalog is widely spoken by the populace, with the characteristic lilt common to the locate. The province is composed of 41 towns and one highly urbanized city, which is Lucena City. The province has 1,248 barangays, which include the barangay of Lucena City.

Sights in Quezon Province

Mount Banahaw is a 7,382-foot extinct volcano, famous for its mystical attributes. Unique religious rites are held during the Holy Week by pilgrims who believe that Christ walked on this mountain. Thousands of people flock to the site at Lent, and as many as 68 registered religious sects hold annual rituals. The mountain endowed with majestic beauty is also a favorite of amulet hunters. Found here is Kinabuhayan, believed to have been where Christ spent his Calvary. Ina ng Awa, near Kinabuhayan and located at the foot of Mt. Banahaw, is revered as another mystical site.

The St. Michael the Archangel Minor Basilica in Tayabas, one of the oldest churches in the country, was first built in 1585 and repaired in 1590 using nipa and palm. In 1600, bricks were used to renovate the site.

Bird Island in Polillo is a coral formation that became an island and is now a sanctuary for different species of birds to fly to, from neighboring areas. Lamon Bay, found in the northern part, is a very rich fishing ground and home to various living corals. Puting Buhangin Beach in Pagbilao Grande is a pure white sand beach with crystal clear and calm waters and a small cave at the end. It is a favorite place among the townsfolk, especially during summer.

Celebrated every 15th of May, Pahiyas is considered as one of the Philippines’ best harvest festivals. It is deeply rooted in the traditional thanksgiving celebration for a bountiful harvest. Decorations called “Kiping,” leaf-shaped and multi-colored rice paste wafers, are the main features of the Pahiyas, which gained national, as well as international, renown for Lucban. It is observed in the towns of Lucban, Candelaria, Tayabas, Sariaya, Tiaong, and Lucena City in honor of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers.

The relatively short distance between Quezon and Metro Manila make the attractions in the province even more inviting, especially for the towns located in the western part. And because Quezon is also a part of the route to the Bicol Region, both by bus and by train, its quaint little towns, which serve as stop-over points for travelers, can benefit much in terms of revenue generation through accommodation and dining establishments.

Quezon National Park

Quezon National Forest Park (180 kilometers southeast of Manila, about four hours by bus and jeepney) covers 9.83 square kilometers and reaches a height of 366 meters above sea level and situated on western end of the isthmus of Luzon in the three Quezon districts of Atimonan, Padre Burgos and Pagbilao. The park boasts of an extensive system of caves, waterfalls, springs, creeks, gorges, and ravines against a quaint backdrop of lush greenery. The “Old Zigzag Road” or “Tourism Highway” passes through the middle of the forest park. Big vehicles are not allowed to use this way because of its steep grades.

Among the animals found in the park are a wide varieties of butterflies, monkeys, deer, wild pigs, monitor lizards, snakes and nocturnal animals. The park considered as bird sanctuary, abode of wild species of growl foul resembling rooster known as Labuyo, It is also home to parrots, tarictic, calaos, doves and pigeons. yellow bittern, cinnamon bittern, Buff-banded Rail, Barred Rail, White-browed Crake, Marsh Sandpiper, Long-toed Stint, Swinhoe's Snipe, Striated Grassbird, Rufous Hornbill, Luzon Hornbill, Pink-bellied Imperial Pigeon, Guaiabero, Colasisi, Blackish Cuckooshrike, Flaming Sunbird and Flowerpecker.

Lucena City is the jumping off point for Quezon National Park. The Park and Game Warden offers information and assistance to those wish to hike. There are treks to Mount Mirado, the highest peak in the the park on trails that are well-defined and maintained. It takes two hours to reach the peak, where you can see both the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean on a clear day. On the hike you can observe the flourishing fauna and the interesting endemic creatures in the area.

The park is also the site of Pinagbanderahan, a place where the Filipino Revolutionaries planted the Philippine flag in their fight against the Spanish colonizers. It can be reached by walking for about one hour from the road to the top of a ridge. Other attractions include Bantakay Falls in Brgy. Sta. Catalina, Bantakay Caves, Cueva Santa and Nilubugan Cave.

The Park is located in Western municipalities of Atimonan, Pagbilao and Padre Burgos. The jumping off place for the park is Lucena. From Manila you can reach Lucena by bus. Terminals and bus offices in Manila where you can find buses to to Lucena Quezon. EDSA-Kamuningm Cubao, Buendia-Taft, EDSA-Pasay. Get off at the Lucena Grand Terminal. From there, jeepneys are available with trips to the various attractions. Travel time will take around four hours.

Camarines Norte Province

Camarines Norte Province (300 kilometers east of Manila) is found in the northern coast of the Bicol peninsula, which forms the southeastern section of Luzon. One of the six provinces that make up Region V in the Bicol region, it is bounded on the north by the Pacific Ocean, on the east by San Miguel Bay, on the west by Lamon Bay, and on the south by Quezon province and the adjoining province of Camarines Sur. It is characterized by rolling hills and mountains in the interior, and the fertile plains and valleys along the coast.

Camarines Norte Province covers 2,200 square kilometers, which is 12.4 percent of the total Bicol area and 0.73 percent of the total Philippine area. Camarines Norte is composed of twelve municipalities, namely: Basud, Capalonga, Daet, Jose Panganiban, Labo, Mercedes, Paracale, San Lorenzo Ruiz, San Vicente, Sta. Elena, Talisay, and Vinzons. It has a total of 282 barangays. Labo has the biggest land area and the most number of barangays; Talisay is the smallest town; and San Vicente has the least number of barangays.

The population of the province around 500,000 roughly 10 percent of the Bicol region’s population. Bicol is the major dialect spoken, along with Tagalog and English. As far as climate is concerned, Camarines Norte has no dry season but has a season of heavy rain from November to January. Average annual rainfall in 2000 was 389.58 millimeters. Average temperature is 27.3 degree Celcius. The coolest months are January and February and the warmest is May. There are four major manufacturing and processing industries in the province: jewelry crafts, gifts/toys/housewares, pineapple and coconut industry.

Camarines Sur Province

Camarines Sur Province (328 kilometers south of Manila) in the Bicol region is home to the smallest fish in the world and famous for Mt. Isarog, lots of beaches, old churches, and many splendid attractions. In Iriga and Lake Bushi the smallest fish in the world are caught using tiny mess nets. The province embraces four congressional districts and has 1,053 barangays. The Total land area is 5,266.82 square kilometers and is home to about 1.6 million people.

Camarines Sur Province is located in the central part of the Bicol peninsula, which forms the southeastern part of the island of Luzon. It is bounded on the north by the provinces of Quezon and Camarines Norte, San Miguel Bay, and the Pacific Ocean; on the south by the province of Albay; Lagonoy Gulf on the east; and Ragay Gulf on the west.

Naga City is the largest city with about 140,000 people. Bicol is the local and most common language, with Naga Bikol being the standard dialect. English and Tagalog are also used. A growing number of Chinese and Muslim communities speak their own languages. Camarines Sur is composed of 35 municipalities and two cities, Naga City classified as an independent component city and Iriga City as a component city. Pili is the capital town. Camarines Sur is the agro-industrial center of Bikol, followed by trade, manufacturing, and construction. Major economic sectors include marine and agriculture followed by non-metallic mineral processing, metal works, processed foods, beverages, furnitures, garments, and gifts and housewares.

Mt. Isarog is the region's second highest volcano at about 1,966 meter above sea level. It is a dormant volcano and home to some of the rarest animal and plant species in the country. A scattered community of Agta tribe, one of the country's earliest settlers, have been seen residing the interiors of the mountain. Mt. Isagog receives up to 10.7 meters (35 feet) of rain a year.

The 2008 seasons of the French and Bulgarian versions of the reality TV show Survivor were shot on location here. Israelis filmed a version on some islands here as well. You can hire a boat to take you from one island to the next, until you find your dream getaway. Then you can ask the boatman to leave you there with only your camping gear. (Of course, he can come back for you too.)

Catanduanes Province

Catanduanes Province in the Bicol Region has been described as an “An Eco-Adventure Paradise.” Much of this Pacific island is still untouched, unspoiled, and unexplored. It has a long string of palm-fringed beaches backed by jungle-covered mountains and crowned with jewel-like islets. The local people here enjoy teir relaxed rural village life and have gone to great lengths to embrace the modern world, and thus the tourism industry is still in its early stages. But if you are interested in outdoor pursuits, an easy lifestyle among warm and friendly people and a general escape from the frantic pace of urban life, Catanduanes is the perfect hideaway.

Catanduanes Province lies in the easternmost part of the Bicol peninsula, separated from the Luzon mainland by the Maqueda Channel and the Lagonoy Gulf. It is situated is the heart of the typhoon zone, vulnerable and open to the Pacific Ocean, hence its nickname, “The Land of the Howling Winds.” The province is composed of 11 municipalities: Virac, San Andres, Caramoran, Pandan, Bato, Gigmoto, Baras, Panganiban, Bagamanoc, Viga, and San Miguel. There are 315 barangays scattered around the province and one congressional district.

The total population of Catanduanes Province si only around 220,000. Bicol is the native language but with different nuances and variations, especially when one goes up to the northern towns like Pandan, Caramoran, and Panganiban. English and Tagalog are commonly spoken and understood. The best time of the year to visit Catanduanes is from the months of March to August when the weather turns dry. It is coolest and rainiest from October to the early part of January, hottest from March to May.

Abaca (a leaf fiber also called Manila hemp) and lasa (tiger grass) are plentiful throughout the province. Native products made of abaca fiber like bags, lamps, utility boxes, handmade paper, among others, adorn the local souvenir shops and serve as local “pasalubong” and souvenirs. Lately, the indigenous abaca fiber, commonly called “pinukpok,” produced and woven by the locals of Baras, Catanduanes, has now found its niche in the local and international fashion industry. This indigenous fabric has shown its versatility in the globally appealing designs and creations of famous fashion designer Dita Sandico-Ong.

Albay Province

Albay Province (550 kilometers southeast of Manila) in the Bicol region located between Camarines Sur on the north and Sorsogon on the south. It is bounded on the east by the Pacific Ocean, on the northeast by the Lagonoy gulf, and on the west and southwest by the Burias Pass. The islands in the north under the jurisdiction of the province are Rapu-rapu, Bata, Cagraray, and San Miguel. Albay has a land area of 2,552.6 square kilometers, consisting of 14 towns, and has a population of about 1 million. Its important products are hemp, coconut, sugar cane, pineapple, vegetable, and rice.

The main mountains of the province are Mayon, Masaraga, and Malinao in the northeast and Catburaun in the west. Its forests are a source of timber, rattan, pili nuts, and gum elemi. There are also vast grasslands for pasturing horses, cattle, carabaos, goats, and sheep.

Located at the southern tip of Luzon Island, Albay Province is bounded by Lagonoy Gulf and the province of Camarines Sur on the northeast, the Pacific Ocean on the east, the province of Sorsogon on the south, and the Burias Pass on the southeast. There are three cities (Legazpi, Tabaco, Ligao) and 15 municipalities grouped into three congressional districts. Legazpi is the home of the main provincial and regional offices.

Albay experiences no dry season and has very pronounced heavy rain period from December to January. The western areas have fairly evenly distributed rainfall throughout the year. The central areas have no heavy rain period but has a short dry season from November to January. The province averages 20 typhoons yearly, with ranging from 60-180 kph. The average annual rainfall is 233 millimeters; average temperature is 33.15 Celsius high and 22.60 Celsius low.

There are about 1.2 million people in Albay Province. The urban population is about 20 percent, meaning that most Albaynos by far live in rural areas. Bicol is the main language. There is a great variety of words and in diction in the different municipalities. Most puzzling is the amazing variation among towns for many words having the same meaning. Bicol is generally spoken in Legazpi. The people there speak Tagalog fluently and can communicate in English with ease. But that is not the countryside, where it might be harder find people that speak English.

Albay province has made some effort to promote industry. Of the total 6,500 or so manufacturing establishments in the Bicol Region, half are in Albay and 48.6 percent of the large scale operation are in Albay. Among them are the export-oriented Isarog Pulp & Paper Mills and Albay Industrial Development Corporation. Agriculture, however, still accounts for the largest share in the total production and employment. Coconut, rice, abaca, and corn are the major crops. Handicrafts are an important source of rural income. Albay is a major supplier of geothermal energy to the Luzon Grid with its Tiwi Geothermal Plant.

Tourism Office: Regional Office V, Ms. Maria Ong-ravanilla, Regional Director, Regional Center Site, Rawis, 4500 Legazpi City, Tel: (6352) 481 5593 / 435 0085, Fax: (6352) 482 0715 / 482 0712, e-mail: dot_bicol@yahoo.com; Websites: www.visitmyphilippines.com

Mt. Mayon Volcano

Mt. Mayon (near Legazpi City in far southern Luzon, 500 kilometers southeast of Manila) is a very active volcano with one of the most perfectly formed cones in world. Rising from the sea, it erupts frequently and rumbled, pumped out lava and spewed ash periodically in 1998 and 1999 and 2004 and several times since then. Occasionally the crater glows orange and ejects large amount of lava, gases and smoke. Mayon is the most famous active volcano in the Philippines.

Mayon volcano is a 2462 meter-high (8,077 foot-high) stratovolcano. It rises majestically from the plain of Albay. The name Mayon is derived from the Bicol word magayon, which means “beautiful” .Ambeth R. Ocampo wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “Some Filipinos brag that Mayon has a better shape than Japan’s Mount Fuji. Depending on her mood, the great volcano will impress by displaying all majesty or disappoint by hiding partially or even fully behind clouds. This beautiful volcano may be active but it usually keeps its peace, providing slight occasional earth tremors and hot springs all around her. [Source: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 7th, 2013]

The closest town to Mt. Mayon is Cagawa, which is 16 kilometers away from the volcano's base. When the volcano is not so volatile it is possible to climb to the crater in two or three days. The climb up Mayon is not easy. The north side of the mountain is lush and dotted with plantations. The south side of the mountain is a dead zone of ashy ravines and gullies.

The closet city to Mount Mayon is Legaspi, which is accessible by car (a 10-hour drive), bus, or plane. Albay Park and Wildlife (Situated near the foot of the Mayon Volcano) boasts of of 347 animals belonging to 75 species. Crocodile Park in Ma-a is the habitat of crocodiles as well as various breeds of birds, from the Philippine sea eagle to kakatoe and Indonesian parrots The are some caves in Mount Mayon. Tiwi Hot Springs, 40 kilometers from Legaspi, is one of several thermal springs in the area. Geothermal power is harnessed for electricity.

Sorsogon Province

Sorsogon Province (12 hours by bus from Manila) is situated at the southernmost tip of Luzon. As a part of the gateway to the Visayas and Mindanao, the province is a melting pot of cultures and influences. From its earliest days as a trading post frequented by Chinese and Malay merchants, Sorsogon has evolved into a center of trade and commerce in the Bicol Region. Sorsogon os called the Land of Kasaggayahan — a land of peace and serenity, and happy, hospitable people.

Sorsogon offers the visitor a wide variety of activities, including scuba diving snorkeling, sport fishing, swimming, boating, island hopping, mountain climbing, biking, hiking, spelunking, or just simply touching base with nature. Sorsogon’s hosts numerous festivals and fiestas and visitors are welcome to watch to pageantry, join in celebration, and experience their rich cultural heritage.

Triangular in shape, Sorsogon province is bounded on the north by the province of Albay and Albay Gulf, on the south by Samar and San Bernardino strait; on the east by the Pacific Ocean, and on the west by Burias Island and Ticao Pass. The ratification on December 16, 2000 of Republic Act 8806, which merges the towns of Bacon and Sorsogon and converting them into Sorsogon City, reduced the composition of the province into 14 municipalities and one component city. Sorsogon City serves as the capital. The province has 541 barangays and two congressional districts.

Sorsogon is home to about 700,000 people. Bicol is the main language but because the province is the gateway between the Visayas and Luzon, the dialect spoken in Sorsogon mixes Visayas and Bicol dialects. Most of the natives can speak English and Filipino fluently. The rainy season is from July to December and the dry season is from January to June. Major Sorsogon is rich in natural resources but many of them remain undeveloped. The major crops are abaca, hemp and copra. The fishing industry is a major employer but freshwater and offshore fishing resources are not yet fully developed. There are plenty of raw materials for cottage industries. The province has untouched deposits of sulfur, kaolin, limestone, and coal.

Whale Sharks in Donsol

Donsol (one hour from Legazpi City, which is 10 hours south by bus from Manila) is a fishing town in Sorsogon province, which serves as a sanctuary to a group of 40 whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), the largest fish in the world. Locally known as "butanding", whale sharks visit the waters of Donsol from November to May. They travel across the oceans but nowhere else except the Gulf of Mexico have they been sighted in such a larger group than in the waters of Sorsogon. They measure between 18 to 35 feet in length and weigh about 20 tons.

Swimming with whale sharks has been a popular tourist activity since 1998, when the animals were discovered in the area around Donsol. The municipality of Donsol also hosts a month-long festival in April to honor the whale shark — and give thanks to it for additional jobs and livelihood derived from local and foreign visitors’ interaction tours with the “gentle giants”. During the Butanding Festival, the local people and visitors participate in a celebration, which culminates with a regatta exhibition and maritime parade consisting of more than 50 boats with banners and giant images of the butanding along the Donsol River. There is also a street parade along the town’s main thoroughfares consisting of life-size images of the butandings on floats accompanied by village (barangay) delegations, brass bands, drum and bugle corps, and the festival street-dancing contingent winners from other Bicol provinces. Life-size whale shark made of bamboo and rice sack cloth are paraded during whale shark festival . [Source: jurgenfreund.com]

Describing a swimming with the whale sharks trip, Nyx Martinez wrote: “I was both excited and terrified. Eager, yet trembling. The banca, a native outrigger boat, put out into the middle of Donsol’s murky waters. With binoculars in hand, several spotters stayed on the lookout...So there we were. Me, my husband, and three other travelers sitting on a banca, poised and ready for real action. “Now! Everyone! Jump!”

“Everyone on board dove in a flash — everyone but me. The spotter came to my rescue. He clutched my wrist and pulled me into the water. Then he urged me to go down deeper. And that’s when I saw, illuminated by the sun, the spots and stripes below us. Butanding! I was swimming right above its head! Though the water was murky, it was iridescent. Its spots shimmered. It swam and moved and danced — and then it was gone. I was in awe of its greatness. Right there in the waters of Donsol I discovered, giants can be gentle.”

Getting There: You can take a flight from Manila to Legazpi City. From Legazpi, public or private vehicles can take you to Donsol, Sorsogon, which is about an hour’s drive away. For more information, visit www.donsolecotour.com.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Philippines Tourism websites, Philippines government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020


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