Bicolandia: the next destination for leisure, extreme sports, culinary adventure and conventions

Officials from Bicol who presented their tourism campaign mix in with Philippine Consulate and DoT staff.

SAN FRANCISCO – The Philippine Center recently hosted the Bicol Tourism and Investment meeting discussion and invited a number of travel agents, members of the press and friends.

Former Department of Tourism Region 5 Director Maria Ong-Ravanilla, assisted by her friend Tourism Attaché Pura Suanding-Molintas, presented an Overview of Bicol Tourism, exhorting Bicolanos and others “to visit relatives, re-connect with kins and bring the second gens, especially those who don’t speak Bicolano.”

Bicol is the fifth of 17 regional divisions in the Philippines. Bicolandia is made up of six provinces, namely: Albay, Masbate, Sorsogon, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte and Catanduanes.

Off the top of any Pinoy’s head, the region is famous for four icons: Mayon Volcano, Bicol, pili nuts and Penafrancia festival.

Ravanilla just recently retired but her passion for Bicol still works overtime. With a native’s compass, she guided the assembly through a video tour of what Assistant Deputy Consul Jaime Ascalon called, “what Bicol has to offer” in his opening address. And there’s still a lot.

From the exhilarating ATV ride along Mayon Volcano’s lava walls, that will appeal to millennials; a historic trip into World War II Japanese tunnels at Sumlang Lake in Camalig, Albay; watching the whaleshark (the best animal encounter in Asia, says Asia magazine) in Donsol; experiencing the only rodeo in the country in Masbate; viewing breath-taking Bulusan Lake in Sorsogon (called the Switzerland of Asia); discovering Gota Village in Caramoan (judged “one of the Philippines’ gems”), home (until August) of cable TV’s Survivor reality show and where the series was shot; beach bumming in Calaguas where the powdery sand can give Boracay a run for the money; hanging 10 or watching the waves at your 6 at Binurong Point (called the Batanes of Bicol and the surfing capital of Bicol); relaxing and winning at Misibis Bay Resort and Casino; and showing off the moves at CamSur Watersports Complex (the biggest wakeboarding complex, the number one destination for wakeboarders in 2007, 2010 and 2012, and previous host for the Ironman triathlon.)

If you thought Bicol Express is hot, you should try Albay’s sili ice cream. Definitely not silly, when the hotness level is graded 1, 2 and 3. Bicolandia’s pinangat is said to be perfect, small wonder it was entrée number 22 as presented by 50 chefs from all over the world.
The waters off Sorsogon, Catanduanes, Albay and Masbate are rich in lobsters, crabs and, of course, lapu-lapu. Also, the ubiquitous pili nut is not so ubiquitous outside of Bicol.

There are also booming enterprises for abaca, ceramic and the pinukpok dress.

Ravanilla revealed that more than 4 million domestic visitors and more than 1 million foreign visitors arrived in the Bicol region in 2016. The tourists came from the US, China, Korea, Canada and France, in that order.

Ravanilla came with a group of officials representing the six provinces. They were: Camarines Sur Board Members Alexander Jaucian and Fabio Figuracion, Donsol Mayor Josephine Alcantara-Cruz, Camalig Mayor Ma. Ahrdail Baldo, Legazpi City Vice-mayor Oscar Robert Cristobal, Legazpi City Councilor Gregorio Fernand Imperial, Masbate Board Member Jamon Espares, Masbate Mayor Rowena Tuason, Catanduanes Board Member Vince Villaluna, LGU Camalig Consultant Myla Baldo and Camarines Sur Board Member Emmanuel Noble.

Jaucian, Alcantara-Cruz and Cristobal pitched for their respective provinces. The superlatives flowed as each presenter promised being the friendliest city, the most with malls and facilities, more and bigger accommodations and infrastructure.

Bicol had to shed off its municipal image to run with big dogs Metro-Manila and Cebu. But each presenter affirmed the strong private support in their cities and the results have been spectacular.

The best times to visit Caramoan would be the summer; Donsol, December to May; Masbate, before the Holy Week; Camarines Sur and Albay, all-year round. There’s a max of six persons per boat for a 3-hour ride at about PHP 3,500. Swimming with the whaleshark is always a family draw as there is no need for special instruction.

As for the more terrifying terrorists lurking in the area? The Donsol Mayor said her town is one of the three declared safe. She goes around driving herself without a bodyguard. She also said that visitors roam around town until 10 pm. Ravanilla added that former NPA members make the best guides in the island. Jaucian explained that the Marawi siege is isolated.

The presenters also assured that the fiber optics work in the area and Globe, Smart, PLDT all carry signals. (Harvey I. Barkin)