Road Trip Itinerary: Bicol Highlights

Over the years, I’ve gone back and forth from Manila to my hometown Naga City in Camarines Sur. I’ve also gone on road trips with the family to nearby provinces of mainland Bicol: Camarines Norte, Albay and Sorsogon. The Manila to Bicol route passing the Asian Highway 26 (AH26) (also known as the Pan-Philippine Highway or Maharlika Highway) is a major road trip route on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. After traversing from Manila to Bicol, you can cross all the way to Visayas via the Roll-on Roll-Off Ferry from the Matnog Port in Sorsogon to reach Allen in Samar and head towards Mindanao.

I’ve been getting inquiries from people planning to drive this route whether by car or motorcycle (and even a few long-distance bikepackers), so I’ve decided to compile a suggested itinerary covering the essentials and some travel tips. 

For road trippers doing this for the first time, the most important considerations aside from where to load gas (there are gas stations in major cities), are where to eat (preferably something unique to the place), major landmarks or points of interest easily accessible from the highway, and cheap places to stay if you arrive at night or want to explore the province further. So here are some suggestions of the most scenic and best highlights based on my personal road trips.

GETTING OUT OF MANILA

Before you can get to Bicol from Manila, you have to pass through several towns in the Calabarzon region. It can take 4-6 hours just to get away from Manila depending on the traffic. If you’re passing SLEX, it’s best to leave Manila as early as possible (around 4 am) so you can avoid heavy traffic in areas like Sto. Tomas in Batangas, Alaminos, San Pablo in Laguna, Candelaria and Sariaya in Quezon.

An alternative route is to go via the Laguna backroads, which traverses Pilillia, Pagsanjan and Lucban. This route is longer, but much more scenic and you can skip major traffic-choked towns and emerge in Pagbilao right after Lucena.

Landmarks & points of interest:

  • Pilillia Wind Farm in Rizal (if passing Laguna backroads)
  • Pagsanjan Stone Arch (if passing Laguna backroads)
  • Kamay ni Hesus in Lucban (if passing Laguna backroads / detour required)
  • Welcome to Quezon Arch (boundary of San Pablo City, Laguna and Tiaong, Quezon)
  • Villa Escudero in Tiaong (slight detour; entrance fee required)

  • Mount Banahaw
  • Coastal roads of Plaridel, Gumaca and Lopez
  • Pink Fish statues (boundary of Gumaca and Plaridel)
  • Sirena/Mermaid landmark in Atimonan
  • Old Zigzag Road in Atimonan
  • Quezon National Park

What and where to eat:

  • Specialties of Quezon province include Pacit Habhab, Lucban Longganisa, Adobo sa Puti (cooked in coconut vinegar) and Pancit Buko (coconut noodles)

  • A lot of vendors along the road sell coconut based treats like Buko Pie and lambanog.
  • There are a lot of fast-food options in Lucena like Max’s Restaurant and Jollibee
  • It’s mostly carinderias along the coastal road in Gumaca
  • If you have time to spare, you can take a detour to Tayabas for a good meal and nice view at Kamayan sa Palaisdaan or Graceland Estates Country Club

WHERE TO STAY IN QUEZON PROVINCE:

  • Batis Aramin Resort & Hotel, Brgy. Malupak, Lucban – Tayabas Rd., Lucban
  • Ouans the Farm Resort, KM 133 Diversion Road, Kanlurang Mayao, Lucena
  • Graceland Estates Country Club, Barangay CamaysaTayabas City

CAMARINES NORTE

Camarines Norte, the gateway to Bicolandia, occupies the northwestern coast of the Bicol peninsula in the southeastern section of Luzon. Its capital town, Daet is 342 km southeast of Metro Manila, an 8 to 10 hour drive by bus or 6 to 7 hours by private vehicle. If you don’t want to drive straight all the way to Camarines Sur, you can take a detour through Camarines Norte, and visit Daet, a rising surfing and extreme water-sports destination in the country.

READ MORE: 10 Things to Do in Camarines Norte

Landmarks & points of interest:

  • Welcome Arch: Gateway to Bicolandia (Quezon – Camarines Norte boundary)
  • Malatap Falls (short hike from highway in Labo)
  • Bagasbas Beach in Daet
  • First Jose Rizal Monument in Daet
  • Coastal town of Mercedes (detour from highway required)
  • Bitukang Manok (Zig Zag road along the National Highway)
  • Bicol National Park

What and where to eat:

The Bicol region is best known for dishes making use of gata (coconut milk) and sili (chili). Be sure to try Bicol Express, laing, sinantol (ground santol meat with gata), kinunot (manta ray cooked in gata), and pinangat or tinuktok (ground shrimp or crab wrapped in gabi leaves and cooked in gata). Daet is also known for having a sweet variety of pineapples.

  • Catherine’s Restaurant in Bagasbas Lighthouse
  • Chef Mama at Calasgasan, Daet
  • Paseo de Bienvenidas, Daet
  • Brankolei PIZZA Italian VERO

WHERE TO STAY IN CAMARINES NORTE:

  • Bagasbas Lighthouse Hotel & Resort, Bagasbas Road, Daet, 4600 Camarines Norte
  • Asia Novo Boutique Hotel Daet. Ninoy Aquino Avenue Barangay 7, Bagasbas Road, Daet
  • Bagasbas Bed & Breakfast. Bagasbas Boulevard, Barangay Bagasbas, Daet
  • Palms Farm Resort, Brgy. Cayucyucan, Mercedes, Camarines Norte.

CAMARINES SUR

Camarines Sur is the largest of the six provinces in the Bicol Region. Its territory includes two cities: Naga, the lone chartered city, which serves as the province’s and the region’s religious, cultural, financial, commercial, industrial and business center; and Iriga City. Naga City is about 400+ km or 8-10 hours away from Manila on the Rolando Andaya Highway (Quirino Highway) which does not pass through Daet in Camarines Norte.

Naga City is known as the Heart of Bicol because of its central location and as a Pilgrim City, being home to the largest Marian pilgrimage in Asia, the Our Lady of Penafrancia. In recent years, it’s become a popular destination for wakeboarders.

READ MORE: 10 Extreme Adventures in Camarines Sur

Landmarks & points of interest:

  • Naga Metropolitan Cathedral & Porta Mariae
  • Basilica of Our Lady of Penafrancia
  • Plaza Quince Martires in Naga City
  • Camsur Water Park (CWC) in Pili
  • Lake Buhi in Iriga (detour required)

What and where to eat:

Naga is a great destination for foodies looking for both traditional and modern food. There are lots of restaurants in the city center and Magsaysay Avenue area. Bigg’s Diner, the most popular homegrown fastfood joint in the whole Bicol region, originated from Naga City. They have several branches along the highway, so they’re good for take-out if you’re in a rush and don’t have time to eat in the city. Unique eats in Naga City include Kinalas, Toasted Siopao and Pili-based treats.

  • Pancit & Toasted Siopao from Naga Garden Restaurant
  • Kinalas from Kitchen Anywhere
  • Laing, Bicol Express & Crispy Pata from Bob Marlin in Magsaysay Avenue
  • Burgers and rice meals from Bigg’s Diner
  • Bicolano fusion cuisine at Que Pasa across Cathedral
  • Pinangat from Geewan

READ MORE: Food Trip: Naga City

 WHERE TO STAY IN NAGA CITY, CAMARINES SUR:

  • Avenue Plaza Hotel, Elias Angeles Street
  • Naga Land Hotel, Elias Angeles Street
  • The Carmen Hotel, Magsaysay Avenue
  • Villa Caceres Hotel, Magsaysay Avenue
  • Eurotel Naga, 2 General Luna corner Riverside Road, Barangay Dinaga
  • The Naga Manor Hotel, Balatas Road

ALBAY

Albay’s capital is the city of Legazpi, which serves as the regional administrative center of the whole Bicol Region. Albay is located at the southern foothills of Mayon Volcano, the major landmark most associated with the province and the Bicol region as a whole. Albay is about 10-12 hours straight drive or roughly 475 km from Manila.

The highway is fairly straightforward but there are a lot of vehicles on the road. For a more scenic route with rewarding views, you can pass the Tiwi-Sangay Road instead of AH26. Albay is your jump-off point for hiking up Mt. Mayon and ATV and mountain bike adventures on the lava trail.

Landmarks & points of interest:

  • Partido Riviera in Patitinan (if passing the Tiwi-Sangay route)
  • Mayon Volcano
  • Sumlang Lake
  • Cagsaua Ruins
  • Giant Sili Waiting Shed
  • Lignon Hill
  • Daraga Church

What and where to eat: 

Legazpi City in Albay is a good destination for foodies with lots of historic and heritage restaurants serving traditional and innovative Bicolano cuisine.

  • Traditional Bicolano cuisine from Alvi’s Albay Cafe
  • Butterflied King Prawns in Tilmok Sauce at Balay Cena Una
  • Laing & Pinangat Pizza and Bicol Express Pasta at Small Talk Cafe
  • Halo-halo with cheese at DJC Halo-Halo & Snack House in Tiwi
  • Restaurants along Embarcadero in Daraga
  • Sili ice cream at First Colonial Grill
  • SIli shake from stalls in Cagsaua Ruins
  • Pinangat from Camalig

WHERE TO STAY IN ALBAY:

  • Embarcadero Hotel. 3F Embarcadero de Legazpi Port Area, Legazpi City
  • Legazpi Tourist Inn. 3rd flr. V & O Bldg. cor Quezon Ave. and Lapu – Lapu St., Legazpi City
  • The Oriental Legazpi. Taysan Hill, Sto. Niño Village, Legazpi
  • The Apple Peach House. Rosario Street Corner, Marquez Street, Old Albay District, Legazpi City
  • F2M Tower, Block 7, Lot 31, Landco Business Park, Legazpi City

SORSOGON

Sorsogon is the Southernmost province in Luzon at the tip of the Bicol Peninsula, about 12 hours or more straight drive with the port of Matnog 604 km from Manila. Sorsogon’s major landmark is Mount Bulusan, the tallest peak which rises 1,560 metres (5,120 ft) above sea level. It’s also known for its whaleshark interactions in Donsol.

Landmarks and points of interest:

  • Bulusan Volcano Natural Park
  • Mt. Bulusan
  • Rizal Beach in Gubat
  • Barcelona Marker & Ruins
  • St. Joseph Parish

What and where to eat: 

Many dishes in Sorsogon are similar to the rest of the Bicol region, but there are more seafood options like kinilaw. Binut-ong is a sticky rice cake similar to suman served with coconut milk (gata) and santan (coconut jam).

  • Leonardo’s
  • Una Pizzeria
  • Fernando 168 Bistro
  • Cafe Isabelle Restaurant
  • Balay Buhay sa Uma Bee Farm

WHERE TO STAY IN SORSOGON:

  • Siama Hotel, Sitio San Lorenzo, Bibincahan, Sorsogon City
  • Mike’s Hometel, Block 15 Lot 10 Executive Village, Tugos, Sorsogon City
  • Fernando’s Hotel, 3799 Rizal Street Piot., Sorsogon
  • Asia Novo Boutique Hotel. Burgos Street, Barangay Talisay , Sorsogon

Sorsogon serves as the gateway of Luzon to Visayas and Mindanao through its Roll-on/Roll-off ferry terminal located in the municipalities of Matnog, Pilar and Bulan. From here, you can head onwards to Samar and Leyte.

Though it’s possible to drive all the way from Manila to Sorsogon in a day, that can be very tiring. Hopefully these tips will help you plan your route better, so you can make the most of your long drive, stop by some scenic spots and get to taste some of the unique eats in the Bicol region during your road trip.

6 thoughts on “Road Trip Itinerary: Bicol Highlights

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    • Thanks, Agness! The Manila to Naga leg (with one night in Quezon) took us 1.5 days (but we had a detour island-hopping thing after). The other sections, I compiled from various other road trips. While technically you could drive this straight in a day using a private vehicle, I would suggest allotting 4-5 days for the whole trip, so you can spend quality time in various spots instead of breezing through.

  2. Hi there! You have given us a lot to discover in bicol and you shared it in a very detailed way. May i just ask you where is the last picture located? The one with a swimming pool surrounded by coconut trees

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