Legazpi City: More than just Mt. Mayon


Nick Lizaso Column Box
Arsenio “Nick” J. Lizaso,
NCCA chairman and CCP president

Dubbed as the “City of Fun and Adventure”—and for a good reason—Legazpi is located in the province of Albay in the Bicol Region and its claim to fame is Mt. Mayon, which is partly within its borders. Mayon, of course, is one of the Philippines’s most popular icons and tourist destinations. However, it is just one of the many reasons to visit Legaspi City. 

Named after Miguel López de Legazpi, the Spanish conquistador who officially annexed the Philippine Islands to the Spanish Empire in 1565, the city lies on the Pacific Ocean side of Southern Luzon. Because of its geographical location on the eastern coast of the Philippines, Legaspi is an ideal port. No wonder then that Legazpi’s port served as anchorage for ships sailing to Mexico. The nearby Sula Channel was used as a sanctuary by galleons during storms because of its sheltered inlet. 

Its proximity to the coast line, however, makes it equally vulnerable to typhoons and rising sea levels. Compounded with Mayon’s intermittent eruptions, Legazpi has seen its number of calamities. Yet the city seems impervious.

Mt. Mayon

Today’s progressive Legazpi City has been ranked at the top in overall competitiveness among component cities by the National Competitiveness Council and also named “most business-friendly city” by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry. 

Tourism is one of the drivers of the city’s prosperity. Because it is located on the southern foothills of Mayon Volcano, the city has seen the continuous growth in the volume of its visitors many of whom want to see and climb Mt. Mayon attracted by the chance to have adventurous experiences. Quick to seize on this appeal, Legazpi has developed itself as a jump-off point to other adventure activities to sort of whet the appetite for greater adventure. These activities include hiking, photography, zip-lining, skydiving, scuba diving, and water sports like river rafting and waterfalls exploration, and other challenging capers in nearby towns.

There’s are also tours around Mayon on all-terrain vehicles. On board, visitors get to learn about Mayon’s active history of eruptions that have wiped out whole villages. This only serves to heighten the sense of thrill of climbing Mt. Mayon. After all, what’s an adventure without the risk?

That’s well and good for nature adventure lovers. What about the local culture and the arts?

Mt. Mayon as seen from the ruins of Cagsawa Church

There is a lot of history and culture to be experienced in Legazpi City. You can see monuments that speak of many nationalities who have once lived or occupied this city such as the old Spanish pier, the Japanese tunnels and, of course, the Cagsawa Church ruins. The church was built in 1587, destroyed in 1646, then reconstructed in 1724, and once again destroyed in 1814. On a clear day, the visitor can see Mt. Mayon majestically rising behind the Cagsawa Ruins across bright green rice fields.

A must see is the Legazpi City Museum, which was inaugurated only in 2019.  It houses several archaeological artifacts, religious items, as well as old photographs and artworks by Bicolano artists, which showcase the rich history and heritage of the region. Different artworks such as photos, paintings, and sculptures are present that depict the Bicolano history and culture. Highlight feature is the fiberglass sculpture of Baltog, the Ibalong Epic hero, wrestling Tandayag, the wild boar. Its promotional blurb says: “The newly built Museo de Legazpi is considered as the best and most modern, not only in Bicol but in the entire Southern Luzon.” 

I was told that the best way to sample the native culture of Legazpi and Albay as a whole is going to local festivals. One of them is Ibalong Festival, which is a non-religious festival held annually on the month of August. The festival celebrates the epic-fragment “Ibalong,” which narrates the exploits of three legendary heroes of Ibalon or Ancient Bikol: Baltog, Handyong, and Bantong. It was first held in October 1992. Yearly activities include the Ibalong Street Presentation, trade fairs, bazaars, and weekend markets, Mutya ng Ibalong Pageant, and sports-related events such as the annual Mt. Mayon Triathlon.

Another month-long festival held every year is Daragang Magayon Festival,  which celebrates Mt. Mayon. To me, it is akin to ancient pagan rites meant to appease or express gratefulness for its beauty that beckons visitors, as well as for creating a fertile land that has ensured its people a bountiful harvest, typhoons, and volcanic eruptions notwithstanding. 

Daraga Church

While it is a province wide festival, most of the activities are held in Legazpi. The name comes from the Bikol word “magayon” that translates to ”beautiful,” from which the name of Mt. Mayon is derived. Described by a friend from Albay in exciting terms, I look forward to take part in this festival to see agricultural products display and trade fairs, culinary shows, cultural events, street parades, photo/arts exhibits, and sports events.

It turns out that Legaspi is a city that never runs out of feasts. Having different patron saints, the city;’s two districts have different fiestas. Legazpi port district fiesta is held every Oct. 24 in honor of St. Raphael the Archangel. Yearly activities include street parade and a maritime procession. The Albay district fiesta is held every Sept. 3, in honor of St. Gregory the Great. In fact every barangay has its own local festival. 

But far from the din of festivals, I prefer the observation of an artists about Legazpi City.

In her book “Adventures in a Forgotten Country,” the late writer Kerima Polotan describes it as a place that “sits solidly with its abaca, its copra, its rice, always in the benignity of the volcano.” It is an idyllic place in which the happiness of  its people consists of “a dish of pork and gabi leaves cooked in coconut milk, hot with pepper.”

This is the Legazpi I have on my mind. A simple way of life, softly framed by  the legend of “daragang magayon” (beautiful maiden.) A trip to this city has long been in my bucket list, something devoutly to be wished.