Among the tourist spots that buoyed the country to this distinction is the Bicol region, which boasts, among other wonders, Mayon Volcano—the world’s most perfect cone.
An icon since the advent of the Philippine tourism industry, this majestic mountain towers in Albay province, and can be seen as far as 100 kilometers away.
Mayon is best viewed from the picturesque Cagsawa Ruins Park in Daraga town, which was buried in lava during the volcano’s most violent eruption, in 1814.
This restive volcano is so enigmatic it lures adventurers, photographers and kibitzers alike, even during threats of eruption.
But aside from this legendary geological monument, Albay is a treasure trove of natural wonders, which have been living under the shadow of Mayon, quite literally.
Beach bums can hie off to Bacacay, an obscure town until recently when the posh Misibis Bay Resort hogged the limelight and lured celebrities from all over the world. A member of the Small Luxury Hotel chain, it offers posh amenities in a rustic setting, something a Bicolano balikbayan can truly be proud of.
A best-kept secret for years, Bacacay boasts a string of idyllic islands and the tranquil Sula Channel, ideal for cruising and island-hopping.
The towns of Sto. Domingo, Bacacay, Tiwi, Manito and Rapu Rapu also take pride in their therapeutic volcanic sand beaches, the aura of solitude and breathtaking views.
Heritage and religious buffs can visit the baroque Spanish-era churches in Daraga, Camalig, Sto. Domingo, Tiwi, Malinao, Tabaco City and Ligao City—each has an interesting story to tell.
The mountainous topography has gifted Albay with a host of waterfalls. One can frolic in the refreshing waters of Busay Falls in Malilipot and Vera Falls in Malinao. A newly discovered cascade is Kitwinan Falls in Camalig, used as a hydromassage by Japanese soldiers during World War II.
Meanwhile, Mayon Planetarium in Tabaco City takes one to the volcano’s shoulder and offers an exhilarating view of the Pacific seaboard.
Legazpi City, Albay’s pulsating capital, is Bicol’s tourist gateway with its wide array of boutique hotels, homestyle restaurants, chill-out places and adventure spots. Calling itself the “City of Fun and Adventure,” Legazpi City combines eclectic urban living with its brand of adrenaline rush.
The Oriental Hotel offers first-rate amenities and international cuisine on a par with Manila’s standards. Designed by National Artist Leandro Locsin in the 1980s, the imposing hilltop four-star hotel is a favorite of locals and guests alike for cozy dining and wining.
Mall goers will be dazzled by the San Francisco Marina-inspired Embarcadero Mall, which is also an adventure zone with zipline, lighthouse rapelling and occasional jetski rides.
Ligñon Hill Nature Park is a must with its Japanese Tunnel, zipline and hanging bridge, which have provided scenic settings for various Pinoy telenovelas.
Another attraction is roughriding in an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) across Mayon’s lava trail up to its slopes some 2,000 feet above sea level. This activity has been a signature adventure and has taken away the anxiety of getting caught in an eruption while negotiating the trail.
Completing the sojourn is the luscious regional cuisine, which is an integral part of the travel experience. Savor Bicol Express (spicy pork-coconut braise), laing (stewed taro leaves in coconut milk), pinangat (spicy coconut and meat wrapped in taro leaf and cooked in coconut milk), kinunot (stingray or baby shark meat in coconut milk), cocido (fish soup), fusion food and other local delights to spice up dining pleasure.
Before heading home, souvenir hunters can go on a retail therapy and grab exquisite abaca (hemp) accessories, home decors, handwoven mats, pili (a native nut) delicacies, cutlery and ceramics at rock-bottom prices.
Conde Nast is right. There’s certainly much more to Bicol than gazing at Mayon Volcano’s perfect cone.
A 45-minute daily flight from Manila lands at Legazpi Airport. Air-conditioned buses offer morning and night trips daily from Metro Manila. Travel time usually takes about 10 hours.
Bernard Supetran, a city-bred writer, fell in love with the Bicol region and a Bicolana more than 20 years ago. A certified "oragon," he has been to almost every nook and cranny of the Bicolandia writing about its natural charm. He is editor of EZ Maps, which makes tourist maps of the country's top destinations.