Since I was a kid the first thing that comes to my mind when talking about places to visit in the Philippines was the Mayon Volcano. Its perfect conical shape, along with the ruins of Cagsawa Church - which was buried in lava flows during the 1814 eruption - are among the quintessential magandang tanawin sa Pilipinas (beautiful views of the Philippines) that are discussed in our books in elementary school.
It is usually described as "majestic," and when I first saw it (while we were on a boat from Caramoan), I felt that the adjective was apt - standing alone on a verdant plain, wisping smoke from the apex of its iconic cone.
Mount Mayon, as it is also known, is located in Legazpi City in Albay province, about 40 minutes away from Manila by plane (or 12 hours by train and bus; more on that later).
It is considered to be the most active volcano in the Philippines, having erupted about 48 times in the last 400 years, the most recent one was in 2010-11. There is usually a danger zone that is off-limits to visitors around the volcano, especially during its restive state, but I've heard that some tourists were able to climb up the volcano with the help of local guides.
The best location to view the volcano is from the summit of Lingnon Hill. The local government developed the area into a park, and at the summit you can find a viewing area (with restaurants and all) that offers a 360-degree view of Legazpi City, Mayon and the sea on the other side. One of the stalls in the Lingnon park offers all-terrain vehicles that you can rent and ride near the base of the volcano, but since we have a flight to catch in the afternoon, we regretfully declined.
After Lignon Hill the next stop would be the ruins of Cagsawa, which is located in the adjacent town of Daraga, 8 kilometers from Legazpi. You can take a tricycle from Lingnon to go there (fare is about PhP 100).
The baroque-styled church, built by Franciscan friars in 1724 to replace the one burned by Dutch pirates in 1636, was buried during the 1814 eruption. Today only the belfry and parts of the walls are visible. Humongous rocks the size of washing machines are also visible in the ruins, a grim reminder of the destructive power of the majestic Mayon.
How to get there: Legazpi is accessible via plane, bus or train (to Naga City then take a bus or van from there). From the town center Lingnon Hill is a few minutes ride via tricycles. Daraga, where the Cagsawa ruins is located, is about 20 minutes from Legazpi by tricycle.
Pics, from top: the majestic Mayon volcano, with smoke visible from its apex; Mayon as seen from the Legazpi Airport; boulders flung by Mayon during the 1814 eruption; the ruins of Cagsawa Church
by Kin Enriquez
by Kin Enriquez