The Heart of Bicol has a well-planned urban center and sprawling outdoor areas where adventures await.
Located in southern Luzon, Naga is the capital of Camarines Sur province, at the center of the Bicol region (Region VI). Here, religion makes its presence felt during the annual Peñafrancia Festival, which draws thousands of devotees from across the country, as well as the many, many churches scattered throughout the city. Non-pilgrims also flock to Naga for its lush green forests and verdant landscapes in search of adventure.
Highlights for the Traveler
When visiting Naga, it’s useful to learn this phrase: “Dios mabalos!” Loosely translated, it means “God will repay you,” a way for locals to express their thanks.
You’ll find a myriad of Spanish colonial-era churches scattered throughout the city: the Basilica Minore along Basilica Road, Naga Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist along Elias Angeles Street, San Francisco Church along Peñafrancia Avenue, Immaculate Conception Parish along Concepcion Pequeña and the Our Lady of Peñafrancia Shrine on Peñafrancia Avenue. The presence of these churches makes Naga City one of the largest Marian pilgrimage sites in Asia. The Porta Mariae, a commemorative arch celebrating 300 years of Bicolano devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia, is a particularly arresting landmark located on Barlin Street.
As the predominantly Catholic locals are especially devoted to the Virgin Mary, it comes as no surprise that the city’s grandest celebration is the Peñafrancia Festival. Running for 10 days and ending on the second Friday of September, the festival is a curious combination of solemn religious ceremonies and rowdy processions, much like many other festivals around the Philippines.
The Traslacion, or the transferring of the Divino Rostro and the Our Lady of Peñafrancia images from Basilica Minore to Naga Cathedral, looks more like a crawling mosh pit rather than a religious parade. Thousands of barefoot devotees flock to the streets and squeeze their way through a sea of people to touch or tap the pedestals of the images. It is equal parts overwhelming and fascinating for outsiders watching this unfold.
After the parade at nighttime, streets and houses come alive. Almost every house has its own party and some would even be open to complete strangers. In navigating your way through these parties, it’s a must to have a companion who knows the city well so be sure to make friends with a local.
Just Outside Naga
A mere 10km out of the city, you’ll find the CamSur Watersports Complex, a popular spot for water sports enthusiasts. The facility has a wakeboarding park, a skateboard park, a swimming pool and a man-made lake. If natural wonders are more your thing, head 60km east to Mount Isarog National Park. The park is located at the foot of Mount Isarog, an active stratovolcano. Pack some safety gear, hire a tour guide and trek through the forest to reach the park’s popular attractions, the Malabsay and Nabontolan falls.
End your day by dipping your tired body in the hot pools of Panicuason Hot Spring Resort at the foot of Mount Isarog. The resort is surrounded by dense foliage and has a cluster of natural pools. It also has spacious huts enough for tour groups. The pools, which are the main attraction in the resort, have temperatures ranging from a cool 20°C to a soothing 39°C. Try going in the hot pools then work your way to the cooler pools — truly invigorating!
By Raymond Maymay, as of January 2020.