As far as summer destinations go, Albay isn't the first place that comes to people's minds. After all, aside from the Mayon Volcano, what else can Bicol's central province offer?
A lot, as it turns out. For example, Tabaco City — which is situated in the eastern part of Albay — has plenty in store for tourists. These include:
Panoramic Views of Mayon
At Barangay Bu-Ang, about halfway up the slopes of Mayon, is a park called the Mayon Skyline View Deck. Formerly known as the Mayon Rest House, the view deck is dotted with red-roofed gazebos, where you can chill out and relax, as you gaze at the volcano in all its glory. You can also catch a glimpse of the mountains of Malinao and Masaraga, as well as the deep blue waters of the Tabaco Bay.
Clean Air From the Sea
To the east of Tabaco is a port, also dubbed by the locals as a "pier." There, you can take a boat towards the neighboring island of Catanduanes (and back) via the Lagonoy Gulf. You can also stay put, let the cool sea winds caress your face, and enjoy the sights and sounds of commercial vessels going about their daily business.
Before you reach Catanduanes via Tabaco's port, you'll have to pass by San Miguel Island. Lucky for you, it's not such a bad stopover.
In spite of the rocky terrain, San Miguel has a decent population of people who've managed to carve out a simple life for themselves on the island. They fish, farm, make mats, and engage in other cottage industries. If you like, you can stay and watch them do what they do best.
You can also wait until the day ends, and watch the sun sink below the horizon. Trust us: It's one of the most beautiful sights you'll ever see on San Miguel Island.
Quality Craftsmanship of "Tabaks"
As with many places in the Philippines (like Makati City), Tabaco's name supposedly came from a misunderstanding.
According to local legend, when the Spaniards first arrived in the Philippines in the 16th century, they came across a young woman. Naturally, the Spaniards assumed she knew where they were, and so they pelted her with questions. Because she couldn't understand them, however, the woman panicked and alerted her father.
Being a temperamental, overprotective man, the father assumed his daughter was being harassed by pushy suitors. Angered, he barked at a servant to give his tabak (a machete-like tool): Tabak ko! Tabak ko! (My tabak! My tabak!). The Spaniards, thinking that the man answered their question, decided to call the place "Tabako," and it's been that way ever since.
Ever since the (legendary) incident above, Tabaco City became known for its tabaks. It wasn't until 2002, however, when Tabaco decided to celebrate the Tabak Festival, an annual event honoring the city's origins.
The festival features, among others, street performances by costumed dancers, beauty contests for women and members of the LGBT community, the padyak (tricycle) race, and the sibidan (boat) race. The date for the festival isn't fixed, so be sure to consult the most reliable festival calendar you can find before joining the festivities.
If you're going to visit Tabaco City, you should absolutely try their three trademark treats: the pili, ibos, and latik.
The pili is a popular delicacy in the Bicol Region. Made from kernels that are extracted, roasted, and caramelized from nuts, pili is a sweet, sticky, and long-lasting treat you can take home as a souvenir.
Likewise, ibos and latik are sweet, sticky treats made from various ingredients. To enjoy their flavors to the hilt, dip them into lunok.
Near the Tabaco Park (also known as the "plaza") is the St. John the Baptist Church. Also known as the "Tabaco Church" and "San Juan Bautista Parish Church," the church boasts an architecture that hasn't changed since the Spanish times. The belfry is covered in intricate rococo designs, while the walls are made from stone and hardened volcanic soil.
The church has a couple of unusual features, though. One is the masons' marks on the stones used for construction, which isn't common in Philippine churches. The other is the compartments covering the stone floors, since no one knows what they're used for. At any rate, it's fun to speculate on the mystery behind the Tabaco Church's floor compartments!
Even if Tabaco City isn't your final destination, you can still use it as a launch-off point towards other tourist spots in Bicol. Need to hop on to Caramoan? Ride a RO-RO via the Tabaco Port. Want to visit Legazpi City, Albay's capital? Get into a van at the Tabaco terminal. Want to explore the numerous municipalities surrounding Mayon Volcano? You get the idea.
Tabaco is an oft-overlooked destination that needs more love. Why not give love to Bicol's City of Love, and add it to your list of summer getaways?