One of my earliest assignments as a photographer was to document the rich fauna and flora of Bulusan. I remember taking an overnight bus to Irosin, Sorsogon, and meeting my NGO-host who took me on a trekking expedition to the Bulusan Volcano Natural Park. I saw waterfalls, several hot springs, a beautiful lake and the magnificent peak of the Bulusan volcano. It was a wonderful experience that had made me come back to Bulusan several times.
Bulusan means “where water flows.” It is the name of the town, the volcano, the lake and even a river in Sorsogon.
The volcano was formed about 40,000 years ago. It now has a peak elevation of 1,565 meters above sea level and a base 15 kilometers in diameter. Mount Bulusan has four craters and four hot and cold springs. Bulusan Lake is located on the southern flank of Mount Bulusan. It has a surface area of 27.6 hectares and a surface elevation of 360 meters.
The town of Bulusan started as scattered settlements called Inarado near the Paghasaan and Bayugin rivers during pre-Hispanic time. These settlements were located on higher ground to prevent attacks from Moro pirates.
During the Spanish period, Bulusan was separated from Casiguran in 1630 to become an independent parish. In 1760, the town of Bulusan was transferred to its site at present at the mouth of Bulusan River. Immediately after the transfer, the natives under polos y servicios (forced labor) started building the church as well as several watchtowers to serve as lookout points for possible incursions by the Moro pirates. Bulusan became the center of trade on this southern tip and ensured its importance. During this period, the town took control of the other coastal towns of Barcelona, Irosin, Guban, Santa Magdalena and even Matnog.
When Sorsogon was declared a separate province in 1894, the provincial center was built in the new capital of Sorsogon (formerly the towns of Sorsogon and Bacon), where the Pan-Philippine Highway would eventually cross. Bulusan, which was way off the new highway, and after having lost Barcelona and other towns, was simply reduced to a simple coastal town at the foot of Mount Bulusan.
How to get there
Bulusan is almost 600 kilometers from Manila. Driving to Bulusan from Manila usually takes between 10 and 12 hours. It is better to leave Manila in the evening in order to avoid traffic build-up from Santo Tomas, Batangas, to Lucena City, Quezon.
Start driving south via SLEX and the exit from Santo Tomas. Continue driving via Pan-Philippine Highway, passing thru San Pablo, Lucena and Atimonan, Quezon. From there, the road passes thru the Pacific towns of Quezon all the way to Gumaca. From Gumaca, turn right to Andaya Highway, which continues all the way to Sipocot. From Sipocot, the road passes thru the towns of Bicolandia and goes all the way to Sorsogon.
Enter Sorsogon via Catilla, and continue driving to Casiguran, Sorsogon City, Juban and then Irosin. At the junction of Irosin, turn left to Bulusan.
An alternative is take a direct flight from Manila to Legazpi City, Albay. From the airport, take a tricycle to the bus terminal in Legazpi. There are buses and UV Express vans that go directly to Bulusan, taking close to 2 hours.
What to see, what to do
Dominating the Sorsogon landscape is the Bulusan Volcano Natural Park. It was first designated as a National Park in 1935 under Proclamation 811. In 2000, under Proclamation 421, it was reclassified as a Natural Park. It covers an area of 3,673 hectares, and includes the Bulusan volcano itself, Lake Bulusan, the two other mountains called Sharp Peak and Hormahan and another lake called Aguingay.
The climb to Mount Bulusan is considered a major climb. The jump-off point is located inside the Bulusan Lake park. The ascent to the summit takes about 6 hours but it is recommended to break it with an overnight camp at the Ranger Station to enjoy a morning assault on its peak to witness a brilliant sunrise.
The equally popular Bulusan Lake offers many adventure activities. These scenic crater lake surrounded by dense forest has a concrete path that goes around the lake. It takes about one hour to walk around the path. There are local guides who can explain the many centuries-old trees growing inside the park. Kayaks and paddle boats can also be rented to explore the lake.
There are also several waterfalls and springs around Bulusan. Among them are Palogtoc Falls and Bayugin Falls, and the popular Masacrot Spring. Those looking for the cool waters of the Pacific can head to the beaches of Dancalan, Miliga-biga and Riroan.
The fortress-like orginal Bulusan church was demolished in 1960s to give way to what is now a modern concrete church. What was left in the compound is Punta Diamante, the largest of the five watchtowers that once dotted the town of Bulusan. A few kilometers north of Bulusan town is the beautiful Saint Joseph Parish Church in Barcelona. Built by the Franciscans in 1874, it is considered as the one of the most beautiful churches in Bicol. It has a unique bell tower located in the middle. Fronting the church are the ruins of the old Presidencia building.
Where to stay, what to eat
The only place to stay in Bulusan is at Dancalan Beach Resort. It offers family-type lodging in air-conditioned and non-air conditioned rooms. You can also camp on the beach. Dancalan is the best place to watch the sun rise from the Pacific. It is also possible to head south to Gubat where there are more lodging options.
For dining, just head straight to Bulusan public market where there are several carinderias (small restaurants) serving Bicolano favorites with generous serving of siling labuyo. This simply makes Bulusan the “hottest” destination on this side of the Bicol Region!