Mayon Volcano: A Dangerous Beauty

Disembarking from our plane at Legaspi airport we immediately came face to face with the volcano but almost half of the famous landmark was hidden from view by a band of clouds. Even as we sped away from Legaspi City towards the port town of Matnog in Sorsogon province, we could only make out the lower half of Mayon Volcano. It seemed the mountain was reluctant to display its beauty – a cone so remarkably perfect until a 1990’s eruption sheared off a small portion of the volcano’s top.

pinkish-white Subic Beach, Matnog, Sorsogon
Subic Beach in Matnog, Sorsogon

After an amazing two days of travel to Sorsogon’s Subic Beach, Tikling Island, Juag Lagoon and Bulusan Lake we were headed back to Legaspi City a day before our return flight to Manila. The extra day gave us an opportunity for a “cleaner” look at the famous volcano. And so, on the morning of our last day in Bicolandia, we were headed for the Cagsawa Ruins in Daraga, a town next to Legaspi City.

Mayon Volcano with a field of ripened rice stalks in the foreground
Ready for harvest: ripened stalks at a rice field with Mayon volcano in the background
Mayon Volcano pastoral scene, Daraga, Albay
View of Mayon volcano partly hidden by clouds, Daraga, Albay

This time our timing was perfect. Beyond the ruins of the Cagsawa Church and its still-standing belfry was the unmistakable, unobstructed, almost-perfect cone shape of Mayon set against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. Sprawling fields of ripened rice stalks just beyond the church ruins added their golden hues to the majestic scenery.

the belfry of the Cagsawa Church ruins with Mayon Volcano in the background
The Cagsawa Ruins belfry and Mayon Volcano

Mayon’s beauty, however, offers little clue to its ferocious nature. With 49 eruptions in the last 400 years, it is perhaps the most active volcano in the Philippines. Its still-smoking top on this particular day bears testimony to that. Mayon has had its share of destructive eruptions, including a major one in 1814 that snuffed out the lives of 2,200 people and buried the nearby town of Cagsawa in ash. The resulting pyroclastic flow also devastated Cagsawa Church. The church facade actually stood for a time until brought down by an earthquake in the 1950s leaving only the belfry and some parts of the convent still standing.

Soursop chili and mango chili shakes
Refreshing drinks with a kick: Soursop chili (sili guyabano) and mango chili shakes

The Cagsawa Ruins are currently part of the Cagsawa Ruins Park. In the 1990s tourism authorities added the Cagsawa National Museum which contains photos of Mayon’s eruptions and geological and archaeological exhibits. As with other popular tourist destinations, the park has its share of souvenir shops and stalls selling food and refreshments. What grabbed our attention though were the ATV (all-terrain vehicle) rides and the sili (chili pepper) fruit shakes sold at some stalls. The ATV rides can take you to the foot of Mayon through rocky trails and costs anywhere from P600 to P1,800. We opted instead for the less adventurous sili guyabano (chili soursop) with matamis na bao (a sweet coconut-based syrup) and sili mango shake.

rice field with cloud-shrouded Mayon Volcano in the background
Summer colors and a cloud-shrouded Mayon volcano

The unobstructed view of Mayon would be a fleeting one as we soon discovered. Not more than an hour after arriving in Cagsawa a cover of white cumulus clouds hid Mayon’s cone once again. We decided to leave her this way – thankful at least that we were able to view her in full splendor for several precious minutes but ever mindful that her reticence can just as easily turn to fury. The ruins of a once-proud religious edifice offer a silent but definite proof of that demeanor.

How to Get There

The Cagsawa Ruins are located in Barangay Busay, Daraga and are about 8 kilometers away from Legazpi City’s central business district. If you’re coming from Legazpi City you can hop on a jeepney going to Camalig, Guinobatan and/or Ligao (approximately a 30-minute ride). Ask the driver to drop you off at the road going to Cagsawa. There is a signage at this point. Some visitors opt to walk the 500 meters of road to the ruins from this point but you can also ride one of the tricycles waiting at the junction.

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