Sorsogon: A Wealth of Unspoiled Wonders

Subic Beach at Calintaan Island, Matnog, Sorsogon

Just like many of the destinations we've visited in recent years, the province of Sorsogon is not high on the bucket list of many travelers. Except for the now world-famous destination of Donsol and its whale sharks, Sorsogon contains a wealth of relatively unknown destinations waiting to be discovered. Its relative remoteness – lying at the southeastern end of the Bicol peninsula, and the whole island of Luzon for that matter – might have kept Sorsogon's beauty from prying eyes. However, unsuspecting visitors will be surprised by its numerous eco-tourism destinations that include long stretches of pristine, white- and pink-sand beaches, unspoiled springs, rivers and lakes, lush rainforests, numerous waterfalls and unexplored caves.

Our first and only visit to Sorsogon brought us to a few attractions that were high on our radar scope for some time now but we later realized we had only scratched a portion of what this beautiful province has to offer to the intrepid traveler. Here are some of the province's destinations worth a visit:

Matnog's Islands and Beaches

the pink sand beach at Tikling Island, Matnog
Tikling Island and its pinkish-white sand beach.

Santa Cruz island in Zamboanga always makes it to the list of the few pink-sand beaches in the world but did you know that Sorsogon's port town of Matnog has its own as well? Subic Beach in Calintaan Island and the beach at Tikling Island both contain a mixture of white sand and crushed particles of red coral giving it a pinkish hue. Lying along the San Bernardino Strait off Matnog, both islands are just 30 minutes or less away by motorized banca or outrigger from the mainland.

Subic Laki or Subic Big Beach, Calintaan Island, Matnog
The turquoise waters off Subic Laki or Subic Big Beach.

Subic Beach is actually divided into two – called Subic Laki (Subic Big Beach) and Subic Liit (Subic Small Beach). Both beaches are adjacent coves hidden from each other's view by a small strip of land. Although accommodations on Calintaan Island have begun to mushroom in recent years – even including some air conditioned huts – the beaches here are still relatively pristine and the waters among the clearest we have seen in the country.

Subic Liit or Subic Small Beach on Calintaan Island
Lush greenery on Subic Liit complements the pinkish-white sand and turquoise waters.

Matnog's other pink-sand wonder is undeveloped Tikling Island. Smaller than Calintaan Island and closer to the mainland, Tikling Island is privately owned, although its owner allows visitors to the whole island. There are no resorts or even huts for rent on this island. The only structures here belong to the island's caretakers. It is even more pristine than Subic Beach although the beach slopes rapidly downwards to the sea bed making it somewhat child-unfriendly. Just like Subic Beach the waters here are super-clear making snorkeling ideal. One surprise in Tikling Island is the presence of domesticated wild boars, owned by the caretakers, roaming the place.

the beach at Tikling Island, Matnog
Tikling Island viewed from our departing boat.

One can visit the two Subic Beaches and Tikling Island by renting a motorized outrigger in Matnog town. One destination is usually added in this arrangement: the Juag Lagoon Marine Sanctuary. This sanctuary is privately owned and located in a shallow lagoon lying between Tikling and Calintaan Islands. The owners have built their house on stilts in the middle of the lagoon and kept several species of fish, giant clams, sea cucumbers, lobsters and other marine animals in several pens.

the entrance to the Juag Lagoon Marine Sanctuary
The entrance to the Juag Lagoon Marine Sanctuary: this area is already a good snorkeling destination in itself.

Juag Lagoon offers the visitor the wonderful experience of a close-in encounter with various species of colorful reef fishes and even pelagics such as giant trevallies or big-eyed jacks and huge groupers. We spent a good deal of our time here feeding the fishes – some by hand – and wading or snorkeling in the water with them. The owners here do not sell the fish; they take care of these magnificent creatures as a hobby, motivated by their love for marine life. Many of the fish here have been left to grow for ten years and have expanded to huge proportions as a result.

young visitor interacting with the fishes of Juag Lagoon Marine Sanctuary
Close encounter with the reef fishes at the Juag Lagoon.

Bacon's Beaches and Lagoon

We originally wanted to include Bacon district in Sorsogon City to our visit but we somehow could not squeeze it into our 4-day, 3-night sojourn. A pity because we actually dropped by Sorsogon City on our way to Matnog from Legazpi City and then from Bulusan town back to Legazpi. If we had more time we could have spent one night in Sorsogon and gone on to Paguriran in Sawanga, Bacon (about 2 hours or so away from the city center). The white-sand Paguriran Beach on the mainland is a destination in itself but even more fascinating is a lagoon lying not too far from shore. Surrounded by huge coral rocks the lagoon is transformed into a giant natural aquarium during low tide. Sea turtles have been known to make this a nesting place in the past until it was frequented by people. Not too far from Paguriran is Pagol Beach which features huge and fascinating rock formations in shallow water.

Mt. Bulusan and Bulusan Volcano Natural Park

Mt. Bulusan is an active volcano and the highest peak in Sorsogon. It is a favorite destination for mountaineers and the summit offers sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. The area surrounding the volcano is densely forested and has been turned into a protected rainforest and wildlife sanctuary: the Bulusan Volcano Natural Park. This nature park contains waterfalls including the Palogtoc Falls, hot springs, caves and beautiful Bulusan Lake.

Bulusan Lake, Bulusan Volcano Natural Park
Boats and the emerald green waters of Bulusan Lake.

We weren't really looking forward to climbing Mt. Bulusan when we got here but exploring fascinating Bulusan Lake was a pleasant surprise. Its deep green emerald waters, the lush rainforest containing centuries-old trees, numerous species of rare vines, orchids and flowers, colorful birds and butterflies frolicking about and even a host of threatened animal species make Bulusan Lake a truly unique experience. It is relatively easy to tour Bulusan Lake using boats, canoes or kayaks for rent or by hiking through the partly-cemented trail that runs around the lake.

part of the rainforest around Bulusan Lake
Sorsogon has plenty of forested areas such as this one at Bulusan Lake.

Irosin's Hot and Cold Springs

We debated whether to stay overnight in Irosin or Bulusan town on the day we toured Bulusan Lake and ended up staying in Bulusan town partly because we wanted a view of the sea. Still, Irosin is a good base for touring the Bulusan Volcano National Park. It is the only town in Sorsogon without a coastline. However it hosts several natural springs including the Mateo Hot and Cold Springs at San Benon and the Mapaso Spring and has been turned into the wellness center of the province.

Donsol: Swimming With the Whale Sharks

We almost forgot this one but Donsol's whale shark encounter is the one attraction that placed Sorsogon on the world tourist circuit. Lately several other spots in the country have seen its share of whale shark encounters such as Oslob in Cebu and even the waters off Legazpi City but Donsol stands out as the one destination offering responsible, eco-friendly encounters with these gentle giants of the sea.

PNOC Eco-Park

This park contains another large forest reserve with caves, hot springs, lakes, diverse flora and fauna, and picturesque Botong Twin Falls. Situated between the boundaries of Albay and Sorsogon provinces, the park is an outdoor enthusiast and trekker's paradise.

Rizal Beach, Gubat

On our way to Sorsogon City from Bulusan we passed by the scenic coastal road to Gubat and a line of resorts along a good stretch of creamy white sand beach. We knew instantly that this is Rizal Beach, a favorite destination of locals in this part of the province. Besides swimming and beach bumming Rizal Beach is also an ideal place for surfing, especially during the months of October to May.

kids at play on Subic Beach, Matnog

This is by no means an exhaustive list of places to visit in Sorsogon. There are many more beaches, forest areas, lakes, waterfalls and even historic buildings that we did not mention here anymore. Want to find out for yourself? Then it's time for you to pay this charming province a worthy visit.

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Subic Beach, Sorsogon
Subic Beach
Bulusan Lake, Sorsogon
Tikling Island, Sorsogon
Juag Lagoon, Sorsogon
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