THERE’S really no stopping the Bicol region, particularly Metro Naga, as it gears up and sets its path towards becoming one of the major tourist destinations in the Philippines. The entire Camarines Sur has gotten its act together through the Metro Naga Development Council (MNDC), an alliance of 16 local government units representing different cities and municipalities in Camarines Sur with Naga City as its lead city. With funding support from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) through the Local Government Support Program for Local Economic Development (LGSP-LED) of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the MNDC has identified tourism circuits and travel packages centered on tourist attractions in Naga City and the rest of the cities and municipalities in Camarines Sur that make up Metro Naga.
It wasted no time in launching Naga Excursions (Naga X), a new tourism brand that offers different tour packages such as the 3-Day 2-Night Naga Excursions that take guests on a high-adventure tour of Mt. Isarog, Malabsay Falls, Panicuason Hot Springs Adventure Park, Haciendas de Naga, Centro Naga and historical churches, monuments and museums.
Other packages include the Naga Spiritual Excursion, the Naga Cultural Excursion and the Naga Island Excursion. These excursions have been custom-designed to fit the interests of guests so that they get to enjoy their stay in Metro Naga.
To drum up awareness on the Naga Excursions tourism brand and campaign, top MNDC officials brought the campaign to Manila and met the national press in a National Media Conference held at Barbara’s Plaza in the historic San Luis Complex of Intramuros, Manila, last week, specifically on May 31, 2013. Briefing everyone on the tourism efforts set into place now in Metro Naga were Naga City Mayor John Bongat, who also serves as chairman of the MNDC; Alec Santos, Naga Tourism Officer; and CIDA’s Genevieve Asselin.
Together, they talked about what Metro Naga now has to offer in terms of high-adventure experiences that include ziplining, mountain trekking and ATV (all-terrain vehicle) tours; a spiritual journey that takes guests on a pilgrimage tour of the historical churches that can be found in Metro Naga; a cultural experience of the historical markers, monuments, parks and museums that reveal Naga’s place in Philippine history; a gastronomic adventure to give everyone an authentic taste of Bicolano cuisine; and island adventures that take guests to the beautiful islands, beaches and waters of Camarines Sur.
GREAT NATURE ADVENTURES
Part of the ultimate Metro Naga experience is climbing Mt. Isarog, the highest forested peak in Southern Luzon and home to one of the oldest and most well preserved rainforests in Southeast Asia. Climbing Mt. Isarog can be done on foot following a hiking trail or riding an ATV. The path leads all the way to the Malabsay Falls, a breathtakingly beautiful waterfall where guests can take a dip in the cool waters.
Not too far away is the Panicuason Hot Springs Adventure Park, located at the foot of Mt. Isarog, where guests can take a dip in the therapeutic warm waters of the geothermal hot springs, hit the fastest zipline in the country, go wall-climbing, or have a relaxing massage by the pool.
Other attractions include Haciendas de Naga (for wall climbing, rappelling, ziplining, fishing, horseback riding, golfing, target shooting, or surfing in a Cool Waves pool with man-made waves); and the Consocep Mountain Resort (for visiting the deer farm, experiencing local customs such as betel nut eating, and dipping in the cool waters of countless waterfalls).
Metro Naga is one place where guests can actually go on a Visita Iglesia even if it’s not Holy Week, since the Spiritual Excursions package takes them around different churches found in the different cities and towns. The tour begins with the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest church in Southern Luzon and the seat of the Archdiocese of Caceres. Naga being the center of the biggest Marian festivity in the country which is the Peñafrancia Festival, its pilgrimage tour makes a stop at the Peñafrancia Shrine, the original home of the original image of Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia and the Peñafrancia Museum right across the shrine. At the museum, guests can view the Peñafrancia Diorama, a tri-dimensional presentation of the Bicolanos’ pilgrimage of faith.
A thriving community even before the Spaniards arrived, Naga boasts of a rich cultural heritage, which is highlighted in the Cultural Excursions tour package being offered under the Naga X tourism brand. Stops include Plaza de Nueva Caceres, which commemorates the history of Naga from the pre-colonial times. Centerpiece of the plaza is the Oragon monument, which depicts the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores on one side and the Spanish surrender to Bicolano revolutionaries on the other side.
There is also the Plaza Quince Martires, with a monument built in honor of the 15 martyrs of Bicol. Four of these martyrs were tortured to death during their imprisonment, and the remaining 11 were imprisoned, exiled or executed in the same way and in the same place as our National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, five days after Dr. Rizal himself was executed.
Dr. Rizal himself has a park named in his honor, called Plaza Rizal, with its own monument, and then there is the Plaza Quezon adjacent to Plaza Rizal, this one built in honor of the late Philippine President Manuel L. Quezon.
Incorporated into all the Naga X tour packages are meals that give guests a taste of authentic Bicolano cuisine. No one leaves Naga without being able to feast on Bicol Express (a spicy pork and siling labuyo dish with shrimp paste, tomatoes, onion and garlic), Laing (shredded gabi or taro leaves cooked in coconut cream with bits of meat and shrimps and sili), and Pinangat (bundles of taro leaves filled with shredded pork and shrimps, chili, ginger, garlic and onion and cooked in coconut cream); as well as local Bicolano merienda fares such as Kinalas (a noodle soup dish with strips of meat from slow-boiled cow’s face, served with a boiled egg, chopped scallions and a thick gravy-like sauce), Toasted Siopao (a round bun stuffed with meat and boiled egg and baked in the oven for a golden, crispy skin instead of the usual steaming done to siopao), and tarts and sweets made from pili nuts, which are abundant in the Bicol region.
SUN, SAND AND SEA
The Island Excursions tour package takes guests to the virgin islands of Caramoan, which has become a favorite venue for shooting many international editions (France, Israel, Sweden, Serbia, India and the United States) of the popular reality TV show Survivor.
The Caramoan Islands, just two hours away from the urban center of Metro Naga, boasts of unspoiled white-sand beaches across its numerous pristine islands that dot the Pacific coast of Bicol. It is also home to awesome marine life and unique limestone cliffs, coves, caves and hidden lagoons.
Other islands that guests can go island-hopping to include the Atulayan and Aguirangan Islands in Lagonoy Gulf and the San Pascual island off the coast of Pasacao, where white-sand beaches meet stunning panoramic views of the mountain giants of Bicol, including Mt. Mayon, in a serene environment.
Not to be missed is the Camarines Sur Watersports Complex (CWC), the man-made attraction that has become known as Asia’s Wakeboarding Mecca and boasts of a six-point cable system and a world-class water obstacle course.
With so much going on in Naga and the entire Camarines Sur – or the Bicol region, for that matter – it is actually so easy to hop on to Metro Naga. By air, major airlines offer flights direct to Naga from Manila (a mere 45-minute flight away) or through Legazpi, Albay. By land, visitors can take sleeper and 20-seater buses, unique air-conditioned vehicles that ply the Manila-Naga route equipped with comfortable “lazy boy” reclining seats. The Bicol Express, the train being operated by the Philippine National Railways, is also available daily, leaving the Manila terminal at 6:30 p.m. and reaching Naga eight hours later.
ALL GEARED UP
With Naga X, tourist arrivals in Naga are expected to hit record high. Already, tourist arrivals for the entire Bicol region has increased by 18.02% from 2010 to 2012 according to statistical data from the Department of Tourism. Of the almost 3.7 million tourists who visited the Bicol region in 2012, a whopping 67.61% went to Naga and the rest of Camarines Sur. This figure is expected to increase significantly now that Naga X has been set in place and the availability of good accommodations have been steadily rising to match the demands of the times. From just 22 establishments offering accommodations for tourists in 2000, there are now 56 establishments operating in Naga, bringing the total number of rooms from 551 in 2010 to 1,609 rooms in 2012.
“Metro Naga is ready,” says Naga City Mayor and MNDC chairman John Bongat.
And it is indeed.