Camarines Sur, often shortened to CamSur, is the largest of the six provinces of the Bicol peninsula. It is rich in nature, history, and culture, from the heritage churches of some small towns, to the smallest commercially-bred fish to the pink and black sand beaches of the Partido region.
While there is little in the way of geographical boundaries, CamSur has many distinctive cultures defined by the local variety of the Bikol language being spoken. A rough division of the province for travel purposes is:
- Metro Naga (Naga, Pili, Bombon, Calabanga, Camaligan, Canaman, Magarao, Milaor Ocampo) - The capital region, where most of CamSur's population is concentrated. Within the region is the mighty Isarog volcano, and the province's only airport.
- Northwest Camarines Sur (Del Gallego, Gainza, Libmanan, Lupi, Pamplona, Pasacao, Ragay, San Fernando, Sipocot) - A largely rural area with small towns, and a mix of Tagalog and Bikol speakers.
- Partido (Caramoan, Garchitorena, Goa, Lagonoy, Presentacion, Sagñay, San Jose, Siruma, Tigaon, Tinambac) - Encompassing the whole Caramoan Peninsula, it has black sand beaches protected by coral reefs.
- Rinconada District (Baao, Balatan, Bato, Buhi, Bula, Iriga, Nabua) - A region bordering Albay, it is known for the Rinconada variety of the Bikol languages, Lake Buhi (and the smallest commercially-bred fish) and Mount Iriga.
Partido and Rinconada regions are considered traditional regions, also marked by welcome arches at the highways. Another way of dividing the province is into a western part and eastern part, which is largely based on the degree of Tagalog influence and the dominant local political families holding positions in Congress, the Villafuertes and the Fuentebellas. There has been a proposal to split the province as a remedy to a long-running political feud between the two.
Cities and municipalities
- 1 Pili — The provincial capital since the 1950s, it houses CamSur's only airport, and is known for its nuts and nature.
- 2 Calabanga — With fishing grounds and the vast agricultural area
- 3 Naga — Historically named Nueva Cáceres after the city in Spain, it is the largest city, and the province's center of trade and education.
- 4 Iriga — Center of the Rinconada District.
- Caramoan - A beach town known for its pink and black sand beaches.
- Mount Isarog - An 2,000 m (6,600 ft) high extinct volcano which rises above the Naga region.
With a population of over 2 million and a land area of about 5,500 km2 (2,100 sq mi), CamSur is the largest and the most populated of the Bicol provinces. Most of its population is concentrated around Naga, the largest city and commercial center, and the rest on the only other city, Iriga, and the province's many municipalities.
The province is largely flat and dotted with volcanoes like Mount Isarog. Most of Camarines Sur is at the large plain at the center of the Bicol Peninsula. The southwest has Mount Iriga, another volcano, and three lakes, Baao, Bato, and Buhi, all starting with the same name and has lend the name of their respective municipalities. The Partido (or Caramoan Peninsula) has pink or black-sand beaches, rugged terrain, and rainforest.
While CamSur is mostly Bicolano culturally, lingustically and ethnically, some Negrito (Agta) tribes still inhabit the mountains, and Tagalog speakers live near the border with Quezon to the northwest. The Agta were the inhabitants of the province until the first Bikol speakers arrived; now, many of them either live in the forests (especially at Mount Isarog) or have assimilated into the dominant Bicolano culture.
Camarines Sur (along with Camarines Norte) used to be part of a single province. When the Spaniards arrived, they first referred to what is now CamSur as Tierra del Camarines (after the many kamalig or nipa huts), which became part of a larger Partido de Camarines, which would give the common local name of the Caramoan Peninsula. Partido de Camarines was split, soon rejoined as the Ambos Camarines, and during the American era, was again divided into the two present provinces. CamSur's capital used to be Naga (then the city of Nueva Cáceres during Spanish times, after the historic city of the same name in Spain), but has since been moved to Pili to the southeast.
Central Bikol, or simply Bikol, the most widely spoken variety of Bikol, is native to the Naga metro area, northwest Camarines Sur, and Partido, and is widely understood throughout the province.
Rinconada Bikol, another major variety, is spoken in the Rinconada District to the southeast, and at the provincial capital at Pili. It is somewhat a blend of southern Tagalog dialects, Waray and Aklanon to the unfamiliar ear, but it has its own alphabet and some sounds not found in most Philippine languages like the schwa (ə), long vowels, and the ɣ (also found in Aklanon, and pronounced similarly to an alternate pronunciation of Spanish g before a, o and u). There are two major Rinconada dialect groups, but there are also dialects in each town, which are not mutually intelligible to each other.
The Agta (Negrito) population had their own languages which are mutually intelligible to the Bikol languages, but have been supplanted by them. Most Agta now speak dialects of Bikol or Rinconada.
Tagalog, usually Tayabasin, is spoken on the border towns to the northwest, and has influenced Bikol spoken in the northwest and Naga.
Albay Bikol, a Bikol variety related to Rinconada in most aspects, is spoken in the eastern parts of the province bordering Albay.
Philtranco and DLTBCo. runs buses from their Manila terminals to Naga and several small towns throughout CamSur. Philtranco operates both air-conditioned and non-AC ("ordinary" class) buses, while DLTB runs completely on AC buses. Other companies with buses from Manila are Bicol Isarog, Eaglestar Transit, Peñafrancia Tours, Raymond, and Superlines. Fares are ₱1000-1500, varying by company and travel class, and may be higher during peak season. Restrooms may be available on the bus.
From within Bicol region, there are buses coming from Legazpi, Tabaco, Sorsogon City and Matnog. Most are on smaller companies running non-AC buses, but the are also operators using regular AC buses.
The main highways to CamSur the Maharlika Highway (Route 1/Asian Highway 26), which traverses about 110 km (68 mi) from the boundary with Camarines Norte to Albay, and the Andaya Highway (Route 68), a 93 km (58 mi) two to four-lane highway which connects with Maharlika Highway near the Quezon-Camarines Sur boundary and passes through the rural northwest part of the province. From Albay, an alternate route is the scenic Sagñay-Tiwi Road (Route 630) from Tabaco.
Until the completion of a future extension of South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) from Lucena to the town of San Fernando, it takes around 6-9 hours to drive from Manila to Camarines Sur.
Train service from Manila has been suspended indefinitely (as of December 2017).
From Albay, you can take the daily Bicol Commuter train (#1720) from Legazpi to Naga, but is only available on weekdays. The trains are not as crowded as the buses, but are slower, with the trip taking over 1-2 hours.
- Florencia Transport. Operates scheduled non-AC bus services from Naga to Goa and Lagonoy via Pili, Ocampo, and Tigaon and vice versa.
- Raymond Transportation. Services from Caramoan and Garchitorena to Naga via Tigaon and Pili, as part of onward services to Manila. Buses are either AC or "ordinary", and restrooms may be available.
The main highway through CamSur is the Maharlika Highway (Route 1/Asian Highway 26), which passes through Naga. Other highways are the Partido Highway (Route 630), which includes a scenic section leading to the "Riviera of the Partido Region" and Baao-Iriga-Nabua Road through the inner parts of the Rinconada District. Andaya Highway links the rural municipalities of northwest CamSur up to the boundary with Quezon Province.
Construction is ongoing for CamSur's first expressway, the Camarines Sur Expressway (CAMSUREX), which will connect the towns of San Fernando and Pili, bypassing Naga. It is planned to connect with the SLEX extension to the province, and another extension to Albay and Sorsogon.
There are some jeepney services between cities and towns, with routes from Naga to Baao, Iriga, Goa, and Sabang port, and from Iriga to Balatan port via Nabua. Naga City has a local jeepney network.
UV Express passenger vans connect Iriga, Sabang port, Nabua, Goa, and Lagonoy with Naga from the Eastbound Van Terminal. There are also services to northwest CamSur from the Westbound Van Terminal in Naga.
Philippine National Railways (PNR) operates the Bicol Commuter train service emanating from Naga, with one daily service to Legazpi (with stops at Pili and Iriga) and two to Sipocot (stopping at Pamplona and Libmanan). Services are available only, however, during weekdays, and the trains are uncomfortable and slower than the bus as they use tracks located further inland from the highway.
Naga City can be easily explored by foot, especially at the downtown, but tricycles and jeepneys are also available. The same can be said on most municipalities.
Tricycles and pedicabs (trisikad or padyak, bicycle rickshaws) are widely available within cities or town centers.
The closest beach to Naga City is located in Pasacao, a primary destination for Nagauenos during the weekend. Pasacao Beach is a very popular beach to the landlocked residents of Naga City.
For those seeking a more isolated places, this would be the Caramoan Peninsula, also known as “Partido”. From Sabang in San Jose, it will take you two hours by boat to Caramoan port, a 30-minute jeep or tricycle ride to the barangay of Bikal on Caramoan's northern coast and from there you must take another boat to visit various beaches and resorts. Gota beach resort is a project of the provincial government and has played host to the shooting of two seasons of Survivor in 2008 and 2009.
- Mt Isarog National Park The Malabsay Falls is just inside the Mt Isarog National Park, after taking the path to the right after passing the entrance hut the visitor will drop down into a spectacular gully where the 20-metre falls are located. The crystal clear waters offer opportunities for rock jumping and relaxing in nature. Also check out Nabontolan Spring - located near Malabsay Falls and close to the National Park and Wildlife Preservation center.
- Itbog Falls - a twin waterfalls cascading amidst verdant vegetation in Sta. Cruz, Buhi. It can be reached by means of a banca ride from the town proper, then a 30-minute trek.
- Mt. Iriga - this distinct volcano has an elevation of about 4,823 ft (1,470 m), the eruption in 1611 caused the existence of Lake Buhi in the province, an inland lake where wild ducks habituate, a choice site for wild duck hunters.
- Culapnitan Cave - found in Libmanan, it contains innumerable stalactites and pillars ranging from massive to extremely delicate.
- Sabang Beach - this coastal barangay of San Jose sees the connection of the river and the sea and has various options for accommodation as well as serving as the main stopover for tourists heading to Caramoan Peninsula. Every year during the last week of April, Sabanga hosts the "Malasagui Festival" (Blue Marlin) which plays host (among other things) to fishing competitions involving fastest and biggest catch. The Blue Marlin has been known to grow as big as 600 kg! Though don't expect to see this size on show.
- Atulayan Island - a cinema-like paradise of an island, you can easily pull your heart down and complete your collection of rare shells and stones. Once the site of the French-Italian movie Mutiny in the South Seas. Its ivory-colored beaches provide the best setting for the movie.
- Nato Beach - its beach is long with clear and gradual sea-depth.
- Omang Cave - situated in Barrio Paniman, Caramoan, its entrance is about 30 feet (9 m) above sea level and the interior is architecturally designed.
- Lake Buhi - where one of the smallest commercial fish species (tabios) in the world is found, and also La Roca Encantada - an enchanting island on the lake
- Gota Beach - a project of the provincial government, Gota beach resort is steadily becoming one of the most attractive resorts for Filippinos who are not attracted to the over-developed Boracay. It is surrounded by jagged mountains, interesting rock formations, secluded white beaches and surprisingly, other like-minded tourists. A less pricey option is to stay in one of the many home stay or other accommodation options and hire a boat to take you wherever you choose to enjoy nature without expensive resorts.
- Rose Islet - the small islet near the town of Presentacion, it has a white sandy beach good for swimming and snorkeling. Rose Islet or the Aguirangan Island is found between Maangas and Adiangao.
- Kapungkulan Spring - a crystalline spring, located in Brgy. San Juan, Naga City.
- Bayagin Falls - located near the Barit River where the movie OG was entirely filmed for its natural location.
- Sabang and Tubigan Falls - found in Waras River in sitios Tubigan and Sabang in Brgy. Sta. Maria, Iriga City. Cascading at a magnificent height of 4.5 m, it is 15 km from the main poblacion. Tubigan Falls is 2 km away and its tiered waterfalls cascade 7.5 m.
- Leaning Tower of Bombon - Camarines Sur's replica of the very famous Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy
- PNR Markers Park - located in Del Gallego, the site where the late Pres. Manuel Luis Quezon had driven a golden nail during the inauguration of the North and South Railroad tracks which connected Manila and Legazpi.
- Plaza Quince Martires - a place constructed at the heart of Naga City, built in honor of the 15 Bicol martyrs.
- Alatco Terminal - site of the oldest transportation company in the country founded by Albert L. Amman in 1914. Amman built a passenger bus on two cylinders truck, Grabowsky and hired Max Blouse (who later became president of Batangas Transportation and Laguna-Tayabas Company) as chauffeur and started operation in this area. This became the first passenger truck operated in the Philippines. Amman was later acknowledged as the Father of Bus Transportation in the Philippines.
- Kinuwartelan - located in Brgy. Perpetual Help, Iriga City, this place was made a Spanish garrison camp where Filipino insurrectos were kept and force to do hard labor. Hence, the name "kinuwartelan" meaning "place of incarceration".
- Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Marker - located at the northeastern corner of Rizal Park (Iriga City), constructed and inaguarated last March 3, 1985 to give honor to Filipinos, particularly Bicolanos living and deceased, who fought the Japanese Imperialist Army during world War II unpaid Guerrilla Remnants, 6th Army USAFFE and PHILCOM Bicol Area.
- Tinagba Festival - it is the harvest offering on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes every 11th of February in Iriga City. During the festival all the different barrios join the celebration by making a well-decorated cart drawn by a carabao.
- Bowa-Bowaan Festival - held evey May 2, coinciding the town fiesta of Nabua. The highlight of the affair is the re-enactment of the 13th century pagan rites which is enriched by colorful costumes. The rite is dramatic revival of the traditional boa feast during the pre-Spanish era where pagans believed that the chains of coconut embryos called "Boa" are offered to their old deities.
- Feast of Our Lady of Buenviaje - the town fiesta of Sabang, held every last Saturday of May, highlighted by a fluvial procession.
- Peñafrancia Festival - every year on the third week of September, the most awaited celebration of Bicol is being held in honor of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. Her centuries old image becomes an object of a stirring religious event which is the ceremonial fluvial procession.
- Lagonoy Festival - every 1st day of May Lagonoy celebrating the town fiesta in honor to the patron saint's St.Phillip and St.James.The highlight of the affair is to promote the town's best products and native foods.
- Kamundagan Festival - Naga City open its doors every December in commemorating of their charter anniversary and the birth of Jesus Christ. Highlights of the festivity are: Kiri-kiti, Pastoras, Beauty Search, Agro-Industrial Fair, Cultural Presentation, Civic Parade, Bikol Song Festival.
- Voyadores Festival - a street dance reenactment on the transfer of the image of Our Lady of Penafrancia from the Basilica to the Metropolitan Cathedral. Named after the male devotees (voyadores) who accompany and carry the Virgin's image in a procession called Translacion for a novena at the Metropolitan Cathedral.
Bicolanos are noted for their gastronomic appetite in fiery or chili-hot dishes. Unlike people from other regions in the entire country, a Bicolano can relish every meal which has for its recipe anything spicy.
Here are some of the list of recipes which are notably pure Bicolano.
- Gulay na natong (laing) – This Bicolano recipe is made of finely shredded natong or taro leaves flavored with bangut (anak shrimps) or balaw (small crabs). Sometimes ground pork with a little amount of fat is added; for an appetizing aroma, a few pieces of whole native black peppers are added just before removing the cooking vessel from the fire.
- Langkang palusag – Jackfruit, bangut, garlic, onion are placed in the coconut milk and brought to a boil then allowed to simmer until the jackfruit is tender. Stirring of the ingredients need not be done.
- Bicol Express – Made of balaw, with a little amount of ground pork and small red chilies (siling labuyo). The amount of pepper placed in the recipe depends upon the capacity of the consumer to savor hot and spicy food.
- Pinangat – Diced lobster meat mixed with the meat of young coconut (lukadon), lemongrass (tanglad) and ground garlic, diced onions are added. All these are mixed together in coconut milk. Each lump of this mixture is wrapped in two layers of well-wiped, clean taro (gabi GUH-bee) leaves and pairs of these wrapped lumps are tied together with strips of the paklang (skin of taro stalks). All of these paired wrapped lumps of the flattened mixture are cooked in coconut milk just enough to cover all the packages. Bring the milk to a boil, allow it to simmer until the cooked aroma is smelled.
- Ginuygoy – Tender taro leaves (natong na piniripit) are cooked in little water, flavored with dinaelan, and when cooked is seasoned with lemon juice.
- Inon-on – Round scad (Bikol: sibubog, Tagalog: galunggong) or any saltwater fish cooked with vinegar or lemon juice, garlic, onions with generous amount of oil and as little water as possible.
- Ginaring - Appetizing roast skewered mudfish (talusog).
- Gulay na bayawas - Ripe guavas (Bikol: bayawas) chopped into small slices and cooked in coconut milk with melted peanut brittle (sangkaka). Santan is cooked from the coconut mil, peanut brittle is melted to bring the right consistency and pili but is added for making it.
- Ibos - Sticky rice (Bikol: pulutan) which is allowed to stand for a couple of hours in coconut milk then wrapped in coils of coconut leaves and then cooked. It is usually dipped in chocolate or eaten with santan.
- Sinuman (pronounced see-NOOH-mahn) – sticky rice cooked in melted peanut brittle and coconut milk cooked in the same manner as rice is cooked.
- Tabog-tabog – The Bicolano version of buchi, a snack similar to mochi, but filled with sweet potato.
- Linubak – mashed unripe bananas which are sweetened with scrapings of peanut brittle.
- Olog-olog originally pronounced with an H) – small balls of sticky rice flour cooked in boiling water sweeted with peanut brittles.