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The morning sun was playfully darting in and out of the gray cumulus clouds as we made our way on a trike up the paved highway. Upon reaching a narrow bend we made a right turn into the park's entrance. We had barely started up the two kilometers of concrete pathway leading to the park when the foliage began to get thicker. It was the edge of a rainforest, its verdant canopy shielding us from the morning sun's glistening rays. After baking in the April sun the previous day at the beaches of Matnog, this was a refreshingly radical departure.
The rainforest surrounding Bulusan Lake with Bulusan Volcano hidden by clouds in the background.
Bulusan Lake is sometimes referred to as the "Switzerland of the Orient" but that is an overstatement; there are no pine trees, alpine meadows nor blankets of snow here. But it is remarkably beautiful in a different way. Sitting at the foot of towering Mount Bulusan, it is surrounded by a lush tropical rainforest thickly endowed with flora and fauna. Its deep green emerald waters add a mystical sense of tranquility hardly equaled by any body of water we had previously seen. Here and there, rare, colorful species of startled kingfishers would dart from cover, zooming over the placid waters before disappearing into the thick green carpet of the surrounding rainforest.
This elevated lake is part of Bulusan Volcano National Park – that much was pretty evident from the colorful signpost near the park entrance and a 3-dimensional small scale model of the park, showing the trail leading up to Mt. Bulusan and other bodies of water within the park. A large expanse of the lake is immediately visible from here with one of the three peaks of Bulusan Volcano in the background, albeit partly shrouded in clouds during this particular day. A few steps down from the entrance are boats, kayaks and canoes that guests can rent to tour the 27-hectare lake.
Boat tour of Bulusan Lake; there are plenty of interesting flora and fauna
that can be observed as our boat glides along the lake's banks.
A partly cemented trail circles the perimeter of the lake, offering guests a leisurely walk around it and also providing an excellent up-close-and-personal view of the surrounding rainforest and its wild inhabitants. Wanting to get a less tiring tour of the entire lake we settled for the boat tour – a P600 ride in a boat for 3 to 4 guests with two boatmen/guides. It might be a little stiff for these shoestring travelers but the sights around the lake were well worth it.
The protected rainforest appears to be very much in a pristine state with several species of trees and endemic plants including rare and endangered species of vines and orchids. Many of the latter may be found hanging from the trees that we passed by (or under) during our boat trip. Our boat guides also pointed out some interesting fruit-bearing exotic trees including wildsantol and guava specimens (both are not considered edible).
Dense tree cover around Bulusan Lake. There's plenty of rare flora and fauna in these parts.
We also encountered several colorful butterflies dancing around the flowering plants and trees, seemingly oblivious to our passing boat. And the birds… there were a few rare specimens including colorful kingfishers that would occasionally zoom pass. We later learned that there are quite a number of threatened animal species here including the Golden-crowned flying fox, the Southern Luzon giant cloud rat, the Philippine warty pig and the Luzon Tarictic hornbill. With plenty of exotic-looking plant and animal species endemic to the area, Bulusan Lake must surely be a biologist's and nature conservationist's paradise.
In a small corner of the lake a few fishermen were attending to their work. Our boatmen mentioned that the lake had been stocked with tilapia in addition to fishes endemic to Bulusan. Probably because of the lake's rich and well-preserved resources some of these fish have grown to enormous proportions, a sure attraction for guests bringing their own rod-and-reel gears.
Raffy taking a breather on the trail around the lake.
Boat trip over we decided to take a walk on the cemented pathway, at least for a short distance just to get a feel for the rainforest. What we saw was no less interesting from the discoveries we made during our boat ride. We encountered a variety of large ferns, wild flowers, insects and lizards that we've never seen before. Several of the trees here, we were informed are centuries-old. Our guides did warn us about possible encounters with snakes so were extra careful while hiking through the trail; fortunately we did not encounter any.
Kayaking at Bulusan Lake.
Later, as we sat resting on the park benches, we watched, fascinated, as a group of mountaineers tried to kayak for perhaps the first time in their lives. They were supposed to climb up Mt. Bulusan but a weather advisory prevented them from doing so; there was a tropical storm (later degraded into a tropical depression) headed towards the Eastern Visayas, not too far from the Bicol Region. They had to "make do" with kayaking while waiting for a go signal to resume their mountain trek. Later we understood reason for the 3-D scaled model of Bulusan Volcano National Park. It was being used to orient trekkers and climbers going up to the volcano with Bulusan Lake as their starting point. We actually envy these people. Mountaineering would have been great fun but with aging knees and backs that now seems like a distant dream.
There are many other places to explore in this area. Along the road to Irosin but still within Bulusan town is the way to Palogtoc Falls. Bulusan Volcano, of course, remains a destination for trekkers and mountaineers, in addition to Sharp Peak and Hormahan. There is another lake in the natural park:Lake Aguingay which can expand up to three times the size of Bulusan Lake or be completely dry. A long trek is needed to get there; it is actually one of the highlights of the trek up Mt. Bulusan. And then there's Bayugin Falls in Barangay San Francisco (Bulusan town).
We were surprised to be told that there are no hot springs in Bulusan town. You would expect this from a town situated very near a volcano but actually the hot springs are in nearby Irosin town, on the opposite side of Mt. Bulusan.
How to Get There
There are 2 aircon bus trips per day from Manila (Cubao and Pasay) direct to Bulusan via Elavil Tours Philippines in addition to regular bus rides. This is the simplest way to get to Bulusan but it is a 10 to 12 hour trip. Going there by private vehicle will be a tad shorter but will still take a full daylight of travel. The fastest is to take a plane to Legazpi City, Albay then make the land transfer to Irosin or Bulusan town.
Note: if traveling to Bulusan Lake you can either stay at Irosin or at Bulusan town. There are more accommodations in Irosin but we chose to stay at Bulusan.
Legapi to Irosin/Bulusan via Sorsogon City
At Legazpi there are many options to get to Irosin or Bulusan. You can take GT Express vans at the Central Terminal in Tahao Road or at the municipality of Daraga. (We took the one at the Central Terminal – it seems closer to the airport and costs P50 per trike) for the roughly 1-hour ride toSorsogon City.
Sorsogon City to Bulusan via Irosin: This option passes by the Daang Maharlika or main highway through the town of Casiguran, Juban and Irosin. Take the bus or jeepney at Sorsogon City bound for Irosin. Travel time is roughly 1 hour. This is a little bit longer than the next option but there are plenty more buses and jeepneys that ply this route. You can also choose to just stop at Irosin and get your accommodations here rather than at Bulusan town. If you choose to stay at Irosin this option is the better route.
Sorsogon City to Bulusan via Gubat: This route is shorter than the former by more than 20 km. IF you're headed out all the way to Bulusan. At Sorsogon look for jeepneys or buses that will take you to Gubat town (there are 2 terminals for the jeepneys) and request the driver to drop you at the Bulusan Jeepney Terminal in Gubat. At Gubat take a jeepney for the 19 kilometer ride to Bulusan town. This is the best option if you choose to stay at Bulusan town although the jeepneys plying this route are not as many as the Sorsogon to Irosin route.
Yet another option: It is also possible to get aircon or ordinary buses or GT Express vans going to Bulan at the Central Terminal, Tahao Road in Legazpi. These will pass by Irosin junction from where you can get a trike ride to the terminal for jeepneys bound for Bulusan. Just make sure you get there by 3PM or so as this is supposedly the last jeepney trip to Bulusan. Not a problem if you choose to stay at Irosin town though.)
If you miss the bus or jeepneys on some of these routes (e.g. if you miss the last trip to Bulusan) you may opt to take a tricycle but this can be far costlier.
From Irosin or Bulusan town to Bulusan Lake/Bulusan Volcano Natural Park: You can rent a tricycle at either town for the ride to lake and natural park. The trike driver will wait for you and bring you back to your place of stay for P300 – 350 total. We would recommend a maximum number of passengers per trike at 3 – with one person riding behind the driver. There is a P35 entrance fee per person at the park.
Where to Stay
As earlier noted it is possible to get accommodations at Irosin from where one can get the trike ride to Bulusan Lake. However we chose to stay at Bulusan town which probably offers fewer accommodations. There are a few beach resorts here (Bulusan is actually a coastal town) and we ended up atVilla Luisa Celeste Beach Resort in Dancalan, Bulusan. We honestly weren't expecting much but were surprised at our pleasant stay here. (Thanks to our dear friend, Pastor Rene Futalan for the info!)
Villa Luisa Celeste is actually a large house owned, resided in and operated by the Frayna family, converted into a bed and breakfast to cater to travelers like us who were desperately looking for a place to stay at their town. Their room rates are reasonable (P1200 for a room good for 4 and P1700 for a dormitory room that can take up to 7 guests). Rooms are air-conditioned with cable TV. They serve meals at reasonable rates too. Better yet their service is warm and very personal. They also have a multi-purpose hall by the beach. They may be reached at 0939-646384.