A trip to Cagayan is not for the fainthearted. Located roughly 500 kilometers from the Philippine capital, this massive coastal province in Northeastern Luzon entails a butt-numbing 10 to 12-bus ride, plus an additional hour or two to reach its islands off coast – a journey that is no less nerve-wracking.
Travelers sometimes choose not to visit the province due to distance, but for the brave, coming here proves to be one epic adventure filled with gastronomical delights, natural and man-made wonders and a rich history that make the long travel time truly worth it.
WHAT TO SEE
BEACHES AND ISLANDS
- MAPURAO BEACH
Located in San Vicente, Mapurao Beach can be visited on the way to Anguib Beach and Palaui Island or vice-versa. The beach houses Jerolynda’s White Beach Resort and Restaurant and has white sand and clear, kid-friendly water. Boats pass by a lush mangrove forest to and from the beach. On site, you will be served toothsome seafood dishes that are cooked straight from sea to table.
- ANGUIB BEACH
Anguib Beach’s agoho-lined cream shore spans around two kilometers long, with one tip ending in a forested hill. Guests can enjoy glamping, swimming, or just lazing around in a hammock by the trees. The beach is accessible after a one-hour boat ride from the port, depending on water conditions.
- PALAUI ISLAND
Palaui Island is arguably the most famous of Cagayan’s attractions – and for good reason. Entailing a two-hour boat ride through the Philippine Sea’s tempestuous waters, this remote 7,145-hectare island in the Philippines’ extreme northeast boasts several hiking trails through rich forests, including one that leads to an 18th -century lighthouse on a hill. Considered a National Marine Reserve, the water surrounding the island is home to 21 fish species and 50 hectares of unspoiled coral reef.
It is also home to several species of wood, shrubs and other endemic flora and migratory birds. Because of its raw beauty, the island has served as a location for the TV series Survivor and is one of CNN’s 100 Best Beaches Around the World.
Below are noteworthy sights in Palaui Island.
1) PUNTA VERDE
Resting on Palaui Island’s southeastern tip, Punta Verde serves as a boat dock and camping ground for visitors who would like to stay the night. From Punta Verde, the nearly six-kilometer hike to Cape Engano takes around three to four hours. There is also a waterfall nearby.
2) CAPE ENGANO LIGHTHOUSE
Opposite Punta Verde, Cape Engaño Lighthouse – or Faro de Cabo Engaño – sits on the southwest tip of Palaui Island, accessible after a scenic 15-minute hike up a 229-step hill. Built in 1892, the lighthouse is an acclaimed National Cultural Treasure. From the lighthouse, guests enjoy a bird’s eye view of the island’s westerly cove, Dos Hermanas Islands and Babuyan Island north of the cove.
CONTACT FOR PALAUI ISLAND TOUR
Sta. Ana Motorized Boat Association
Address: San Vicente Port, Sta. Ana, Cagayan
Contact Number: +63915- 4670964
Island hopping rates: P500 to P3,500 per boat (maximum of 8 passengers)
Crocodile Island – P500
Pugo Moro – P500
Punta Verde – P1,000
Anguib Beach – P1,500
Siwangag Cove – P1,500
Cape Engano – P1,800
Puzurubo – P1,800
IMPORTANT LANDMARKS AND STRUCTURES
- BUNTUN BRIDGE
The Philippines’ second longest bridge (after San Juanico Bridge), Buntun Bridge spans 1.1 kilometers and serves as the gateway to Tuguegarao. Made of 240-foot Japanese steel, it connects Tuguegarao to Apayao. Built in the 60s over the mighty Cagayan River, the bridge offers an unobstructed vista of the country’s largest river basin.
- CAGAYAN STATE UNIVERSITY FARM
Apart from being the “largest station institution of higher learning in the Cagayan Valley Region”, Cagayan State University (CSU) is also recognized for its extensive farm in Piat. At the CSU Farm, visitors can mingle with friendly sheep and goats and learn how to milk cows firsthand.
- LYCEUM OF APARRI
Lyceum of Aparri is considered one of the most competitive institutions in the entire Cagayan Valley.
- MAGAPIT BRIDGE
Like Buntun Bridge, the Magapit Suspension Bridge runs across the Cagayan River. Also called the Golden Gate of Cagayan, it links the river’s eastern and western side.
- CAGAYAN PROVINCIAL CAPITOL
Cagayan’s provincial capitol is home to the provincial museum, capitol building and administrative seat.
- POTTERY AND BRICK-MAKING
Barangay Atulu in Iguig is known for its beautiful churches and pottery crafted by local artisans, the Itawis. They barehandedly shape vases, garden wares and ornate pieces using clay from the Cagayan River and simple implements such as wood blocks, kilns, carabao dung (for fuel), and makeshift stoves.
- CAGAYAN MUSEUM
Take a trip back into time at the Cagayan Provincial Museum and Historical Research Center. Situated within the provincial capitol and about five kilometers from the city center, the museum houses local artifacts, heirloom pieces and wares from the valley, as well as fossils of animals that once inhabited the region. It also details the discovery of the Callao Man, whose 67,000-year old remains were discovered in Callao Cave in Peñablanca.
- ST. PHILOMENE CHURCH
Address: Maharlika Highway, Alcala, Cagayan
Contact number: (078) 848 1917
Twenty meters long and 12.5 meters high, St. Philomene Church is Tuguegarao’s biggest brick church and the Philippines’ widest. Built by Spanish friars in 1881, its distinct features include its red brick design, a newly refurbished tile floor, and a belfry situated next to St. Philomene Academy.
- BASILICA MINORE DE NUESTRA SENORA DE PIAT (OUR LADY OF PIAT CHURCH)
Named the “Pilgrimage Center of the North”, Piat Church is one of 12 minor basilicas in the country and features a beautiful four-level belfry. It houses a 407-year old Black Virgin Mary that is said to be miraculous. Also called Yena Tam Ngamin (The Mother of Us All) and Apo Baket (The Venerable Matriarch), the church’s icon was transported from Macau in the 1600s.
- ST. PETER METROPOLITAN CATHEDRAL PARISH (TUGUEGARAO CATHEDRAL)
Dating back to the 18th century, the Tuguegarao Cathedral is known for its “Cagayan-style” pediment, which is distinctly crested like many other churches in Cagayan Valley. This baroque church is one of the largest in the region and serves as the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Tuguegarao.
- ST. JAMES PARISH
St. James Parish is fashioned with three brick flying buttresses – the only one of its kind in the Philippines. The facade showcases a stone pillar while said to be inside is the Jubilee Cross, replete with the relic of the True Cross. There is a centuries-old well on site too.
WHERE TO STAY
- BALAI CARMELA
Only three kilometers from Tuguegarao Airport, Balai Carmela is an ideal base for families, big groups and couples who plan on seeing the capital and adjacent towns. The hotel offers spacious Balinese-inspired rooms, suites and dorm-type accommodations with air conditioning, TV and free WiFi. After a tour, rejuvenate with in-room massage, take a dip in an outdoor pool, or indulge in sumptuous Asian dishes at Troy’s Bar and Cafe.
- RIVERVIEW ROYALE HOTEL
A new player in Aparri’s budding hotel industry, Riverview Royale Hotel is praised for its clean, well-furnished rooms and impeccable service. Only 2.5 kilometers away from the city center, this three-storey hotel puts you close to Aparri’s best dining facilities and important landmarks, such as CSU. Rooms are equipped with air conditioning, cable TV, en suite shower, towels, and free WiFi.
- HOTEL DIAN
Suitable for both business and leisure travelers, Hotel Dian features plenty of recreational facilities: a fitness center, karaoke, coffee shop, bar, restaurant (with 24-hour room service), massage, and spa. Pet-loving guests will be happy to know that pets are welcome in the property too. All rooms are non-smoking and are fitted with a mini bar, plus complimentary WiFi access.
WHAT TO EAT AND WHERE TO GET IT
- CHELSEA’S DINER
Address: Cagayan Valley Road, Aparri, Cagayan
For traditional Filipino flavors, head to Chelsea’s Diner in Aparri. Seated along the highway, this cozy 70-seater restaurant serves Western and Filipino specialties, including sumptuous crispy pata and sweet and sour fish. Offering cocktails and beers, it is also well-suited for unwinding after work or tours.
- JAJA’S RESTO GRILL
If you prefer traditional Filipino cuisine cooked and served in a rustic space, visit Jaja’s Resto Grill along San Vicente Road. Serving both Ybanag and traditional Filipino meals, it is well known for its papaitan, pancit batil patong and sisig liempo.
- WIN-MAE PANCITERIA
When it comes to Cagayan’s culinary wonders, there is nothing more famouS than pancit batil patong (sometimes spelled as patung). This unique noodle dish is made using Tuguegarao’s
signature pancit miki noodles, sauteed in beef and thick egg broth. Toppings, including ground carabao beef, vegetables, and poached egg are added last, along with a second round of broth. Add a tablespoon of chopped onion and special vinegar for a truly authentic pancit batil patong experience.
Various food stalls in Gattaran, Aparri, and Tuguegarao, such as Win-Mae Panciteria sell the
dish. Some carinderia in Lal-Lo use sotanghon instead of miki.
- PAWA STALLS SURROUNDING PIAT CHURCH
Another Cagayan kakanin worth noting is pawa, a glutinous rice cake with sweet ground peanuts.
Available in bite-size pieces, you can find this steamed delicacy in modest stalls around Piat Church in Centro, Piat.
- LAL-LO AND ALCALA MILK CANDY STORES
Drop by the towns of Alcala and Lal-lo for a taste of their signature milk candies. Crafted using carabao milk, these bite-size candies can be extremely addicting.
- SEGURO SNACK HAUZ
Address: Aguiguican, Gattaran, Cagayan
Tuguegarao’s version of puto, putoflan is a rice cake that uses flour and egg yolk for the muffin and a soft leche flan base. Seguro Snack Hauz in Gattaran sells one of the best in the province.
- FOOD STALLS SELLING SINANTA
Pancit batil patong not your cup of tea? Try sinanta. An Ybanag soup, it consists of sotanghon and miki noodles, chicken, clams, pork, and fish sauce. Best eaten alongside a warm cup of coco and a rice cake called pinakufu. Food stalls across Cagayan sell this wonderful dish.
- LIGHTHOUSE COOPERATIVE YBANAG FOOD PRODUCTS
If you prefer your chicharon lean, grab a pack of chicarabao. Airy, light and fat-free, this delicacy is made by deep-frying square cuts of carabao skin. Choose from three awesome flavors: garlic, hot and
spicy, and onion and vinegar. You can get it from Lighthouse Cooperative Ybanag Food Products in Tuguegarao.
- JEROLYNDA WHITE BEACH RESORT
As a coastal province, there is no shortage of edible seaweeds in Cagayan. A popular one is lumot, so called for it algae-like consistency. It is often paired with grilled or fried fish and seafood.
Jerolynda White Beach Resort in Sta. Ana serves this dish.
- YBANAG LONGGANISA IN PUBLIC MARKETS AND GROCERIES
Tuguegarao’s take on the famous Pinoy breakfast favorite, Ybanag longganisa is made from pork or
carabao beef mixed with garlic tidbits. Bring home some and slowfry to a crisp. Various public markets and groceries in Cagayan have this longganisa in stock all year-round.
HOW TO GET THERE
Five Star , GV Florida, and Victory Liner buses ply the route to Tuguegarao daily from Manila. Victory Liner also has buses going to Aparri and Tuao, while GV Florida also serves the Aparri and Sta. Ana routes. Travel time to Tuguegarao takes 12 to 14 hours, depending on the traffic.
Aparri and Sta. Ana are at the northern tip and take longer to reach. If you are going to Palaui Island or beaches in Sta. Ana, take a local bus or van from Tuguegarao to Sta. Ana. Travel time is around three hours. Otherwise, you can take a GV Florida bus direct to Sta. Ana.
At Sta. Ana, hail a tricycle to take you to San Vicente port 10 minutes away. Boats can be rented at the port to the island of your choice. Palaui Island is around 20 to 40 minutes away from the port, depending on weather and sea conditions. Be ready for huge waves, since the island faces the Pacific.
- FIVE STAR
Five Star buses going to Cagayan can be found at the Cubao bus terminal. Please refer to the bus schedules below. Rates and schedules are subject to change.
CUBAO TO TUGUEGARAO
5:30 am Regular aircon P695
8:30 am Regular aircon P695
11:30 am Regular aircon P695
2:00 pm Deluxe P790
4:00 pm Regular aircon P695
7:00 pm Deluxe P790
11:00 pm Regular aircon P695
11:59 pm Deluxe P790
- VICTORY LINER
Victory Liner has buses going to Tuguegarao, Aparri, and Tuao at the Kamias bus terminal. Please refer to the bus schedules below. Rates and schedules are subject to change.
KAMIAS TO TUGUEGARAO
5:30 am Regular aircon P695
6:30 am First class P930
9:30 am Deluxe P810
11:00 am Regular aircon P695
1:00 pm Regular aircon P695
2:00 pm Regular aircon P695
3:00 pm Deluxe P810
5:00 pm Regular aircon P695
7:45 pm Regular aircon P695
8:15 pm Deluxe P810
9:00 pm Deluxe P810
9:15 pm First class P930
9:45 pm Regular aircon P695
10:30 pm Regular aircon P695
11:30 pm Regular aircon P695
KAMIAS TO APARRI
3:30 am Regular aircon P841
6:30 pm First class P1,130
KAMIAS TO TUAO
4:00 pm Regular aircon P748
6:00 pm Deluxe P890
7:30 pm First class P1,010
- GV FLORIDA
GV Florida buses bound for several municipalities in Cagayan, including Aparri, Baggao, Gonzaga, and Tuguegarao can be found at the Cubao bus terminal. In addition to those routes, the GV Florida terminal in Sampaloc also offers trips to Sta. Ana, Buguey, Lasam, and Ballesteros.
Please refer to the bus schedules below. Rates and schedules are subject to change.
SAMPALOC TO TUGUEGARAO
(WITH STOPS AT LASAM/ BALLESTEROS/ STA. ANA/ BAGGAO/ GONZAGA)
Cebu Pacific flies direct from Manila to Tuguegarao, with two daily at 8:05 am and 12:05 pm. The flight takes an hour and 15 minutes, thereby taking nine to 12 hours off your travel time.
Philippine Airlines offers five flights per week from Clark to Tuguegarao (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday) at 12:20 pm. The flight takes one hour.
This trip was part of Lakbay Norte 6, an annual media familiarization tour organized by the North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB), in partnership with the NLEX Corporation – concessionaire of NLEX/ SCTEX – Victory Liner, Inc., Nueva Ecija Convention and Visitors Association (NECVA), and Cagayan North Convention and Visitors Bureau (CNCVB); and sponsors – Department of Tourism Regions 2 and 3, the provinces of Nueva Ecija and Cagayan North, Petron Corporation, Jollibee Foods Corporation, and Prifood Corporation.
This article was first released in Northbound Magazine Issue 20.