F From mountaintop to the sea & everything in between, it's endless fun in Cagayan! - jeepneyjinggoy

From mountaintop to the sea & everything in between, it's endless fun in Cagayan!

Mention Cagayan Province perhaps these three are the first to pop to mind: the Sierra Madre Mountain Range, the fossils of the earliest man in the Philippines, the Callao Cave. You may not know it but all three are connected. The Callao Cave is one of the many caverns of Sierra Madre Mountains, the country’s longest mountain range, and the Homo luzonensis relics were discovered in the Callao Cave. With history, geology and archeology intertwined in a single spot, these are good reasons to get you on the plane to this destination. 

Postcard-perfect. Callao Cave is Cagayan tourism's iconic image, and one of the hundreds of caverns in the Sierra Madre Mountain Range

But there’s more. Cagayan is an explorer’s paradise. With a vast land bordered by mountains and sea blessed with nature’s wonders, Cagayan is loaded with endless fun and adventure on land (and inside it) and water (and under it). There are kilometers of beaches to comb, extensive underwater scenes to marvel on, countless lakes, rivers and waterfalls to enjoy, acres of valleys, mountains and verdant forests to trek and hundreds of caves to explore. It also has its fair share of old churches and the cuisine is as exciting. With so much to see and do in this Northern province, how long should one visit Cagayan? The answer is, how much have you got, because a short one just won’t cut it. 

Baggao Bluewater Lagoon

Lipit Canyon

Dos Hermanos Islands

Cape Engaño Lighthouse

Cagayan is an explorer’s paradise. Have a little of everything on the first visit.

On the first visit, be the pious one, the sun worshipper or the adrenaline junkie. Have a stab at one of everything Cagayan has to offer. Go to a famous cave, a pilgrimage site, a far-off beach, an island with views perfect for movie settings, a lagoon, river and canyon with waterways that vein from the famed Cagayan River, the largest and longest river in the country, and cross the bridge over it, also the longest in the past, and mingle with the locals. Then pick out your choice of adventure so you’d know exactly where you’ll be exploring more on the succeeding visits. 

Mingle with the locals. Island kids in Palaui

Vendor at Piat

By air travel, Tuguegarao City is the gateway to all the province’s attractions. From Davao down South (or Cebu, Bacolod And Iloilo) to the Cagayan capital city up North via Manila, the trip is seamless with Philippine Airlines. With the connection and the ease of it, the bucket listed sites are not too far away. Leave Davao early morning and you’re at the destination by midday, just in time for brunch and a hearty meal of the iconic Tuguegarao Pancit Batil Patong. The dish is whipped up with freshly made noodles topped with savory meat, vegetables, and sunny side up egg, all served with a side of rich egg soup. Native coffee plus the glutinous rice local delicacies of Pawa, Sinabalu, Sumanlatik, Tupig and Patupat, make ideal meal enders (and merienda, too). You need to load up on the carbs anyway for an adventure-filled, calorie-burning time ahead of you. 

The iconic Tuguegarao Pancit Batil Patong

I got the Pawa! A Piat Town sweet delicacy made of glutinous rice, grounded peanuts, and muscovado

While in Tuguegarao, a quick stop at the Cagayan Museum and Historical Research Center can give you a picture of the province’s storied past, including the country’s earliest inhabitants, up to the present. Head off to your adventure with added knowledge about the province, But to have a more in depth understanding of each destination, have an accredited Department of Tourism tour guide. It’s worth it. 

Once the country's longest span, the Buntun Bridge corsses over the famed Cagayan River, the Philippine's longest & widest river

About 24 kilometers from the capital city, in the municipality of Peñablanca, is the postcard-perfect image of Cagayan tourism, the Callao Cave. It’s recognized as an important cultural property of the Philippines, one of more than 300 caves in the vicinity of Peñablanca Protected Landscape and Seascape in the western foothills of the Northern Sierra Madre Mountains, and home to Ubag (Homo luzonensis), fossils of the the country’s earliest inhabitants. 

Spelunkers will rejoice delving into the cool depths of chambers adorned with nature’s handiworks. Stalactites, stalagmites and various limestone formations— the massive columns, skeleton, elephant, praying angel, rocket, lion, dog, plus the famed cavern transformed into a chapel illuminated by rays from heaven through a natural skylight. 

Rays from heaven. Callao Cave's chapel illuminated through a natural skylight

Before the sun sets, paddle through the calm waters of the Pinacanauan River adjacent to the Callao Cave. Here, you can catch the colonies of bats flying out of a cliff opening. Stop for a picnic on a rocky formation at the lake’s end, it’s a perfect spot to enjoy the breathtaking views changing hues as the moon rises. 

Pinacanauan River adjacent to the Callao Cave

In the town of Piat, about 44 kilometers east of Tuguegarao City, is home to the venerated ‘Apo Baket,” the “beacon of charity and hope among the locals and devotees.” The image of the black Madonna traveled from Macau in 1604 to the town of Lal-lo and finally in Piat in 1616, where the centuries-old image is enshrined at the Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Piat, a pilgrimage site, which gets busy during festival season. Devotees attest to the miracles Apo Baket has granted. 

Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Piat

Apo Baket enshrined in Piat

Life-sized renditions of the Stations of the Cross

An adrenaline-packed adventure awaits at Baggao, about 60 kilometers south of Tuguegarao. Along canyons and gorges are raging rapids and waterfalls to the calmer pools, hot springs, and cave systems, too. Within dense forests are surreal spots like the Bluewater Lagoon, falls and cave, and the nearby Lipit Canyon. These are just two of the many which make for ideal cinematic backdrops. 

The trek ends upon reaching the famed Blue Lagoon? No, the cave beckons for more adventure

Named after the water’s hue, the Bluewater feat kicks off with a river trek upstream along 20 multi-tiered small cascades, rapids and shallow waters, to the end point where the lagoon is. Dive into the cool turquoise water for a refreshing dip. The mouth of the cave at the pool’s end invites you to probe into the cavern’s belly where an “Olympic-sized” pool awaits. Deeper into the six-kilometer intricate labyrinth are more waterfalls, streams and sumps. 

Meet one of the many cascades you'll encounter on the upstream trek 

Steps away is an adventure on calmer water. The Lipit Canyon is believed to be a cave with an underground river in the past because of the flow beds and stalactite formations on both walls of the gorge. On a raft, traversing the cool, calm and peaceful setting is almost dreamlike. Lipit Canyon lures you for a dip in its cool waterway but it also beckons the more daring to rappel or cliff jump. 

Lipit Canyon is surreal. It's believed to be once a cave with an underground river

In Alcala, 36 kilometers from the capital, the town ingeniously fuses tourism with its Small Water Impounding Projects, reservoirs meant for farm irrigation and flood control. The 12 sites double as recreation areas for picnics, boating and fishing. It joins the list of the town’s major attractions like the 19-century built St. Philomene Parish Church and the Ponce ancestral house. 

Purpose & recreation. In Alcala, 12 reservoirs double as recrational areas for picnics, boating & fishing

The 19-century built St. Philomene Parish Church in the town of Alcala

The church altar

Lal-lo, aka Ciudad de Nueva Segovia in the past, is 80 kilometers south of Tuguegarao. It was the former capital of Cagayan during the Spanish colonial era. Two churches, one in ruins and the other standing, are notable in this town. Tocolano Ruins, recognized for its historical and cultural significance, was a 17th century built church that was never restored after several calamities, and the Sto. Domingo Parish Church, built in 1596 and today a national landmark, was home to the black Madonna before it was moved to its current location in Piat. 

The 1596-built Sto. Domingo Parish Church was the former home of the black Madonna

The church altar

Sta. Ana, a coastal town 147 kilometers from Tuguegarao and bordered by the Babuyan Channel and Pacific Ocean, has islands and beaches as its allure. The must-visit place? Palaui Island’s Cape Engaño Lighthouse. It may be an hour’s trip on bangka (motorized boat) from San Vicente port but the reward is great. The scenery at Cape's summit, a short trek from the shoreline, is captivating! The century-old, 11-meter high lighthouse still lights up (now solar-powered) and stands tall within the weathered structures of the compound, and the 360-view of the area captures breathtaking views of the island’s cove and Dos Hermanos Islands. 

Breathtaking Palaui Island

A century after, the Cape Engaño Lighthouse still stands tall at the peak of Palaui Island and guiding ships

Windows with a view

Dos Hermanos Islands seen from the summit of Palaui Island

Make a quick stop at Crocodile Island on the way back to port. It may be named after its shape but surprisingly, it also bears a crocodile scale-like feature on its rock formation. Beyond its uniqueness, the islet serves as a natural barrier from the Pacific Ocean’s swelling waves entering the narrow strait leading to the main island. 

Crocodile Island is a natural barrier from the Pacific Ocean’s swelling waves

Crabs for entree? It’s normal in this town. For the gastronomes, a two-hour trip,106 kilometers from Tuguegarao is nothing compared to the seafood delights Buguey town has to offer. Buguey is the Crab and Malaga Capital of North Luzon and celebrates a week-long Crab Festival in May. Aside from crab farms, the town’s rich mangrove ecosystem plus a 14-kilometer stretch of clean river allows crabs, shrimps, oysters and fish to thrive. Forget your diet when you’re visiting this town. 

See seafood in Buguey. A platter of crabs, prawns, oysters & seaweed achara

Visited in three days: eight towns and a couple of attractions per town is just a scratch on Cagayan’s surface. Imagine this: the province consists of 28 municipalities, each with its own unique character, history, cuisine and lots of attractions. So let me ask you again, how many days can you spare to visit? 

Truly, Cagayan is an explorer’s paradise where fun is endless. The Cagayan Tourism Office can direct you to the must-visit spots and help you plan your adventure of choice.

Also published in the Manila Bulletin Newspaper.