Experience Cagayan – Places to Go and Things to Do

Next to Batanes, Cagayan is practically the northernmost province of the Philippines. Most people, even Filipinos, know little about this province except that it is part of the tobacco-producing region. In fact, Cagayan has been shortchanged in terms of recognition as a tourist spot, until it played host to the 27th and 28th seasons of the popular reality show Survivor.

Cagayan province is tourism quality, given that it has an extensive coastline from the Sierra Madre mountain range down to a central valley which forms the lower basin of Cagayan River, the longest river in the Philippines. The river and coastline, and islands that sprawl alongside the province are great venues for tourism. Fuga Island is being developed and is increasingly well-known as a key point of interest.

You can get to Cagayan by taking a flight to Tuguegarao Airport.  Alternatively, if you don’t mind driving, it would take 14-15 hours from Manila to reach Tuguegarao, Cagayan’s capital.  Another way, if you prefer a combination of driving and flying, is to take a flight to Laoag Airport and then drive from there to Tuguegarao, cutting across the scenic and zigzaggy highway which also brings you to the scenic coastline of Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.

Visiting Cagayan province alone is already quite a rich experience in itself.  There are just so many varied places to see, things to do, and food to try if this is your first time in Cagayan.

Visit Palaui Island and Go Island Hopping

This island is home to a pristine beach, uninhabited islands, and awesome scenery.  In fact, this northern gem of an island has gained attention for its tourism potential.  The breakthrough that put this island on the map is that it was chosen as a venue for the Survivor reality show, and not just one but two seasons.

It may take a very determined tourist to brave the long drive to the province and the rough waters just to get to the place, but all the effort is rewarding when you discover Palaui’s unadulterated raw natural beauty.  While there, do drop by the historic Faro de Cabo Engano (Cape Engano), a 19th-century lighthouse already dubbed as a National Cultural Treasure for its key role in guiding vessels that pass through the Babuyan Channel.  The lighthouse has since been abandoned but still provides an idyllic and nostalgic ambiance of centuries past.  Palaui Island has earned a spot in CNN World’s 100 Best Beaches of the world.  Go for a day tour or spend an overnight and camp under the stars just like a Survivor contestant!

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You’ll be glad to know that there are other points of interest nearby.  For instance, you can go glamping in Anguib Beach Club if you prefer a more luxurious accommodation than just roughing it at Palaui. You can enjoy a sumptuous of seafood and local fare at Jerolynda’s White Beach Resort and Restaurant in Mapurao, a short boat ride from Palaui.  Or take a boat ride through a mangrove forest. Other key points are Siwangag Cove, Punta Verde, Crocodile Island, and Pugo Moro.  You can enjoy scuba diving, fishing, boating, and snorkeling around these areas.

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Visit Local Historical Churches

As with many Philippine provinces, Cagayan is not short of old, historical churches, each one with its own unique features and own stories to tell.

The Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Piat
The Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Piat

The Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Piat, about 41 kilometers from Tuguegarao, is a major pilgrimage site of the valley.  Take some time to see the church’s patroness Our Lady of the Visitation.

You can coincide your visit to the church with the Sambali Festival that features a war dance of tribes who were converted to Christianity.  The festivities are held from June 23 to July 2.

Outside the church, there’s a flea market where you can find food and souvenirs, particularly of the patroness and other religious articles, and even tobacco in raw form.  Also sample the local delicacies, especially the pawa made of sticky rice with ground peanut filling.

Iguig Church
Iguig Church

If you plan to visit Cagayan sometime during the Lenten Season, make the San Antonio de Galicia Church part of your itinerary.  Also known as Iguig Church, it is quite notable because of the flying buttresses supporting its sides, typical of Gothic architecture.  The church is also built on top of Calvary Hill, which features life-sized Biblical characters depicting scenes of Christ’s death journey to Calvary, known as the Stations of the Cross.   Try this as a new and unique Lenten experience!

Calvary Hills
Calvary Hills

And while you’re already in Iguig, don’t miss Barangay Atulu, a village populated by indigenous Itawis.  Iguig is known as the Pottery Center of Cagayan.  This is where you can witness pottery and brick making by local artisans at its best. You can also purchase terra-cotta products like palayok (cooking pot) and kalan (stove).

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Try your Hand in Farming Activities at the Cagayan State University Piat Campus

CSU is aimed at transforming lives by providing the best agricultural education as well as boosting the Cagayan area as a tourist attraction.  The Piat campus serves as the center for agricultural courses and houses laboratories and other training facilities related to farming and agriculture.  It is an entire site where visitors can truly experience real farming, including cow milking, planting, harvesting produce, and fishing.

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View the Magapit Suspension Bridge

Cagayan has its own local suspension bridge also known as the Golden Gate of Cagayan.  This is one of two suspension bridges that cross the great Cagayan River. Unknown to many, it is actually the first hanging bridge in Asia.  The bridge is .76 kilometers long and links the first and second districts of the province towards the Ilocos region. You can get a good view of this bridge as you travel towards Aparri along the scenic Patapat Road. You need to travel by car to go on the bridge, and this provides you a breathtaking view of the river.  The bridge is also near other key places in Cagayan like Palaui Island and Castle in the Sky.

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Try the Local Cagayan Fare

No trip to any tourist spot is complete without trying the local cuisine.  Cagayan abounds in farm products like milk, eggs, poultry and beef.  These are put to good use by local food establishments.

Tuguegarao longanisa, also known as Ybanag longanisa, is especially tasty and tangy, as it’s made from ground pork mixed with salt and garlic, and cooked in its own fat.  One bite of this luscious longanisa will send its juices and flavor bursting right into your mouth and tickle your palate.

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Pawa is steamed bun made from malagkit or glutinous rice, and filled with ground sticky peanuts so it tastes like kakanin with peanut butter. This can be purchased at local vendors usually near churches and public markets.

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Cagayan also has its own version of noodles called Pancit Batil Patong.  The dish uses handmade noodles doused with a sauce, and is topped with meat, fried egg, and spices.

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*Photos by Martin San Diego courtesy of North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB)

**Thank you very much North Philippines Visitors Bureau for sponsoring this trip and touring us around Cagayan during the Lakbay Norte 6.