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.

Celebrate Chinese New Year in Manila’s Chinatown

Chinese New Year Philippines

Sometime around late January or early February of each year is a holiday that is widely celebrated in Asian countries. This year it’s on Feb 8, 2016. If you are in the Philippines, you would most likely hear “Kung Hei Fat Choy” or other similar Chinese New Year greetings not just in Chinatown Manila but also its outskirts.

Chinese lanterns #chinesenewyear #lunarnewyear #yearofthemonkey

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This is because the ethnic Chinese has become a huge part of Filipino culture, as manifested in food, language, and traditions.  Just recently, Chinese New Year has been declared one of the non-working holidays of the Philippines. Hence, even non-Chinese Filipinos are quite familiar with Chinese New Year traditions.

Chinese New Year in the Philippines is celebrated pretty much the same way as in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other parts of Asia.  There are the iconic fireworks, incense burning in temples, sweet cakes (“tikoy”), dragon dances, and food banquets. Like their Asian counterparts, Chinese Filipinos (called Chinoys – ) value good fortune and maintain certain practices to attract it, like offering and serving round pastries and fruits to ancestral altars, and setting off fireworks to ward off evil.  People wear red, supposedly the color that attracts good luck.

For Chinese New Year 2016, how about visiting Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown?  The sights and sounds of this bustling area will really get you into a festive mood.  But be sure to get there early!

Binondo Food Trip – Walk and Eat

Lord Stow's Bakery Egg Tart in Binondo, Manila
The popular Lord Stow’s Bakery Egg Tart from Macau is also here in Manila

Binondo, a district of the city of Manila, is the hub of Chinese culture and is one of the biggest and oldest Chinatowns in the world.  The area abounds in restaurants, bakeries, gift shops, and jewelry stores.  Ongpin and Carvajal streets are filled with many of these, as well as street vendors selling fruits and delicacies.

If you want to go on a Binondo food trip, you should commute by jeep or taxi to the Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arc, the landmark which welcomes you to the heart of Chinatown.  From this point, you should be ready to walk your way around the area, as the streets are difficult to negotiate by motor vehicle.

Right under the Friendship arc is already the iconic Savory Restaurant, best known for its fried chicken. But don’t just stop there because there are just so many more gastronomic delights awaiting you further down the road.

Make your way into Carvajal street where you can snap up delicious Chinese noodles or dumplings in Quick Snack.  Then make your way to Chuan Kee on Ongpin Street where you can gobble hearty ma-chang (sticky rice and meat wrapped in lotus leaves) and slurp up a thick meaty soup called maki mi.  Thirsty?  Go for the luscious almond shake that Chuan Kee is famous for.

Still got room for more?  Try munching on Tasty Dumplings and Shanghai fried siopao.  It’s so easy to find them because they’re just along your path. If you prefer roasted meat or asado, try it at Lido Restaurant.  There’s Wai Ying on Benavidez Street (it’s one tricycle ride from Ongpin) known for dimsum and Sincerity Cafe on Nueva Street with its best-selling fried chicken.

These are only a sampling of gastronomic delights in Binondo restaurants worth trying.

Watch Dragon and Lion Dances along Binondo Streets

Dragon Dancers - Celebrate Chinese New Year in Manila Chinatown
Dragon Dance
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Lion Dance

Chinese New Year in Binondo won’t be complete without these whimsical creatures cavorting around the streets, eager to catch angpao (red envelopes with money) from stores and passersby.  Some shop and homeowners even tie the angpao onto a ceiling or window awning to make it more challenging for the dancers to get to them.  But don’t underestimate these dancers, because they have very creative ways and means of stretching the dragon or the lion to reach up high and capture the envelopes.  The dragon and lion dance to the rhythm of drumbeats and cymbals that accompany them on their route.

Too Full from Your Binondo Food Trip?  Walk it!

Feng Shui Good Luck Charms for Chinese New Year
Feng Shui Good Luck Charms
Lucky Charms for Chinese New Year
Lucky Charms

There are quaint little souvenir and gift shops along Ongpin.  Further down are numerous jewelry shops where you can find anything from infant coral bracelets to five-figure pendants.

There are deli shops and bakeries, the most noted of which is Eng Bee Tin, where you can buy preserved fruits, candies, cookies, and pastries.

You’ll be delighted to know that your pesos will go very far in Binondo, particularly if you shop in Divisoria’s Lucky Chinatown Mall and adjacent buildings.  From Ongpin, you will have to take a tricycle or cab to the mall and then walk your way to the buildings around the place.

The mall itself has modern boutiques featuring designer clothes and specialty goods not unlike other malls in the Philippines.  But it’s the basement area you will want to go to, as this is where the bargain area is.  From this point, you can also exit the mall to other multi-level buildings with zillions of goods at dirt-cheap prices.

Visit Binondo Church and Temples

The world’s largest Chinatown arch #chinesenewyear

A photo posted by Mark Conrad (@planyourtripnow) on

We all hope for good fortune this year, and what better way than to pray for it at local Binondo churches and temples.  Right at the heart of Chinatown is San Lorenzo Ruiz Church, better known as Binondo Church.  Alternatively, you may want to visit another Catholic church on Plaza Sta. Cruz, known as Our Lady of the Pillar.

Many ethnic Filipino-Chinese, especially those who reside in Binondo, flock to the temples on Chinese New Year’s Eve, so that they can be one of the first to light incense at the stroke of midnight.  This gesture is supposed to bring tremendous luck to the first person who can manage to light the incense ahead of the others. Good luck trying that!

Or just for curiosity, do visit the Kuang Kong and Seng Guan temples along Narra Street, and try asking a yes-no question about any personal or business concern.  The monks at the temple will assist you in interpreting the answer to your question.

Kung Hei Fat Choy / Gong Xi Fa Cai to all!

7 Reasons Why You Should Visit Samal Island

I’ve also written an article about Samal island for The Australia Times Travel Magazine. You can read more about this beautiful island there too. Hopefully, this would inspire you even more to visit Samal island. And oh, that’s the first time my article got featured in an international travel magazine so I’m really happy!

I know very little of Samal Island before. All I know was, it’s where the popular high-end resort, the Pearl Farm Beach Resort, is located. I happily discovered that this island is more than just Pearl Farm.

This had been only my second time in Mindanao. During the first time, I visited Cagayan de Oro, Camiguin and Bukdinon. I’ve never been to Davao City so I booked a flight there and have it ticked on my list before 2015 ends.

While researching for Davao City tourist spots, Samal island kept coming up on the search results. I got curious and started looking for travel destinations in Samal island. I love what I see so far, so I decided to spend 3 of my 4 vacation days there.

I really had fun exploring the Island Garden City of Samal (yes, that’s its official name) and I’m sure my readers would love this island getaway too. Now, I’m excited to share to you the 7 reasons why you definitely should visit Samal island:

1. More bang for your bucks

Well, the plane flare from Manila to Davao City is never the cheapest but once you arrive there everything is actually pretty cheap. The taxi fare from Davao International Airport to Sasa Wharf (the port going to Samal Island) is just less than P100 ($2.25), ferry boat fare is only P10 ($0.25), habal-habal (motorbike) is just for P50 ($1.11) to P100 ($2.25) depending on your destination and food just cost about P100 ($2.25) per meal. A hostel in Agoda or Airbnb would just cost about $10 per night.

I booked 2 nights in an 8-bed dorm room in La Vida Orchard Samal for just about P479 ($10) a night. The rate already includes breakfast. A real bargain! The facilities are basic but everything is clean and looks new. Another great thing is, they’ll treat you as family. You can also use the kitchen to cook or reheat food. And yeah, I know you’re going to ask.. they have wifi in the common area 🙂 For security reasons, they lock the main gate by 10pm. Just make arrangement with them if you’ll be arriving late.

La Vida Orchard Samal dorm room
Papaya Dorm Room
La Vida Orchard Samal Dorm
Inside the dorm room
La Vida Orchard Samal room
Free water and toiletries
La Vida Orchard scenery
La Vida Orchard compound
La Vida Orchard Samal Dining Area
Dining area
La Vida Orchard Samal facilities
toasters and kitchen wares

2. No hordes of tourists

I’m traveling solo for this trip. I’m almost always the only one in a particular tourist spot in Samal… and I love it! I took my time to just take in the whole experience without having to compete with hordes of tourists. I would appreciate some company though so we could split the expenses especially with ferry boat from Kaputian Wharf to Isla Reta Beach.

I asked the locals when are the busy days for tourists. They say it’s usually during weekends or holidays, but even so it’s not as commercialized as other beaches I’ve been to. Samal is a perfect place for some ME time.


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3. Calm seas and fair winds

The island is located at the center of Davao Gulf and surrounded by mainland Mindanao which shelters it from strong winds. Also, this part of the Philippines rarely experience typhoon which makes its waters ideal for water activities like swimming, snorkeling, and diving.
The sea is not only calm but crystal clear too. I’m not kidding! Check out this video from the Kaputian Wharf.

I’m only on the port going to Talicud Island but WOW… the water is just so clear

A video posted by Mark Conrad (@planyourtripnow) on

4. Guinness World Record Holder

Monfort Bat Cave
The bat cave with the biggest opening

It’s amazing to know that there’s a bat sanctuary in Samal Island. What’s even more amazing is it’s a Guinness World Record holder for the most number of Geoffroy’s Rousette fruit bats. The Monfort Bat Cave is home to 2.5 million bats!





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Some info about the fruit bats in Monfort that I learned from my tour guide:

  • The bat caves in Monfort are actually sinkholes and it was used as hiding place by the locals during the Japanese occupation. There are only few bats living there during that time.
  • Fruit bats are attracted to the strong smell of the durian fruit which they help pollinate and scatter the seeds.
  • Each of the bat cave serves different purpose:
    • a. Mating
    • b. Pregnant and Baby Bats
    • c. Teenage bats to practice flying
    • d. Male bats outnumber female bats that’s why male bats have their own cave to “hang” out.
    • e. Senior bats
  • After they exit their caves at night, they fly across the sea then go to the different provinces of Mindanao. They were reported to reach as far as Bukidnon.
  • The bat emergence, the process where the bats exits their caves, can take as long as 3 hours.
  • The caves emit foul odor (that is expected) but it isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Still, you should bring extra shirt.


Best time to go there is at 4pm so you can still take photos of the bats and tour the area. Flash photography is not allowed during the night since it will startle and stress the bats. Wait until it gets dark then you’ll see one of the amazing sights the animal kingdom can provide. The bats would fly in circles as they get out of their caves and find food. It is kinda magical to see thousands of bats squeaking and flapping their wings at the same time.

To get there, just tell your tricycle or habal-habal driver to bring you to Monfort Bat Cave on the district called Babak.

Entrance fee is just P100 per person for day tour and P200 for night tour.

5. White Sand Beaches

Visit Samal Island
Isla Reta Beach

Who doesn’t like a white sand beach? Samal island have a lot of white sand beaches especially in Talicud island just 10 mins away from the main island. A popular resort there is the Isla Reta Beach Resort. The view is just perfect. It has white sand beach and turquoise water. The beach is lined with big Talisay trees. It’s very relaxing to just sit under the shade while the cool breeze is touching your face.

The resort charges P100 ($25) per person for the day pass. They have tents and rooms available. Just choose whatever suits you. I chose the day tour and just spent most of my day just admiring the beauty that surrounds me.

They have a restaurant there so you won’t need to cook, a meal would cost about P200 ($4.5) to P300 ($7), but they also have grilling stations if you prefer to cook. You can bring food and drinks from outside but I believe they charge a corkage fee.

To get to Isla Reta, ride a habal-habal from your hotel in Samal to Kaputian Wharf. In Kaputian Wharf, ride a bangka to Isla Reta, Talicud Island. The boat charges P600 ($13) per trip. If you have fellow travelers with you, you can just split the fare. They also have regular trips from Davao City to Isla Reta but I’m not sure about the price.

If you need me, I’ll just be here reflecting on my 2015

A photo posted by Mark Conrad (@planyourtripnow) on

6. Get to see 3,500 giant clams

Giant Clams are in the endangered list because people harvest them for their shells and meat. So when I learned that there’s a giant clam sanctuary in Samal, I was super excited to visit. It’s difficult to find them in the wild anymore. I saw just a handful during my other snorkeling trips in the Philippines but this place has 3,500 giant clams in different colors and sizes. It feels so awesome to get this close to these beautiful and wonderful sea creatures. There were also starfishes and other kinds of fish. The coolest thing was these small and colorful fishes were surrounding me as I snorkel. It was like they’re touring me around their home!

Went snorkeling today to see 3,500 giant clams! Awesome experience!#taclobo #giantclam #ineedagopro

A photo posted by Mark Conrad (@planyourtripnow) on

I wish I had a GoPro with me so I could have shown you how beautiful it is. I was being cheap so I only use my cellphone camera with a cheap waterproof casing which turned out to be totally useless. Yeah, it protected my camera but it only focused on the plastic cover and not on the subject so everything is blurred. I would definitely recommend that you get a GoPro or any other underwater camera so you could document your experience here. If you can’t get one, just remember to enjoy the whole experience and don’t stress yourself out with taking photos without the proper gear.




To get there, have your habal-habal driver bring you to the town of Adecor for the Taklobo (local name for giant clams) Tours. They have a small wharf there, where a boat would take you to the platform in the middle of the sea. They conduct a briefing first, then your guide will take you on a snorkeling tour.

Taklobo Tours Fees
The fees that you would need to pay for the Taklobo tours. I like it that they have published rates so tourists won’t be scammed.

7. Visit Samal island’s other natural wonders

The places I mentioned above are some of the must-see Samal island tourist spots but there are also other tourist destinations in the island which are equally beautiful. Samal island has so much natural wonders that I wasn’t able to visit them all. If you have more time and resources, you definitely need to check out the Hagimit Falls, Vanishing Island, Turtle and Dugong Sanctuary, Maxima Aqua Fun, Pearl Farm Beach Resort, Sabang Cliff Jumping, Kaputian Beach and Mt. Puting Bato. I hope that by mentioning them here will make it easier for you to plan your trip now to Samal island.




I really love my recent island vacation experience and this is easily one of my favorite island destination in the Philippines since I like nature trips a lot. How about you? What do you like most about this island?

Are there any other destinations I missed? Share it to us below.

Camiguin Island – Where to Go, What to Do

Measuring about 29 hectares, Camiguin Island is the second smallest island of the Philippine archipelago. The island is only about 23 kilometers long and 14 kilometers wide and is located about 90 kilometers north of Cagayan de Oro in Northern Mindanao.

Camiguin may be minuscule in size but huge in terms of topography. In it lie no fewer than seven volcanoes.  Interestingly, this tiny pear-shaped island province had been formed by natural phenomena such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

The province has five towns and a very low population of about 75,000.  The rich volcanic soil has given the province a lot of fertile ground conducive for vegetables and fruits. Its people boast of a very colorful and creative culture made up of various Visayan traditions.

Camiguin’s unique features attract visitors from other regions and countries, especially those with a passion for natural wonders and picturesque sceneries.

Getting There

There are many flights you can take from Manila or Cebu up to Cagayan de Oro City.  From Manila, the flight takes about an hour and a half.

Another option is by sea.  Some shipping routes stop at Cebu, Iloilo, or Bacolod.  From Cebu, it’s a 10 hour ferry ride to Cagayan de Oro.

From Cagayan de Oro airport, you can take either a taxi or bus to Balingoan, where you will take the ferry bound for Camiguin Island.  The ferry ride takes about 3 hours to reach Benoni Port in Camiguin.

Key Places to Visit

White Island.

 This is a sandbar across Rocky Village in Mambajao, capital of Camiguin.  It is made up of pure white sand with absolutely no other vegetation.  The surrounding waters teem with lots of colorful corals and fishes, so it’s a perfect spot for snorkeling.  To get there, you need to go the port beside Paras Beach resort in Rocky Village. This is generally accessible just by walking if your accommodations are in the area.  There you can rent a boat for about two hours to reach the sandbar.  The best time to visit the sandbar is from sunrise to about 9:00 AM.  Just a warning:  There are no shaded areas around the sandbar so you need to apply lots of sunblock on yourself.

White Island Camiguin

White Island

Camiguin white island

Mantigue Island. Located about 3 ½ kilometers from the coast of Barangay San Roque is the tiny white-sand beach of Mantigue. The surrounding mountains offer a picturesque backdrop.  Like White Island, this place also has a marine sanctuary rich with fishes and corals.  Here’s another perfect place to go snorkeling, strolling, or simply bumming around.

Katibawasan Falls.

 Want a really exhilarating cool shower? Visit the falls located about 5 kilometers southeast of Mambajao.  You’ll be greeting by a majestic 250-foot tall waterfall bordered by lovely orchids and ferns.  Just a few steps down from a concrete platform, and you’re right at the catch basin.  What a way to cool off!

Katibawasan Falls Camiguin HDR

Katibawasan Falls Camiguin

Ardent Hot Springs.

 While Camiguin is blessed with numerous hot and cold springs, this one takes the cake.  Its water comes from the dormant Mt. Hibok Hibok.  The water temperature can reach up to 40 degrees C.  Great for relieving those aching muscles!

Camiguin ardent hot spring

Cross Marker and Sunken Cemetery.

 A main landmark of the island is the huge cross marker that indicates a community cemetery which was sunken by a volcanic eruption in 1871.  Due to the eruption, the town’s cemetery is now below sea level.  You can hire a boat to bring you to the cross.  The best time to visit this place is during the late afternoon, so you can also catch the magnificent sunset.

Sunken Cemetery Camiguin

Catarman Church Ruins.

 Located in Barangay Bonbon,  an old Spanish settlement and its church was totally wiped out and submerged by debris from the 1871 eruption of Mt. Vulcan.  Only the bell tower and some ruins are left of this town.

The Old Volcano Trail.

 Religious devotees and pilgrims get a treat of hiking up a trail to the peak because they will encounter the 14 Stations of the Cross along the way.  Each station has life-sized statues depicting the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus.

Burias Shoal.

 This shoal is a real treat for nature lovers and explorers.  After a 30-minute speedboat ride, you will reach the perfect diving point where you will find hordes of marine life, like tuna, mackerel, and barracuda.

Giant Clam Nursery.

Located in Barangay Cantaan, this is a breeding center for various types of clams.  The place has glass aquarium displaying the varieties.

Oh if you’re looking for a place to eat, the must-try is Luna Ristorante – their pizza is the best in the island! It is just right off the National Highway. Just ask your tricycle driver to drop you there.

Luna Ristorante Pizza

Mount Pinatubo Trekking – An Unforgettable Experience Inside a Volcano

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking

Are you the type of traveler who loves to hike? With its breath-taking views of a volcanic lake and vast ash fields and lush rivers, Mount Pinatubo can be your next trekking destination. Located almost 90 km north of Manila at the borders of Pampanga, Zambales and Tarlac provinces, Mount Pinatubo used to be regarded as a negligible and almost-extinct volcano until it shocked the world with its devastating eruption back in 1991. The impact was felt not only locally but in other parts of the world. In the vicinity and neighboring town, people found their homes and cars all covered with powdery ashes. Billions of crops were also destroyed. The bizarre presence of volcanic ash in the air was felt for many months thereafter. In pictures, it looked as if a bad snowstorm just happened.

But that fateful event also put Mount Pinatubo on the map. Growing consciousness about the volcano attracted many tourists to explore the area more deeply, and it is now one of the most sought-after destinations in the Philippines. With the reward of viewing its picturesque crater after more than two hours of hiking, more and more people are now booking local tours to the area. Swimming and riding the boat is no longer allowed.

Getting There

From Manila, you need to take a bus from the Cubao or Pasay bus terminal (like Genesis Bus or Victory Liner) up to Capas, Tarlac. Get off at McDonald’s Capas which is in front of Caltex gasoline station. Then, take a tricycle to Sta. Juliana and ask the driver to drop you off at Tourism Office.

After paying a small fee and registering with the center, you will receive a briefing. It is also mandatory to hire a tour guide (see the fees below).

For more convenience, you can pre-book a tour where you’ll arrange to be picked up from a Manila location (or even at your hotel) by an air-conditioned van and taken up to the Sta. Juliana tourism office. The pick-up is usually scheduled in the pre-dawn hours of the morning, some as early as 3:00 AM. From the visitor’s center, you will board a 4×4 jeepney to go to the foot of Mt. Pinatubo.

Depending on the arrangements, the tour agency can already facilitate everything for you — the road trip, the guide, and any applicable fees.

The drive from Manila to the visitor’s center is roughly about 3-3.5 hours. From there, the ride on board a 4×4 jeep will reach the foot of the volcano in 1 ½ hours. It will then take another 2 hours of hiking to reach the crater. For more adventure, you can start hiking from the visitor’s center, but that’s about 3 hours or more, not to mention the heat and dustiness along the way.

What to Expect During the Trek

You can either hike all the way from the visitor’s center to the summit, but this will be a very dusty, hot, and dry affair taking about 5 hours to the crater lake. Another option is to hire a 4×4 jeepney to take you most of the way and thus shorten your trek to about 3 hours.

You will drive across Crow Valley, a terrain which resembles the moon’s surface because of its vast lahar deposits.

You will then hike towards the volcano’s summit via a single mountain trail. This takes another 2 hours before you reach the summit. If the skyway is available, it will only take you 30 minutes to reach the top.

Most of the trail is level and easy, with some rocky and sandy parts. But the last 20 minutes of the hike is more challenging as the path gets steeper.

At the summit, you will be rewarded with an awesome view of the crater lake. Colors of the lake vary each season, usually from teal to deep blue. You can hang around, take pictures, eat lunch, and go boating. There’s also a restroom at this point. To some extent and depending on current regulations, you may also be able to swim in the lake.

For the descent, you’ll go through the same route as when ascending. This takes about 2 hours or so. The 4×4 jeeps will be waiting right at the foot of the volcano. It should take another 1 ½ hours from there to the jump-off point / visitor’s area. Showers and restrooms are available there. You can also take meals of home-cooked food.

Depending on the tour, you might also stop by a local eatery or hotel (if you choose to do an overnight trip instead of heading back to Manila). On the trip back to Manila, some tours also have the option to stop by the Capas National Shrine, a memorial to Filipino and American soldiers who lost their lives during the Second World War.

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
Breakfast stop over – Sta. Juliana

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
with the 4×4 Jeep in Crow Valley. This is where the 2-3 hours trek begins.

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
The road to Mt. Pinatubo

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
Prepare to walk in this kind of landscape. I would recommend hiking shoes. If you’re only using trekking slippers, the sand would get stuck between your skin and slippers and will scrape your skin.

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
You will get wet!

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
Long walks.. Best to enjoy the view!

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
Sulfur deposits – Sign that you are near your destination.

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
15-20 minute mark. Almost there!

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
This magnificent view would welcome you!

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
Happy kid!

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
Fair warning

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
Water is really refreshing but now I read that they totally prohibit swimming.

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
So tired from hiking up and down

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
After a long, hot, and adventure-filled day, the site of these Jeep which would take us back to civilization is priceless.

Sample Itinerary
4:00 AM Departure from Victory Liner Cubao Bus terminal

6:00 AM Arrival Sta. Juliana Capas, Tarlac
*organize transfer to 4×4 off-road vehicles

7:00 AM Depart for Mt. Pinatubo Crater Lake
*Journey across Crow Valley begins

8:00 AM Arrival at the trekking jump off point ( trekking starts)

11:00 AM First Sighting of the stunning beauty of Mount Pinatubo

12:00 PM Lunch time

2:00 PM Trek back down the mountain.

4:30 PM Arrival at Crow Valley Pick up point of 4×4 off-road vehicles

5:30 PM Arrival back to Sta. Juliana
*shower, snack time and buying of souvenirs.

7:30 PM Journey Back to Manila

9:30 PM Arrival in Manila

Summary of fees:

  • 4×4 jeep – P3000 for 4 pax
  • Tour guide – P500 per jeep
  • Aeta Passway Fee – P150/person
  • Conservation Fee – P500/person
  • Shower after trek – P50/person

Tips for the First-time Visitor

  • Do bring the following: at least 2 liters of water, towel, at least one change of clothes, personal medications and first aid kit, raincoat / umbrella and food for snacks and lunch (be sure it doesn’t easily spoil).
  • Drink lots of water along the way, especially during the hike. There is a spring near the crater to refill your water bottles. I’m not sure if water is available all year round and how clean and safe it is but to be sure just bring adequate amount of water for hiking up and down.
  • You may also need other provisions like toilet paper, and don’t expect toilets and showers to be spanking clean.
  • While it’s rated suitable for beginners, the hiking trail may still be physically challenging to people with weak hearts or other health conditions.
  • Follow your guide closely and listen carefully to instructions. Don’t hesitate to ask for help or to request stops if needed. And most of all, don’t be left behind by the group.
  • Pack your things securely. Use belt bags to carry valuables such as phones or cameras. Bring very light and easy to dry garments.
  • Do bring extra cash aside from the tour and registration fees. You might need to buy extra food or other provisions.
  • Wear sports shoes of sturdy material and good traction to avoid slipping. Those rocky parts can hurt your feet if you don’t wear the right shoes.
  • Use sunblock, hats, scarfs and/or arm sleeves to prevent sunburn.
  • There is NO electricity and cellphone signal at the crater.
  • Bring camping mats or tent so you would have a place to rest.

Video: 30 days of Traveling in the Philippines

I found this video of Nick Levin in Vimeo. He wonderfully documented his vacation here in the Philippines. His adventure consists of 30 days of traveling in the Philippines, hopping around 176 islands,  swimming with the whale sharks, experiencing the local culture and tasting Filipino cuisines.

This is worth watching guys to have an overview of what your adventure here in the Philippines would look like 😉

Into the Philippines from NICK LEVIN on Vimeo.

If you got similar videos about your adventure here in the Philippines, please message me with the link so I could post it here too.

Casa Santa: Santa Claus Museum

Merry Christmas from the Philippines!

Casa Santa Santa Claus Museum

The Philippines celebrates the longest Christmas season in the world starting from September (-ber months) until January (Feast of the Three Kings). It just briefly pause to make way for Halloween, All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day. Crazy!…I know.

But, there’s a place just 30 minutes away from Metro Manila that feels like Christmas all year round, it’s called – Casa Santa which is located in Antipolo City (full address below). It is a house full of Santa Claus collection. In fact, it is one of the most extensive private collection of Santa Claus items in the world. It contains over 3,000 Santas in every imaginable size and configuration. It has been featured several times by local and international media.

The place is perfect for photo-ops. We went there with my 4 month old cute little nephew and had fun posing for pictures, exploring the Santa collections and wearing Santa costumes.

Casa Santa Contact Details

Address: 276-279 San Jose Extension, Antipolo City, Rizal
The entrance fee is P180. Check the latest rates here: Casa Santa rates. They said in their website that the tour last for 1 hour but they don’t strictly enforce it when we were there. Maybe they’ll be more strict with that rule during peak season.
Phone number: Makati: +632-576-4358 / +63917-4358 or Antipolo: +632-584-3199 / +63917-8912208
Website: Casa Santa website
Email: info@jardindemiramar.com
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/casasantamuseum

Casa Santa Claus Museum schedule
Casa Santa Museum schedule

12 Must-See Cebu City Tourist Spots that Made Me Love Cebu Even More

Being the oldest city in the Philippines, Cebu City boasts of a lot of tourist spots that everyone will enjoy. My family actually lived here for a while but I was still a baby then and can’t remember anything. It was my 2nd time here as a tourist. My first visit was just for about 5-6 hours since we are bound to Bohol that afternoon. So this time around, I checked out some of the popular tourist spots around Cebu.

1. Cebu City Tourist Spots – Fort San Pedro

From the airport, we just dropped our luggage to Crown Regency Hotel and head to Fort San Pedro. Fort San Pedro was still closed when we arrived, so we just killed time by posing for pictures in the park (Plaza Indepedencia) just right across it.

Fort San Pedro is like a smaller version of Fort Santiago in Intramuros, Manila. You can do a walking tour inside and check out the collections from the Spanish era.

2. Cebu City Tourist Spots – Cebu Heritage Monument

Since Casa Gorordo was closed as it is being used for the relief operations, we decided to check out other Cebu City tourist spots within the area.

Cebu Heritage Monument is about 15-20 minutes walk from Fort San Pedro. It is a wonderful sculpture about the historical events of Cebu.

Cebu City Tourist Spots 06
Cebu City Tourist Spots 05

3. Cebu City Tourist Spots – Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House

Just a few steps away from Cebu Heritage Monument is the Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House. Peeking through the doors and windows, I saw a lot of antique furnitures. We didn’t get inside since it is about to rain and we don’t have any umbrella so I just took the shot below and hailed a taxi right away.

Cebu City Tourist Spots 07

4. Cebu City Tourist Spots – CnT Lechon

When you are in Cebu, it is a must that you taste Cebu’s famous lechon – roasted pig. Lechon We went to CnT to satisfy our cravings for the tasty lechon. CnT did not fail us. The skin is crispy delicious and the meat is flavorful. The restaurants looks like a canteen, nothing fancy, but it is one of the long time favorite here in Cebu.

Another popular lechon is from Zubuchon, we bought one in the airport to bring home in Manila. Zubuchon was acclaimed by the Anthony Bourdain as the best he ever tasted. I wonder if he also tasted CnT’s lechon since I like it better than Zubuchon’s. But since the one I tasted from Zubuchon was frozen and reheated, I would have to defer my judgment on which is the best.

Cebu City Tourist Spots 08

5. Cebu City Tourist Spots – SM City Cebu

The sun is scorching hot and we were really tired and sleepy so we decided to make SM our pit stop to rest while waiting for the check-in time on our hotel. SM City Cebu has all the stores that you would expect from SM and some local Cebuano shops and restaurants. Perfect for shopaholics and window shoppers. It is larger than most mall in Manila, actually it is the 4th largest shopping mall in the Philippines according to Wikipedia.

I was also able to check-out the Northwing, which caters to the leisure market and upper class customers, during the meet-up with iLearners.

6. Cebu City Tourist Spots – Tabo-an Market

If you are looking for the best priced dried fish, Tabo-an Market is that place. You can buy here the famous danggit of Cebu. They sell all kinds of dried fish and squids. Make sure to haggle for the best price. They would seal the dried fish in plastic and you can also request it to be backed in a box so that you can easily transport it back home.

Please note that you would definitely leave this place smelling like dried fish so plan your trip accordingly. 🙂

7. Cebu City Tourist Spots – Taoist Temple

Taoist Temple is one of the popular Cebu City tourist spots. You’ll see why from This is my 2nd time here and it still look as magnificent as ever. Upon entry, they would hand you out a paper stating the rules. One major rule is you should not take pictures of the altar. Just follow the rules and you’ll be fine. You will also have a great view of Cebu City here.

8. Cebu City Tourist Spots – Mactan Shrine

Mactan Shrine, located on Mactan Island which is where the airport is, is another must-see tourist spot in Cebu. It is composed of The Lapu-Lapu Shrine, Magellan Shrine and a marker for Battle of Mactan. While we are here, we saw a lot of cute little kids wearing Santa Claus costumes. Apparently, kids from different towns and schools will  have a Christmas presentation. Yeah, Christmas is really just around the corner.

Cebu City Tourist Spots – Lantaw Native Restaurant Busay

This is one of the best spot to have your dinner and cap off the night. It provides an amazing and scenic view of Metro Cebu. The delicious and reasonably prices food here perfectly match the great view. This is a perfect chill out place for family and friends.

Cebu City Tourist Spots – Basilica Del Sto Niño Cebu

I was saddened to hear in the news that the bell tower of Basilica Del Sto Niño Cebu was badly damaged due to the earthquake that happened a few months ago. It is the oldest church in the Philippines. Devotees flock here during its feast which is known as the Sinulog Festival, one of the most popular festivals in the Philippines.

Cebu City Tourist Spots – Magellan’s Cross

You haven’t been to Cebu if you don’t have a picture with the Magellan’s Cross. The cross is in a small chapel located just a few steps outside the Basilica Del Sto Niño Cebu. The ladies wearing yellow clothes would sell candles for P50 and they would perform the Sinulog dance while praying to Sto. Niño for you.

Sadly due to the recent earthquake, the chapel and the cross were also damaged and are now supported by wood to prevent it from collapsing.

Cebu City Tourist Spots – Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral

Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral is another beautiful church in Cebu. It is the seat of the Archdiocese of Cebu. It is just a 5-10 mins walk from Basilica Del Sto Niño Cebu. It is also walking distance to Cebu Heritage Monument and Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House.

We didn’t get inside as we need to check-out from our hotel and do the Sky Adventure Day Tour.

Cebu City Tourist Spots 59

Cebu City Tourist Spots 60

These are some of the must see tourist spots in Cebu. I created separate posts on other tourist spots we visited in Cebu that you also might want to check out:

Exploring Cebu Nightlife
Whale Shark Watching in Oslob, Cebu
Crown Regency Hotel and Towers Cebu: Classy Hotel and Adventure Park in One

There are other Cebu City tourist spots that I want to check out too, which are part of our original itinerary, but wasn’t able to visit. I guess this is a great excuse to come back again 😀 If you are creating an itinerary for your Cebu trip, here are some more places you can Google about:

Casa Gorordo
National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Papa Kit’s Marina and Lagoon
Liloan Church
Guitar Factory
Rainforest Park Cebu

Please also share to us in the comments the other places in Cebu that are worth checking out!

This pretty much sums up what I feel about Cebu:

Cebu City Tourist Spots

Thank you Cebu!

Crown Regency Hotel and Towers Cebu: Classy Hotel and Adventure Park in One

We stayed in Crown Regency Hotel and Towers Cebu. This hotel is in the center of Cebu City and very near the commercial areas and government institutions.

As their guest, we were able to use both the indoor and outdoor swimming pools, the gym and other hotel amenities.

Non-guest can also avail of their Sky Day Tour package for P888 offered by Crown Regency Hotel and Towers Cebu. For guests, this package can also be availed separately. The ticket is valid for 10am-6pm. This includes access to:

[unordered_list style=”star”]

  • Suncoourt pool with free towel. This is their outdoor pool area. It has 3 swimming pools and 2 jacuzzis.
    Location: Tower 1, 9th floor. 10am-6pm
  • 1 hour mini golf. The mini golf has an underwater glow in the dark theme. We didn’t play golf much because we were enjoying with taking pictures of ourselves here. Look at my shirt..it’s glowing! haha
    Location: Tower 2, 18th floor. Melvin’s Reef 10am-6pm.Crown Regency Cebu mini golf 1
  • Wang Shan Lo. This restaurant offers lunch buffet from 11am-2pm. The delicious oriental food would give you energy for the long adventurous day ahead. Your eyes would also have a feast with the spectacular view of Cebu City’s skyline.
    Location: Tower 2, 20th floor.
  • 15 mins Head and Shoulder Massage. 15 minutes feels like a short time but it is a welcomed break to rejuvenate my energy.
    Location: Tower 2, 19th floor. Snooze Lounge. 10am-6pm.Crown Regency Cebu Day Tour Head and Shoulder Massage 1
  • 1 Sky Ride. You can choose from the 4D Theater Show, Edge Coaster or Skywalk Extreme. If you are feeling adventurous and want a sure  way to fire up your adrenaline, try the Skywalk Extreme and Edge Coaster. Please remember to bring extra money since there are refundable deposit fee for the wrist access tag for the rides (P100), refundable deposit fee for locker to leave your things (P100), socks for skywalk (P20, wear closed shoes so you won’t have to change to their shoes and pay for the socks) and the photos from the official photographer (P150 each).


Crown Regency Hotel and Towers Cebu successfully combined its hotel and adventure park and made it a top tourist destination itself. Check this out when you are in Cebu and you’ll satisfy your taste buds, spike up your adrenaline and pamper yourself all in one place.

Whale Shark Watching in Oslob, Cebu

After partying the night before with some friends from Cebu, I hurriedly went back to the hotel, took a shower and went straight to the Whale Shark Watching in Oslob, Cebu.

Whale Shark Watching in Oslob, Cebu has become popular recently since it is a guaranteed way to see the whale shark which also caused some controversy.

The local government of Oslob are trying to standardize the tour prices, improve the facilities and properly orient the tourists; however, they still have a long way to go to properly establish and implement the rules for whale shark watching just like in Donsol, Sorsogon.

How to Get to Oslob, Cebu

It is just easy to go to Oslob, Cebu. You just have to ride a cab from Cebu City to the South Terminal. From Crown Regency (where we stayed) to South Terminal, the fare is just about P60. Our taxi driver offered to take us to Oslob in just 1 hour but I think it is a bit absurd since Olsob is more than 110km away from Cebu City which mean he has to travel at 110km/hour..nice try Mr. Driver 🙂

Anyway, when you arrive in the South Terminal just go look for the yellow Ceres bus. The airconditioned bus in door 15 is the one going to Oslob. There’s also a non-airconditioned bus plying that route but I was advised by my friends that I should just take the air-conditioned bus so that I could sleep well and it is much faster since the bus won’t be making as many stops.

The bus fare is just P155 one way. You’ll just pay the amount to the bus conductor during transit. You don’t have to reserve tickets before hand since there is always a bus leaving every 15 mins. It is advised to take the 3am bus so that you could get to Oslob by 6am which is when the feeding starts and it is less crowded.

Don’t forget to mention to the conductor to drop you off on Tanaw-an, Oslob, Cebu.

Arrival Oslob, Cebu

The travel time to Oslob, Cebu takes about 3 hours. It is a pretty long ride so I used this opportunity to catch some sleep.

The driver dropped us in Aaron Beach Resort. I believe they’ll earn a commission for every passenger that they bring to the resort.

Whale Shark Oslob Cebu 1
Aaron Beach Resort, Oslob, Cebu

You can choose not to avail of this resort by just going directly to the Whale Shark Briefing Center. They also have public shower there.

Whale Shark Oslob Cebu 2
Whale Shark Briefing Center Oslob, Cebu. Ask the driver to drop you here if you don’t want to pay for the resort

Whale Shark Watching Registration Oslob, Cebu

The staff from Aaron Beach Resort greeted us and informed us about the price whale shark interaction package which is P500. This includes the short boat ride, 2 guides, snorkeling gear, cottage, shower area and locker to place your bags. If you don’t want to snorkel and just prefer to watch the whale shark from the boat, the cost would be P300. The whole whale shark watching would only lasts for 30 mins.

To get your pictures taken during the tour, you have to pay P500. They have their own underwater camera and you can choose to have them use your SD card or just get your copy of the pictures on a CD for P50. As a photographer, I would advise you to use a spare blank SD card or just pay for the CD since you don’t want to corrupt your SD card when you use it in another camera, not to mention that you’ll be submerging this SD card underwater and if something bad happens your holiday photos would also be gone. Just make sure to review the contents of the CD before leaving since you don’t want to get home and find out that the pictures in it are for a different group 😀

After we changed to our swim clothes, we rode a boat and they brought us to the Briefing Center so we won’t have to walk (and possibly to prevent us from getting the services  another resort).

In the briefing center, we just wrote our name and attended a very brief orientation.

Whale Shark Briefing Center Oslob Cebu 1
Whale Shark Briefing Center Oslob, Cebu

I’ve been to Donsol, Sorsogon which is another area to spot the whale sharks in the Philippines. The officials there are more strict and the orientation is much more comprehensive. You’ll have to watch a video explaining the rules for the whale shark interaction and the roles of the boatmen. In Oslob, the orientation just goes like this: A man stands in-front of you and tell you that you are not allowed to use sun block, you should be 4 meters away from the whale shark and you should wear your life jacket at all times. That’s it! It just took a minute to explain say that.

Whale Shark Interaction Oslob, Cebu

After wearing the life vests, we head out to the beach where our boats are waiting. The area where they feed the whale sharks is just a short distance away from the beach.

One guide would be the photographer and the other would be the one pushing you down (since you are floating) so you could have a good picture with the whale shark. There are smaller boats in the area and they are the ones feeding the whale sharks and guiding them to area where we are snorkeling.

The whale sharks are very huge! At first you’ll get scared and intimidated with their size, but as you go on you’ll get used to it and be more willing to have your pictures taken.

After the Whale Shark Interaction

There are other tourist spots in the are that you can visit – Sumilon Island and Tumalog Falls. Aaron Beach Resort offers tours for these locations: P1,500 for Sumilon Island and P120/person for Tumalog Falls, if I remember it right.

We weren’t able to go to these places as we have to go back to the city immediately. But nevertheless, we are already feeling so accomplished to experience what we came for.

Going Back to Cebu City from Oslob, Cebu

To go back to Cebu City, you’ll just take the bus again from the National Highway. It’s just right outside the resort or the tourist center. The fare is still P155 and the last stop would be the South Terminal in Cebu City.