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.

Time to Explore Nueva Ecija this Summer!

When it comes to Philippine tourist spots, the first places that come to most people’s minds are Boracay, Bohol, Palawan, and Baguio.  But this does not mean that other provinces don’t have their own share of fantastic tourist spots which appeal to both foreign and local visitors. Actually, most Philippine provinces and towns have their own offerings and it’s just a matter of promoting them properly.

Nueva Ecija is one such place known to most Filipinos as a province that belongs to the Rice Granary of Central Luzon and a pass-through to reach famous spots like Sagada in Mountain Province and Baler in Aurora. But Nueva Ecija has its own hidden treasures to boast of, and you should make time to check them out this summer.  (Special thanks to the North Philippines Visitors Bureau for touring us around Nueva Ecija.)

The Minalungao National Park

This park houses the Penaranda River in General Tinio, Nueva Ecija.  The river itself is a venue for many fun activities, like rafting, swimming, and cliff diving.  You will encounter interesting rock formations along the banks and spectacular scenery as you go rafting downriver. And for more thrills, try ziplining if you’re not acrophobic and feel yourself flying over the breathtaking horizon.

Minalungao National Park Nueva Ecija

Minalungao National Park Nueva Ecija

Minalungao National Park Nueva Ecija

PMP Paradise Farm

Another great key spot in General Tinio is the PMP Paradise Farm which allows you to have close encounters with various familiar and not-so-familiar farm animals, such as sheep, carabaos, horses, and ostriches.  You can feed the animals, harvest fruits and vegetables, ride on a carabao-drawn cart, or go on horseback.  If you are the domestic type, you can engage in catching and cooking your own fish, and have a picnic outdoors. The farm people will even teach you how to make kakanin (rice pastry) like nilupak and palitaw.  And the farm is a perfect spot for a nice long stroll and picture-taking among grazing sheep or carabaos.

PMP Paradise Farm Nueva Ecija

PMP Paradise Farm Nueva Ecija

PMP Paradise Farm Nueva Ecija

PMP Paradise Farm Nueva Ecija

Puno’s Ice Cream Plant

Ice cream is a must-have this summer, and is everyone’s guilty pleasure.  If you are an ice cream aficionado, you should not fail to drop by this ice cream plant whose ice cream products have become iconic in the province for over six decades now. Aside from the main branch along Maharlika Highway, there are several other Puno’s Ice Cream branches within the city and other parts of the province.

Puno’s Ice Cream Plant Nueva Eciija

Puno’s Ice Cream Plant Nueva Eciija

People who have tried this ice cream claim that it’s even better than some leading brands in the country.  Puno’s Ice Cream has many diverse flavors like buko sherbet with lychees, ube cheese, langka, corn queso, and their bestseller, cheese cashew macapuno. And the delightful part is that a cup costs only Php13. What a steal!

NFA Grains Industry Museum

Also, located along the Maharlika Highway is another landmark – an agricultural museum.  This place highlights the evolution of this important agricultural product through various displays of artifacts about the whole process of producing, harvesting, milling, storage, and distribution of rice. Truly an educational experience!

NFA Grains Industry Museum

NFA Grains Industry Museum

PhilRice

Here’s another key spot in Nueva Ecija that puts focus on the province and the Central Luzon region’s main lifeblood – rice production. The place features experimental fields which apply new techniques in producing rice varieties. There are guided tours for visitors around the fields which showcases the center’s gene bank, plant breeding labs, and greenhouses. Be sure to check out the Future Rice Farm to see the various new technologies available for our farmers. A trip to PhilRice will make you appreciate more the hard work of our scientists and farmers to bring food to our table of the Filipinos.

PhilRice

PhilRice Nueva Ecija

PhilRice Nueva Ecija

Chanos Chanos

Drop by Chanos Chanos from some delicious baked bangus. It’s perfectly made and an ideal baon as you explore Nueva Ecija. Also, their rice tea and ube juice are a must-try!

Chanos Chanos Explore Nueva Ecija

Chanos Chanos Explore Nueva Ecija

CSLU Campus

CLSU stands for Central Luzon State University. It was set up as the government’s agricultural school and tourists are welcome to visit the 658 hectare campus.  CSLU houses several museums, each  with particular focus on one main industry in the region.

There’s a museum which features implements for rice and vegetable planting, hunting and fishing implements, and indigenous household tools. These displays are meant to enhance awareness and appreciation of the Filipino cultural heritage, with special focus on agriculture as the region’s primary industry.

Explore Nueva Ecija CLSU

Explore Nueva Ecija CLSU

The Biodiversity Museum features replicas of different types of ecosystems – terrestrial, forest, and freshwater.  There are exhibits of insect, macrofungi, invertebrate, and other bioresources. This place will truly spark interest in ecology.

The Living Fish Museum has collections of indigenous and tropical flora and fauna native to some provinces in Luzon, and will surely entertain as well as instruct visitors of all ages.

Other CLSU areas of interest are the mushroom and hydroponics centers which feature revolutionary gardening methods such as soil-less culture.

Milka Krem Carabao's Milk
Have you tried Carabao Milk? You can buy it in the Milka Krem factory in CLSU.

Milka Krem Carabao's Milk

Caffe La Tea

And while you’re in this neck of the woods, take a light meal or snack at the Caffe La Tea in Cabanatuan City. This fast-growing and increasingly popular diner’s haven has been expanding into other regions including Metro Manila.  Try their signature milk teas, smoothies, and coffees. Pair these off with their luscious cheesecakes, cakes, pies, and cupcakes.  For a fuller meal, try their various rice, pasta, and sandwich entrees. They even serve shabu-shabu. Check their menu here. So much variety to suit all tastes!

Caffe La Tea Cabanatuan

Caffe La Tea Cabanatuan

Crystal Waves Hotel and Resort

Want to have all the exciting activities in just one place? Try the attractions at the Crystal Waves Hotel and Resort.  You can swim at the huge Olympic-sized pool in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head, swoosh down the five-storey slide into the pool, splash and sway at the wave pool, or slide through the air with a zipline.  There are just so many fun things to do at Crystal Wave.  The good news is that you can book a hotel room and dine at the restaurant here in case your fun activities run overtime.  Better yet, book in advance and make this resort your primary accommodation as you enjoy the other attractions that Nueva Ecija has to offer.

Crsytal Waves Resort and Hotel

Crsytal Waves Resort and Hotel

 

Places to Stay

Aside from the Crystal Wave Resort, there are other comfortable and luxurious hotels to stay while visiting Nueva Ecija.  There are budget hotels like Microtel, Hotel Consuelo, and Top Star which offer Internet access, flat-screen TVs, and luxurious bath toiletries at reasonable prices. For more fastidious travelers, there’s the Harvest Hotel with ultimately luxurious facilities.  Your choices are not limited to these. You can look up other accommodations at hotel booking sites like Agoda.com and Airbnb.com.

So, make Nueva Ecija your next summer destination!

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