Cagayan Valley is not your ordinary vacation destination in the Philippines. It isn’t the usual go-to vacay spot in the country, but it should make it to your list after discovering the best things to do in the vicinity of the “islands and valley of fun”.
The region is located in the northeastern tip of the Philippines where it is skirted by the Pacific Ocean. It is composed of the provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, and Batanes. The valley is bounded with the protective mountain ranges of the Cordillera on the west, Sierra Madre on the east, and the Caraballos on the south.
Cagayan Valley has much to offer with its rich heritage, culture and natural attractions. With the non-restrictive itinerary created by our friends from Travelesque Tours, DiscoverMNL was able to go to some of the provinces in the region — finding out exactly how it earned its moniker.
Experience the culture of Cagayan Valley
History and culture come hand in hand in region 2. The culturally diverse region has a blend of native Ybanags, Ytawes, Aetas, Ilocanos, Malauegs, Tagalogs, and a lot more.
After landing in Tuguegarao City, we went around the must-visit tourist spots, which included the Tuguegarao Cathedral, otherwise known as the Saint Peter Metropolitan Cathedral, which is an 18th-century Baroque church. The facade is made of red bricks which are complemented with white columns. The Spanish architecture of the interiors is exalted with its intricate designs. It’s also the largest Spanish-built church in the valley.
DiscoverMNL also went to the Tuguegarao Museum, also known as the Cagayan Provincial Museum and Historical Research Center.
It’s only a five-minute drive away from the Tuguegarao Cathedral. The museum was first a provincial jail until it was inaugurated in the 1970s.
The Tuguegarao Museum is filled with antiques, ethnography, artifacts, heirloom pieces, and other historical facts in the region. The museum also informs tourists about the recent discovery of unearthed fossils of Homo-luzonensins — an extinct human species that was found in the Callao Cave in Cagayan. The species stood less than 3 feet tall and are believed to have lived on the island of Luzon at least 50,000 years ago.
Apart from that, the team of DiscoverMNL was able to visit the St. Dominic Cathedral and the People’s Museum and Library in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya. This is a two-in-one hit as the two places are practically neighbors.
The St. Dominic Cathedral is another 18th-century Baroque church that features an octagonal tower next to the cathedral proper. In front of the church is a park where one can sit, relax, and people-watch.
Photo by Ivan Lantin
The church was razed in a fire twice, but has recovered and was rebuilt on the same site, becoming approximately twice as big as its original size. Before it was damaged by fire and by an earthquake, the church was known for having the best sounding bells in the country. At present, the cathedral maintains its original facade — becoming a relic of the past for its aesthetic and historic remains.
The People’s Museum and Library on the other hand is a two-storey historical building that houses the Novo Vizcayano’s history and heritage.
The collection is composed of the following: agriculture and rituals; weaponry and accessories; weaving and textiles; the Ilocano collection; ecclesiastical; and World War II. The gallery also showcases local artists’ artworks that tourists can buy and take home with them.
Bask in the scenic views
The Buntun Bridge is the longest river bridge in the country (approximately 1,369-meters), and under it is the mighty eponymous Cagayan River, the largest river basin in the Philippines. The bridge is one of the famous landmarks in Tuguegarao City and serves as the main gateway to the city.
We were told that traffic is hectic at the Buntun Bridge most times, but it was light when we stopped over to take a few photos of the sublime red bridge and its surroundings which is a mix of the river and tall grasslands. Legend has it that if you cross the Buntun Bridge while singing the whole Lupang Hinirang national anthem, you still won’t be halfway through the bridge.
After crossing, we would ask to stop by the side of the road so we could see and breathe in the ambiance of the boundless greeneries and hills that surround Cabagan in Isabela province. It looked like something from The Sound of Music’s The Hills are Alive scene, with white carabaos (water buffalos) in the distance instead of Julie Andrews.
We were also able to see the Magat Dam in Isabela province, which is one of the largest dams in the Philippines. The huge rock-fill dam serves as a source of hydroelectric power and irrigation water for over 80,000 hectares of agricultural lands. The Magat Dam is an inviting location for picnicking, fishing, and other water sports. Tourists can also opt to go on boat trips.
The food in the region is a tourist attraction by itself. One of the beloved local favorites is the Special Batil Patong.
The stir-fried dish is a popular choice in Tuguegarao City. For those not in the know, batil means “beaten egg” and patong means “topping.” This essentially means that the stir-fried noodles has two components: its noodles and the soup-like broth.
The locally-made miki noodles will be topped with a poached egg, sauteed carabeef, chicharon, and various vegetables. The soup, on the other hand, is composed of a piece of cracked egg which is stirred in simmering beef stock. Pouring the soup over the noodles gives the dish a rich, meatier flavor.
27-year-old Patricia Costales, our Travelesque Tours guide told us that all the best Special Batil Patong panciterias are simple carinderia-style eateries that serve the pancit within a price range of PHP90 to PHP110.
Aside from the Special Batil Patong, in Isabela province, the pancit cabagan is a popular dish which is cooked in rich broth. The pancit dish is made with miki noodles, wheat flour, lihiya, and eggs.
The valley has a range of great pasalubongs (souvenirs), mainly carabao food products like carabao fresh milk, carabao milk candy, and chicharabao aka chicharon made of carabao skin instead of the usual pork skin. It’s definitely a great pasalubong for friends who ask you to bring them something back from your travels (P.S: you’re welcome).
Balai Gloria’s in-house dining restaurant Cafe Angelo is also a good pick in Solano, Nueva Vizcaya with its selection of Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, American and Italian recipes. Of course, we went with our favorite Filipino comfort food.
Balai Gloria is also a nature and wellness resort where people can stay to take delight in its charming rustic modern interiors and exteriors, as well as its vibrant garden.
DiscoverMNL also stopped over at Big Eats Barbeque in Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya. The restaurant focuses on a crafted barbecue experience, serving flavorful and tender meat in a laid back dining space.
Picturesque R&R accommodations
One of the reasons why people go to the valley is for some much-needed r&r. If you’re looking for a Baguio City-esque staycation, the Lower Magat Eco Tourism Park (LMET) in Diadi, Nueva Vizcaya is just the right one for you.
The provincial government-owned high-end back-to-nature park is an immense forest land (24,000 hectares to be exact). Guests will see ethnic-themed cottages which they can rent out for overnight stays. There is also a lagoon with fish cages, coconut plantations, campsite, dormitories, a 5-km eco-trail, a butterfly garden, a zoo park, swimming pools, and a log cabin, which is where the DiscoverMNL team stayed.
Photo by Waltz Siy
The log cabin is essentially simplistic and sophisticated with its rustic exterior. The two-storey cabin has three bathrooms, large rooms, a lively living room, and a fireplace.
While we initially thought that it would be sizzling hot in the region (The region’s Tuguegarao City was recorded with the highest temperature ever in the Philippines), it was surprisingly chilly (It gets breezy during the ber months), making it a great alternative destination over Baguio (especially during cramped holiday seasons). Accommodation prices at the LMET are pegged at PHP1,000 to PHP5,000.
Another hidden gem is Reginaldo’s Farm and Recreation Park in Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya. It was first a farmhouse until the owners decided to expand and turn it into a peaceful getaway where guests can book an overnight stay in one the quaint villas with its extensive greenery.
There’s also a pool, a jacuzzi, a tiny bridge for the added aesthetic, an open-air pavilion, and a vast array of dragon fruits which guests can pick when it’s in season. At night, friends and family can rent out a karaoke machine, chill and eat by the gazebos, or roast marshmallows and hot dogs by the campfire underneath the stars — a perfect way to cap off the night.
Cagayan Valley is filled with natural attractions, including its enormous caves where tourists and locals alike will find the wonders of nature formed through tiny drops of water over millions of years.
DiscoverMNL went spelunking in the 4.2-kilometer long Capisaan Cave in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya. This is the fifth longest cave system in the Philippines and is considered a geologist’s paradise. There are multiple entrances and exits, but our guide recommends the Lion Entrance for first timers and beginners. It’s called the lion entrance because the rock formation resembles a lion.
The spelunking experience itself was a little more difficult for those who aren’t as active in outdoor activities. The trail is slippery and uneven, and the darkness would be quite overpowering at times even with flashlights, making it hard to see slopes. In some parts, we would need to cave-crawl as to not hit the stalactites overhead.
While our group was only able to finish halfway, we would always stop to hear the fascinating images our caving guide would relate to the stalagmites, stalactites, and other rock formations. One formation resembled an array of different birds together — including an owl and a Philippine eagle — while another formation showed the image of what looked to be an angel. Seeing the different formations was a great relief and reward for powering through the challenging terrain.
Photo by Waltz Siy
Another one of Cagayan Valley’s natural attractions is its majestic waterfalls, including the Lintungan Falls in Quezon, Nueva Vizcaya. Adventure-seekers can find its two-tier waterfall after a 20-to-30 minute trek from the dropoff point and take a dip in its icy waters. Others can hike a little ways up to see the topmost waterfall and the lush foliage surrounding the cascades. Others can rest and eat snacks in the modest bamboo-made shed while taking in the scenery.
Paragliding in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya
Last but not the least is the paragliding experience in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya. It was December 2018 when paragliding in Bayombong became operational after a series of test flights done by the Korean paragliders of the International Flying Educational Center (IFEC).
This is the best way to have a personal seat above the clouds where one can ascend 2,000 to 3,000 meters above sea level. DiscoverMNL members were able to see the panoramic view of the golden fields of grain, the groves crowning the rugged Sierra Madre mountain range, and the winding Magat River.
Violet Lucasi-Elrays aka Violetology, who works with the Korean pilots of IFEC, told DiscoverMNL that Nueva Vizcaya is an ideal place for those who wish to learn to paraglide, paramotor, and paratrike. Elrays said that the pilots compare the NuViz Paragliding flysite to the world-famous paragliding spot in Danyang, South Korea with its relatively softer winds.
The paragliding experience is also affordable — ranging from PHP3,500 to PHP4,000 only — which includes GoPro videos and photos of your flight; a professional pilot; paragliding or paramotor gear and equipment; and a reserve safety parachute. IFEC also offers courses and tours for pilots to fly in different take-off sites across Asia.
Cagayan Valley has much to offer with its pristine beaches, water sports, mysterious caves, bountiful mountains, archaeological sites, as well as its many churches and museums. Costales, our tour guide, told us that she started Travelesque Tours, so that more people would know the beauty that lies just beyond the valley. And it left us marveling at its natural allure and its non-stop adventures, as it truly is fun up north.
Cagayan Valley is accessible via land transport, but usually takes six-to-twelve hours. Those who plan to make the most of their stay in the region can book a flight with Cebu Pacific as it only takes 45 minutes to one hour to get there via the Tuguegarao Airport in Cagayan province, or at the Cauayan Airport in Isabela province.
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Words by Kaka Corral