Suggested 3 Day Itinerary
Cagayan Valley sits in Northeastern Luzon in the Philippines, between the Cordilleras and the Sierra Madre mountain ranges. There are several cheap flights to Tuguegarao City offered by budget airlines, and I recommend that you take advantage of it during family holidays or endure that long bus ride (roughly 12 hours from Manila) like what we did!
Cagayan is home to many old Spanish churches, thus a good starting point is a tour of the centuries-old Cathedral of St.Peter and Paul, the biggest Spanish-built church in Cagayan Valley located in the city proper.
For a glimpse of ancient culture, ethnography, artifacts, fossils of animals that once roamed the valley, and liturgical works in the province, head to Cagayan Provincial Museum And Historical Research Center.
Another interesting place to visit is the Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Piat, which is significant pilgrimage site of the devotees of the people of Cagayan Valley. You can hire a tricycle to take you there.
Aside from old churches, Cagayan Valley abounds with caves, and your trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the seven-chambered Callao Cave (entrance fee Php 20 for adults and Php 10 students & children below 12 years old). It is said that in this cave, a much older version of the Tabon Man was unearthed here by archeologists. I suggest visiting this place at the height of the sun so you can witness the beam of the sun glowing inside the cave from its hole above. You can either hire a tricycle to take you to the famous caves or opt to commute with the locals. Fom the town proper, take a tricycle and ask the driver to drop you off in the tricycle station bound to Callao or take a jeep from Don Domingo Market. Another must-see cave located in the same area is Sierra Cave where use of a local guide, hard hats and head lamps is required (can be rented for a minimal fee).
At dusk, end the day with a scenic boat ride in Pinacanauan River while watching the circadian flights of thousands of bats in the sky from the lush green forest surrounding the river, a truly astounding experience. After all these activities, you can look for cheap inns scattered in town (fronting Victory Bus station) or check in the comfortable rooms of moderately priced Hotel Lorita while preparing for beach bumming up North the next day.
Unknown to many tourists, Cagayan Valley is blessed with beautiful untouched white beaches. From Tuguegarao City, take a Florida bus or van bound to Sta.Ana, Cagayan. These public transportation will stop at the market where you can buy food, drinks and booze before heading to Palaui Island. Then take a quadcycle (tricycle) to San Vicente port, the jump off point to the island. It is interesting to note that the last kilometer marker (642) up north of Luzon is found in this port. There, you can hire a boat to take you to the isle of enchantment –Palaui, a protected landscape and seascape nestled in the northeastern most part of Luzon in Cagayan, Philippines. If you will only be taken by the boat to Punta Verde (where the trail jump off to the lighthouse is located), you need to hire a guide for another 2-3 hour trek to the old colonial lighthouse of Cape Engaño. The trek to the lighthouse will take you through a coastal community, mangrove forest, inter-tidal zone, agricultural area, forest and some grasslands. You can also rent a boat to take you directly to Cape Engaño lighthouse.
Palaui Island‘s seascape and landscape is reminiscent of Batanes, on the northeast side of the island you can see two islands: the Dos Hermanas (two sisters). Further away you can also see Camiguin de Babuyanes island. Bring your own snorkeling gear since the waters around Palaui Island is part of a marine reserve and famous for game fishing. There is no resort in the island so it is advisable that you bring your own camping gears, tent and flashlight, and if you decide to stay overnight, do not miss the breathtaking sunrise the next day.
For those who have no camping gears, you can chose to stay in the fishing community of Punta Verde, ask the locals for rooms for rent and experience life at night in the community. If you’re not comfortable with this idea, you can arrange with your boatman to either wait or pick you up in Cape Engaño lighthouse and take you back to San Vicente port. Check out Jotay’s Resort or Jerolyn Resort for rooms to stay overnight.
Sta.Ana, Cagayan is home to Cagayan Special Economic Zone, where you’ll find a casino resort, an 18-hole golf course, a theme park, and other recreational and tourism amenities.
But if you’re still up for a challenge of discovering the beaches of Sta. Ana, Cagayan head to another famous white-sand beach in the south of the town called Anguib beach. You can rent a boat to take you there (30 minutes), alternatively, you can get a local guide and hike to the beach. Another interesting place to check out is Mapurao beach, Crocodile island which is close to the port of San Vicente and Gotan mangroves and waterfalls.
Along Maharlika highway back to Tuguegarao City, you can get off the van or bus to the towns with old Spanish churches and do your own Visita Iglesia tour. Camalaniugan is home to the Old Bell in the Far East, and in the town of Lal-lo, Cagayan you’ll find another old structure- St. Dominic de Guzman Parish. St. Philomene Church is located just along the highway in the town of Alcala. There’s actually more Spanish churches in Cagayan which could take one day of your itinerary. End your CagayanValley tour in the town of Iguig (just one jeep ride away from Tuguegarao Airport) where the Church of San Antonio de Galicia is located, the only church in the Philippines to have traditional flying buttresses. Walk towards the side of the church in the hill where you can meditate at the serene and scenic Iguig Calvary Hills, well-known for its massive life-size statues of 14 Stations of the Cross in a sprawling rolling hills overlooking the Cagayan River or Rio Grande de Cagayan, the longest and widest river in the Philippines, a relaxing way to end your Cagayan Valley experience.
Must-try foods when in Cagayan:
Pancit Batil Patong originated in Tuguegarao, Cagayan is a stir fried noodles mixed with vegetables, crushed chicharon and sunny side up egg.
Pansit Cabagan originated in Cabagan,Isabela but can be found in pansiteria in Cagayan Valley. It’s a stir fried noodles with heavy sauce mixed with crushed chicharon and vegetables and topped with quail egg and crispy lechong kawali.
Tinubong is a cooked sticky rice cake in bamboo with coconut milk.
Pawa is a milled galapong (a dough made with ground rice and left standing overnight to partially ferment) with sweetened ground peanut filling inside. (variants sold by vendors in Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Piat)
Carabao milk candy in Alcala, Cagayan.
Cagayan cocoa (hot chocolate)