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Located on the northeastern edge of Luzon Island, Cagayan is one of the northernmost provinces of the Philippines. For so long, it has largely gone under the radar of most travel guidebooks, but it’s spectacular beauty is now slowly being revealed as more visitors take the road less traveled into this historic and picturesque province.
Although located at a considerable distance from the Manila, Cagayan was actually one of the first of the provincias to come into existence during the Spanish colonial period, being founded by the conquistadors in 1581. Today, the province is home to around 1.2 million people, but its beguiling landscape comprising verdant mountains, dense forests, beautiful beaches, and mighty rivers has mostly been untouched by civilization.
Direct flights to Tuguegarao City, the province’s capital, are available daily from Manila. Visitors coming from Cebu, on the other hand, can take any one of the weekly flights available.
Provincial buses with terminals in Cubao in Quezon City and in Caloocan City (both in Metro Manila) offer daily trips to Tuguegarao City. Buses heading all the way to the northern town of Claveria will also pass by Tuguegarao. Take note that a bus trip to the province can last for around 12 hours or more if you are coming from Manila.
If you need to go between major cities and towns in Cagayan Valley, you will have to ride an intercity bus, jeep, van, or multicab. You can explore each city or municipality on foot, or you can also hire tricycles that can take you to popular locations.
Cagayan is mostly famous for its natural marvels. The town of Claveria in the northwest is surrounded by lush grasslands and windswept hills reminiscent of Batanes landscapes. The same is true with the protected island of Palaui in the northeast. This island is also the site of the Cape Engaño Lighthouse, a historic structure built in 1892.
Other popular attractions include the scenic Taggat Lagoon and the graceful cascading Mabnang Falls, both of which are near Claveria. There’s also the seven-chambered Callao Cave near the town of Peñablanca, in which the local Catholic Church often holds services for the faithful.
Thanks to its coastal location, the province has an extensive shoreline where travelers can enjoy a plethora of aquatic activities. The area around the town of Santa Ana in the northeastern coast of the province is famous for its white-sand beaches and splendid waters. Aside from swimming, you can also do snorkeling and diving in the waters around Palaui Island, located just off the coast of the town, which is part of a protected marine area.
Inland, visitors can head over to the Peñablana Protected Landscape and Seascape, where the famous Callao Cave is also located. Here, you can enjoy an idyllic boat ride down the Pinacanauan River, which is best done at dusk when you can witness the flight of tens of thousands of bats as they emerge from their caves in the forest.
Of course, a trip to Cagayan will not be complete without one paying a visit to its centuries-old churches. These include the Saints Peter and Paul Metropolitan Cathedral in Tuguegarao (1761), the Church of San Antonio de Galicia (1765), the Basilica of Our Lady of Piat in the town of Piat (1875), and the Saint Philomene Church in Alcala (1881).
When you visit Cagayan Province, make sure not to miss out on sampling the pancit batil-patong, which is the best-known culinary specialty in the province. In Tuguegarao city, famous panciterias include Gretchen’s and Billy Jack’s Panciteria.
Cagayan Valley is mostly known for its nature destinations, so even in larger cities like Tuguegarao, there’s little by way of nightlife. The downtown area does have a collection of resto-grills where you can enjoy a drink or two with your friends.
The capital city of Tuguegarao has a number of hotels where you can stay in. These include the 4-star Holiday Plaza Hotel, as well as smaller places like Hotel Joselina, and Las Palmas de San Jose. If you’re heading to the town of Sta. Ana up north, you can stay in the beachfront Costa Carina Resort.
There are many other inns and bed & breakfast places all over the province where you can stay overnight for reasonable prices.