1. Remote and uncrowded beaches
Once rated as one of the “World’s 100 Best Beaches” by CNN, Palaui Island’s raw beauty amazes everyone who visits. This protected landscape and seascape is located just off the northeastern tip of mainland Luzon in the town of Santa Ana, in Cagayan, accessible by a thrilling boat ride through open seas.
Fans of the reality television show "Survivor" may want to visit because it was the location for filming Season 27 ("Survivor: Blood vs. Water") and Season 28 ("Survivor: Cagayan") back in 2013.
Despite its newfound popularity, Palaui’s remote location has kept its white sand beaches and stunning coral gardens largely preserved.
Palaui Island, Cagayan. Photo by Kara Santos
Be sure to make a stop at Anguib Beach, a beautiful white sand island with clear waters before you trek up the historic Faro de Cabo Engaño or Cape Engaño, a 19th-century lighthouse which has been named a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum.
Anguib Beach, Cagayan. Photo by Martin San Diego for NPVB
2. Historic pilgrimage sites
Cagayan was once the home of a large Spanish settlement, which is why the province has many beautiful and historic churches. For religious pilgrims, Cagayan is the perfect destination for a Visita Iglesia Tour this coming Holy Week.
In the town of Iguig, you can find Calvary Hills, one of the major pilgrimage destinations in the country. Tourists flock to this site during Holy Week to visit the life-sized statues depicting the 14 Stations of the Cross and the 19th-century San Antonio de Galica Church. The site is located on a hill slope offering a scenic view of Cagayan River.
Calvary Hills. Photo by Martin San Diego for NPVB
In the provincial capital Tuguegarao, you can visit the Saint Peter Metropolitan Cathedral or Tuguegarao Cathedral, an 18th-century Baroque church and one of the largest churches in the Cagayan Valley. In the town of Camalaniugan, you can find the home of the oldest Catholic church bell in the Philippines.
The town of Piat is dubbed as the "Pilgrimage Center of Cagayan Valley." Thousands of devotees come to pay homage to Our Lady of Piat, a 16th-century Roman Catholic icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary who serves as the town’s patroness.
Though not a traditional church, another popular site during Holy Week is the St. Lourdes Chapel, a cathedral-like chamber within Callao Cave. A rock formation serves as an altar, which gets illuminated by a stream of light coming from a natural rooftop opening in the limestone cave.
Tuguegarao Cathedral. Photo by Martin San Diego for NPVB
3. Interesting cuisine
While most tourists are familiar with cusine from other regions like Ilocos or Bicol, the specialties from Cagayan Region are only starting to get recognized.
The most iconic dish you can try in Cagayan is Pancit Batil Patung, a noodle dish that contains ground carabao meat, vegetables and is topped with a sunny side up egg. It’s traditionally served with a broth that you can either drink or pour into the noodles. Each customer is also given a side-dish of chopped onions, soy sauce and vinegar, which can enhance the pansit’s flavor.
Pancit Batil Patung. Photo by Martin San Diego for NPVB
Ever heard of Chicha-rabao? This is one of the more unique take-home food products here. Carabao Chicharon is a variant of cracklings made from deep-fried and popped buffalo/carabao hide! Packaged bags are sold in original, garlic and hot & spicy flavors.
Another local delicacy is the regional version of longganisa or sausage. Longganisang Tuguegarao are small sausages filled a mixture of dry, sweet, and spicy meat.
If you have a sweet tooth, Cagayan is also well-known for its homemade carabao milk candy, similar to pastillas. The most famous brands are from Alcala and Segovia’s Finest La-lo Milk Candy.
Chicharabao. Photo by Martin San Diego for NPVB
4. Rich traditions and culture
The rich history and culture of the province can be seen in the museums, historical buildings and archeological sites across the province. Interestingly, many of the beautiful churches in Cagayan Valley feature bricks. Traditional brick and pottery making continues to thrive in some towns, particularly Iguig.
The town is renowned for its pottery products, with many locals still practicing traditionally handmade techniques. If you’re passing through Iguig, you can watch local artisans mixing clay to create decorative pottery products. Stalls along the road sell a variety of traditional clay kitchenware like stoves, ovens, cooking pots and as well as decorative garden ornaments, vases and the like.
Local pottery in Iguig, Cagayan. Photo by Martin San Diego for NPVB
5. The end of the road
Aparri is a small, bustling coastal community, similar to many other places around the country. But for travelers who aim to visit extreme points of the country, it is a point of interest. Being able to travel “mula Aparri hanggang Jolo” still remains a bucketlist challenge for many travelers.
Aparri is very popular with motorcycle riders and road-trippers because it symbolizes the “end of the road” as the northeast-most ridable point in mainland Luzon. A DPWH marker showing that it’s the end of the Cagayan Valley Road can be found next to the PAG-ASA Weather Radar Station and a fishport fronting the Aparri Delta, where the Cagayan River meets the West Philippine Sea. There’s now a colorful marker bearing the town’s name for all those souvenir selfies.
This trip was made possible by Lakbay Norte 6, a media tour organized by North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB) in partnership with Manila North Tollways Corporation/NLEX-SCTEX, Victory Liner, Inc., and the Cagayan North Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Aparri Marker. Photo by Kara Santos