Cagayan Valley

photo courtesy of http://www.trekearth.com

photo courtesy of http://www.trekearth.com

In a round-up of the Philippines’ stunning destinations, Cagayan will most likely go unmentioned. Yet this beautiful province is home to picturesque beaches, volcanic islands and historically significant natural and man-made sites. It may be devoid of luxury trappings, true, but it is rich in natural, rugged beauty. The traveler who strikes out for it (he won’t have to go very far, really) takes its richest rewards. Right at the tip of the Luzon landmass, Claveria rests on top of Cagayan’s Northeastern shoulder. Head there for pastoral grassland, islands of windswept emerald mountains, ruggedly enchanting coastline and verdant jungles.

Cagayan has traditionally been a tourist stop for old Spanish churches. And its rightful claim to fame – the astounding seven-chambered Callao Cave. If you are a Catholic, you can hear mass within one of the chambers. No stained glass here, just a natural skylight!

This cave system is also home to the Callao Man, the oldest human remains excavated in the Philippines, dated to about 67,000 years old. Shell middens dating back to the Neolithic Period have also been found on the banks of the Cagayan River in the towns of Lal-lo and Gattaran. These archaeological finds speak volumes of Cagayan’s significant role in Philippine history.

When inside the confines of Peñablanca Protected Landscape and Seascape, make time for a scenic boat ride in Pinacanauan River at dusk. The highlight of the cruise will be the circadian flights of thousands of bats emerging out of the wilderness — a truly astounding experience.

Cagayan Province is equal parts adventure and culture.

With a lot of centuries-old churches dating back to Spanish colonization, you shouldn’t miss out on some of its old-fashioned religious edifices. Start a day in Cagayan Province by by visiting the brick-walled Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul in Tuguegarao City. It’s the biggest church in the area built during the Spanish era.

Take a glimpse of ancient artifacts, fossils of animals that once roamed the valley, and liturgical works at Cagayan Provincial Museum and Historical Research Center.

Offer a prayer at the Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Piat, a well-known pilgrimage site. The Old Bell in the Far East is tucked in the municipality of Camalaniugan. In Lal-lo, Cagayan you’ll find another archaic church – St. Dominic de Guzman Parish. St. Philomene Church on the other hand is located just along the highway in the town of Alcala.

Don’t go home without visiting the quiet town of Iguig where the Church of San Antonio de Galicia is nestled on a hill, the only church in the province with traditional flying buttresses. Walk towards the side to meditate within the serene and scenic Iguig Calvary Hills. This area is well known for its massive life-size statues of the 14 Stations of the Cross, strung along sprawling hills overlooking the Cagayan River or Rio Grande de Cagayan – the longest and widest river in the Philippines.

When the arid lands of the Ilocos Region could no longer support the growing number of Ilocanos, they tried the less chartered Cagayan Valley, which they later on find more suitable to their agricultural way of life. Although not originally a part of the Ilocandia, the Ilocanos have conquered the area, thus making it a part of the Greater Ilocandia.

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