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Hi! I'm Gretchen, a travel writer based in the Philippines. I created Filipina Explorer in 2009 to document my journeys through places, parenthood, and word weaving. This blog is a collection of those stories and everything in between. (Photo by Martin San Diego)
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Cagayan Travel Guide: Where to Stay, What to Eat and Do, and How to Get There

A trip to Cagayan is not for the fainthearted. Located roughly 500 kilometers from the Philippine capital, this massive coastal province in Northeastern Luzon entails a butt-numbing 10 to 12-bus ride, plus an additional hour or two to reach its islands off coast - a journey that is no less nerve-wracking.

Travelers sometimes choose not to visit the province due to distance, but for the brave, coming here proves to be one epic adventure filled with gastronomical delights, natural and man-made wonders and a rich history that make the long travel time truly worth it.




Located in San Vicente, Mapurao Beach can be visited on the way to Anguib Beach and Palaui Island or vice-versa. The beach houses Jerolynda’s White Beach Resort and Restaurant and has white sand and clear, kid-friendly water. Boats pass by a lush mangrove forest to and from the beach. On site, you will be served toothsome seafood dishes that are cooked straight from sea to table.


Anguib Beach’s agoho-lined cream shore spans around two kilometers long, with one tip ending in a forested hill. Guests can enjoy glamping, swimming, or just lazing around in a hammock by the trees. The beach is accessible after a one-hour boat ride from the port, depending on water conditions.


Palaui Island is arguably the most famous of Cagayan’s attractions - and for good reason. Entailing a two-hour boat ride through the Philippine Sea’s tempestuous waters, this remote 7,145-hectare island in the Philippines’ extreme northeast boasts several hiking trails through rich forests, including one that leads to an 18th -century lighthouse on a hill. Considered a National Marine Reserve, the water surrounding the island is home to 21 fish species and 50 hectares of unspoiled coral reef.

It is also home to several species of wood, shrubs and other endemic flora and migratory birds. Because of its raw beauty, the island has served as a location for the TV series Survivor and is one of CNN’s 100 Best Beaches Around the World.

Below are noteworthy sights in Palaui Island.


Resting on Palaui Island’s southeastern tip, Punta Verde serves as a boat dock and camping ground for visitors who would like to stay the night. From Punta Verde, the nearly six-kilometer hike to Cape Engano takes around three to four hours. There is also a waterfall nearby.


Opposite Punta Verde, Cape Engaño Lighthouse - or Faro de Cabo Engaño - sits on the southwest tip of Palaui Island, accessible after a scenic 15-minute hike up a 229-step hill. Built in 1892, the lighthouse is an acclaimed National Cultural Treasure. From the lighthouse, guests enjoy a bird’s eye view of the island’s westerly cove, Dos Hermanas Islands and Babuyan Island north of the cove.

Sta. Ana Motorized Boat Association
Address: San Vicente Port, Sta. Ana, Cagayan
Contact Number: +63915- 4670964

Island hopping rates: P500 to P3,500 per boat (maximum of 8 passengers)
Crocodile Island – P500
Pugo Moro – P500
Punta Verde – P1,000
Anguib Beach – P1,500
Siwangag Cove – P1,500
Cape Engano – P1,800
Puzurubo – P1,800


The Philippines’ second longest bridge (after San Juanico Bridge), Buntun Bridge spans 1.1 kilometers and serves as the gateway to Tuguegarao. Made of 240-foot Japanese steel, it connects Tuguegarao to Apayao. Built in the 60s over the mighty Cagayan River, the bridge offers an unobstructed vista of the country’s largest river basin.


Apart from being the “largest station institution of higher learning in the Cagayan Valley Region”, Cagayan State University (CSU) is also recognized for its extensive farm in Piat. At the CSU Farm, visitors can mingle with friendly sheep and goats and learn how to milk cows firsthand.

Lyceum of Aparri is considered one of the most competitive institutions in the entire Cagayan Valley.


Like Buntun Bridge, the Magapit Suspension Bridge runs across the Cagayan River. Also called the Golden Gate of Cagayan, it links the river’s eastern and western side.

Cagayan’s provincial capitol is home to the provincial museum, capitol building and administrative seat.


Barangay Atulu in Iguig is known for its beautiful churches and pottery crafted by local artisans, the Itawis. They barehandedly shape vases, garden wares and ornate pieces using clay from the Cagayan River and simple implements such as wood blocks, kilns, carabao dung (for fuel), and makeshift stoves.


Take a trip back into time at the Cagayan Provincial Museum and Historical Research Center. Situated within the provincial capitol and about five kilometers from the city center, the museum houses local artifacts, heirloom pieces and wares from the valley, as well as fossils of animals that once inhabited the region. It also details the discovery of the Callao Man, whose 67,000-year old remains were discovered in Callao Cave in Peñablanca.


Address: Maharlika Highway, Alcala, Cagayan
Contact number: (078) 848 1917

Twenty meters long and 12.5 meters high, St. Philomene Church is Tuguegarao’s biggest brick church and the Philippines’ widest. Built by Spanish friars in 1881, its distinct features include its red brick design, a newly refurbished tile floor, and a belfry situated next to St. Philomene Academy.


Named the “Pilgrimage Center of the North”, Piat Church is one of 12 minor basilicas in the country and features a beautiful four-level belfry. It houses a 407-year old Black Virgin Mary that is said to be miraculous. Also called Yena Tam Ngamin (The Mother of Us All) and Apo Baket (The Venerable Matriarch), the church’s icon was transported from Macau in the 1600s.


Dating back to the 18th century, the Tuguegarao Cathedral is known for its “Cagayan-style” pediment, which is distinctly crested like many other churches in Cagayan Valley. This baroque church is one of the largest in the region and serves as the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Tuguegarao.


St. James Parish is fashioned with three brick flying buttresses – the only one of its kind in the Philippines. The facade showcases a stone pillar while said to be inside is the Jubilee Cross, replete with the relic of the True Cross.  There is a centuries-old well on site too.



Only three kilometers from Tuguegarao Airport, Balai Carmela is an ideal base for families, big groups and couples who plan on seeing the capital and adjacent towns. The hotel offers spacious Balinese-inspired rooms, suites and dorm-type accommodations with air conditioning, TV and free WiFi. After a tour, rejuvenate with in-room massage, take a dip in an outdoor pool, or indulge in sumptuous Asian dishes at Troy’s Bar and Cafe.


A new player in Aparri’s budding hotel industry, Riverview Royale Hotel is praised for its clean, well-furnished rooms and impeccable service. Only 2.5 kilometers away from the city center, this three-storey hotel puts you close to Aparri’s best dining facilities and important landmarks, such as CSU. Rooms are equipped with air conditioning, cable TV, en suite shower, towels, and free WiFi.

Suitable for both business and leisure travelers, Hotel Dian features plenty of recreational facilities: a fitness center, karaoke, coffee shop, bar, restaurant (with 24-hour room service), massage, and spa. Pet-loving guests will be happy to know that pets are welcome in the property too. All rooms are non-smoking and are fitted with a mini bar, plus complimentary WiFi access.


Address: Cagayan Valley Road, Aparri, Cagayan

For traditional Filipino flavors, head to Chelsea’s Diner in Aparri. Seated along the highway, this cozy 70-seater restaurant serves Western and Filipino specialties, including sumptuous crispy pata and sweet and sour fish. Offering cocktails and beers, it is also well-suited for unwinding after work or tours.

Address: Brgy. Centro, Santa Ana, Cagayan

If you prefer traditional Filipino cuisine cooked and served in a rustic space, visit Jaja’s Resto Grill along San Vicente Road. Serving both Ybanag and traditional Filipino meals, it is well known for its papaitan, pancit batil patong and sisig liempo.


When it comes to Cagayan’s culinary wonders, there is nothing more famouS than pancit batil patong (sometimes spelled as patung). This unique noodle dish is made using Tuguegarao’s
signature pancit miki noodles, sauteed in beef and thick egg broth. Toppings, including ground carabao beef, vegetables, and poached egg are added last, along with a second round of broth. Add a tablespoon of chopped onion and special vinegar for a truly authentic pancit batil patong experience.

Various food stalls in Gattaran, Aparri, and Tuguegarao, such as Win-Mae Panciteria sell the
dish. Some carinderia in Lal-Lo use sotanghon instead of miki.


Another Cagayan kakanin worth noting is pawa, a glutinous rice cake with sweet ground peanuts.
Available in bite-size pieces, you can find this steamed delicacy in modest stalls around Piat Church in Centro, Piat.

Drop by the towns of Alcala and Lal-lo for a taste of their signature milk candies. Crafted using carabao milk, these bite-size candies can be extremely addicting.

Address: Aguiguican, Gattaran, Cagayan

Tuguegarao's version of puto, putoflan is a rice cake that uses flour and egg yolk for the muffin and a soft leche flan base.  Seguro Snack Hauz in Gattaran sells one of the best in the province.

Pancit batil patong not your cup of tea? Try sinanta. An Ybanag soup,  it consists of sotanghon and miki noodles, chicken, clams, pork, and fish sauce. Best eaten alongside a warm cup of coco and a rice cake called pinakufu. Food stalls across Cagayan sell this wonderful dish.


If you prefer your chicharon lean, grab a pack of chicarabao. Airy, light and fat-free, this delicacy is made by deep-frying square cuts of carabao skin. Choose from three awesome flavors: garlic, hot and
spicy, and onion and vinegar. You can get it from  Lighthouse Cooperative Ybanag Food Products in Tuguegarao.


As a coastal province, there is no shortage of edible seaweeds in Cagayan. A popular one is lumot, so called for it algae-like consistency. It is often paired with grilled or fried fish and seafood.

Jerolynda White Beach Resort in Sta. Ana serves this dish.


Tuguegarao’s take on the famous Pinoy breakfast favorite, Ybanag longganisa is made from pork or
carabao beef mixed with garlic tidbits. Bring home some and slowfry to a crisp. Various public markets and groceries in Cagayan have this longganisa in stock all year-round.



Five Star , GV Florida, and Victory Liner buses ply the route to Tuguegarao daily from Manila. Victory Liner also has buses going to Aparri and Tuao, while GV Florida also serves the Aparri and Sta. Ana routes.  Travel time to Tuguegarao takes 12 to 14 hours, depending on the traffic.

Aparri and Sta. Ana are at the northern tip and take longer to reach. If you are going to Palaui Island or beaches in Sta. Ana,  take a local bus or van from Tuguegarao to Sta. Ana. Travel time is around three hours. Otherwise, you can take a GV Florida bus direct to Sta. Ana.

At Sta. Ana, hail a tricycle to take you to San Vicente port 10 minutes away. Boats can be rented at the port to the island of your choice. Palaui Island is around 20 to 40 minutes away from the port, depending on weather and sea conditions. Be ready for huge waves, since the island faces the Pacific.

Five Star buses going to Cagayan can be found at the Cubao bus terminal.  Please refer to the bus schedules below. Rates and schedules are subject to change.


5:30 am      Regular aircon     P695
8:30 am      Regular aircon     P695
11:30 am    Regular aircon     P695
2:00 pm      Deluxe                 P790
4:00 pm      Regular aircon     P695
7:00 pm      Deluxe                 P790 
11:00 pm    Regular aircon     P695
11:59 pm     Deluxe                 P790

Victory Liner has buses going to Tuguegarao, Aparri, and Tuao at the Kamias bus terminal. Please refer to the bus schedules below. Rates and schedules are subject to change.


5:30 am      Regular aircon     P695
6:30 am      First class             P930
9:30 am      Deluxe                 P810
11:00 am    Regular aircon     P695
1:00 pm      Regular aircon     P695
2:00 pm      Regular aircon     P695
3:00 pm      Deluxe                 P810
5:00 pm      Regular aircon     P695
7:45 pm      Regular aircon     P695
8:15 pm      Deluxe                 P810
9:00 pm      Deluxe                 P810
9:15 pm      First class             P930
9:45 pm      Regular aircon     P695
10:30 pm    Regular aircon     P695
11:30 pm    Regular aircon     P695


3:30 am     Regular aircon     P841
6:30 pm     First class            P1,130


4:00 pm     Regular aircon     P748
6:00 pm     Deluxe                 P890
7:30 pm     First class             P1,010

GV Florida buses bound for several municipalities in Cagayan, including Aparri, Baggao, Gonzaga, and Tuguegarao can be found at the Cubao bus terminal. In addition to those routes, the GV Florida terminal in Sampaloc also offers trips to Sta. Ana, Buguey, Lasam, and Ballesteros.

Please refer to the bus schedules below. Rates and schedules are subject to change.


11:30 am 
12:30 pm (stops at Tuguegarao, then goes to Sta. Ana)
2:00 pm
3:00 pm  (stops at Tuguegarao, then goes to Sta. Ana)
3:30 pm
4:00 pm (with stop at Ballesteros)
4:30 pm (with stop at Lasam) 
4:45 pm (with stop at Ballesteros)
5:15 pm (with stop at Ballesteros)
5:45 pm (with stop at Aparri)
6:00 pm (with stop at Ballesteros)
 6:15 pm (with stop at Aparri)
6:30 pm (with stop at Gonzaga)
6:45 pm (with stop at Baggao)


12:30 pm (with stop in Aparri)
1:30 pm (with stop in Aparri)
3:00 pm (with stop in Aparri and Gonzaga)
5:00 pm (with stop in Aparri and Gonzaga)
6:00 pm (with stop in Baggao)
7:30 pm
7:45 pm (with stop in Aparri)
8:00 pm
8:30 pm
9:00 pm
9:30 pm
10:00 pm
11:00 pm (with stop in Aparri)


12:30 pm (with stop at Tuguegarao)
3:00 pm (with stop at Tuguegarao)


5:00 pm (with stop at Buguey)
5:30 pm (with stop at Gonzaga)
5:45 pm (with stop at Tuguegarao)
6:15 pm (with stop at Tuguegarao)
6:30 pm (with stop at Tuguegarao and Gonzaga)
7:00 pm (with stop at Gonzaga)


12:30 pm (with stop in Tuguegarao)
1:30 pm (with stop in Tuguegarao)
3:00 pm (with stop in Tuguegarao and Gonzaga)
5:00 pm (with stop in Tuguegarao and Gonzaga)
7:45 pm (with stop in Tuguegarao)
11:00 pm (with stop in Tuguegarao)


Cebu Pacific flies direct from Manila to Tuguegarao, with two daily at 8:05 am and 12:05 pm.  The flight takes an hour and 15 minutes, thereby taking nine to 12 hours off your travel time.

Philippine Airlines offers five flights per week from Clark to Tuguegarao (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday) at 12:20 pm. The flight takes one hour.

This trip was part of Lakbay Norte 6, an annual media familiarization tour organized by the North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB), in partnership with the NLEX Corporation - concessionaire of NLEX/ SCTEX - Victory Liner, Inc., Nueva Ecija Convention and Visitors Association (NECVA), and Cagayan North Convention and Visitors Bureau (CNCVB); and sponsors - Department of Tourism Regions 2 and 3, the provinces of Nueva Ecija and Cagayan North, Petron Corporation, Jollibee Foods Corporation, and Prifood Corporation.

This article was first released in Northbound Magazine Issue 20. 

4 Unforgettable Sights in Chicago

With over 180 years of history and architecture, Chicago has tons of unforgettable sights that are perfect for a photo opportunity or soaking in the ambiance and vibe of the city. With its iconic skyline and architecture that demonstrates the intense beauty of the city, there's no other place quite like it. Whether you're looking for places to soak up a view, get a few pictures, or unwind, check out these unforgettable sightsa round the Windy City.

The Bean

Image via Flickr by Franck_Michel

Located at AT&T Plaza at Millennium Park, the Chicago Bean, also known as Cloud Gate, is one of the city's most-photographed sculptures and one of Chicago's famous landmarks. Made of highly polished stainless steel plates, the Bean weighs 110 tons, stands 33 feet high, and stretches over 66 feet. A 12-foot arch allows guests to travel underneath the Bean, providing interesting picture ops. From a distance, the Bean reflects the beautiful skyscrapers surrounding the plaza, which is a sight to behold with a winter snow or a blue-sky summer day.

Willis Tower

Measuring in at 1,729 feet, Willis Tower is the second-tallest building in the country and the 14th-tallest in the world. The building has 108 floors, with the 103rd floor open to the public. This floor has the highest view of anywhere in the city, offering panoramic scenes that spread to the suburbs and over Lake Michigan.

The Ledge is one of the most interesting places to enjoy the view. Jutting out of the building, this glass-walled and glass-bottomed box hangs over 1,353 feet above the street below, providing a thrill to the adventure seeker. If you don't have the fortitude to handle the Ledge, you can walk around the Skydeck for sweeping 360-degree views of the city.

Buckingham Fountain

Situated in the heart of Chicago's famous Grant Park, Buckingham Fountain is ana llegorical fountain meant to symbolize Lake Michigan. While the symbolism is ani nteresting aspect, the rococo and Palace of Versailles-inspired fountain makes this Chicago landmark a place you can't afford to miss. Constructed in 1927, it's also one oft he biggest fountains in the world and the epicenter of the iconic Lollapalooza music festival, which attracts thousands of spectators each year.

Make sure to head to Chicago between April and October when the fountain is in operation. When it's not, it's still a cool place to visit, but it just doesn't have the same effect.

Chicago Riverwalk

Spanning from Lake Shore Drive to Franklin Street, the Chicago Riverwalk is a pedestrian waterfront that invites guests to stroll along the banks of the Chicago River for shopping, dining, and scenic backdrops. Also known as the "second lakefront," this nine-block stretch of the city showcases some of the city's diverse architecture, as well as a boardwalk, jetty, and a water plaza. During St. Patrick's Day, this area is also ground zero of the city's famed parade and celebration, offering even moreo pportunities for pictures and people-watching.

From sculptures to parks to city skylines, Chicago has some of the best views and architecture in the world. Make sure to put these places on your itinerary to enjoy everything the city has to offer.

Thoughtful Traveling: Tree planting in Mount Cristobal with the Tourism Promotions Board

It was a gloomy Saturday morning when I dragged myself out of bed. I was reeling from a busy work week and relapsing from a three-day trip from one of the country’s white sand beaches  — I needed to get out of the busy metro. Life has a way of giving you exactly what you need. It was a day ago when my Filipina Explorer friend, Gretchen, asked who could go on this trip in her stead. I enthusiastically volunteered.

The day’s activity was a tree planting trip in Mount Cristobal Laguna with the PH Tourism Promotions Board, a routine CSR activity for the group.


I woke up from a bus ride and I was in San Pablo, Laguna. Sans tall buildings and city smog, the gray skies looked almost serene. This town was the jump-off point for our hour and a half trek to the tree planting site. Smiling faces - mostly members of the Tourism Promotions Board - greeted me outside the bus.

Haribon Foundation spearheaded the event. Upon meeting members at the foot of Mount Cristobal, they explained what we were to do: Hike up, plant the remaining seedlings, and hike down. It sounded simple enough.

It wasn't. Mount Cristobal, found on the opposite side of Mount Banahaw, is protected land. The untamed mountain terrain proved to be a challenge - one the group was determined to overcome.


For an hour and a half, our group was treated to a display of the countryside. For an hour and a half, we walked, we talked, we laughed, and we made friends. But most importantly, during that time, we appreciated nature in its raw and powerful glory. At 800 feet above sea level, we were witness to breathtaking views -- and the devastation humans can bring.

To date, the country is down to only less than 24 percent forest cover, with a loss of approximately 47,000 hectares of cover per year (source: Forest Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources). Considering we need forest cover of at least 54 percent to prevent landslides and similar disasters, we're not in the best shape. At the top of Mount Cristobal, as we planted each seedling, this was very apparent.


To say that climbing a mountain, any mountain, is humbling would be a grave understatement. I've always known that each crack and crevice of a place tells stories. This mountain, it told a haunting one.

But, people tell stories, too. On a trip with people who worked towards promoting travel to beautiful spots in the country, I learned of disappointing truths like the one on Mount Cristobal. The story is not that, however. It is of a small group who tried to make a difference one gloomy Saturday morning.

Photos and story by Isa Rodriguez

Are You Fully Prepared for a Trip of a Lifetime?

Filipinos are among Asia’s top travellers, according to a 2016 survey by Visa, reporting a 65% increase in international travel for Filipino households. If you are planning the trip of a lifetime, then it is essential that you ask yourself the following questions to ensure that you are fully prepared.

Do you have travel insurance?
More and more Filipino travelers are purchasing travel insurance these days. This is definitely a wise decision. Baggage mishandling, robberies, and even becoming stranded overseas – these are all frequent occurrences, but travel insurance can protect you while you are overseas. It is always best to be protected when you are in an unfamiliar country.

Is your first aid up to scratch?
When planning a traveling adventure, it is always best to be prepared for every possibility. If your adventure is going to be including exciting activities, such as rock climbing or exploring the natural environment, it is always a good idea to make sure that you are up to scratch on your first aid training, should any accidents occur and nobody is around to help.

Have you planned the most effective journey?
When it comes to travelling to different continents, it is important that you have planned out everything properly. This includes making sure that you have planned the most efficient routes between each destination. By taking a look online, you will see that there are plenty of resources that will assist you in doing this. If all else fails, a world map can help too, when it comes to planning destinations.

Have an emergency fund available
This one is very important. When traveling, there is no telling what situation may arise. If you want to make sure that you are fully prepared, it is always a good idea to make sure that you have access to emergency funds, should you need them. You can keep these in an online account, or even a bank account that you are able to use abroad.

Traveling to different destinations around the world is the perfect way to create memories that will last a lifetime. By following these tips, you will be able to make sure that you are prepared for anything that life throws your way, whilst you are experiencing all that the world has to offer and  as many different cultures as possible.

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