December 2008

The Callao Cave in Peñablanca, about 15 km from Tuguegarao, can justify a trip to Cagayan in itself. The road beyond Peñablanca ends at the park entrance. The light in the cave is particularly beautiful at midday when the sun shines through the sinkholes in six of the seven gigantic chambers. There is no difficulty whatsoever, just a few slippery steps in some of the chambers. Visiting the others caves in the area requires a permit from the DENR in Tuguegarao.
Callao caveOne of the seven chambers of Callao Cave
Callao cave

Kayaks can be rented at the Sunshine store on the other side of the Pinacanauan river, which can be crossed using one of the river boats waiting for passengers. Call the boatman if the boat happens to be on the other side. Kayaking up the river, I spotted a few White-throated Kingfishers, a sleeping Philippine Frogmouth, a couple of Blue Rock-Thrushes, and many Pygmy Swiftlets.

You can rent a boat to go up the river for about 10 minutes. A few minutes before sunset (about 5:15 pm in December), tens of thousands (perhaps millions) of bats fly out of a cave in a cliff above the river. For about 5 minutes, a black ribbon spreads from the entrance of the cave across the river to the forest on the other side. You can hear the sound of the wings.  It is a stunning show of nature that should not be missed if you are in Cagayan.

The Callao Cave Resort, set in a beautiful forest on the other side of the river from the Callao Cave is dilapidated and not recommended. I stayed there once before and it is not much better than camping. A better option is to sleep in Tuguegarao. I stayed in the newly renovated Hotel Roma in the city center. Café Michelle in Hotel Roma has good food.
BatsThousands of bats flying out of a cave across the river

To go to San Vicente, continue North on the Maharlika Highway and turn right in Camalanuigan. Do not follow the Santa Ana sign at the Magapit crossing as that road is not paved. The road from Camalanuigan to San Vicente is good. The swampy area between Camalanuigan and Gonzaga is good for birdwatching. I spotted many Great Egrets, a Grey Heron, Yellow Bitterns and Crested Mynas perched on carabao horns. A few km before Santa Ana, the road passes by the huge parking area for the vehicles imported through Port Irene, protected on both sides by AFP-manned checkpoints. Thousands of SUVs, vans, trucks and cars are for sale.

If you go straight through Santa Ana the road ends at the San Vicente pier. You can park the car on the pier and rent a bangka to go to the Cape Engaño lighthouse at the North tip of Palaui Island for P1500 round trip including a 1-hour wait at the lighthouse. During the amihan season, the bangka hugs the Western side of the island and the ride is not too rough. The bangka lands on a beautiful protected beach. To walk to the lighthouse, follow the trail which can be seen from the beach and is partly cemented with steps. The view from the ruined lighthouse building at an elevation of 90 meters is spectacular, reminiscent of the best of Batanes. It is possible to climb some of the way up the lighthouse to a few narrow windows. During the ride back to San Vicente I spotted a White-bellied Sea-Eagle hovering above.LighthouseThe Cape Engaño lighthouse
ViewView from the lighthouse looking North
ViewView form the lighthouse looking East

There are a few resorts and lodging houses in San Vicente and Santa Ana. The Jerolynda Beach Resort where I stayed, about 5 minutes by boat form the pier is overpriced and not recommended. A small room with no bedsheets, no towels, no screens on the windows, no electricity during the day, and a bathroom with just a bowl and a faucet costs P800 plus an entrance fee. And you can't even use the bungalows on the beach. I have not seen the other lodging houses, but the most desirable option seems to be to camp at the lighthouse if you are equipped. There are many nice flat grassy campsites near the beach and around the lighthouse itself.

A detour to Aparri along the way is worthwhile. At the point where the Maharlika Highway meets the sea, turn left and continue for about 1 km to the Aparri pier. To watch the waves break on the pier on a windy day and the Cagayan River empty into the Babuyan Channel is a powerful sight. The river is so wide there that you can hardly see the other side.AparriThe banks of the Cagayan River in Aparri
AparriView across the Cagayan River in Aparri

There are a few interesting Spanish churches between Tuguegarao and Aparri. The most intriguing and definitely worth a stop is the Iguig church, set on a hill overlooking the Cagayan River. It cannot be seen from the highway. To go there, take a narrow road on the left (if you are heading North) just before the arch in Iguig. Other Spanish churches worth a stop are Alcala and Lallo (seat of the former diocese of Nueva Segovia). Both are right by the road.
Iguig churchIguig Church
IguigThe view from the Iguig Church
Lallo churchLallo Church

If an overnight stop in Santiago City is required, I recommend the Monte Carlo Hotel, 2 km outside of the city on the road to Ramon (P800 for a nice double room).

Day 1: Manila-Tuguegarao (can also be broken with an overnight stop in Cabanatuan or Angeles)
Day 2: Callao Cave
Day 3: Tuguegarao-San Vicente-Palaui Island
Day 4: San Vicente-Aparri-Santiago City (visiting churches along the way)
Day 5: Santiago City-Manila

Christian Perez
Muntinlupa City