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Beautiful Cagayan Valley

One of the most beautiful places I have seen in my many travels around the Philippines is the virtually unexplored and continuous coastline of the provinces of Aurora, Quirino and Isabela. This is the Pacific Ocean shoreline of the Sierra Madre mountains. It is a largely unpopulated area located in the northeastern coast of Luzon facing Benham Rise.

I saw this magnificent part of our country when I joined a sea safari aboard an oversized outrigger boat 10 years ago. From Baler in Aurora, we sailed northward for five days along the mountain range coastline which is home to our last remaining virgin forest. I saw picturesque coves of white-sand beaches, thick forest abutting beaches, magnificent rock formations, a dozen waterfalls with one emptying right onto a white-sand beach, a magical area of natural swimming pools formed by coral-encircled seawater, an unobstructed view of sunrise, and the most pristine blue water I have ever seen.

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It was a memorable experience. We pitched tent in uninhabited white-sand beaches at night, or slept on the nets that were spread and tied between the boat and its outriggers. We boarded kayaks to explore a forest river, we went scuba-diving to inspect a sunken boat, and we trekked to a hill full of pitcher plants. When our hook line caught a big dorado, the wasabi and soy sauce were brought out for a sashimi feast.

May is the last month of summer, and hordes of Filipinos are trooping to the
usual tourist destinations like Boracay, Palawan, Baguio and Bohol. But there is a growing breed of vacationers who seek off-the-beaten-track places.

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One of those few remaining places in the Philippines where scenic landscapes and water features remain unspoiled by teeming tourists is Cagayan Valley. The region is made up of the provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Ifugao, Kalinga and Apayao.

In Cagayan, tourists are fast taking notice of the town of Santa Ana and its beautiful Palaui island that has a lighthouse with a spectacular view. Santa Ana also has Anguib beach and its white sand and waters that hark back to the pretourist colonization of Boracay, an impressive mangroves forest, and world-class, deep-sea fishing grounds.

Cagayan has so many hidden gems like the mysterious springs, waterfalls, and caves of the mountainous town of Baggao. There is also the magical island of Calayan, which can be reached through a six-hour boat ride north of the town of Claveria, where the colors of the sand, sea, and sky offer stunning jewel tones. And there is the small dreamlike town of Santa Praxedes whose mountain-level elevation bordered by the sea exudes a teardrop-kind of ambience.

Isabela showcases yearly a vivid change of colors that heralds the existence of two seasons in our country. It has expansive rice plantations punctuated by sitios of clustered houses that look like islets in a sea of ricefields. The plains turn into a serene ocean of soothing green as rice grows to maturity, and then transform into a sea of opulent gold at harvest time.

The undulating cornfields of Quirino are equally a marvelous sight. It is not an exaggeration to say that the rural scenery in this underappreciated province can hold its own in comparison to the English countryside. It also has rivers, caves, and white-sand beaches that are so worth exploring.

The mountains of Nueva Vizcaya, Ifugao, Kalinga and Apayao offer views that are simply breathtaking. If one ventures beyond Banaue in Ifugao by travelling all the way to Mayoyao and exiting through Isabela, one is treated to astounding mountain vistas, lush growths of giant ferns and pine trees, waterfalls, and pockets of rice terraces. Kalinga also offers spectacular mountain views, unforgettable trails, mighty rivers, and an indigenous culture that continues to thrive.

The Cagayan Valley provinces have so much to offer to those in search of alternative vacation destinations. The splendid beauty of the mountains, beaches, rivers and rural scenery of this region are waiting to be explored.

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