I fired up Google Maps and included it in what would be longest road trip ever spanning at least 700 kilometers along the national highway.
I planned to encircle the northern cape of Luzon Island. Starting from Tuguegarao … then continuing my journey northwards to Pagudpud, westwards to Laoag, southwards to Vigan, and finally taking a stop in Baguio before returning to Manila.
Tuguegarao Metropolitan Cathedral
Manila to Tuguegarao Flight
I started with a 1-hour flight to Tuguegarao from Manila. Seems easy enough. Just like most people, I also get the jitters before going on a big trip. I counteract this fear by making itineraries. It’s my way of making some assurance that I won’t get too lost.
Aerial views of Cagayan Province
Tuguegarao City Hall complex
About Tuguegarao City and Cagayan Province
I didn’t know much about Cagayan Province prior the trip. Whenever people speak of “Cagayan, ” I get confused whether they mean “Cagayan Province” or “Cagayan de Oro City,” which is located at the opposite side of the Philippines.
Cagayan Province is situated at the northeastern part of Luzon Island in Northern Philippines. It is grouped under Cagayan Valley region or Region 2. For clarity, it’s oftentimes called “Cagayan North.” The term “Northern Philippines” may mean the whole Luzon island group but most people refer the term with places far north of Metro Manila: Ilocos, the Cordilleras, and Cagayan North.
Cagayan Province gets substantial media attention because it’s frequented by seasonal monsoons and prone to devastating floods. I also hear about Tuguegarao, the capital of Cagayan, because its literally the hottest city in the Philippines.
Seemed like it wasn’t the perfect place to spend a weekend getaway. Why go there then? At first I treated it as my entry point to Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte but I soon realized that Cagayan Province has its charms and is a great destination in itself. Its harsh environment has shaped a landscape that is unique to this part of the country.
My biggest surprise was finding out that it’s one of the oldest Spanish settlements in the Philippines and has many excellent heritage sites to offer.
Arrival in Tuguegarao
I expected the heat in Tuguegarao City to be like a usual sunny day at the beach. I wasn’t prepared that it would be so sweltering. Should have brought an umbrella since sun block just won’t do.
According to reports, Tuguegarao’s highest tempereture was recorded at a sizzling 39.7 degrees Celsius!
Arriving at the Tuguegarao Airport
Cute Tuguegarao Airport Control Tower
Like most small airports, the Tuguegarao Airport didn’t have conveyor belts. It took a while for our checked-in baggage to arrive. It needed to be manhandled.
What surprised me was the number of backpacking foreigners during our flight. I got curious to know where they were headed since I had an impression that Cagayan wasn’t much of a major tourist draw. I didn’t get too curious to ask them personally though :| Seeing those foreigners got me thinking nonetheless.
Reviewing the map, Tuguegarao seemed like an excellent gateway to popular backpacking destinations like Banaue, Sagada, and Baguio. It certainly beats going through the stress of commuting from Manila by land .
Waiting for our checked-in baggage at the Tuguegarao Airport
Tuguegarao Airport to the “Centro” Commute
The locals in Cagayan call their city / town proper as “centro.” The Tuguegarao Airport terminal was located 500 meters away from the main highway and another 3 kilometers to the centro.
Attempting to commute from the airport, I walked to the highway and flagged a tricycle to get to the centro. The driver offered to take me direct to Hotel Ivory, where I intended to stay for the next 3 nights.
I was charged P150 for the 6.6 km ride. It seemed reasonable for a “tourist” rate but I was actually planning to do a local commute … fail!
Hotel Ivory Tuguguegarao
Hotel Ivory is located approximately 2.4 kilometers east of Tuguegarao centro in Brgy. Buntun. From the outside, Hotel Ivory looked like its prices were out of my usual backpacking budget.
I was surprised that they had an aircon room good for two persons for just P599. They also had free WIFI in all rooms. WIFI connection was great since the router was placed just outside our door. Downside was the small room size.
Tuguegarao Metorpolitan Cathedral
First stop was the Tuguegarao Cathedral (Saints Peter and Paul parish). I really liked its textured brick facade accented by white columns and artistic spirals. The 5-tired belfry was remarkably tall.
The Tuguegarao Metropolitan Cathedral, completed in 1767, is said to be the biggest church in Cagayan Valley region.
Facade of Tuguegarao Cathedral
Jomar’s Pancit Batil Patong
Eric planned to do a food trip of the different panciterias in Tuguegarao. Panciterias are found all over the city. They serve the celebrated local dish called “Pancit batil patong” and “Pancit Cabagan.”
Pancit batil patong or just “batil patong” is closely associated with Cagayan Province while pancit cabagan is more associated with nearby Isabela Province.
We asked a tricycle driver to take us to the best panciteria in Tuguegarao and ended up at Jomar’s Panciteria.
Most panciterias in Tuguegarao looked like the usual unassuming local eatery. They are very popular to locals and tourists alike since they are very affordable, delicious, and unique to Cagayan.
I was shocked when they served us a plate of their “super” batil patong. It was literally smothered with artery clogging goodness. It looked a mound of chicharon bits (crushed pork-rind cracklings) served with a side of stir fried noodles, egg, and meat (longganisa?) strips.
There was also a small bowl of whipped egg soup, which you can pour or “patong” over the noodles.
Batil patong prices at Jomar’s Panciteria
Jomar’s “special” pancit batil patong
Tasted so good! Definitely the best batil patong we’ve tried in Tuguegarao.
Getting around Tuguegarao City
There are were taxis and intracity jeeps in Tuguegarao. The streets are filled with tricycles, which serve the main means of transportation within the city. The tricycle fare is only P8 per passenger. During our 3-day stay in Tuguegarao, we were charged P50 tricycle charter to get to many of our destinations.
I’m still confused about the tricycle system in Tuguegarao. From what I gather, there are accustomed tricycle loading docks scattered around the city that go to specific areas. If, like us, you’re new to Tuguegarao and flag random tricycles, the driver would ask for a P50 charter fee.
If you’re a local and know where the usual tricycle loading docks are, you can get away with the P8 – P10 regular passenger fare.
The color coding of the tricycles didn’t help. They’re used to denote the registration category of the tricycles and not their route.
Rizal Park near the Tuguegarao Metropolitan Cathedral
Tuguegarao Central Market
Paseo Reale “Mall” in Tuguegarao City
Dreaming of Batanes
My original plan included Batanes alongside Laoag and Vigan in Ilocos Region. Batanes (still) is one of my dream destination in the Philippines. I was hoping I’d find a way to backpack my way to the island from Ilocos Norte by boat / ferry.
There’s not much info about getting to Batanes by boat … if it exists at all. I suppose I could have gone to the northern towns of Ilocos Norte and spend a few days to do some research. I thought about it many times and decided to shelve a trip to Batanes to a later time.
I was traveling in October and didn’t want to risk crossing the Babuyan Channel on the off chance of rough seas. If only I had P15,000 idly hiding in my wallet, I would’ve just conveniently taken a flight to Batanes. Oh well…
I’m now happy that I included Tuguegarao City and Cagayan Province in my itinerary since the trip brought so many unexpected surprises. There are so many beautiful places to visit in this part of Luzon.