Best of the Philippines: A Santa Ana Cagayan Travel Guide
Call me old-fashioned but I absolutely love road trips. True, they take much longer than flying but they can be the most scenic mode of travel. Imagine being on the road for hours at a time, seeing local scenes and people along the way, stopping and going at your own pace. Absolute love. But what if you got invited to a 11-12 hour road trip to see a secret paradise called Santa Ana? Will you still go? Well, I did and I’m telling you, it was life-changing. So come and explore the Northern East tip of the Philippines with me. This is my Santa Ana Cagayan Travel Guide.
How to Get To Santa Ana Cagayan
By Private Car
On the way to Sta. Ana, you will pass by Tuguegarao City, the capital of Cagayan an 8-9 hour drive from Manila. From there it’s another 2.5-3 hours to the municipality of Santa Ana. Bringing the total travel time to 11-13 hours, assuming there are no stopovers. (Time varies because of road construction and volume of trucks you can tailgate along the way).
If you’re coming from Baguio, which is the other side of the map, it should take you 9-10 hours to Santa Ana.
By Public Transportation (Bus)
You can also commute to Santa Ana Cagayan from Manila via Tuguegarao City. First, can either take the direct bus ride from Sampaloc Manila to Santa Ana Cagayan via Florida Bus Transit. That should set you back Php 750.00 one way for a 12-14 hour ride.
Or you can opt to take the bus to Tuguegarao via Victory Liner or Everlasting Bus. Then just go on a UV Express ride for only Php 250.00. Commuter buses depart from Caloocan, Sampaloc, or Kamias.
And obviously, the fastest way is to fly via Tuguegarao City, just a 1 hour 15 minute plane ride from Manila. I did this going back and I think we actually flew for only 45 minutes (Cebu Pacific). I just hailed a UV on the roadside from the resort and took a short 2 minute tricycle ride to the airport.
Of if you’re anywhere near Pampanga, you can now fly from Clark to Lal-lo. A town just a mere hour from Santa Ana, there are flights from Clark to Lal- Lo and Lal-lo to Macau every Wednesday and Sunday at the newly-inaugurated Cagayan International Airport . You can check out cheap flights from Clark to Lal-lo via Royal Air. (Thank you Engr. Romel Santiago for the airport tour!)
Tourist Spots and What to Do in Santa Ana Cagayan
First stop on this Santa Ana Cagayan Travel Guide is the famous Palaui Island. Once called Punta Verde, Palaui Island is an 89 square-kilometer island and national park in the town of Santa Ana in Cagayan. It boasts of white sand, lush greenery, and picturesque vistas from its mountainous areas.
We took a 45-minute boat ride from San Vicente Port to reach Palaui Island. A typical island hopping should cost around Php 3,500-4000 (USD 66.88-74.83) for boat rental. Each boat can accommodate about 8-10 people max. Our Palaui Daytour basically consisted of Cape Engaño, Punta Verde, and Anguib Beach.
Cape Engaño Lighthouse
The first dock of our boat was to explore Cape Engaño. The boat ride in itself was relatively smooth and various islands with beautiful landscapes can be seen along the way. Once we got to the shore, I was awe-struck by how raw the island looked. While the sand may not be as white or powdery as El Nido or Boracay, the water was clear and clean.
I took a few snapshots before I hurried to tail the group for briefing. There’s a “day pass” fee of Php 50 (USD .96) per person to Cape Engaño. As well as a Php 300 (USD 5.73) guide fee for 1-4 persons. And so with our phones, cameras, and water bottles on hand, we started our hike up the Cape Engaño Lighthouse.
According to our guide, there are about 237 steps each way to the Cape Engaño Lighthouse. Half of which are concrete steps while the other half is a soil trail with bamboo handrails on the side.
Faro de Cabo Engaño
During the Spanish period, the Cape Engaño Lighthouse used to be called Faro de Cabo Engaño. And it’s one of the four lighthouses that served as gateway lighthouse for incoming ships. At its highest, it’s 92 meters above sea level and it offers a 360-degree view of Babuyan Island and the Dos Hermanas Island (Two Sisters) on the North. While you can see the Pacific Ocean on the West and the Engaño cove on the East.
The construction started on 21 September 1888 and finished on 31 December 1892. And while you can certainly view, take photos, and take refuge all over, the tower itself is already off limits. Because the structure and steps are already unstable.
To be honest, it was not an easy hike at all. In fact, a lot of us had to take stops each quarter of the way. But here’s the catch, the higher you go up, the more picturesque your view becomes. And so by the end of the trail, what you’ll see will probably take your breath away (literally and figuratively).
On one side, a sprawling offwhite beach kissing clear turquoise waters. And on the other a beautiful vista of mountains covered by greens and rolling hills. It was so breathtaking, we just had to stay up the Cape Engaño Lighthouse for a good 30-40 minutes just to take it all in. It was just like how I’ve envisioned how Batanes would also be like – calm, serene, beautiful!
Going down was, of course, much easier. And I could totally imagine having the most IG-worthy shots during daybreak or sunset. Our photographer friends on the other hand, had other plans while we hiked up. Because they explored the other side of the island, through the hills too, but to the beach.
And as if time-synchronized, both groups arrived back together. Just in time to have cold drinks offered by the local stores by the entrance. You also need not worry about toilets and changing rooms. As they’re provided for in Cape Engaño as well.
Punta Verde and Nature Village
Next item to tick off our Santa Ana Cagayan Bucket List was Punta Verde. Punta Verde, we were told, is the residential village in Palaui Island. In fact, the vendor in Cape Engaño even told me that’s where they really live. And all local guides (100 of them) actually walk 2-3 hours at a time going back home. Phew, that’s a lot of walking!
Once we docked, I immediately felt the warm homey vibe of Punta Verde. We were met with friendly smiles of locals lounging on the hammocks by the beach. A 100 meter walk then took us to the wonderful Nature Village.
Nature Village is actually the entry point of Palaui Island’s camping and hiking grounds. You can either camp in Nature Village for only Php 250 (USD 4.78) per person, inclusive of tent and beddings. Or rent a room for Php 1,200 (USD 22.93) for 4 persons.
As for us, we had other plans: LUNCH! And lunch we did as the locals prepared a festive Boodle Fight for our group. We had the whole she-bang! It was a feast of shrimps, grilled pork and fish, roasted eggplants, veggies, salted eggs, and of course, rice!
We then took 30 minutes sleeping/resting in their day cabanas with fresh buko on the side. What a thrill! Oh, and did I mention this is where parts of Survivor Palaui Island were shot? Super cool!
The third and final stop in our Palaui Island Hopping was Anguib Beach. Now, Anguib Beach is actually just a quick 10-minute ride from the mainland of Santa Ana Cagayan. But because there’s a privately owned resort in between, visitors of Anguib Beach have to take a longer (but equally scenic) boat route.
How to describe Anguib? Majestic. From afar, it already looked like paradise. Up close, it was just pure heaven. Fine, powdery white sand swimming in clear turquoise waters.
On one side, there are cottages or kubos that you can rent for the day. All nestled in lush trees canopying a romantic trail path. The water was refreshing too, not too cold and not too warm either. No wonder Anguib Beach is dubbed as the ‘Boracay of the North’. Sans the crowd and commercial stores all around.
Glamping is also offered on the island at the Anguib Beach Club for Php 3000 (USD 57.33) per night for 4 people. While daytour visitors need to shell out Php 100 (USD 1.91) for adults and Php 80 (USD 1.53) for kids.
A word of caution though. The public toilets are not working properly and could use some revamp. But overall, a beautiful island that has a big big potential!
San Vicente Port, Santa Ana Cagayan
Island hopping boats to and from Palaui Island all dock at San Vicente Port. A small but charming port that can certainly get busy all throughout the day. Tourists going to Palaui are many during the earlier hours of the day. While vendors of all sorts abound towards sundown.
We even found going back to San Vicente Port during sunset on our last day. Having barbecue, balut, chicharon, and Mango Graham shake from Basteakoy by the seawall. What an adventure!
Our itinerary for our last day in Santa Ana Cagayan consisted of visiting two (2) famous rivers and a waterfall reserve. And so after breakfast, we drove for 15 minutes from Centro to Casagan River. Now for those curious about the reason why this river famous is famous is because it’s one of the filming locations for “Survivor: Blood vs. Water”.
While we were not able to do eco-adventure experience at Casagan River, we were able to have a glimpse of the real life of locals living in the area.
We crossed the shaky hanging bridge to the other side. Where we took photos of the local kids swimming in the water. While water buffalos or kalabaws graze the shallow waters on the side.
We also had the chance to taste their local delicacies: the Patupat and the Bibingka Malagkit. The patupat which sells for Php 30 (USD .57) for 10 pieces, is basically rice cake made with coconut. While the Bibingka Malagkit is a round rice cake made of glutinous rice, coconut milk, and brown sugar.
Now if you’re lucky to have more time in Casagan River, might as well do the eco-adventure I’ve mentioned prior. You can kayak in the serene waters of Tangatan River amid clusters of mangrove forests where migratory birds are sighted.
Next on this Santa Ana Cagayan travel guide is the Dumasag River. Originally an irrigation system, it’s now become an ideal site for agri-tourism. Dumasag River is nestled at the foot of the Sierra Madre and it features a cold, flowing river for thrill seekers and casual tourists as well.
There’s an entrance fee of Php 10 (USD 0.19) per person. While groups of up to ten (10) can rent a cottage for Php 270 (USD 5.16) per day. And groups of twenty (20) can rent a cottage for Php 370 (USD 7.07) from 8 AM to 5 PM, food corkage free. There’s also a 20 ft cliff dive attraction for the more adventurous tourists.
Who says Santa Ana Cagayan is only blessed with pristine beaches? Now visitors to this charming coastal town can do an adventure at Buwacag Falls. Officially opened just last April 11, 2019, Buwacag Falls is an eco-tourism site not to be left off by this Santa Ana Cagayan Travel Guide.
Trivia: “Buwacag” means the thunder sound of flowing water from a high level stream falling over a cliff like step in a bedrock. Source: PIA.GOV.PH
For only Php 20 (USD 0.38), tourists can take an adventure of a lifetime at Buwacag Falls. But first, a medium-level, 30-minute climb must be done to get to reach the mother falls. The hike can get quite tiring and frightening because of some muddy and slippery rock parts. So be sure to do three things: get a hike buddy, hold on to the ropes along the trail, and ask help (like me) if you must!
In our case, our guides were very nice and assisted everyone all throughout. They even offered to bring our things and life jackets for us. And were very accommodating taking our photos! And don’t forget to wear comfortable clothes and non-slip footwear. Tour Guides are mandatory at Php 300 (USD 5.73) for every four (4) guests. The same fee ofr the cottage for 10 persons. While tables and life jackets can be rented for Php 100 and Php 25, respectively. Parking fee also applies for all guests starting at Php 10 for single motorcycles.
The climb has four (4) levels and while it was challenging, reaching Buwacag Falls was very much worth it. Clean and very cold refreshing water welcomed us as soon as we got on top. Just be careful, though. As the falls run 15-20 feet deep so life jackets are highly advised. But don’t worry, there’s also a flotation device and ropes on standby. 🙂
To avoid overcapacity, tourists are only allowed to stay for a maximum of three hours in the falls area. But that’s more than enough time for you to enjoy all the beauty that Buwacag has to offer.
One tourist spot we also passed by during our first day was Port Irene. Pegged to be the central transhipment port in Asia someday, Port Irene boasts of a 7-hectare concrete, open yard and stockpile area and a 10,000-ton-capacity warehouse for shipments.
There’s also a cold storage area for lease, a conveyor equipment, and a 50-tonner forklift equipments, Port Irene’s L-shaped pier has an 189-meter length overall and a 30-meter width. Currently, it accommodates mostly vessels from China and Vietnam. Thank you Sir Ralph Iloy for the hospitality!
Where to Stay at Santa Ana, Cagayan
Sta. Ana Cagayan might have once been a sleepy town. But with the influx of foreign investors, it’s expanded its roster of hospitality service providers. During our four (4) days stay in town, the Eastern Hawaii Hotel became our home.
Eastern Hawaii Hotel is located inside the CEZA complex in Sta. Ana Cagayan. The room rates at Eastern Hawaii Hotel vary per building. We were housed in a villa that had two (2) double size beds. Complete with Cable TV (albeit in Chinese), In-House telephone, refrigerator, water percolator, and bathroom toiletries. They even had a golf cart to take you around the complex.
Room service, laundry, 24/7 housekeeping services, gym, and golf facilities are also available. A WiFi modem is available per room and the connection was sufficiently fast for browsing, uploading, and even streaming!
One thing I need to applaud Eastern Hawaii Hotel is their food. Most of our meals were in their restaurant. Which offered buffet meals at Php 200 for breakfast, Php 250 for lunch, and Php 300 for dinner. The food selection was plenty and was a healthy and delicious mix of Seafood, Meat, and Vegetables. Breads and drinks were also available for order.
Not to forget is their Instagrammable infinity pool facing the open sea. The pool itself was big (about 50 meters wide) and perfectly complemented the sea in the background. Plus points for the warm water that definitely relaxed us during our swim. They also have water activities like jet skis, banana boats and speed boats.
This might be my first time in Santa Ana Cagayan, but it will definitely not be the last. With all the progress and new tourist spots coming along, a second or third visit is well under way, for sure! Thank you Santa Ana. Truly, #CagayanCan!
Many thanks to Ms. Michelle Agabi, Ms. Charlotte Collado, Ms. Cherry Maderia, and Mr. Miguel Tecson of CEZA for making this trip possible. Thank you too Julius, Larren, Liz, Sir DJ, Sir Anthony, Sir Marboy, and Jonathan of Jontotheworld.com for the time and friendship! For more information, contact CEZA Visitor Center +639365747276 or visit the CEZA website.
* Note: This article was written and documented by Tina Punzal of HungryTravelDuo for Karlaroundtheworld