The second largest province in the country, Isabela is an important source of natural resources. It has become one of the most progressive provinces in the Philippines and the regional and trade center of northeastern Luzon. It boasts strong agricultural, fishing, mining, and energy industries. Huge companies have also setup factories in Isabela. Tourism has also been very lucrative for the province because of its attractive natural wonders, landmarks, and establishments.
Isabela is home to one of the largest dams in the Philippines. The Magat Dam is an important source of hydroelectric power and irrigation water in the province. This impressive dam and its surroundings can be viewed from a deck within the Magat Dam Tourism Complex. Fishing, boating, and swimming can be done at the area as well.
The Bambanti Festival is celebrated every January to promote tourism and the industries of the Isabela. It also pays tribute to the "bambanti" or scarecrow in Ilocano as a symbol of protection and peace. The locals participate in the festivities through parades, street dances, sporting competitions, and other various performances.
Tourists will not run out of things to do when in Ilagan Sanctuary. It is part of the Fuyot Springs National Park, a protected area in the province. The park has one of the fastest ziplines in the country, at approximately 80 kilometers per hour. It also has a mini zoo with monitor lizards, tigers, and crocodiles. Hikers and nature lovers will surely enjoy exploring the caves and waterfalls inside the park.
It only takes an hour to fly from Manila to Cauayan, Isabela. Currently, Cebu Pacific flies five times every week between the two cities.
Alternatively, you can fly to Tuguegarao City and then catch a bus towards Ilagan City in Isabela. Travel time from Manila to Tuguegarao by air is 70 minutes, while the land trip from Tuguegarao to Ilagan is about one hour and 30 minutes.
Traveling by bus is cheaper but it takes longer: Manila to Ilagan is about eight hours. You can book your trips with bus lines like Five Star Bus or Victory Liner.
How to Get Around
Jeeps, Tricycles, and Habal-Habal
Jeepneys and tricycles are the most common modes of transportation when going around the province. You can also ride a habal-habal, especially for destinations that are off the beaten path.
Buses or Vans
When traveling from one town to the other, you can ride either a public utility van or bus.
What to See
San Pablo is the oldest town in Isabela, having been founded in 1646. Within its vicinity are the ruins of the rococo-inspired San Pablo de Cabigan Church. It was built in 1624 and considered to be the oldest church in the province. Its focal point is its six-story bell tower capped by a circular apex made of adobe.
The San Matias Parish Church in the town of Tumauini is another sight to behold. Completed in the early 19th century, the church features Baroque architecture that was made more distinct with its use of red bricks for both its exterior and interior. The belfry beside the church is also one of its distinct features, which resembles a wedding cake. Furthermore, the church was declared a National Cultural Treasure and a National Historical Landmark in 1989.
The grandness of the Cathedral of Saint Michael the Archangel is what makes it a distinct landmark in the town of Gamu. The Our Lady of the Pillar Parish Church, which was founded in 1741 in the city of Cauayan, is also worth a visit.
In the town of Palanan is the Aguinaldo Shrine, which commemorates the fateful capture of General Emilio Aguinaldo by the American forces during the Philippine-American War. The event ended the Philippine Revolution in 1901.
The Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park covers a total of 359,486 hectares of land in Isabela that stretches to four coastal towns: Maconaco, Divicalan, Palanan, and Dinapigue. This protected natural park is home to various natural attractions that you should consider visiting when you are in the area.
Covering almost 5,000 hectares of land in Dinapigue is a bonsai forest that forms part of the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park. A visit to the forest, however, requires a permit from the LGU. But once you’re there, you’ll be delighted with plants with heights ranging from one foot to seven feet.
The Dibulo Falls is also one of the park’s famous attractions. Tourists will have to hike to get to the falls. The natural scenery along the way and the refreshing waters of the falls will most definitely make the hike an enjoyable feat.
The Fuyot Springs National Park in the suburbs of Santa Victoria is packed with numerous attractions that tourists are bound to enjoy. Found within the park is the Ilagan Sanctuary that boasts a mini zoo, butterfly park, a natural spring water pool, and thrilling ATV rides. A 350-meter zip-line was added to the park’s list of attractions during its 326th founding anniversary back in 2012.
The Santa Victoria Caves are made up of a collection of 12 limestone caves within the Fuyot Springs National Park. Of the 12 caves, however, only three are accessible: the Main Cave, Altar Cave, and the Adventure Cave. Visitors will feel the thrill in spelunking and discovering some stunning rock formations.
If you’re looking for a natural spot where you can relax, then you should also visit Pinzal Falls. The sound of the cascading waters is pleasant to the ears, while its coold w visit Pinzal Falls. gs National Park too. Of the 12 cave waters are perfect for a refreshing swim.
And for beach lovers, the Dicotcotan Beach in Palanan boasts a three kilometer beach with coral reefs, sea grass beds, and a sandy shoreline. Sightings of dolphins and humpback whales are noted in the area as well as various species of shellfish and marine turtles.
Honeymoon Island in the town of Divilacan serves as a sacred ground for the matrimonial rites of the Agta tribe. It is surrounded by white sand beaches that lovebirds out there will find romantic.
Built in the 1980s, the Magat Hydro Electric Power Plant is considered the biggest dam project in Asia during that time. The dam is located at the boundary of Ifugao and Isabela where you can try fishing, boating, and even water skiing.
The Isabela Museum and Library was built in 1999 to help preserve Isabela’s historical and cultural heritage. Artifacts, heirloom pieces, and various art pieces are exhibited to provide a visual narration of the stories in the province during the olden times all the way to the present. Museo de Pattaradday is another museum that presents the history of the province and preserves its arts and culture, especially of Santiago city where it is located.
The La Salette Shrine, also found in Santiago City, is a popular destination amongst Catholic pilgrims especially during the Holy Week. The shrine has life-sized statues that depict The Stations of the Cross. The shrine’s chapel was also built on a hill that overlooks the city.
Ilagan City also happens to be the “Furniture Capital of Isabela.” The national highway in the city is dotted with various shops that manufacture and sell quality furniture made from narra. To honor this industry, the world’s largest butaka (a chair with long arm rest) was built and now stands in the middle of the city.
Events and Festivals
Isabela holds several town fiestas every year, but its most anticipated event is the Bambanti Festival every February. Held as a form of thanksgiving for the bountiful harvest in the province, the feast is celebrated with scarecrow dances and agricultural trade fairs.
Where to Eat
Josie’s Panciteria & Restaurant is home to what is said to be the best pancit cabagan in the entire Isabela Province. Pancit cabagan is a saucy stir-fried rice noodle dish made with Ilocano igado, lechon carajay, and quail eggs. Josie’s is located in the town of Cabagan.
SaLido Restaurant, located along Maharlika Highway in Santiago City, serves authentic Chinese food. Its original branch is actually found in Ongpin in Manila and was opened in 1945.
Kabayan’s Grill and Restaurant is found in the town of Cauayan, also conveniently located along the highway. The restaurant has an extensive list of Filipino dishes to offer its guests. It is also known for their grilled dishes cooked using volcanic rocks instead of the usual charcoal.
Another favorite dining spot in the province is Aling Luring’s Gotohan and Serkele. Serkele is Isabela’s version of dinuguan and made with ox innards. It is a favorite among locals, and even former President Joseph Estrada is a fan of the dish and the restaurant. Their goto is also a must-try.
And while there are no Starbucks or Coffee Bean branches in Isabela, caffeine addicts will be delighted with its homegrown coffee shops. Yah! Coffee serves coffee made with beans from Sagada. In addition to their signature brews, Café Isabela also serve great food like cheese steak burritos, moriecos (sticky rice cake) as well as refreshing malunggay calamansi juice.
Chocolate Coffeeline is the home to some of the country’s best baristas. You can have your coffee prepared in various ways: aero pressed, traditionally dripped, or “siphon brewed.” You can even watch the master brewers at work when you order.
Where to Shop
For shopping, there are various malls located around the province: Northstar Mall, Talavera Square Mall, and the Xentro Mall.
Fare: PHP 3,800.00++
A roundtrip airfare from Manila to Cauayan costs PHP 3,800.00 to as much as PHP 5,000.00. Take advantage of seat sale promos in order to get better deals.
A one-way bus fare from Manila to Ilagan costs around PHP 550.00 for a regular bus. For the deluxe bus, the one-way fare is about PHP 700.00.
The base rate for a jeep ride in the province is PHP 7.00. If you’re taking a tricycle, it’s about PHP 20.00 per person. On the other hand, a habal-habal ride costs around PHP 20.00 to PHP 50.00 per person, depending on the distance.
Food: PHP 200.00 to PHP 350.00
A budget of PHP 200.00 to PHP 300.00 per meal should be more than enough when dining in Isabela.
Shopping: PHP 20.00 to PHP 300.00
Key chains and ref magnets are popular souvenir items, which you can buy for PHP 20.00 to PHP 50.00 apiece. Souvenir shirts are also available for around PHP 220.00. The sausages from Isabela are highly recommended delicacies: Holgado longganisa and Aling Belen’s longganisa are around PHP 300.00 a kilo.
Accommodations: PHP 500.00 to PHP 2,500.00
Quality but affordable hostel accommodations in Isabela are available for as low as PHP 500.00 per person for an overnight stay, while an overnight stay in a hotel will set you back PHP 2,500.00.
Activities: PHP 100.00 to PHP 1,500.00
The entrance fee to the Ilagan Sanctuary within the Fuyot Springs Natural Park costs about PHP 100.00, which is already inclusive of the swimming fee. If you’re planning a trip to Honeymoon Island, the boat rental will cost PHP 1,200.00.
Other Fees and Taxes: PHP 20.00 to PHP 50.00
Tipping is no longer necessary when dining at restaurants since most of them are already inclusive of a service charge. But if you insist, PHP 20.00 or PHP 50.00 would be enough.
||ETA in Cauayan City
||Have breakfast at Aling Luring’s Goto where you can order goto, palabok, or their specialty, serkele.
||Head to Ilagan and do a city tour: see the world’s largest butaka and visit the Isabela Museum and Library, the Queen Isabela Park, and the Saint Ferdinand Parish Church among others.
||Have late lunch at Superior Restaurant.
||Head over to the Fuyot Springs Natural park where you can go hiking, swimming, spelunking, or just plain sightseeing.
||Depart Ilagan City for Cauayan City.
||Have dinner at Kabayan Grill.
||Return to the hotel and retire for the night.
||Have breakfast at the hotel.
||Visit Cabagan and roam around the city. Don’t forget to drop by the ruins of San Pablo de Cabagan Church.
||Have lunch at Aling Josie’s Panciteria and try her famous pancit cabagan.
||Depart Cabagan for Honeymoon Island in Divilacan.
||Go beach bumming around Honeymoon Island.
||Have dinner at your accommodation of choice on the island. The Divilacqan Tourist’s Pavilion, LGU Dormitory, and Divilacan Homestay are popular options for those staying over at Honeymoon Island.
||Retire for the night.
||Depart Honeymoon Island for Ilagan City.
||ETA in the city. Have brunch at the Northstar Mall before catching a bus to Tuguegarao City.
||ETA in Tuguegarao City
||Check in at Tuguegarao Airport.
||Depart Tuguegarao for Manila.
||ETA in Manila
The weather in the province of Isabela is rainy from May to October and dry from November to April. The average annual temperature is 27 degrees Celsius, so it’s best to bring light clothing. Don’t forget to pack an umbrella, a light jacket, and a scarf in case it rains and the temperature drops.
Various hospitals are available throughout the province. Each town and city almost has its own medical center, but the bigger and well-equipped ones are found in the capital city of Ilagan like Gov. Faustino N. Dy, Sr. Memorial Hospital and the Isabela Doctor’s General Hospital.
Pharmacies are also available all over Isabela but bringing your own medicine is highly recommended, especially if you have certain medical conditions.
Isabela is generally a safe place and the locals are friendly, but staying vigilant is still a must. Always be aware of your surroundings, and guard your valuables especially when visiting public and crowded places.