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Santa Ana, Cagayan: A booming attraction & investment hub

It was 10 years ago when I first traveled to Cagayan.

I was a TV segment producer and writer of a popular Public Affairs show in a major network in the country. We were in the province for a pressing social issue in the area at that time, exploring the towns of Buguey, Tuguegarao, Aparri, and Lal-lo.

Producing worthy stories for TV can be exhausting, but in my five-year media career, it was our Cagayan story that really made an impact on me.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

Year 2009. Shooting in Cagayan. Sorry defocus HAHAHA

I later left my TV career and transferred to the corporate world. After working for 8 years in my corporate job specializing in Customer Experience, Sales and Marketing, I quit early this year to pursue writing. Now that I am already a full-time travel writer, and has given the chance to explore some of the best spots in the country, I admit that I still longed to be back in Cagayan.

With the invitation from Cagayan Economic Zone Authority or CEZA to take part in their Marketing and Media Caravan together with talented photographers and content creators, my wish to be back in the province has become a reality.

CEZA is the one tasked to manage the investments and development of the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport covering the entire municipality of Santa Ana and the islands of Fuga, Mabbag, and Barit in Aparri. Of course, with booming tourism, comes investment, that’s why tourism promotion is also being prioritized by CEZA. The Media Caravan is a project to further promote and showcase the travel destinations in Santa Ana and nearby islands.

Together with the Marketing team of CEZA, we traveled for about 8 hours from Manila to Tuguegarao, the capital city of Cagayan. It was about 5 AM when we arrived at the CEZA Tuguegarao Office, then we had a sumptuous breakfast at the nearby restaurant.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

CEZA – Tuguegarao

I realized that Cagayan hasn’t changed much. It still has its stunning landscapes and rich beauty of nature. But as we explore Tuguegarao further north going to Lal-lo, it is evident that there are significant improvements, when it comes to infrastructure.

Visit Cagayan via Lal-lo International Airport

Cagayan North International Airport or Lal-lo Airport inaugurated its first international flight via Royal Air last August 18.

It was a momentous event attended by CEZA executives, local government officials and important guests as the Royal Air flight RJ100 arrived at Lal-lo Airport from Macau with 91 passengers on board. Royal Air also has domestic flights to and from Clark every Wednesday and Sunday.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

Photo Credit: Philippine Information Agency

With the fully operational airport, it is expected to boost the economic growth of Cagayan and serve as convenient access to Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport.

We got the chance to visit Lal-lo Airport the following day and we were assisted by Engr. Romel Santiago, Airport Operations Manager. He toured us around from the passengers’ boarding area to the air control tower. The experience proved that Lal-lo Airport is indeed fully operational and ready for further growth and development.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub
explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub
explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

It is expected that with the domestic and international flights of Royal Air twice a week, other airlines will also see the huge potential and follow suit.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

Visiting Port Irene

Working in a leading shipping company in the world for 8 years, coordinating with ports is a huge part of our job so in a way I am aware of how the port works.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

Port Irene is located within the economic zone and currently handling breakbulk and other special shipments. The port is still unable to accommodate containerized shipment due to the limitation of equipment like cranes etc. But this is already in the pipeline for future development as stressed by Mr. Ralph Patrick Iloy, CEZA Port Operations Chief, in our meeting.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

Sir Ralph Patrick Iloy, CEZA Port Operations Chief, explaining more about Port Irene to fellow travel blogger, Tina of Hungry Travel Duo.

Talking about port operations is a bit technical, so let’s focus on something that is easier to understand and important, which is Port Irene is currently undergoing future improvement. When we visited the port, it was obvious that there are on-going developments like dredging and further extension of the port to accommodate larger vessels. Port Irene is being honed to be the next world-class international port that can accommodate larger vessels and top of the line facilities.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

Imagine the day when port Irene will be able to accommodate containerized shipments? This will surely boost the trade and economy in the Northern Philippines. Shippers and businesses will opt to use the port instead of traveling their goods to Manila or Subic ports, which will also result in easing the problem of congestion in the main ports in the country like Manila.

Santa Ana Tourist Spots and Development 

On our first day in Santa Ana, we visited the Santa Ana office of CEZA and met the team that handles tourism promotion efforts.

Being a travel blogger, I’ve had the chance to work with the different Tourism offices in the country and even the Tourism Promotions Board of DOT, and it’s just nice to know that in Santa Ana, it’s not only the Tourism Office that put this tremendous effort for tourism promotion, they also have CEZA. It is a great collaboration between these different government entities.

On the next day, we explored the best beaches and island getaways in Santa Ana.

PALAUI ISLAND 

Early morning, we traveled for a few minutes from our hotel to San Vicente Port where a motorboat was waiting to take us to Palaui Island.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

Paluai has become popular for its raw and unspoiled beaches, but it has even risen to fame when the two seasons of the hit Survivor Reality Show in the US were filmed on the island. After traveling by boat for about 30 minutes, we reached Cape Engaño where the Survivor photos and memorabilia are noticeable.

Cape Engaño

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

The team. Photo Credit:: Ms. Aizel Perucho Castañeda of CEZA .

Cape Engaño is one of Palaui’s main attractions, it is a stretch of white sand beach with lush green landscape. A few minutes of hiking will lead travelers to its popular lighthouse.

We first registered and listened to the briefing of our guide. Palaui is a protected area and national park, so sustainability and cleanliness are strictly imposed. All guests are reminded to always keep the island clean and practice LNT, or the Leave No Trace principle.

After a few minutes, it was time to hike the lighthouse. Honestly, it must have been a quick trek compared the usual mountain climbing experience that I did in the past wherein you’d literally hike for hours. Going to Cape Engaño lighthouse should just be an easy task, but the unforgiving heat of the sun made the experience a little bit difficult, so it advisable for every traveler must be prepared for this. Bring lots of water to keep hydrated and always take your time while hiking.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub
explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

I may be big, but you know I used to hike mountains so I enjoyed the experience. Also, the view keeps on getting better and more stunning as you go up. Just pause and enjoy the view and take some photos.

So, we finally arrived at the lighthouse which is officially named Cape Engaño Lighthouse, and also known as Faro de Cabo Engaño. It is 92 meters above sea level which provides a stunning 360-degree view of the surrounding islands such as Babuyan and Dos Hermanas.

I was surprised that the lighthouse is not that tall, as compared to most lighthouses that I’ve visited in the country. Probably because it is located at the highest peak of the island, so there is no need for it to be that high. Vessels can easily see it.

Currently, it is not allowed to climb up the lighthouse anymore as it needs further rehabilitation, but you can explore the surrounding structures and even relax inside which we did. The unforgiving heat of the sun can be exhausting and draining, so it was our chance for us to chill, relax and feel the cool sea breeze.

It was also a time for us to chat and bond with the staff of CEZA, conversations, and interactions that continued even during the entire trip.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub
explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

Descending and going back to the cottages below was definitely easier, but still, you have to be careful, as the trail can be slippery at times. Also, please be reminded that descending from the hike can really put much pressure and weight to your knees, so just take it slow and be careful.

There are some tiny stores within the cottage area of Cape Engaño, so if you need to quench your thirst, there’s softdrinks or bottled water available. Understandably, goods are a little bit pricey since they still need to travel it by boat from the mainland.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

PUNTA VERDE

It was a bumpy sea travel from Cape Engaño to Punta Verde, located on the other side of Palaui island. This is where some homestays can be found since this is where the local community is located.

Punta Verde also has a nice beach. It seems that Palaui island is bountiful of white sand beaches that are unspoiled and protected. We passed through some houses on the way to Nature Village (resort) where we had our lunch.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

A boodle fight meal awaits us with fresh seafood and vegetables. Nature Village also has some relaxing cabanas for guests to have a massage and chill.

An interesting part of the property is a small Kubo with the props used from the Survivor series. When the shooting ended, the TV crew decided to just leave the props and gave it away instead of bringing it back to the US. Much better idea.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub
explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub
explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

FIGHT!

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

Kainan na! Waaahh. Photo Credit: Aizel Perucho Castañeda of CEZA

Once you visit Punta Verde, enjoy the island vibe with a pristine beach and interact with the locals. You can also visit Nature Village for a hearty meal and massage.

There are still a lot of beaches, coves, and attractions to explore in Palaui, but the Cape Engaño and Punta Verde are the most visited ones. If you still have more time to spend on the island you may visit Mabolbol Shore, Baratubot Falls, Dos Hermanas and the famous fish sanctuary.

ANGUIB BEACH

It was another bumpy sea travel going from Punta Verde to one of the nearest beach located on the main island.

Honestly, I thought it would just be any other beaches in the country, pristine and beautiful. But I never expected that Anguib beach is really this BEAUTIFUL. It’s out of this world!

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

I remember asking myself by the time we got off the boat, “what? There’s this kind beach in Cagayan?” People deserve to know more about this beach! There are lots of popular beaches in the Visayas and other parts of the country, but this one, Anguib Beach, is definitely much better. White sand, turquoise waters, and lush forest behind. Come on, what else could you ask for?

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

As I walked on the beach and took some photos, I also hoped that my camera would be able to capture the same beauty that my eyes were seeing. It was amazing.

I then decided to sit, relax inside a small kubo by the beach. The place was too peaceful, I was unaware that I dozed off for a few minutes

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub
explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

Ang ganda ng view sa likod hehe. Photo Credit: Ms. Aizel Perucho Castañeda of CEZA

Anguib Beach is managed by Anguib Beach Club, with below-updated rates for day tour and overnight.

Day Tour
Php 100 (Monday to Thursday)
Php 150 (Friday to Sunday)

Overnight
Php 150 (Monday to Thursday)
Php 200 (Friday to Sunday)

You can also try glamping for Php 3,500 up to 4 persons, while the camping fee is Php 500, depending on the size of the tent.

For bookings and reservations: Call 09178764079
Email: staanacagayan16@gmail.com

How to avail Palaui and Anguib Beach Tour?

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

You can actually avail of the island hopping services in Palaui, Anguib Beach, and other destinations via Pasamoba Cooperative, with office located at San Vicente Port. Boat rates depend on the desired attractions to explore. You may contact Pasamoba Cooperative at 0975-8572321. You can go straight to their office once you arrived at San Vicente port.

Full Blog Post: Anguib Beach: The Best Beach of the North

CASAGAN BRIDGE AND RIVER

On Day 3 in Cagayan, it was time for some river and waterfalls adventure. First, we traveled for a few minutes from our hotel going to the agricultural village of Casagan.

CEZA has started promoting Casagan as the next tourist destination of Cagayan with its scenic river and natural beauty with diverse flora and fauna. It was 2017 when CEZA in cooperation with the local government and tourism tapped the potential of Casagan by hosting the Takuli Festival.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub
explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

Takuli is the wooden boat used by locals in Casagan in transporting goods from their farms to the market.

Early morning, we arrived in a part of the river where a man-made hanging bridge is visible from our vantage point. The barangay officials were all smiles, serving us their delicious version of kakanin.

It was again a nice experience to talk and connect with the people who live there. I met Ate Rowena, the Barangay Kagawad, and she proudly shared some important details of her barangay – the simplicity of their lives, earning a living through farming and fishing. The river has been a vital source of food and income for the locals, with a bountiful catch of variety of fishes and edible shells.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub
explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub
explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

It was in 2008 when the hanging bridge was constructed making the transfer of people and goods became easier.

Our visit would not be complete without experiencing the hanging bridge. Sure they were significant parts that need rehabilitation, but all in all, it was still sturdy. We even saw motorcycles passing through.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

On the next end of the bridge were kids, swimming and clearly having a great time. After having our group photos, the kids obliged for some photos while jumping into the river.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub
explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

READ: Casagan River: A scenic attraction in Santa Ana, Cagayan

Beyond the stunning beaches and natural wonder of a place, Cagayan provided us that rare opportunity to interact with locals, something that is worthy to share and cherish.

DUMASAG RIVER

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

Hindi. Hindi ako masyadong MASAYA. LOL.

It was indeed a day of exploring the rivers and waterfalls of Santa Ana. After a noteworthy experience at Casagan, we explored another river – that is Dumasag River in Sitio Limbus in Barangay Rapuli.

It was just a short land travel from Casagan. Honestly, when I saw the natural beauty of Dumasag for the first time, I remember the 90’s hit show “ Tabing-ilog.” LOL. I’m not kidding. I know some of the recent generations don’t know about this. But this is the show where John Lloyd Cruz started his acting career. Well, enough of that. Let’s now talk about Dumasag River.

It is surrounded by lush forests and mountains. The water is clear and refreshing. Sir Christoffer from the CEZA Santa Ana office shared that the river was first developed by the National Irrigation Authority to supply water to the wide rice fields in the area. But because of its natural beauty, it was later developed into a tourist attraction where people can swim, relax and spend some quality time with friends and family.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub
explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

With the collaboration with CEZA, guidelines were put in place to preserve and protect the river and nature around it.

There are tents for rent as well as a man-made water slide for the visitors to enjoy. The place is conducive to experience nature and sharing it with family and friends.

A few meters from the area is an information center, where fees are collected as well as reminders for visitors to take care of our environment.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

Tara tampisaw na sa ilog. 🙂 Photo Credit: Ms. Aizel Perucho Castañeda of CEZA

Entrance Fee – Php 10
Cottages/Kubo –     Php 270 (Regular Size)
Php 370 (Big size)

Road Fee (C/o Farmers)
Single Motor              Php 10
Sidecar/ Car             Php 20
Van                              Php 30
Big Vehicles               Php 50

Parking Fee
Single Motor              Php 5
Side Car /Car            Php 10
Van                              Php 15
Big Vehicles               Php 25

BUWACAG FALLS

Our last destination that day was indeed an adventure. This is Buwacag Falls located in Barangay Santa Clara. This is part of the 50-hectare eco-tourism site through the collaboration of CEZA, DENR, local government unit and DOT.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

Of course, Buwacag Falls is currently the center of attraction of this huge eco-tourism site which was formally opened to the public last April 11, 2019. BETA or the Buwacag Eco-Tourism Association is the one managing the site with trained tour guides as members.

There is a designated information center where environmental fees are collected. It is required for visitors to have a guide to ensure safety and to enforce strict environmental protection measures.

The trail started with cemented stairs and then proceeded with rough pathways until reaching the lower tier of the waterfalls.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

There are about 4 tiers at the entire Buwacag Falls, and the highlight was the highest tier with the biggest falls and two natural pools for visitors to enjoy.

But before reaching that, you have to face and overcome those combinations of sharp and slippery rocks on the side. Don’t worry there’s a rope to keep your balance. Make sure to hold on tight for your safety and never let it go, okay?  LOL.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

All of us were able to reach the best part of Buwacag Falls, where we enjoyed the waterfalls and its natural pools, spending more than an hour swimming and enjoying the beauty of nature.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

Buwacag Falls Rates and Fees
Ecosystem Fee           Php 20 per pax
Tour Guide Fee         Php 300 (1 guide for 4 persons)
Cottage Rental          Php 300 (10 pax maximum)
Tables                          Php 100
PFD –                            Php 25 (Personal Floating Device)

Parking Fee
Single Motor              Php 10
Tricycle                        Php 15
Van                               Php 20
Elf, dump truck          Php 50

Ending the day at San Vicente Port
explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

Before heading back to the hotel, we tried the most popular milk tea in town and spent some time at San Vicente port. While my fellow travelers were eating barbeque, I decided to roam around and explore more of the port.

I stayed there for a few minutes, observing people and even capturing some photos. Just a few minutes before sunset, the port started to look nostalgic. It has been an awesome trip back to Cagayan.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub
explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

The future looks bright for Santa Ana, with all the plans for development and future investment.

But one that is admirable is despite the infrastructure projects, environmental protection is not compromised. Kudos to CEZA, Tourism Office and the LGU for working hand in hand to protect and preserve the natural wonders of their town.

How to go to Santa Ana Cagayan?

Via Public Bus
Florida bus is a pretty popular bus company in Santa Ana, as it has a direct trip from Manila to Santa Ana.  Bus Fare is Php 1,150 for about 14 hours of travel time. The bus terminal of Florida Bus is located at Sampaloc, Manila.

Via Plane
As what I’ve mentioned in this post, Lal-lo Airport now has a domestic flight from Clark to Lal-lo via Royal Air, then you can travel by land to Santa Ana for about an hour and a half.

You may also take the popular route via Tuguegarao by plane, and then travel by land (Bus or van) to Santa Ana for about 2 to 3 hours.

Where to stay in Santa Ana?

There are a few resorts and hotels in Santa Ana, but I can only share with you where we’ve stayed in our 4 days exploring the town.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub
explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

We stayed at Eastern Hawaii Resort and Casino, just across the CEZA Santa Ana Office. Our room was comfortable with flat-screen TV and nice bathroom. The cable though only has Chinese channels. LOL.

The resort is being marketed to Chinese tourists so most of the guests are Chinese, so the services and food are mostly catered to them. Food even has lots of vegetable dishes something that Chinese loves.

The resort also has a nice pool overlooking the beach.

explore, travel, santa ana, cagayan: a booming attraction & investment hub

NOTE: This trip to Santa Ana, Cagayan was made possible through CEZA’s Marketing and Media Caravan which aims to showcase the attractions in the area and promote tourism.

Special thanks to the awesome team from CEZA – Mr. Miguel Tecson, Ms. Michelle Agabin, Ms. Charlotte Collado, Ms. Cherry Maderia,  Ms. Liz Lagniton, Larren Joy Balog, Julius Castillo, Ms. Aizel Castaneda, Christoffer Parcon, Sir DJ and Sir Anthony.

Thank you too, to my fellow travel blogger, Tina of Hungry Travel Duo and to these award-winning photographers – Sir Marboy Sayno,  John Leonardo Dimain IV and John Marlo Villa Dionisio.