Charming Cagayan: Peaceful places for rest and reflection this Holy Week (and beyond)

As one of the earliest provinces established during the Spanish colonial period, Cagayan boasts of beautiful and historic churches, making it an ideal destination for Visita Iglesia tours and spiritual retreats during Holy Week. But aside from churches, the province is also blessed with stunning natural landscapes, including white sand beaches, majestic waterfalls, and cave systems, where visitors can connect with nature. 

My previous trips to Cagayan often involved long and gruellng land trips lasting 12-15 hours from Metro Manila. But despite the distance, I’ve always been charmed by the province’s raw natural beauty and the genuine warmth and hospitality of the people. While not much has changed in the sites, the journey getting here is much faster and more comfortable now with direct daily flights from Manila to Tuguegarao and back via Philippine Air Lines (PAL), as I experienced during a recent #PALakbayan tour.

I’ve always felt like Cagayan is too far but suddenly the natural beautiful beaches and heritage sites feel within easier reach for future trips with friends and family.

In case you’re looking for a new destination in the country to explore, here’s where you can go around Cagayan this Holy Week or any time of the year.

Pilgrimage and heritage sites

One of our first stops was a visit to Our Lady of Piat, dubbed the Pilgrimage Center of Cagayan Valley. This 16th-century Roman Catholic icon of the Black Virgin Mary was first brought to the country from Macau in 1604. The image of the Blessed Virgin Mary enshrined in Piat as the town’s patroness is considered one of the most venerated Marian images.

Our Lady of Piat

In the capital city Tuguegarao, you can pay a visit to the Saint Peter Metropolitan Cathedral or Tuguegarao Cathedral. This 18th-century Baroque church is known as one of the largest churches in Cagayan Valley. 

Other notable churches in the province we visited include the St. Philomene Church or Alcala Church, a striking red brick church said to be the widest church in the country; and the Santo Domingo De Guzman Parish Church, the only remaining Spanish colonial-era church in Lal-lo. 

The well-curated Cagayan Museum also contains ecclesiastical, along with archaeological and ethnological collections, which make it worth visiting for those who want to learn more about the province’s rich history.

Callao Cave

Though not a traditional church, another top pilgrimage site to visit during Holy Week is the St. Lourdes Chapel, a cathedral-like chamber within Callao Cave. Located within the Peñablanca Protected Landscape and Seascape, Callao Cave was recently recognized as an important cultural property of the Philippines. 

Callao Cave

Here, a natural rock formation serves as an altar, which gets illuminated by a stream of light coming from a crevice from the rooftop opening in the limestone cave. Callao Cave is one of the most unique places of worship built into nature. 

After visiting Callao Cave, visitors can take a serene boat ride at sunset through the Pinacanauan River, one of the cleanest river systems in the country.

Baggao Bluewater Falls

Cagayan’s diverse natural wonders can nourish the souls of city-weary travelers. Deep within the town of Baggao, I found myself trekking and marveling at one of the most beautiful waterfall systems I’ve seen in the country to date. 

Baggao Bluewater Falls

There’s no way you can visit Baggao Bluewater Falls and Cave System and Lipit Canyon and not want to soak in its turquoise lagoons and cascades. While it’s still a bit challenging to get to because of road conditions, the peaceful environment makes it ideal for those who want to contemplate and connect with nature minus the crowds.

Palaui Island

The thrilling boat ride through open seas to Palaui Island had people in our group saying prayers, while the breathtaking hike up to Cape Engaño had us pausing frequently to reflect at tranquil spots.

Author in Palaui Island

Palaui Island is home to the historic Faro de Cabo Engaño or Engaño Lighthouse, one of the four lighthouses built during the Spanish colonial period. Except for a new marker along the halfway point up the hill, not much has changed since I first set foot here more than a decade ago. I’m glad to see how the remoteness has kept the place preserved from commercial development.

On the way back, we stopped by Crocodile Island, which had beautiful white sand shores with clear waters ideal for swimming.

Lenten delights

Some iconic dishes in Cagayan are meat-heavy, like the famous pancit batil patung (a noodle dish topped with egg, beef, and chicharon bits), but those abstaining from meat during Holy Week can still enjoy feasting on seafood specialties. 

The coastal town of Buguey has a rich fishing industry and specializes in high-quality crabs and Malaga (rabbitfish), celebrated during culinary festivals in July and October respectively. Head to the restaurant of The Crab Hotel at El Presidente Beach Resort for good meals.

In between our church visits and adventures, we also got our fill of local delicacies like pawa (a sweet treat made of glutinous rice, ground peanuts, and muscovado sugar), patupat (bite-sized rice cakes wrapped in a cone-shaped banana leaf), milk candy made from pure carabao milk, and more.

Comfortable stays in Cagayan

While there are many business hotels in Tugueugarao City, Las Palmas de San Jose Leisure Club is an ideal option for those who want a quiet and homey place to stay. This residential house converted into a hotel offers comfortable rooms, a swimming pool, poolside dining, and breakfast of local fare. Deluxe rooms with 2 single beds start at P2,000 a night.

Meanwhile, the best place to stay in Santa Ana near the Northeast tip of Luzon (which is another 2-3 hour drive from Tuguegarao City) is Blue Coast Beach Hotel. This premier beachfront retreat ideal for families and groups seeking a serene getaway offers spacious and comfortable rooms, beach-inspired interiors, an infinity pool, WiFi access, restaurant and function rooms. Rates start from P3,750/night. 

From the spiritual spots to natural attractions, Cagayan offers a unique destination for travelers eager to explore new places. 

Thank you to Cagayan Tourism ( and Philippine Air Lines (PAL) for the invitation to explore the province. Philippine Airlines (PAL) flies from Manila to Tuguegarao daily with mid-morning schedules for tourists to maximize their trips. Book flights via

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