If you’re a backpacker like us, I’m sure you’re also dreaming of setting foot in Isabela Province. You’ve heard of Blue Lagoon and Honeymoon Island (a natural heart-shaped island in the region). I’ve just gotten back from a trip to explore the best attractions in Isabela, and here I’ve created a travel guide to Isabela Province including our 5 days itinerary which you can follow.
How to get here
As of our visit (May 2019), roads that will provide easy access to Isabela are still ongoing construction. Nonetheless, you have several options to get here.
Manila to Cauayan:
- By land: Take a bus to Santiago City, Isabela (8 hours). From Santiago City, take a bus or van to Cauayan (about 1 hour). OR: Take an overnight bus via First Class Victory Liner direct to Cauayan (9 hours).
- By air: Take a local flight via Cebu Pacific from Manila to Cauayan Airport.
- Once in Cauyan, take a 6-seater Cyclone Cessna plane to Palanan, Isabela (30-35 minutes). Airfare & miscellaneous fees is about P3000 per person or depending on weight of baggage.
OR Manila to Tuguegarao:
- By land: Take a bus via Sleeper Florida Liner to Tuguegarao (12 hours).
- By air: Take a local flight via Cebu Pacific or PAL to Tuguegarao Airport.
- Once in Tuguegarao, take a WCC or NorthSky plane to Palanan.
From the town proper in Palanan, make your way to your selected accommodation.
- Ms Luz Bernardo Mendez, Cyclone Airways Cauayan: 0936 446 4979
- Ms Elda dela Pena, WCC Airways Tuguegarao: 0966 908 8704
- Mr Noel Cabrera, Northsky Airways Tuguegarao: 0905 332 1073
If you’re in a private van, you can take a boat from various ports (Dingalan, Baler or Disalag in Aurora) to Palanan, Isabela. From there, you need to take a private boat to Bilay Makadawi.
What we did is drive until Disalag (about 10 hours) and take a boat to Bilay Makadawi (6 hours).
Top Places to Visit in Isabela
There’s a lot of places to visit and things to do in Isabela. You can island hop to white-sand beaches in Palanan, swim in clean rivers and falls, visit old churches and other historical sites and more.
Here’s an overview of the best places to visit in Isabela.
- Pinacanauan River
- Palanan River
- Blue Lagoon
- Town: Aguinaldo Shrine, St. Mary Magdalene Parish
- Dicotcotan Beach
- Dumagat Village, Diago Beach and lighthouse
- Didadungan Beach
- Disadsad Falls
- Sunken ship MV Karagatan at Digoyo Point
- Others: Digoyo Lake, Kanasamuan Cave, Disangkilan and Sad-Sad Falls, Culasi Beach
See a detailed list of top attractions in Palanan here.
Along with Dinapigue, Palanan is cut off from the rest of the region through the Sierra Madre Mountain Range.
The best attractions in Palanan are its white-sand beaches.
Dicotcotan Beach is a 3-kilometer long sandy beach, filled with corals and seegrass beds. This is a great place to stay when you’re in Palanan. As for us, we stayed in a resort here called Bilay Makadawi Beach Resort. From here it’s a 30-minute trek away to Dumagat Village and the beach beside it (Diago Beach) as well as Dicotcotan Lighthouse.
From Dicotcotan Beach, you can take a boat to visit other places in Palanan. You can visit the town for a short tour to see the Aguinaldo Shrine, which is where Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo made his last stand, and St. Mary Magdalene Parish, which features a belfry with 3-century old bells. From the town, it’s about 15-20 minutes of tricycle ride to the Blue Lagoon.
- Blos River
- Sumalag Beach and Dimanok rock formations
- Sumalag Falls
- Romualdez Beach
- Maconacon Falls
Blos River is considered one of the cleanest rivers in the country. Along the way, you’ll pass by Sumalag Beach, a pebble beach where you can find Dimanok rock formations (reminiscent of that in Calayan Island, Babuyan). Along the road, you can also see Sumalag Falls.
- Dipudo Island
- Honeymoon Island
- Dicatian’s Mangrove Forest and Lake Crocodile Sanctuary
The Honeymoon Island is perhaps one of the most famous attractions in Isabela, with a natural heart-shaped formation as seen from an aerial view.
Both Dipudo Island and Honeymoon Island are privately owned so you’ll need to get permission in advance to get here. As for us, we were only allowed to stay here for a while and no photos were permitted on the resort buildings.
- Dibulo Falls
- Dinapigue Bay and Dinapigue Sea Wall
- Bonsai Forest
Dibulo Falls is the tallest waterfalls in Isabela Province, at about 100 meters high. From the jump-off point, it takes a 1 hour trek to reach here. You may also ride a tricycle but have to be careful because the route goes up the mountain and you’ll pass by streams and boulder-filled routes.
Another notable place to visit in Isabela is the Bonsai Forest, which is a 5000-hectare property filled with bonsai trees which are 1-7 feet high.
- Madadamian Falls
Madadamian Falls is a recently discovered tourist attraction in Echague. It is composed of 2 main falls, Mada and Damian.
- Ilagan Sanctuary
- Abuan River
- World’s Largest Butaka
Ilagan City is the region’s main growth center and primary hub. A lot of trips to Isabela stop over here as it’s easier to access compared to Palanan and Dinapigue.
Ilagan Sanctuary is the main attraction in the city; it’s part of Fuyot Springs National Park. It is the most accessible tourist attraction in Isabela. Within the sanctuary, you can find Pinzan Falls and Sta. Victoria Cave. Sta. Victoria Cave features 12 caves that are open to public spelunking. The most recommended ones to visit are Main Cave, Moon Cave and Altar Cave.
- Camp Vizcarra Ecology Park
- Magat Dam
5 Days Itinerary to Isabela
Here’s a sample 5 days itinerary to Isabela. Please take it as a rough guide only. Gala PH organized this trip and created the itinerary, which I’ve changed to reflect the places we were actually able to visit given a limited time frame.
5 Days Itinerary to Isabela
9PM Departure from Manila to Disalag
6AM Arrival in Disalag, Aurora
6-7AM Breakfast and shop at market
7AM – 1PM Boat ride to Bilay Makadawi in Palanan, Isabela (our accommodation)
1PM onwards – Rest OR swim/snorkel
– Culasi Sandbar and Estuary + Sabang Mangrove Boulevard
– Town tour (Palanan town hall, Aguinaldo Shrine, Mt. Mary Magdalene Parish)
– Blue Lagoon
Optional: Trek to Dumagat Village, Diago Beach and Dicotcotan Lighthouse
(8:30AM – 3PM) Maconacon tour:
– Blos River
– Sumalag Beach and Dimanok Rock Formations
– Sumalag Falls
(3PM onwards) Divilacan tour:
– Dipudo Island
– Honeymoon Island
3AM – Wake up call
3:30AM Check out of accommodation
4AM – 10AM Boat ride back to Dilasag, Aurora
10AM – 1PM Travel to Dinapigue, Isabela (lunch along the way)
1PM – 5PM Trek and swim at Dibulo Falls
5PM – 6PM Travel to Casiguran, Aurora and check in at accommodation
9AM – 11:30PM Travel back to Manila
Optional stops: Dipaculao and Baler (Aurora)
This was a packaged tour from Manila to Isabela. As such, we had a private van that took us from Manila to Dilasag (Aurora, 10 hours) where we took boats to Palanan, Isabela (5-6 hours). We used the same boats to explore other parts of Isabela (namely, Maconacon and Divilacan). As of our visit (May 2019), Isabela Province is still a challenge to explore so renting private vehicles make it a bit easier.
Since we did land and sea travel instead of getting on a chartered plane, our travel time was longer.
Where we stayed
Bilay Makadawi Beach Resort
This is a beach resort located along Dicotcotan Beach in Palanan, Isabela. There are cottages and treehouses you can book for overnight stay. The resort can also help you with your itinerary, transfers and tours.
Read about my stay at Bilay Makadawi Beach Resort.
Contact: Facebook | mobile: 0917 807 5857
Casapsapan Beach Resort
This is one of the several beach resorts in Casiguran, Aurora, where you can stay for the night on the way back to Manila.
Budget and expenses
Our budget per person is about P9000 (packaged tour + food and miscellaneous expenses).
My final thoughts about the trip
I really like our accommodation in Palanan — Bilay Makadawi Beach Resort in Dicotcotan Beach. It’s rustic, homey but given a lot of thought so it didn’t really feel like we were staying in a “simple” accommodation. There were also lots of things to do here, such as swimming (crystal-clear water), snorkeling, trekking to the Dumagat Village and lighthouse.
From here we explored other parts of Isabela.
My favorite place in our trip would be the Blue Lagoon of course. This mysterious lagoon has an unknown depth, although presence of fishes suggests that it’s linked to the sea. It’s the subject of my dreams. (It also reminds me of my precious trip at Muna Island in Southeast Sulawesi where you can find several clear lagoons in the town.)
I also like Dipudo Island and Honeymoon Island even though we only spent about 15-20 minutes in each, since at least I was able to check off the latter in my last.
Sumalag Beach is beautiful, and Dimanok rock formations which are found along this beach creates a picturesque scenery (it’s similar to the one in Calayan Island). I appreciated it even though we didn’t get to swim here; the waves seem strong anyway.
Finally, Dibulo Falls is a surprise to me. I didn’t know about it’s existence until after this trip. Dibulo Falls is beautiful, with a 100-meter height. It reminded me of Bomod-ok Falls in Sagada.
Aside from these tourist spots, we saw a lot of beautiful places while traveling — rivers, carabaos bathing in streams and muds, rice fields and mountains. I’d like to mention this because sometimes we become too focused on reaching specific destinations that we forget to look around on our way there.
There are spots I probably won’t recommend especially for those who are pressed for time. Culasi Sandbar and Estuary and Sabang Mangrove Boulevard seem ordinary. The Blos River was nice, but if you’ve seen your fair share of rivers it might not stand out. Also, when we got there, we were on the same stretch where locals were washing their clothes and carabaos taking a bath. It also took most part of the day to reach it.
That saying, my trip to Isabela was fun and I’m happy to have finally set foot in this province.
Do you have anything to add to this travel guide to Isabela Province? Any specific place you’d like to recommend? Let us know in the comments below!