Backpacking Isabela: DIY Guide + 5 Days Itinerary

Honeymoon Island, Divilacan, Isabela
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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). Here’s a 5 days itinerary to Isabel Province!

I booked a joiner tour for this trip, so the organizer took care of the arrangements including itinerary, land & boat transfer and accommodation. Everything in this guide is based on our trip.

Take note that this itinerary covers the coastal area of Isabela Province. Other parts of Isabela including Santiago City are more accessible.

How to get here

As of our visit (May 2019), roads that will provide easy access to the coastal area in Isabela are still ongoing construction. Nonetheless, you have several options to get here.

Via public transport

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.

Contact info:

  • 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

Via private transport

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, take a private boat to your accommodation.

What we did is drive until Disalag (about 10 hours) and take a boat to Bilay Makadawi Resort along Dicotcotan Beach (6 hours).

How to get around

You can charter a private boat to tour around Palanan, Divilacan and Maconacon.

Our accommodation (Bilay Makadawi Beach Resort) took care of boat transfer from mainland to Palanan. We used the same boat service to explore the other parts of Isabela.

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.

Day 0
9PM Departure from Manila to Disalag

Day 1
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

Day 2
Palanan tour:
– 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

Day 3
(8:30AM – 3PM) Maconacon tour:
– Blos River
– Sumalag Beach and Dimanok Rock Formations
– Sumalag Falls
(3PM onwards) Divilacan tour:
– Dipudo Island
– Honeymoon Island

Day 4
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

Day 5
9AM – 11:30PM Travel back to Manila
Optional stops: Dipaculao and Baler (Aurora)

Day 1 – Arrival in Palanan

It took us a while to arrive in Palanan since we did not take the private plane, but instead rode a boat for around 5-6 hours.

We arrived in Bilay Makadawi Beach Resort in Dicotcotan Beach. I really love this place. It’s rustic and homey but it was obviously given a lot of thought so it didn’t really feel like we were staying in a “simple” accommodation.

Bilay Makadawi Beach Resort in Palanan, Isabela
Kat at Bilay Makadawi
Hey there. 😉

We spent the day resting. I also swam in the beach front which has crystal-clear water (no kidding) and then later on joined the others at the dipping pool in the resort. My friend Peng who went on the trip went to a snorkeling area nearby.

Dicotcotan Beach in Palanan, Isabela
Dicotcotan Beach.

It was wonderful and I would like to go back here again.

Day 2 – Palanan and side trip to Dumagat Village

From the resort, we took the same boat to explore other parts of Isabela.

Our first destination is Culasi Sandbar and Estuary and Sabang Mangrove Boulevard. These are just ordinary and for me can be skipped entirely.

Then we went to the town to register at the tourism office and explore the town attractions. One notable attraction is Aguinaldo Shrine, which is where Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo made his last stand.

Check our post on the Best Attractions in Palanan (Isabela).

From the town, we rode a tricycle for 15-20 minutes to reach the Blue Lagoon.

Blue Lagoon is my favorite place in our trip. Seriously, it’s the subject of my dreams. This mysterious lagoon has an unknown depth, although presence of fishes suggests that it’s linked to the sea. (It also reminds me of my precious trip at Muna Island in Southeast Sulawesi where you can find several clear lagoons in the town.)

Kat at Blue Lagoon, Palanan, Isabela
(Photo by JV Francisco)

We arrived a little early in our resort. So we walked for 30 minutes to the nearby Dumagat Village home to the Dumagat tribe. The Dumagat were very welcoming and we took pictures with them! The village is located along Diago Beach. We walked from the beach to Dicotcotan Lighthouse for the sunset.

Trekking to Dumagat Village in Palanan, Isabela
Trekking to Dumagat Village.
Dumagat Village in Palanan, Isabela
With the Dumagats. (Photo by Jay Agoo)
Dumagat Village in Palanan, Isabela
Dumagat Village is a seaside community for natives.
Kat at Diago Beach, Palanan, Isabela
At Diago Beach.

Day 3 – Maconacon and Divilacan

We rode the boat again to get to Maconacon. From the port, we rode tricycles to the town and then rented a private jeep that will take us for the tour.

Our first stop is Blos River. It’s considered one of the cleanest rivers in the country. We swam here but we were careful since there was a moderate river current. To be honest, I wasn’t really impressed since it looked like an ordinary river to me.

Blos River in Maconacon, Isabela
Blos River.

On the way back, we passed by Sumalag Beach, a pebble beach where you can find Dimanok rock formations. The rock formations are reminiscent of that in Calayan Island in Babuyan. Along the road, we also saw Sumalag Falls. This falls does not have a wide-enough basin for swimming so we just took pictures and left.

Dimanok rock formation at Sumalag Beach, Maconacon, Isabela
Dimanok rock formation at Sumalag Beach, Maconacon, Isabela
Dimanok rock formation at Sumalag Beach.
Kat at Sumalag Falls in Maconacon, Isabela
Sumalag Falls.

From there, we went back to our boat to visit Dipudo Island and Honeymoon Island. Honeymoon Island is a famous attraction in Isabela because it has a unique heart shape as seen from aerial view.

Dipudo Island, Isabela
Dipudo Island.
Honeymoon Island, Divilacan, Isabela
Honeymoon Island.

As of our visit, these islands are still under development and closed to the public but we were allowed to stay for a few minutes. It wasn’t enough time to enjoy a proper swim, but we were able to take pictures and at least I can finally tick that off my bucket list.

Day 4 – Dinapigue

It was time for us to pack up. My heart was heavy leaving the resort.

We rode the boat back to the mainland. We went to Dinapigue and our van driver let us off at a nearby stream. From there, we walked to the jump-off/registration area of Dibulo Falls. Tricycles were also available but there we were a large group so not everyone was accommodation.

From the jump-off point, we trekked for about 15-20 minutes to reach the main drop.

Dibulo Falls stands at an impressive 100 meters high. It’s similar in features to Bomod-Ok Falls in Sagada. We swam in the freezing cold water and generally had a good time.

Dibulo Falls in Dinapigue, Isabela
Dibulo Falls.
Swimming at Dibulo Falls, Isabela
(Photo by Jay Agoo)

From there, we went to a resort in Casiguran (Aurora) where we would stay for the night. This is the last day of our tour since the morning after was reserved for the trip back to Manila.

Where to stay

For the duration of our stay in Isabela, we were booked at Bilay Makadwi 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

Budget and expenses

Our budget per person is about P9000 (packaged tour + food and miscellaneous expenses).

Final thoughts about the trip

This is one of the best backpacking trips I’ve had. I’ve been wanting to visit the coastal area of Isabela Province for a long time but couldn’t due to lack of proper roads. So when I saw a joiner tour, I immediately booked a slot!

There are a lot of memorable places for me, including our accommodation (Bilay Makadawi Beach Resort), Dumagat Village, Blue Lagoon and Honeymoon Island.

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.

Falls along Sierra Madre Mountain range
A waterfall along the Sierra Madre mountain range.
Rice fields in Dinapigue, Isabela
Rice fields in Dinapigue.
River near Blue Lagoon, Isabela
River on our way to Blue Lagoon.
Carabaos near Blue Lagoon
A clear stream where carabaos are bathing.

Overall, 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!

What to read next:

Planning a trip to Isabela Province? Here are our guides on Isabela:

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