Apayao Province remains a mystery to even the most experienced local travelers. Here’s a travel guide to Apayao tourist spots, attractions, and delicacies!
Located at the North of Luzon, Apayao is one of the more remote parts of the Cordillera region, making it a mystery to many local travelers. The name Apayao means “land of rivers” in the local language, as many rivers like Purag River, Nagan River, and Apayao River (Dacao Dam) permeates the province.
Apayao Province was previously conjoined with Kalinga until the provinces’ separation in 1995. It calls itself “Cordillera’s Last Nature Frontier” due to the preservation of its natural attractions and Apayao tourist spots such as underground rivers, cave systems, waterfalls, and rock formations.
Cultural traditions of the Isnag, the name of which meant “people of the rivers” and are consist of the majority of the province’s population, are also preserved. Apayao delicacies are known for bamboo-cooking, spicy dishes, and local delicacies such as river eels and fish.
Here’s an Apayao travel guide for your visit to this natural and cultural time capsule:
How to go to Apayao Tourist Spots
- By air: Take a flight going to Laoag City or Tuguegarao City airport via Cebu Pacific or Philippine Airlines. The trip takes 1 hour from Manila. Then, take a van or jeepney going to Luna, Apayao.
- By land: Ride a bus from Manila, Baguio City, or Tuguegarao City going to Apayao Province. You may alight at Flora, Kabugao, Pudtol, or Conner.
- Getting around Apayao tourist spots: Public transportation is limited, as such, it’s better to ride tricycles or motorcycles. Van or car rental from Laoag, Tuguegarao, or Apayao are also possible.
Mataguisi Church Ruins (Pudtol)
Spanish missionaries reached Apayao Province and built two churches in the municipality of Pudtol. These were abandoned due to tribal wars and conflict in beliefs (in fact, the municipality of Pudtol earned its name from beheading a priest). The Mataguisi Church Ruins and Pudtol Church Ruins still stand today as one of the oldest church ruins in the Philippines.
- Mataguisi Church Ruins fee & hours: Free, open 24 hours
Other attractions in Pudtol is Bubulayan Bridge, which connects Lower Apayao to Upper Apayao. There is also Nagan River, one of the region’s cleanest body of water, and Maton River, a brook with massive boulders that can be used for cliff diving.
ASC Museum (Conner)
One of the classrooms in Apayao State College was transformed into a museum detailing the cultural heritage of Apayao. The ASC Museum features the collection of Allen Mayodog, a humanities professor, who collected cultural items from the Isnag and Ifugao tribes.
Other Apayao tourist spots in Conner is the Purag River, where locals have picnics along the banks and fish for eels and wild ducks; Kelbat Hanging Bridge running over the Nabuangan River; and Bellang Cave. Conner is also known for the Panagbunga Festival, which is a thanksgiving feast for the bountiful harvest in the “Fruit Basket of Apayao”.
- ASC Museum contact number: +63 906 743 6611
- ASC Museum fee: Free, by appointment
Gololan Falls (Kabugao)
Kabugao is the capital of Apayao and is considered the cultural melting pot of the province, being home to Isnag, Ilocanos, Aetas, Igorots, Tinggians, Ibanags, and Itawits.
Its primary attraction is the 33-meter high Gololan Falls, which is accessed by a 45-minute downhill hike. The story behind the name goes that two water creatures kiwat (eel) and aguning (fish related to tilapia) wanted to climb the waterfalls. However, only the kiwat was able do so. The aguning who was left behind cried out, “Magol-olol” which meant, “Help, I’m stuck!”. Thus, it was called Gololan Falls.
Lussok Underground River and Cave (Luna)
Lussok Underground River and Cave is a three-chambered cave with crystallized stalagmites, bats, and even a balinsasayaw (bird that makes the edible nest). It features a boat ride in the underground river with wonderful rock formations glimmering at every corner. There is also an optional caving adventure that varies from easy, moderate, and difficult — I highly recommend the moderate trail.
- Lussok Cave fee & hours: PHP 120/pax, 8AM – 4PM
Other attractions in Luna, Apayao is the Manacota Underground River, a clear water along Marag Valley that locals fish in and tourists may shoot rapids within the cave. Dupag Rock Formation (closed as of writing) is a jagged rock formation that resembles raging waves made of limestones of up to 8 feet. At the peak of Dupag Rock Formation is the Father Rock, which has an overlooking view of Apayao valleys and rivers.
- Manacota Underground River fee & hours: PHP 200/head for tour guide, PHP 20 environmental fee, PHP 20 entrance fee
Mt. Kilang (Calanasan)
Mt. Kilang (1,656 MASL) is the highest point of Upper Apayao, bordered by Ilocos Norte. It claims to have a “sea of clouds” view and a mysterious story behind the name, which in Ilocano is “pagurnungan ti karurwa” or catch-basin of souls.
Another legend tells of Kilang who searched for her lover in the mountain. Kilang’s suitor climbed up the mountains to find a pig for the dowry but did not return. Kilang searched for him in the mountains. Her tears carved the rocks and she planted flowers to find her lover, thus the mountain is named after her.
Calanasan’s virgin forests are a shelter to the endangered Philippine Monkey-Eating Eagle. There is a move from the local government to make Calanasan Philippine Eagle Sanctuary a part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Biodiversity and Protected Area. Other flora and fauna here are the giant Rafflesia flower, Luzon cloud rat, and tall lauan trees.
The Isnag tribe is known for its bamboo cooking (locally called sinibalu), as smoking meat is a traditional way of preserving meat, due to the landlocked nature of Apayao Province where salt was sourced only by trade with neighboring coastal provinces. Apayao delicacies are also typically spicy and made from river-dwelling creatures such as fish, shellfish, and eels.
If you’re looking for what to eat in Apayao tourist spots, here are some popular Apayao delicacies and food to try:
- Sinursur. Made of catfish cooked with banana heart or taro stuffed in a bamboo shoot with chili, garlic, and onion, cooked in open fire. Other ingredients that can be mixed are iwat (eel), palilang (goby), tuka (frog), and tangingi (bean pods).
- Abraw. River crabs and grated coconut meat sprinkled with chili.
- Pinalatan. Friend pork or chicken intestines with chopped pomelo leaves, chili, and salt. This is a pulutan best served with cold beer.
- Pinaktan. Similar to Bicol’s laing, this is made of taro leaves with savory shrimp paste.
- Sinapan. Skewered and smoked fish or meat.
- Pinikpikan. The same dish is found in Kalinga, but the Apayao version is a soup dish with burnt chicken or native duck.
- Zinagan. Similar to dinuguan, this is made of pork innards friend until crispy like chicharon, sauteed with garlic, onion, ginger, and pig’s blood.
- Pinaltit. An appetizer made from ground pork, coconut milk, chili powder, and pomelo leaves.
- Sagket. Made from palilang fish paste and tangingi. This is preserved for at least three days and cooked with chili and vegetables.
- Binungor. The Apayao version of this is stir-fried snails with bamboo shoots, and chili.
- Agurong. A mollusk typically found in the creeks and rivers cooked with coconut milk and vegetables.
Best time to visit Apayao Province attractions
Being located at North Luzon, Apayao has a colder and wetter climate that consists of rainy season from July to February. The dry season is from March to May, while the coldest is December. It’s highly advisable to visit during the dry season, as many of the attractions like the underground rivers and waterfalls are closed during heavy rains.
Apayao Festivals and Celebrations
- Say-Am Festival (Feb. 14). It is the Isnag’s grandest fiesta celebrating Apayao’s founding anniversary. It features Isnag’s thanksgiving to the higher being called “Alawagan” with traditional songs such as Disodis, followed by dances such as talip (victory dance) and tap-do (courtship dance). Every year, Apayao municipality hosts the panagga-angrad (indigenous games), street dancing, agro-industrial trade fairs, and a local beauty pageant, called the search for “Dayag Ti Apayao”.
- Kabugao Town Fiesta (Feb. 8-12). A four-day festival on Apayao province’s capital featuring agro-industrial trade fairs, indigenous games, and skills competition.
- Say-am Ycalanasan (third week of March). Calanasan’s fiesta featuring Pippiru Festival (boat racing), and Sinursur-Sinandila Festival (showcasing spicy Apayao delicacies and culinary heritage of the Isnags in Calanasan).
- Asiparra Festival (Apr. 14). A festival that features the marine biodiversity of Nagan River via fishing in the river using the asiparra, or Isnag’s goggles and fishing tools.
- Panagapit Ken Pangyaman Festival (June). A thanksgiving celebration for bountiful harvests in Luna.
- Kabinnulig Festival (Jun. 20-22). A festival in Flora in honor of the carabao, the beast that aids the farmers.
- Pinya Festival (June). A festival in Pudtol hosting the One Town One Product (OTOP) program, showcasing the native industry.
- Balangkoy Festival (Jun. 13-17). A celebration of Sta. Marcela’s founding anniversary featuring trade fairs and street dancing.
North Luzon Attractions
- Baguio City
- Buscalan (Kalinga tattoos)
- Northern Blossom Flower Farm
- Mt. Ulap
- Cagayan Valley
- Mt. Pulag
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