Traveling the Philippines is like going through a room full of surprises. There are places where you have a fairly good idea of what to expect and there are those that you simply do not know what’s there but it simply leaves you captivated. The province of Abra probably qualifies under the latter where you expect less and yet you gain more.
Landlocked and rugged, Abra does not come off as the usual tourist destination in the north. It often falls under the shadows of the Ilocandia where it was once under its administrative jurisdiction. It does not help either that the province has gained the notoriety of a place where communist rebels seek refuge in its mountain ranges. These notions created a barrier for travelers to bring their itch for travels somewhere else rather than exploring Abra. I guess the rise in the interest towards the province was driven by social media. Thanks to a viral photo of Kaparkan Falls, the province’s secret gem, that became its key to opening Abra and its natural beauty to the Philippine travelers.
So when the opportunity to join an organized trip, by Yam Travels, to Abra came about, I felt that it was a “safer” option for me to explore Abra’s historical and natural wonders. I was going to be with a group and that I do not have to worry about the itinerary.
Rolling It Out in Abra!
The green farmlands and hillsides of Abra was a welcome sight after enduring an 8 hour land trip from Manila. We arrived just a little before 6am and, after our group registered with the local DPWH office, we boarded a jeep headed to our first stop - the Apao Rolling Hills.
Apao Rolling Hills, from its view deck, is a series of mountain ranges surrounding Abra. It gives you a beautiful panoramic view of the province’s rugged terrain. The green rolling hills will captivate you with its serene and relaxing view complemented by its cool mountain breeze. The view is like a set straight out of a movie that our group simply had fun with our creativity to get a perfect shot of the view.
Getting to Apao can be quite taxing especially for some of us who just came from the 8-hour land trip from Manila. It is another 2-hour jeepney ride with half of the trip on rough roads so make sure that you have a firm grip on the hand rails. But the amazing view of its rolling hills is definitely a worthy reward.
Out and About in Abra
After the early morning trip to Apao, we geared ourselves to enjoy what Bangued and its surrounding towns have to offer. Abra has an interesting mix of natural beauty and rich history that is worth discovering. So after a quick lunch, we boarded our jeeps to make the rounds around town.
Don Mariano Marcos Bridge
Imagine dozing off to sleep when all of a sudden one of your companions starts yelling at the jeepney driver to stop and that she wants to go down. At that brief moment, I got a bit confused at what was happening. Only to realize that we stopped in the middle of the country’s third longest bridge - the Don Mariano Marcos Bridge.
Spanning the length of close to 887 meters, the Don Mariano Marcos bridge is the third longest bridge in the country. It spans across the Abra River and connects the municipalities of Tayum and Dolores of Abra.
Our companion’s “outburst” was all worth it because we did have a grand time taking creative shots on the bridge, with much amusement from the oldies who joined the tour.
Tayum Church, Tayum
Declared as a National Cultural Treasure, the Tayum Church or the Santa Catalina de Alejandria Parish is a Spanish-era church that was completed in 1803.
The simple and pre-dominantly Baroque style facade stands out in this sleepy town. The style used in the church is similar to that of the Manila Cathedral and Quiapo Church. A four-tierred bell tower stands adjacent to the church.
The inside of the church complements its simple exteriors. Its main highlight is a three-tierred retablo with the image of the Crucified Christ as its centerpiece. Two side altars sits on both sides of the pulpit.
Interestingly, a miniature of the church design was also installed along the convent grounds beside the image of Santa Catalina de Alejandria.
Gabriela Silang Gallery of Fine Arts, Tayum
Talk about an ancestral home of a Filipino heroine that is filled with artworks and memorabilias to the brim. It was definitely an overdose of history and creativity. That was the case of the Gabriela Silang Gallery of Fine Arts.
Just a few meters from the Tayum Church is the ancestral home of Nicolas Carino. It was in this home where Gabriela Silang sought refuge after the death of her husband in the hands of the Spaniards. It was in this house where she made the decision to continue the fight that her husband started. The home where she stayed is under renovation so the personal memorabilias of the Ilocano heroine is now temporarily housed in the main house within the compound.
The house/museum is a repository of the family's collection of artifacts, paintings, and brass.
The main house is a repository of artworks and memorabilias of the Carinos. The museum is filled with the family’s collections of paintings by Amorsolo, Juan Luna, and Picasso. It also houses the personal collection of retired Philippine Ambassador Carino of chinawares, ceramics, brass, furnitures and books that the ambassador acquired during his trips or gifts given by foreign dignitaries.
The house is full of collections and artworks. It is personally managed by the Carino family.
The museum is being managed by the ambassador’s son and it is a place that will overwhelm you with their wide array of collections. It is a must to visit the gallery when you find yourself in Abra.
San Lorenzo Ruiz Shrine, Bangued
Local legends tell a story of a tradeswoman who got rich after purchasing textile from a Chinese merchant in Vigan. Unknowingly, the Chinese merchant accodentally sold the textile, that contained money that was suppose to be sent to his family in China, to the tradeswoman. After the woman discovered the money, she denied that her purchase contained money but her conscience bothered her that she confessed her discovery to a priest. The priest said that it was a blessing and to manifest her thanksgiving had the church built near a cemetery. The story said that it is in the same church where the tradeswoman was killed.
But then again, this is a story that locals share.
Bangued is a town that pre-dates to the Spanish period and you can actually see a lot of these Spanish influences when you walk around town. I guess, we could probably say that the shrine takes its roots from being a camposanto - a small chapel built inside cemeteries where the final rites are held before the body is buried in the cemetery. Through the years, a number of these small chapels are converted into actual churches just like the one in Vigan. In this case, the San Lorenzo Ruiz Shrine stands out in the afternoon sun with its brick facade and its two belfries. It probably has gone a facelift from what it was originally intended to be used.
Whether the San Lorenzo Ruiz Shrine is a thanksgiving offer or a camposanto, it is a beauty to visit that will give you a glimpse of the town’s history.
I have always been fascinated by the beauty of the sunrise and sunset. It is probably one of those moments that I look forward to during trips. I see great beauty in watching the sun’s drama by the sea. Interestingly, Abra allowed me to view the sunset unconventionally - on a bridge above the Abra River.
The modular bridge connects Bangued and La Paz. It offers an amazing view of the Abra River and it is also a great place to enjoy the view of the sunset in Abra.
Abel Loom Weaving, La Paz
Abel Iloko is a popular hand-woven fabric from the Ilocos Region. It is one of the cottage industries in Ilocandia that visitors are interested to check out. We had the chance to visit an abel weaving facility in the municipality of La Paz.
It is important to note that the Abel Iloko is handwoven using a loom. Our group was treated to a sneak peek on how the fabric is made by one of the community’s weavers.
The Abel Iloko is a labor of love that entails hours, even days, to make depending on the design. The fabric is then turned into bags, scarves, and coin pouches. The industry provides additional income for its local residents and provides guests with a great product to bring home.
Victoria Park, Bangued
Nestled along the slopes of the Cassamata Hill National Park is a viewing deck that overlooks the town of Bangued. The Victoria Park is where you will find the “I love Abra” sign and it gives you a panoramic view of the city. The park also hosts the image of the Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus and both images seem to be watching over the province.
We capped off our day with a quick stop at Victoria Park to enjoy the lights of Bangued while enjoying the cool mountain breeze. A relaxing way to end a tiring day.
Kaparkan Falls - Abra’s Secret Wonder
Let me put it out there... the road to Kaparkan Falls is not for the weak of heart. Expect to be thrown around or to hold on to the monster jeep’s railings to prevent you from being thrown off the ride. The ride, in itself, is an adventure to reckon with.
When we made a brief stop at the jump off point and watched in amazement as the jeepney crew installed chains AROUND the tires, you get that hollow feeling inside that we were going to get one hell of a ride. And we did. We had to endure 2-hours of getting lugged around, coupled by the fact that we had to hold on to the railings because our group opted to ride “top load” style. By “top load”, I meant that we were on the roof of the vehicle. I opted to take my chances “up there” rather than endure the litanies of the elderly ones who joined us on the trip and, besides, we were occasionally treated with great views of the mountain sides along the way.
Kaparkan Falls is a unique waterfall because its waters cascades in multi-tierred terraces. It gained popularity this year after a couple of pictures went viral on social media creating interest among travelers. But let me state the fact that the pictures of Kaparkan, even mine, do not give justice to the real beauty of the place. You got to visit and experience it yourself because what you see on the internet is just a small piece of the pie.
Kaparkan Falls is popular for its waterfall terraces that run down the length of one side of the mountain. It is humongous. The top level terraces of the falls are a beauty but it is just a small fraction and the views get better as you trek down its terraces.
It takes another 15 minute of downhill trek from the jump off point before you get treated with Kaparkan Falls’ beauty. I got stunned as soon as I caught a glimpse of the fall’s top level terraces. It was a beauty and it was the first time that I have experienced such natural wonder. The sound of the water cascading, the sunlight breaking through the trees, and the feel of the cool water on my feet made the bumpy and thrilling ride all worth it.
But wait there is more...
There are two things that you should not miss out doing when you find yourself in Kaparkan Falls - find your own pool and walk your way down along its numerous cascades to find the “Blue Lagoon”. The first part was easy but the latter can be quite a challenge physically.
We did head down to the bottom of Kaparkan Falls. We navigated our way through its water terraces and we were treated with amazing views of the terraces. It is true that the best views of Kaparkan Falls are further down its terraces. Our final stop was what locals call the “Blue Lagoon”. This is where you will find a final cascade into a blue pool before the waters empties itself into the Abra River.
I never thought that Kaparkan Falls covers one side of a mountain and in a manner where water cascades down terraces. It was amazing to walk along these terraces as water cascades on it. What is more surprising was how nature managed to keep this beauty a secret through the years. Watching its beauty made the whole trip worth taking.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Abra is one of the destinations where you do not expect much but you come home happy that you got more than what you bargained for. It has an interesting mix of history and culture that you would love to immerse into and understand. Kaparkan Falls totally blew me away! It was majestic and it tops my list as the most beautiful waterfall that I have seen so far in the country. Too bad though that I was not able to leisurely walk around and explore Bangued. I guess that would be a good reason to come back to Abra soon.
Abra was simply amazing!
With that said, let me rephrase my previous paragraph when I started this blog to a more appropriate one.
Landlocked and ruggedly beautiful, Abra is a great off-beat destination up north. Although the province is often feared as a rebel hotspot, Abra has an array of amazing destinations that will definitely leave you breathless.
Getting There: Partas, Dominion, and Viron Bus Lines offer regular bus trips to Bangued and the trip takes 8 hours from Manila. For those who are planning to do a DIY trip, you need to register with the local DPWH office for trips to Kaparkan Falls. Tricycles are the mode of transportation within and in the surrounding areas of Bangued.
For our trip, it was organized by Yam 795 Travel. It handled everything for us and everything went very smoothly. You can check out their FB page here for their upcoming trips.
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Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.