If they call this revenge travel then let me say it out loud… I AM LOVING IT! The past months have been a series of riding planes that made me realize how much I missed it. I jumped into the raging waters in Cebu and I was able to cover most of Eastern Visayas, thanks to plane tickets that were going to expire. Capping off my “revenge travel”, I decided to take it a bit slower by joining a group tour to one Philippine destination that’s been elusive to me for years. So if you’re G… let’s all see… the province of Quirino!
Quirino is a landlocked province north of Metro Manila. It has a total land area of more than 3,300 square kilometers, along the upper portion of the Cagayan River, where a large part of its area is within the Quirino Protected Landscape. The province is an off-beat travel destination and exploring the province can be a challenge because of the distance and transportation between attractions. So for this particular trip, I joined a group tour organized by the FB travel organizer, Bernation, for a weekend of a rugged Quirino exploration.
Quirino Capital (Cabarogguis)
What better way to start the weekend adventure with a quick stop at the the provincial capitol of the province in Cabarogguis. The province was originally a sub-province of Nueva Vizcaya, whose name was in honor of former President Elpidio Quirino. It was granted full provincial autonomy in 1972.
The provincial capitol serves as the center of provincial governance. The sprawling capitol grounds houses the capitol building, the provincial library and museum, and sport facilities. This is where you will also find the “Quirino” marker that stands at the entrance of the library and museum.
Siitan Nature Park (Nagtipunan)
The Siitan Nature Park is a camping destination in Nagtipunan. It is popular for two attractions - the Siitan River and the Bimmapor Rock Formation. Apart from camping, the park also offers boating and tubing activities while you get to enjoy the views of lush forest covers and rock formations.
Siitan comes from the Ilocano word “siit” which means “thorns”. The river banks of Siitan was once populated by thorny plants hence its name. The river connects with the Cagayan River and cruising can be done via wooden boats called “balasyan” or by water tubes. The river cruise will give you amazing views of limestone rock formations and the forest covers in the area.
Our group went for a boat ride along Siitan River. The river cruise gave us a cool mix of the rush, as we rode through its rapids, and chill, as we glided along its still waters. The towering limestone formations was an amazing sight. It was like I was in a “Jurassic Park” set. There were areas where we had to disembark and cross the dry strip because some parts of the river was to shallow for a balasyan, full of guests, to cross. There are parts of the river where you get to swim and/or cliff jump.
Bimmapor Rock Formation (Nagtipunan)
Another attraction at Siitan Nature Park is the Bimmapor Rock Formation. The nature park has a collection of rock formations along its banks but the most popular and most accessible is this rock formation. The best vantage point is about a 10-minute walk from the campsite.
The rock formation is said to have derived its name from the local word “bapor” which means ship as the rock is shaped like a huge ship’s hull. It towers along the banks of the Siitan River and you will be amazed at the details of the layers of rocks that surround it. It is best to capture the Bimmapor Rock Formation from a distance to capture the details and the dramatic landscape of the the nature park.
Diamond Cave and Forest Park (Nagtipunan)
Since Quirino is a landlocked province with mountainous terrains, spelunking is an activity that you would get to enjoy in the province. Diamond Cave is a popular spot for that thrill of getting into the bosom of its rugged landscape. The cave system got its name from the sparkle that its rock surfaces emits when hit by light, it looks like the sparkle of a diamond. The cave traverse roughly takes about an hour which will have you wet and muddied as you exit the cave.
Our cave exploration started with a safety orientation with our guide before making our way inside the park to the mouth of the cave. It takes roughly about an hour of traverse from entrance to exit. You will be treated with an amazing collection of stalactite and stalagmite rock formations that glisten when light strikes its surface giving it that “shine like a diamond” spark. The experience had us walking, crouching, and scrambling over rocks while we enjoyed nature’s artworks. There were stops along the way where you get to catch your breath and enjoy the beauty below the ground.
Spelunking is one activity that has got me curious over the past months and I think Diamond Cave is a good start for beginners. It was a relaxed traverse inside the cave that had us comfortably making our way while getting wet and muddy. It was not as challenging as my previous cave adventures but it definitely had the thrill and excitement of being under.
Landingan View Point (Nagtipunan)
After enjoying exploring what’s under Quirino, we then made our way to the Landingan View Point for a top view of Quirino’s rugged landscape. The view point sits atop one of the hills of Quirino that gives a 360-degree panoramic view of the surrounding mountain ranges and the Cagayan River. The view from the top is simply captivating.
The Landingan View Point was developed as an attraction from an unattended hill to a flower garden. The best view is from the top where you get to see the flower gardens against the backdrop of the mountains and the river. There are two ways of exploring Landingan. The first is by starting from the gardens and you move up to the view deck. This, however, is going to be physically challenging as you would have to navigate thru the steep ascend to the top. Then you would have to walk back down.
The second is by going up the top of the hill by car via its “back” entrance. We made our way through a short flight of stone trails before enjoying the awesome view from the top. There are rest huts at the top where you can relax and enjoy the view and the breeze. Stone fortifications are being built to get around easier and for better aesthetics at the top of the hill. You also get to appreciate the beauty of the flower farm as you hike down the steep slope.
Ganano Falls (Diffun)
Baguio Village is a small community that lies within the Quirino Protected Landscape. The village is the jump-off point to one of the popular attractions in the province Ganano Falls. I stayed close to one of our guides, Kuya Fernando, who gave a glimpse of their life as guides as we hiked to Ganano Falls and the other 3 downstream cascades.
It takes an hour of hike from the jump-off point to the base of Ganano Falls. The trail was already established and their were initial plans of a concrete road for easier access to the falls bit it was later on shelved for environmental reasons. It was an easy traverses through the forested area of Diffun where you get to enjoy the cooler weather and shade of its trees, not to
mention getting cooled down by a couple of river crossing.
Ganano Falls was an amazing sight once you get to its base. The water of the falls cascades at a height of 100 feet onto boulders before running downstream. The boulders serve as a good vantage points to see the full beauty of the waterfall and platforms for IG-worthy shots. You could find your own spot at the base of Ganano that would suit the perspective of the falls that you want to capture.
From Ganano Falls, we made our along the river banks. There are three other cascades along the downstream river. Sinipit Falls is a multi-cascade waterfall. It has a wide rock face where you find three cascades. This is where I enjoyed our stop because I was able to cool down as I enjoyed a dip in its basin. We also found a spot where we enjoyed a soft massage from its cascade.
We moved further downstream towards the Nantugaw Rock Formation. It has a wide and single cascade but its biggest draw is a large boulder that sits near the edge of its cascade. The water running over is not as strong as the others that you can actually sit along its rock face. A few more minutes down the trail is the Sabangaran Falls. It is a single cascade that is roughly about 8-10 meters in height. Water cascades into a catch basin where one can also take a dip.
Chasing waterfalls in Diffun was relatively a chill and easy adventure. In more or less two hours, you get to see the beauty of Ganano Falls and the other attractions as you hike back to the village. The best part of our experience was we got to enjoy the place without the crowd which made communing with nature a more pleasant experience.
Governor’s Rapids Nature Park (Maddela)
Governor’s Rapids is another popular attraction in Quirino for a range of activities that it offers that will get your adrenaline rushing at the start and gets you chilling by the end. The river is part of a tributary of the Cagayan River and has been awarded as one of the cleanest inland body of water in Cagayan Valley. It is believed that it got its name after the river claimed the life of a Japanese Governor during World War 2.
Just like the other attractions in Quirino, the nature park has a lot of interesting points along the river and activities that will get you either wet, tossed, or both. At the top of this activity is the river tubing along the Bisangal Rapids. The river of the nature park is ideal for white water rafting and tubing, especially during the rainy season. Although the river tubing was a bit short that had us wanting for more, it tossed us wildly enough to give us the adrenaline rush.
We then enjoyed a chill river ride where we got to see the amazing limestone rock formations along the river. The cruise will take you to different interesting spots of the park. The limestone formations of Siminublan, Stage 1, and Stage 2 was beautifully crafted by nature through thousand of years. There are spots in the area where you can actually cliff jump from
these limestone shelves.
One of the highlights of the cruise was a quick stop at the Tinyente Cave. The cave is a through and through cave which can be traversed by guests. An interesting feature of the cave is a waterfall inside one of its chambers. The traverse was relatively short but challenging physically since you need to clamber up on slippery rock faces. Best part of it was having to rappel down the exit. Tiring but definitely worth it.
Most of us decided to just chill out by taking a quick and refreshing dip before heading back. We enjoyed the views of the bat cave and rock formations while enjoying a laidback afternoon swim in one of the cleanest inland body of water. A quick cool down by the river with new found friends after exploring an off-beat destination was a perfect way to end the weekend adventure.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
The mountain ranges that surround the province of Quirino is like a fortress protecting the land from devastating typhoons. It is the same fortress that has kept the province an off-beat tourist destination. It is a province that will challenge your DIY skills because the distance and transportation between spots can be time and financially consuming. But once you have experienced Quirino, you would be smiling and you would be #QuirinoYourBasketOfHappiness back home.
Traveling has been my kind of break from all the stress of my daily run. It helps me breath and regain my strength and energies to head back to my usual grind. It keeps my mind and body young as I discover new destinations and learn something new. My revenge travel was exactly that! It was my factory reset after two years of controlled movement.
Getting there: Going DIY to Quirino can be quite a challenge as there are no direct trips to the province and transportation within are also limited. You can take a bus to Santiago where you can take a jeep to specific barangays in Quirino. If you plan to go DIY, thorough planning is needed. You can also opt for a hassle-free weekend trip with FB Travel Group – Bernation. They have regular weekend trips to Quirino where they facilitate everything for you. You can check out their Facebook page here.
I have long figured out that I prefer the not-your-usual Philippine travel destinations. Having been to a lot of places in the country, there is something about the small-town-city vibe that really captures my heart. I prefer the laidback and unassuming locations where locals seem to be unaware of the beauty of their city or town. I guess this is the case of our next destination - the city of Calbayog.
Calbayog City is a coastal city on the western side of Samar. The city is the sixth largest in the country, in terms of land and water area, and is a commercial hub of the province of Samar. The city is known, among travelers, as the city of waterfalls because of the numerous waterfalls that one can explore within its jurisdiction. However for this travel, we won’t be going to far but we will be exploring the city of Calbayog without the falls.
Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral (Calbayog Cathedral)
The St. Peter and Paul Cathedral is considered to be the biggest church in Samar and the first cathedral designated in Eastern Visayas. Established as a visita in 1599, the construction of the present church, in Baroque-Romanesque style, started in 1840. Its floor design was in crucifix form with a dome above the transept.
The church and its adjacent belfry dominates the skyline of Calbayog. The simple facade of the church is highlighted by the image of the “Our Lady’s Nativity” atop its main door and the images of St. Peter and St. Paul stands adjacent to the image. The towering Cathedral Bell Tower stands on the right side of the church.
The interior of the church is highlighted by its grand and beautiful altars. The gold and white retablos were designed to look like a facade of a church complete with spirals. The gold chandeliers hanging from the ceilings and the stained-glass windows of the church complete the church’s design giving it a grandiose vibe. A prayer and baptism room is found at the bottom of the church’s belfry.
Calbayog City Hall and Sacred Heart Plaza
Built in 1925, the Calbayog City Hall is the center of governance of the city. It is houses the local government offices that provide services to its locals. Adjacent to the City Hall is the Handumanan Building that serves as the city’s tourism office. The building was once a jailhouse that was later renovated with a typical-
bahay na bato look.
Just right across the City Hall is the town plaza. The open space park is complete with benches and a children’s playground. It has a good view of the church and the city hall and is a good afternoon spot to lounge around if you want to see and feel the laidback vibe of the city.
Samar Archeological Museum
The Samar Archeological Museum is the only archeological museum in Eastern Visayas. Located with the confines of the Christ the King College, the museum is a repository of artifacts that was recovered and collected by Father Cantius Kobak, a Polish priest and is often referred to, in the academe, as the “Historian of Samar”. The collections include porcelains, burial jars, human bones, and religious artifacts that were collected across the island of Samar.
The museum walks you through Samar’s rich past. The collection includes pre-Spanish period burial jars and human bones that indicated that early Warays already had a concept of the after death, even before the introduction of Christianity in the country. The exhibits also has on display ornaments, instruments, and war weapons that showcased the creativity of tge early settlers of the island. Religious artifacts and antiques from the Spanish period are also part of the display.
It was interesting to find a local private museum that showcased local history. What is more amazing that it started because of the interest of a foreign educator who mapped the island to help us discover more about our past. I just hope that we gather more government support to dig further, know more, and share more about our colorful past.
Nijaga Park and Calbayog River
Snaking through the city is the Calbayog River. The water that flows through the river drains into the Samar Sea. You can actually observe the movement of the sea tides as water drains out of the river during the low tide. The river is said to help ease flooding in the city.
A river esplanade was constructed right along the banks of the city. The walkway sits adjacent to Nijaga Park - another activity center of the city. The park honors the local Calbayog hero, Benedicto Nijaga, who was arrested and executed with 12 other Katipuneros for their involvement in the group. The park bears a bust of Nijaga and Rizal and also plays host to community activities.
The park and the river esplanade are a beauty at night with all its ambient lights. The bridge that spans the river also gives it that dramatic vibe. Its relaxing ambiance make it a favorite afternoon spot by locals in the city.
Port of Calbayog
Calbayog is a commercial hub in the province of Samar. It serves as a gateway to the province with its airport and seaport connecting the Samar to the major cities in the country. The seaport has become a favorite afternoon “tambayan” of the locals.
Less than a kilometer away from the town center, the seaport of the city was still buzzing late in the afternoon, not with business transactions but with locals heading up to its unfinished road project. Fishing vessels line along the mouth of Calbayog River while there were a number of pumpboats who were still waiting for passengers probably headed to the nearby islands. Locals frequent the area of the unfinished diversion road for a quick afternoon run or bike while enjoying the views of the Samar Sea and the surrounding islands.
Spanish Quarter and the Pot-Pot of Calbayog
Walking around the city of Calbayog gives you a unique mix of the rural and city vibe. I must say that I love how the rural vibe outplays the urban feel. The city has a Spanish Quarter where you get to see the collection of old houses of the town. The district is the area surrounding the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral. It is amazing to see these old structures fused with modern architecture.
You also get to see the Pot-Pot which is an attraction in itself. The Pot-Pot is a basically a bike with a passenger carriage that was designed like a tricycle. The carriage is also slightly angled up compared to the usual sidecars. It is a popular mode of transportation in the city for short distances.
Malopalo Marble Park
I made a quick trip on the city outskirts as I was pressed for time to head back to Tacloban City for my flight back to Manila. The Malopalo Marble Park is an eco-tourism destination located along the main highway about 20 minutes away from the city. The park used to be a quarry area for marbles and efforts to stop its extraction was successful that it was turned into a park.
One can already see the rustic beauty of the park from the highway. The white rock formations could already be seen from the highway. A river traverses through the park and locals offer boat tours inside the park to appreciate its beauty. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to explore it further.
Malajog Ridge Nature Park
The Malajog Ridge Nature Park is just a few meters away from the Malopalo Marble Park. The ridge and beach spot is nestled behind a towering ridge. The Malajog Beach is a popular beach spot among locals with its gray sand and still blue waters. The park prides itself for having a zipline that traverses to the nearby Daraga Islets.
The beach already had locals enjoying its serene vibe and still waters when I got to the beach. From the coast, you could view the islands of Pawikan and Biyatungan on the horizon. There are cottages and resorts that line the shores but I was quick to notice that the shoreline was clean. The south side of the beach is rugged with its rock formations.
I headed towards the ridge and the rock formations. Concrete platform and stairs were installed along the ridge for ease of visitors in the area. The zipline was not operational on the day of my visit. I managed to climb up the stairs to catch a panoramic view of the shoreline of Malajog. There is also a rest stop at the foot of the stairs where you get to enjoy the more rugged side of the beach.
Food Munch: Calbayog Lechon
Just right along the streets of Nijaga Park, vendors caught my attention for the food that they were selling - lechon!!! Lechon is one of my favorite food and Cebu was always, hands down, my favorite. Well, Calbayog’s Lechon could give Cebu’s a run for their money.
I later on discovered that the streets near Nijaga Park become a lechon strip on Saturdays and Sundays where local vendors get to sell the viand. I did not miss on the chance and got me a half a kilo order to try it out and it was really good. The lechon meat was tender and juicy and you don’t need any “sawsawan” to enjoy it. Now, the best lechon for me is between Cebu and Calbayog.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Calbayog City oozes with that old town charm feel that is laidback and where afternoons are best enjoyed either by the “pantalan” or walking around town with friends. Everything is within reach. You get the urban amenities like malls and posh looking cafes without losing out on a beach spot that is within reach on a weekend. You get the community spirit as they spend lazy afternoons by the plaza where almost everyone knows everyone. This is what we are missing out in the metro. The vibe where the chances of you bumping into someone you know is higher than stumbling as you walk around town.
People would always ask me what do I get from traveling around the Philippines. Well, I get to see beyond the stories that we read in books or what we learn from school. I get to see how communities thrive despite the circumstances that they face. I get to hear, first hand, stories of success or struggles of individuals so I get to understand better. Hindi yung mga nauusong kwentong kunyari naiintindihan pero ang totoo… it is all for the hugot para kunyari nakarelate. I enjoy exploring the Philippines because its raw beauty comes alive more with real stories from real people that I meet along the way. It makes me realize how proud I am to be Filipino and what we need to do to become better Filipinos.
Check out my latest Youtube travel video here: #ByahengOffTheGrid Calbayog
Getting there: You can take a direct flight to Calbayog City although the flights are limited. You can also opt to take a flight to Tacloban City where you can take a van at the VS Grand Tours station in the city proper to Calbayog City. Calbayog City is about 4-hour travel from Tacloban.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.