Santa Ana (Cagayan)

Santa Ana is located in the north-easternmost point of Luzon and is the home of the Cagayan Special Economic Zone.  This little known gem of the north counts with deserted white sand beaches, waterfalls, wind and kite surfing and is also one of the best places for game fishing in the Philippines.

Santa Ana (and the north of Luzon in general) is perfect if you want to avoid the crowds and see something outside your regular Palawan, Bohol, Boracay tourist destinations.  Although, as a much less travelled destination, you should expect a much less developed infrastructure.  Resorts, hotels and restaurants may not be as fancy as in other places in the Philippines.  Overpriced camping, and simple very affordable hostels catered to local barkadas are the most abundant lodging options, and the fancier resorts in our experience, may be a disappointment as they are for those looking to blow their cash at the casino, and care little about service standards, not to mention the food.

We booked a sea-view room at the Avalon Beach Club (also called Party Beach Resort) and were given a room facing the parking lot (no water visible unless it rained).  The food was just not edible.  Internet was (as it is almost everywhere in the Philippines) slower than a dial up connection, and the service… let’s just say there is plenty of room for improvement.  At check out, they were nice enough (after much debating and having to show them on site, what we meant by sea-view) to give us a non sea-view rate, and we also should mention that the beach was beautiful and well maintained.

If you are looking for a place to stay, dont be deceived by appearances, and if you are looking for something to eat… This may be your time to get adventurous and try some of the local eateries! cheap and… Ma sarap!

If you love nature, a little adventure and the sea, Santa Ana is a place you should put high up on your list.  Head over to Palaui island and treck to the Spanish-era Cape Engaño Lighthouse.  Enjoy the beautiful Anguib and Nangaramoan beaches.  Explore the Gotan mangrove forest and waterfalls, Padlas and Lamesa Falls or ride a Takuli and go firefly watching at Brgy. Casagan.

Santa Ana is a good four and a half hour ride from Pagudpud and a three hour ride from the provincial capital (Tuguegarao).

Having mentioned all of the above, if there is something we would like to highlight about Santa Ana and Cagayan, that would have to be the ride itself.  We rode into Santa Ana from Pagudpud and we went to Baler after.  The landscapes tell a visual story that changes constantly.  A 12 hour journey (Santa Ana to Baler) became a visit to natures very own art gallery, offering incredibly beautiful views of the Sierra Madre on one side and the Cordillera Central on the other.  Definitely a must if you are looking for something a little less ordinary.

Motorcycle Rental Philippines

Renting a motorcycle in the Philippines is something which is becoming easier by the day.  If you are traveling around the Philippines, chances are that, even if you don’t see a motorcycle rental establishment, if you ask around, you will find someone willing to rent out his/her motorcycle for a fee.

Most motorcycles in the Philippines are small displacement (125 – 250cc), but bigger displacement motorcycles are slowly finding their way into the market and you will need one with an engine of 400cc or above to be able to ride through the expressways legally.  These expressways are not common and at the time of writing are limited to the ones taking you from Metro Manila north and southbound.

The Philippines has, however, a pretty good road system connecting the different provinces and islands.  Roro (Roll on roll off) ferries offer connections between the main and neighboring islands, making roadtrips a great alternative to traveling by bus, crammed vans or flights.  Not to mention that traveling by road with the ability to stop as one wishes, will allow you to visit some very remote areas and see some of the less travelled places in the country.

It is important to know that a lot of these roads are under construction and it is not strange to suddenly come across sections which disappear or have 2 lanes (one in each direction) merge into one, having vehicles take turns to go through.  Towns and villages are also usually built on the sides of the road, so watch out for kids running (and playing basketball in the middle of the road) and all sorts of animals on the road.

Renting a scooter or small displacement motorcycle will probably set you back php150-700/day.  Remember to ask for a helmet and know that you will most likely not be covered by any insurance in case of accident, in which case you will have to pay for any hospitalization and repairs to the motorcycle.  Also remember to ask for the OR/CR (Original Receipt/Certificate of Registration) as you will need to present them in case you get pulled over by the police or if you plan to get your motorcycle on a roro to get to another island.

At Sakay & Co, we offer, not only the rental service of custom motorcycles in different styles (cafe racer, tracker, scrambler, bobber…) but the added service of a support vehicle.  If you plan to ride around the Philippines, you may want to combine that with scuba diving, surfing, or just relaxing by the beach.

Your travel plans may also be for a duration of more than 10 days and your luggage may be bulkier than the ideal for a motorcycle trip.  So no need to worry, we take c are of your luggage, you pick up the bike, enjoy the ride and we deliver your luggage safely at the next destination.  We have ridden all the itineraries we offer and we provide valuable information about the routes.  We are not the biggest fans of organised tours, so you never have to feel you are part of one.  You only see us when we pick up/deliver your luggage, unless you want to see more of us for any guided experience or other forms of assistance.

 

Rice terraces ::: Batad, Banaue, Sagada and sorroundings.

As much as the Philippines is mostly known for its beautiful beaches and coral reefs, one must not forget about the rice terraces located in the Cordillera Administrative Region, in Luzon.  We rode to Batad, Banaue, Buscalan Village and Sagada to get a glimpse of some of the most beautiful landscapes this mountainous region has to offer.

Batad

Located in the Ifugao province, Batad has probably one of the most remote and inaccessible rice terraces of them all, but at the same time the most spectacular.  It is roughly a 10-12 hour ride from Manila or a 40-60 minute ride from Banaue Town Proper, but one must park 1km away and hike to get to the village.

As a day trip, getting there relatively early will allow you to enjoy breakfast, overlooking the terraces before heading down to Tappiya Falls.  Many ask if it is a must to get a guide to do so, and as much as one could find the way fairly easily, it is not so much a question of whether one needs a guide but a question of whether the guide needs the traveller.  A guided tour of the terraces and a visit to the falls will set you back Php1200, which goes a long way for most locals.  Not to mention that the local guides will take you to the best places from which you can snap your Instagram worthy moments.

The hike to the Tappiya Falls and back, takes approximately 5 hours and it is relatively physically demanding, but definitely possible for anyone to do, and absolutely worth the effort.  Remember to bring river shoes to make getting in the water for a swim a much easier task.

If you do have time, 2 or more nights in Batad (we had an amazing experience at Rita’s Mount View Inn and Restaurant), are ideal to spend more time exploring the surrounding villages and sights.

Banaue

This larger and more easily accessible town, is our jump off point of choice, especially if time is of the essence.  From Banaue, one can reach a number of “must see” places with relative ease. The UNESCO World Heritage List included The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras in 1995 and includes the Batad Rice Terraces, Bangaan Rice Terraces (both within the Municipality of Banaue), Mayoyao Rice Terraces (in Mayoyao), Hungduan Rice Terraces (in Hungduan) and Nagacadan Rice Terraces (in Kiangan), all in the Ifugao Province and most, at a reasonable distance.

Buscalan

Similar to Batad, Buscalan requires visitors to leave their form of transportation (it takes 1.5 to 2 hours to ride from Sagada or 2.5 to 3 hours from Banaue) and hike for about 45 minutes to an hour and a half to get to the village.  A guide is required and you will have no problem finding one at the make shift car park area where the hike starts.

While you will be able to see some rice terraces (much smaller than the others mentioned in this article, the main attraction in Buscalan is the famous Whang-od and her students.  At 100 years old, Whang-od is the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines (at the time of writing) and is the last mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattooist).  Traditionally, these tattoos were done on Kalinga warriors, and to become a warrior, one should have killed another person and bring the head as proof.  Nowadays, many local and foreign tourists head up to Buscalan to get a tattoo from Whang-od and it may require an overnight stay (sometimes more) at the village.  There are plenty home-stay options in the village, but we were with Charlie Knows and highly recommend it.

A great alternative, considering Whang-od’s age is to get inked by one of her 2 students Grace Palicas, and Ilyang Wigan.  For some it may not be an option, but if you want something special, getting a tattoo from the next generation is as special, if you ask us.  Both Grace and Ilyang, will be in this year’s Singapore Ink Show.  You can also find more info on Tattooed by Apo Whang-Od Facebook Group.

Sagada

Another “must” while up in the mountains lies a 3 hour ride from Banaue.  In Sagada, one can visit it’s famous caves and hanging coffins, drink their coffee or go white water rafting.  We had our best food at Coffee Heritage House and the Yoghurt House.  The first one is a little more remote, but if you want a great meal in a very peaceful environment with a staff that has a good eye for details, this is definitely something you should keep in your list.

When visiting any of the sights in Sagada, one must first register at a tourist infformation office and hire a guide.

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