Apayao Province: Adventure Destination

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In my books, Apayao is a top adventure destination. It is so raw that very few travelers venture into this northermost Cordillera province. Admittedly not an easy destination. But its remoteness adds to the adventure.


Apayao is bounded on the north and on the east by Cagayan. That is why it was, for a time, part of Cagayan. To its west is Ilocos and Abra. To the south is the province of Kalinga which was, also for a time, part of the Kalinga-Apayao province.

One would think that the asy access would be from Ilocos. There is none. Or from Abra. Think again. Apayao is accessed via Cagayan Valley, from the toen of Pamplona, in particular.

Thus, the adventurous visitor will have to travel all the way to Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte, cross Patapat, and drive on to the Cagayan towns of Sta Praxedes, Claveria, Sanchez Mira, and Pamplona. The junction in Pamplona leads to the first and most progressive town of Luna, Apayao.

One must make arrangements for accommodations before traveling to Apayao as there are not many. Again, that is characteristic of places where one goes on an adventure.


Marag Valley  is a haven for adventure travelers. Proceed to the Tourism Center in Marag Valley which is easy to find because it is within the barangay’s basketball court. Make arrangements to tour the Dupag Rock Formations, the Hanging Bridge, and the Manacota Underground River.

Dupag Rock Formation

If you are extremely fit and athletic, take the hard route. As for me, I felt that the easy route was actually hard. Wear shoes or sandals with great grip and traction as the rocks could be slippery. Do not go without a guide, as you will need him/them as human ladders.

The rock formations are accessed after crossing a shallow river.



Hanging Bridge

Not quite an adventure, but definitely a must see, even just for photography. A hut on the foot of the bridge serves as Visitors Center. List down, and make a donation. You can also arrange a picnic on a floating hut on the river.



Manacota Underground River

This is, to me, the better one of the two underground rivers in Apayao. Hike for 1.5 kilometers, crossing the same river 7x moving from one side of the river to the other, because in some parts the other end would be rocks and boulders where you can not hike. One river crossing would be nearly waist deep. Make sure you wear quick-dry shirts and shorts

Second river crossing was waist deep. And 5 more river crossings after this.

The reward from the long hike is the beautiful mouth of the river. Going in is even more pleasurable, as the narrow boat navigates in between rocks and boulders INSIDE THE CAVE. No this is not like Puerto Princesa.

The end of the underground river cruise is a beautiful spot that looks like paradise. You may want to swim there, or just stay to immerse in the beauty of nature.

Lussok Underground River

This is easier to access. We parked our 4×4 right into the grounds where the tourism desk is. There is also a toilet for visitors here. Access is easier as there is no hike, but the roadworks have not been completed so we drove our 4X4 onto a shallow river and muddy roads. 

The cruise into the cave is steadier, as the boat has a balancer (bamboo poles on its side, but not really outriggers. It was so steady the guide stood on the other end of the boat. 

Start point for spelunking

Pudtol Ruins

This is found behind the Municipal Hall of Pudtol, within the school compund, right beside the church. This was an old Spanisg church built with the intention of Christianizing the indigenous Isnegs. Another church ruins can be found in Mataguisi, a different barangay in Pudtol.

Where to Stay

Star Jewel
Hands down, it will have to be Star Jewel. The proprietor, Josefina, is a retired nurse. Basic accommodations, but nice and clean, and airconditioned. meals can be arranged. The dining room is folksy, and there is a videoke for free use of guests.

Another Option
Big groups may want to stay at the cottages operated by the Tourism Office. Each cottage can have as many as 10pax for P2,500 a night. There are many such cottages, each one with its own dining room and a living area.

Contact the Toursim office thru their facebook page


Star Jewel Lodge in Apayao

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It is a jewel. And I am happy to have found it.

Star Jewel is, to me, the best place to stay in Apayao. It is in Luna town, the first town the traveler will hit when entering Apayao via the usual and fastest way – –  from Pamplona in Cagayan Valley.


First town from Cagayan Valley

The place is comfortable, homey, and friendly. No frills. No fuzz. I rate it 5 stars not because of its rooms nor its facilities. No, no way it compares with the best hotels. But it is perfect for travelers like me wanting to experience the rugged beauty of the province of Tuguegarao.

It is a nice place to come home to after rock climbing, after crossing rivers, after spelunking or just taking boat rides thru underground rivers. It is a nice place to have a beer, and a chat with other guests with the same passion and interest. And for warm, small talk with the owner, retired nurse Josefina, and her staff.

owner Josefina, retired nurse

Josefina tells me that when she started the business, it was billed as “homestay”. Because that was how the hospitality business started in Apayao when there were only a few visitors, and no real hotels. Realizing that homestays mean accommodating visitors into your own home, and because she has built private rooms for guests, she then called it, appropriately, a lodge. Star Jewel Lodge. And because of her facilities, the lodge is accredited by the Department of Tourism.

I arrived around 7pm because travel to Apayao is really long. Travelers from Manila will have to take NLEX SCTEX TPLEX and drive on all the way to Pagudpud and to the  Cagayan Valley towns of Sta Praxedes, Claveria, Sanchez Mira, and Pamplona. It is in Pamplona where there is a junction to Apayao with Luna as the first town.

The late arrival, tired from travel, was met with a pleasant dinner of crabs and adobo, plus seaweeds salad, and bananas for dessert.

My room was clean and nice, I mean nicer than I expected since Apayao is a poor and remote province. My room had aircondtioning, a nice bed (actually 2 beds), a proper toilet with shower and toiletries.


The common dining area was simple and folksy, complete with a videoke for visitors, at no extra charge. Coffee is always available and one only needs to get some from the thermos. Drinking water is purified.

Breakfast can also be arranged, as I did.

Exploring Apayao’s rock formations, underground rivers and other interesting spots will necessitae staying at Star Jewel at least two nights. Thus, plan your trip well, and book the nights you will need. Because you might otherwise have to stay somewhere with less than the comforts and atmosphere of Star Jewel.

Josefina does not always have her mobile phone with her. So you need to persevere and keep calling. Better yet, send her a text message so you know you get your reservation across, and continue to call to confirm, if she hasn’t returned the call.

As I checked out after 2 nights for my long journey to Kalinga, Josefina gave me plenty of suman (rice cakes)  as my baon. Wonderful, thoughtful lady indeed. 

I felt so enamored I wanted to review them on tripadvisor, but they were not listed. So I listed Star Jewel on tripadvisor and, hopefully, they will be so listed. I will be back to Star Jewel. For the suman. And for the warm welcome.

visit their facebook page:


Solaire Resort and Casino

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I have seen posts from many friends. Typical of me, I almost always am the last to see a new place.

First set foot inside Solaire a few months back to watch Celeste perform at the Theatre. And then, Sound of Music came in and I booked tickets for the family, and a room. A Sky Suite, to be exact.

We were advised to enter thru the Sky Tower VIP entrance. I thought it was a special entrance, and it turns out it is the usual hotel entrance. Had to walk thru the hallway past the smoke-filled casino.

The front desk is at the lobby beside the PRADA store.

We got to our 12th floor suite. Hmmmm, nice room. Two queen sized-beds, complete amenities (as expected of a suite within a “luxury” hotel). A sitting room with fruits and chocolates to welcome us.



I only wished we had a room with a better view.

So we won’t have to rush for dinner, thinking it would take up so much time ordering and waiting for the meals, and waiting for the bill – – we ordered room service dinner a good two hours before. It came promptly, and both my wife and daughter liked everything we ordered so much that we finished what we thought was too much food to finish.

We didn’t get anything from the mini bar, though. And noticed that water is more expensive than beer.


The housekeeping and in-room dining service staff are excellent. I would not give as high a rating to the front desk staff who made us wait for our room, even when it was already available. And we were ushered to a smoking bar/lounge beside the front desk, for complimentary drinks, while waiting. Until I stood up to ask if the room was available, we were not being called, as they earlier promised to do once the room was ready.

Minus this check-in episode, I rate Solaire pretty good. And I don’t mind staying there again when a show I like gets to be scheduled at the Theatre.

Segara Villas in Subic

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This is a cluster of 10 or so villas. Actually single detached hotel rooms that provide utmost privacy. Guests do not have next-wall neighbors. On top of privacy, discriminating guests will find that the villas are so well designed, inside and outside. Guests walk through a shaded garden pathway with interesting accents like jars and water features. When one gets to his villa, a comfortable lounge awaits, and a wide, orthopedic bed with linen and pillows one finds in 5-star hotels.

Aesthetics. I have always loved things Balinese and I have enough of it in Segara. Even the bathroom features a small, narrow open space one sees through a glass panel, creating an outdoorsy feeling while in the tub or shower.

The swimming pool is immaculate, and never busy.  Or at least that is how I have seen it in my last four visits. It is possible that the swimming pool might go busy in summer, as it is also accessible to the guest of the adjoining Segara Suites. No matter. I have a good view of the pool when I am in the terrace of my favorite executive villa called Lovina.

wilderness, right within a meter from my veranda


The service is always excellent. Even at the restaurant.

No wonder Segara remains as my default home in Subic. And I continue to share experiences to fellow travelers while paying full rates in all hotels, and not getting anything for free, as I have always thought that bloggers should be honest in their review (not tainted by freebies).

I took photos using only my iPhone. For better photos and more details (rates, bookings, how to get there etc)


Ironwood Hotel Tacloban


I have been to Tacloban many times before. But I am visiting Tacloban for the first time after it was devastated by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) a few years ago. Local and internationl aid poured in. Government and the private sector joined hands in its rehabilitation. And today, I saw no signs of the havoc I was then seeing on TV.

I used to stay at Leyte Park Hotel. But even on a previous trip prior to Yolanda, I got disappointed with its state of disrepair, so I checked into another hotel then. That nice hotel, I understand, did not escape Yolanda’s fury.

And so I was pleasantly surprised finding Ironwood, from my research of the best Tacloban Hotels. And Ironwood did not disappoint.

Before the trip, I booked the hotel’s biggest room, an executive suite at the corner. As I pulled the drapes, I had Tacloban streets below me. The room was of good size and accommodated an extra bed which I ordered for the rodeo players who fetched me at the airport (we rode the Ironwood Hotel van). The room had a ref with drinks and a bar with snacks charged per consumption. Toiletries were sufficient. The room also had a safe. Everything I expected from a high-standard hotel.


We checked out the 5th Floor open terrace and had beer. The place is also the hotel’s smoking area as the city prohibits smoking in public (and the hotel of course disallows smoking in rooms and in the hotel’s public areas).

Breakfast was included in the room rate, as well as complimentary wifi. Breakfast was buffet on my first stay. But plated when I returned as buffet was not going to be cost-efficient for the hotel when the rooms are not all taken.

Coffee and cake is nice at the Seed Cafe by the lobby

I actually returned to Ironwood a few days later. That pretty much sums up the satisfaction I experienced with this hotel.


I couldn’t resist this. Returning to Tacloban on my way back to Manila, I was supposed to stay in another hotel, booking the biggest suite that was to cost me P30,000 a night (lower than their usual rate). When I advised that hotel I might arrive early, like 9am, I was to be levied an early check-in rate. While this was that hotel’s policy, I felt it was not a friendly one since they could not have accommodated other guests between 9am and 12noon and therefore would not have lost any revenue. I have been allowed to check in early when the room is available. When a guest is till in the room booked for me, I leave my luggage and get into the room at the usual check in time, and this is all fine. But no hotel anywhere in the world has charged me for being 3-5 hours early. Thus, I cancelled, and stayed again at Ironwood instead

Tacloban after Yolanda

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Except for the ship ran aground that stays as a tourist attraction in Barangay Anibong, visitors will not find any trace of the devastation typhoon Yolanda brought to Tacloban years ago.


Tacloban City is robust and is like any other big city. There is a SaveMore, Gaisano, Robinson’s and a host of hotels fit even for the discriminating.

On arrival in Tacloban, I was met by members of the rodeo team from nearby Baybay, rodeo players from VSU. Together we found a place I was to go back to on the return trip to Tacloban to fly back to Manila. This is now my default drinking place in Tacloban. This barbecue area at the end of the road in Magsaysay, near City Hall, attracts foodies and drinkers as the sun is threatening to set.


We sat on a table with monobloc chairs as the area was yet being set up. We later on found out that the tables were to be covered with table cloth and an umbrella hoisted. Never mind, we ordered ahead and enjoyed our beer and barbecue a meter away from the water. What a sight. They also sold “puso”, cooked rice wrapped in what looks like pandan leaves so that diners can have rice with their barbecues. We ordered all sorts of barbecues – – pork, squid, innards, etc.



The hotel I stayed in was Ironwood and I  would rate it high when I go to my tripadvisor account. The rooms are nice, the service good, plus the fact that they have an open terrace on the 5th floor where beer and food can also be ordered.


front desk of Ironwood Hotel


my favorite spot – – an open terrace at the 5th Floor


We visited the nearby town of Javier and checked out the Javier Carabao Multiplier Farm. This facility was set up thru the Philippine Carabao Center and the farm produces carabao milk that the workers pasteurize into bottled milk, some with chocolate and also into pastillas.

(photo courtesy of Leo Gozum)

photo courtesy of Leo Gozum



A tour around Tacloban is never complete without San Juanico Bridge. It was rainy but I was lucky to have taken some shots when the sun showed for a brief moment.




Another farm we visited was Doctor Camenforte’s Farm at the north end of Tacloban. It is an integrated farm with goats, carabaos, ducks, cows etc and is frequently visited by students taking up agriculture or Animal Science.

(photo taken by Roy Briones Loreto)




Dr Floro Comenforte, the farm owner (photo taken by Roy Briones Loreto)

I think a parachute visit into Tacloban is not sufficient and I must return to photograph the other places I missed visitng this time.

Palani Beaches in Balud, Masbate

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kilometers of white sandy beaches

I first visited this stretch of long, powdery white sand beaches in 2013. On a recent vist, I was not surprised that this paradise is developing quite fast, and I think that by sheer distance it will never go the way of Boracay or Puerto Galera. SoPpalani will forever be beautiful.

Palani is the crown jewel of the town of Balud, 68 kilometers from Masbate City, the capital of this island province. From the town proper, the beaches are 2.5 kilometers away. Habal habal (back-riding on a single motorbike) is the mode of transport for travelers without their own transport from Balud to Palani.

Today, I would rate Paraiso de Palani as the top resort in this long stretch. Right beside it is Palani Beach Park.


Paraiso de Palani lives up to its name. I like the thoughtful design that blends the facilities with nature. There are huts and shades with white curtains that dance to the wind. The accommodations are well appointed and inexpensive. The staff hospitable, as well as the dogs “Negro” and Negra”, And the amazing turkey that seems to have appointed himself as the official “one-man” welcome committee.


Accommodations, all airconditioned, are as low as P1,200 for a room with a bed for two. Two rooms, slightly bigger, rent out for P1,800 for 2 pax. Then there are the pricier “presidential” rooms with wider floor areas and queen sized beds at P2,500, also  for 2 pax. They have rooms for 6 that go for P3,000, with TV and ref. There is a dorm good for 24, with 2 toilets and bath in the room, for only P6,000. There are smaller dorms for 8 or for 10 persons at lower rates.

Room for 6, aircon, with toilet and bath, TV, ref, for P3,000


veranda of the room for 6


Room for 2, aircom, with T&B for P1,800


“Casita” room for 2, aircon, with T&B for P1,200

“Presidential”, a bigger room for 2 for P2,500

Dorm for 24pax at P6,000, with aircon plus 2 T&B

Three of us had lunch consisting of 3 big fried samaral, 4 legs of chicken inasal, rice and bottled water. The bill came up to only P730.

Pity that we were not ready for an overnight stay because our bags were still in the hotel in the city where we checked in. Paraiso de Palani is an “I must return and stay” destination.

Contact Grace Dalida for reservations at

0998 577 6818

email : paraisodepalani@yahoo.com

or check out their facebook        https://web.facebook.com/paraisodepalanibeachvillas/





Bocala Beach Resort


My Q

And then there is HORIZON at the far end on the right. I didn’t take photos –  personally I wasn’t impressed and I thought the huge colorful HORIZON sign, meant for groufies, was a turn off.

There are also some “unbranded” smaller resorts that visitors may check out, and maybe find even more bargain.


How to go to Palani

We went to Palani on our own vehicle. But there are vans that go to Balud from Masbate City, at the transport terminal in the market which locals call the mercado. The fare I think is around P200 per person, on a 1 1/2 to 2 hours ride over beautiful sceneries of hills and mountains that will remind visitors this is cattle country. There are ranches along the way and grazing cows on grassy hills are a common sight. The roads look immaculate while seemingly endless. From Balud it will be easy to arrange for transport to Palani – – – a solo traveler can take habal habal (on a single motorbike, as the passenger, for P30-50 per person).


How to go to Masbate City


Masbate City is beautiful. Check out the city before you go out of town. You may even want to prep yourself up for a Masbate beach experience by taking a short boat ride from the city center to Buntod Reef, a sand bar that is the center of a marine sanctuary.

so beautiful, so accessible


PAL and Cebu Pacific fly direct from Manila to Masbate daily. Fares on PAL average P5,000 one way, depending on the season

There are also roro buses from Cubao. Check out Isarog Bus, Raymond, and RORO. A regular aircon bus from Cubao to Masbate is around P1,200 one-way. Isarog includes some buses on its fleet where there are fewer seats and the seats recline like airline seats, with a toilet in the bus, for a higher fare.

You can drive your car to Masbate. Travel to Pio Duran Port past Ligao town in Albay and pay P2,500 per 4-wheeled vehicle to transport your car via roro. This will include the boat ticket for 1 passenger. Extra passengers pay the boat fare. Roro ships leave Pio Duran at 8pm, 3 am and 5 pm. Be there at least 2 hours before to arrange your transport.

Alternatively, drive on to the port at Pilar in Sorsogon. The roro fare for your vehicle will be P3,000. There are roro vehicles from 10pm, 2 am and 5am.

Palani, you’re for me


I have visited Masbate so many times and have marveled at the sights, moving me to write about how beautiful and how underrated this province is.