The northeast of Luzon, comprising the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Aurora, Isabela and Cagayan, is one of the archipelago’s least explored regions, with miles of beautiful coastline and enormous tracts of tropical rainforest. Following the National Highway from Ilocos as it curves south brings you to the biggest city in the region, Tuguegarao, the starting point for trips to the Peñablanca Caves. Alternatively turn off the highway and follow the north coast road to reach Santa Ana, home to the country’s best game-fishing and the departure point for boat trips to the rugged and isolated Babuyan Islands.
The coast south of Santa Ana and east of Tuguegarao is cut off from the rest of Luzon by the Sierra Madre mountains. One of the only significant settlements is Palanan, jump-off point for the barely explored Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park. The climbing and trekking possibilities here are exciting, but the area is so wild and remote that it’s also potentially hazardous, with poor communications and areas of impenetrable forest. Further south on the coast – but unreachable by road from Palanan – is Baler, the best-known tourist destination in the northeast. This coastal town has become a popular surfing destination, but its location six hours from Manila means that it isn’t swamped with weekenders.
There’s only one major airport for the whole region and that’s at Tuguegarao, served by Philippine Airlines from Manila. There is also a small airport in Cauayan, from which it’s possible to take a twin-engine aircraft to the airstrips in Palanan and Maconacon. Buses run regularly from Manila to Baler via Cabanatuan, about three hours north of the capital.