Isabela is the largest province on the island of Luzon in land area

Isabela is the largest province on the island of Luzon in land area. Its capital is the city of Ilagan. Situated within the Cagayan Valley region, it is bordered by the provinces of Cagayan to the north, Kalinga to the northwest, Mountain Province to the central-west, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya to the southwest, Quirino and Aurora to the south, and the Philippine Sea to the east. This primarily agricultural province is the rice and corn granary of Luzon due to its plain and rolling terrain. The province got its name from Isabella II of Spain, the first regnant queen of Spain. There have been proposals to change the name of the province into something that will better suit the indigenous roots of the country. However such plans were utterly rejected by residents of Isabela. Founded in 1856 through a Royal Decree and named after Queen Isabela II of Spain, Isabela province of the Philippines is known for its agriculture industry especially tobacco and corn. Spanish conquistadores ruled for so many centuries in this part of the Philippines until Americans came. The locals of Isabela are mostly Catholics but there are also coming from cultural groups as the dominant Ilocano, the Ibanag, Tagalog, Itawes, Yogad, and the highland’s Dumagat or Agta that call this province their home.

Before 1839, the entire Cagayan Valley was one large province which the Spanish insular government designated as La Provincia del Valle de Cagayan. To facilitate the conversion of the natives to Catholic Christianity by Spanish missionaries, two provinces were created in the vast territory, namely Cagayan and Nueva Vizcaya. A new wave of migration started in the late 19th century, with large numbers of Ilocanos from northwestern Luzon settling in Isabela. They were followed by other ethnolinguistic groups transforming the province into the “Melting Pot of the North”. Fast forward to today, Isabela has one of the highest literacy rates in the world at 96%. Isabela’s attractive suburban lifestyle has steadily been attractiging retirees of foreign descent, as well as Bicolanos, Visayans, and Filipinos from other regions, contributing to the fluency of Isabelinos in other languages and local dialects. How to get there? From Pasay in Manila or Cubao, air-con buses like Victory Liner and 5 Star travel to major towns like Cauayan and Santiago in Isabela for 500 to 600 pesos one way. Travel time is about 8 to 10 hours depending on the stops. There are frequent delays during trips and you will not usually have a definite journey time. For travel between cities and towns, there are buses and van shuttles that ply the major highways. For short trips around towns, the tricycle is the main mode of transport. But if you’re traveling in a group, it’s really more convenient to have your own private vehicle for getting around. Getting to some of the eco-tourism sites requires long land travel on rough roads where jeeps and trucks are the main mode of transport. To get to the jump-off for our hiking trip to waterfalls in Echague, we had to ride on the back of an Elf Truck, usually used to transport cargo. Many locals in the community here also still use the Karison, a carabao-drawn carriage to get around. For single travelers, you may have to hire a habal-habal for destinations that are off the beaten path. Activities to do in Isabela. 1st activity. Visit Magat Dam is a major source of power and water supply in Northeastern Luzon, and Southeast Asia’s biggest hydroelectric dam. It is located at the boundaries of Alfonso Lista, Ifugao and Ramon, Isabela. This multi-purpose dam is used primarily for irrigating about 85,000 hectares (210,000 acres) of agricultural lands, flood control, and power generation. 2nd activity. Visit Madadamian Falls is a newly discovered ecotourism destination in the remote village of Madadamian in Echague. The waterfall circuit has 9 identified falls of varying heights and natural pools. The tallest, Mada Falls is about 18 meters high, while Damian Falls is about 12 meters high. 3rd activity. Visit Ilagan Sanctuary, The most accessible natural tourist spot in the whole province is the Ilagan Sanctuary located in a portion of Fuyot Spring National Park that comprises the Northern Sierra Madre National Park. A hike of about 2.5 kilometers from the caves will lead to Pinzal Falls which is the main source of water for the swimming pools right by the picnic areas. The sanctuary also houses several parks and recreation areas including a botanical garden, boating area, a hanging bridge, zipline, fish pond, and a mini-zoo.

4th activity. Visit Sta. Victoria Caves, Located within the Ilagan Sanctuary is the Sta. Victoria Caves, a network of nine-chambered caves the size of a chapel, though only three can be visited. Locals discovered the caves in the 16th century and named it after Queen Victoria, the queen of Britain at the time. Unlike other caving destinations, the chambers here have been developed for tourists and are very easy to explore. 5th activity. Visit Crocodile Sanctuary, The Philippine crocodile or bukarot is considered the most threatened crocodilian species in the world due to hunting, destructive fishing and habitat conversion. It was rediscovered in the town of San Mariano in 1999. The crocodile sanctuary protects this special animal by keeping hatchlings in a rearing station before releasing them in the wild 18 months later. 6th activity. Visit Giant Butaka, The butaka is a reclining lounge or rocking chair with a lengthy back and extended arms found in many homes in Isabela. The province is home to the world’s largest lounge chair (weighing 2,368 kilos) which was built to promote the woodcraft and furniture industry of the region. The gigantic chair which measures 9.7 feet wide, 20.8 feet long and 11.4 feet high can be found in a shed at the Bonifacio Park or Freedom Park in Ilagan as a town landmark. 7th activity. Visit Churches, Isabela has many beautiful churches, the most famous of which is the Tumauini Church, which is considered the most artistic brick structure in the country and has been designated a National Cultural Treasure. Built in 1753, the Parish Church of St. Mattias in Tumauini is most known for its unique cylindrical bell tower, said to be the only one of its kind in the country. The ultra-baroque church is also known for its extensive use of baked clay bricks stamped with finely designed ornamentation like flowers, cherubs and saints. 8th activity. Visit Balai na Ilagan, Formerly a convent, the Balai na Ilagan (also known as Balay na Maguili) was set up by the Stewards and Friends of Ilagan, an N G O involved in socio-tourism efforts, as an arts, culture, music and literature hall for the youth. This is located beside the Rizal Park and is worth a visit if you’re in the area.

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