CAGAYAN FREEPORT— More people are discovering why tourist arrivals in the once-sleepy town of Santa Ana in Cagayan almost doubled in less than three years.
Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) Sec. Raul L. Lambino briefly explains why in one powerful declaration: “Santa Ana has become a magnet for travelers with a desire of adventure.”
CEZA, that runs the Special Economic Zone and Freeport, is enjoying a winning travel streak and is focused on opening more tourist destinations.
Cagayan takes pride in its pristine Palaui Island, which the Cable News Network (CNN) Travel named the third best beach in the world—even ahead of Boracay and El Nido.
Tourists have responded in record numbers and CEZA and town officials predict arrivals would likely hit more than the 338,621 visitors who came in 2018.
“That’s a 99-percent increase from the 170,285 arrivals recorded at the start of the administration of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in 2016,” Lambino said.
The tourism data would likely improve further after Royal Airlines commenced twice-weekly commercial flights from Macau and Clark Freeport to Cagayan North International Airport in Lal-lo town on Aug. 18.
Raymundo T. Roquero, Special Assistant for Promotions and Investments, said the flights would boost overall accessibility for visitors from all over the world even as CEZA continues to develop tourism products.
In April, CEZA and the town government opened facilities in Buwacag Falls in Barangay Sta. Clara, an eco-tourism site that offers, hiking, swimming and a breathtaking view of the pristine four-level waterfalls.
Although the facility was developed in order to boost tourism revenues for the town and its residents, the prices remain local-friendly with trained guides charging only P300 for four visitors and the focus remains on ecological conservation.
“We are doing our best to maintain its pristine state,” said Roquero who serves as special assistant to Lambino.
“The tourism development plan of CEZA ensures the preservation and conservation of the historic significance of these tourist spots,” he added, noting that Sta. Ana is already the top tourist destination in the Cagayan Valley region.
Lambino, for his part, said tourism has contributed much to the economy of the town and its people and ongoing developments should also boost Cagayan Freeport’s contribution to the national economy.
The Cagayan Freeport has an area of 54,000 hectares covering the entire town of Santa Ana, including the Islands of Fuga, Barit, Mabbag in the municipality of Aparri.
Thousands of tourists have already come to visit Palaui Island off Bgy. San Vicente, a protected landscape and seacape since 1994 through Presidential Proclamation No. 447. The island with a total area of 7,415.48 hectares, is on 1.25 kilometers off shore
Palaui is a definition of a ‘ raw beauty of nature’ and its beyond the usual sun-sand-sea routine which offers tourists a unique and unforgettable experience.
In January, Palaui island again brought pride to the country when it won the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Community-Based Tourism Award for 2019-2020.
Palaui can be reached after a 45-minute boat ride from the San Vicente Port, but travelers have been advised to travel early in the morning to avoid choppy waters. Boats are usually available 6 am to 5 pm only.
There are no hotels on Palaui Island, but there is a community, called Punta Verde, where more than 300 island residents offer home-stay arrangements at an affordable price.
One of the destinations on the island is the still-working centuries-old lighthouse in Cape Engaño, built by the Spanish colonial government before the end of their rule in the 19th century.
The lighthouse, originally named Faro de Cabo Engaño, is atop a promontory overlooking the Pacific Ocean and can only be reached through 229 steps that have become a minor challenge to visitors.
At the lighthouse, you will be awed by the view of the Dos Hermanas (Two Sisters) islands and the island’s white shoreline, lying after blue and emerald water. Palaui has its Anguib Beach, which prompted CNN Travel to name the island third best beach in the world six years ago.
Compared to other… CAGAYAN famous when it was chosen one of the filming locations for the reality television program “Survivor: Blood vs. Water,” offers kayaking and other nature adventures, like birding in mangrove forests.
Dumasag , on the other hand, is more relaxing and offers cottages, costing from P270 to P370.
For Lambino, developments in Sta. Ana’s tourism sector has the potential of opening opportunities that will benefit more people in the long run.
“Once they get to town, they explore Sta. Ana to see what the town has to offer that other places don’t have,” Lambino said, adding that one of these is a freeport.
Santa Ana also has Port Irene in Barangay Casambalangan, which has a land area of about 8.6 hectares and is being developed for modern port facilities, such as warehouses and cold storage.
Current developments include six warehouses in a three-hectare property that is expected to facilitate international trade, particularly for proponents of construction materials, fertilizers and heavy equipment.
The freeport has also been active in training residents in various livelihood opportunities.
In Palaui, for instance, CEZA usually provides training for the island residents as tour guides, photographers and souvenir makers, among others.
Island resident Leilani Baluloy, 38, sells refreshments, snacks and souvenirs at Cape Engaño, said her new-found livelihood not only helps her and her fisherman-husband provide for their six children but also helps townsfolk appreciate the environment more.
Another example of job generation is the creation of Buwacag Eco-Tourism Association (BETA) which manages the Buwacag Eco-Tourism Site.
Its 20 members, all residents of Barangay Santa Clara where the Buwacag falls is located, have also undergone training from the town hall and CEZA.
“CEZA and the local government of Sta. Ana work really close in helping the entire community of Sta. Ana to grow and improve their quality of life. We always coordinate our efforts,” Lambino said.