Palanan – the town that time forgot.

Mention the name Palanan, and even province mates of this remote town finds this municipality a mystery, mainly because of its inaccessibility and many natural wonders, said Governor Ma. Gracia Cielo Padaca, who described the 397 – year old town as “one of Isabela’s best kept secrets.” Though some outsiders tag Palanan (population less than 20,000) as “the town that time fogot,” many of its residents don’t seem to mind.

Palanan, Isabela

Nestled in the farthest eastern corner of the province of Isabela, bounded by the Pacific Ocean, the relatively small and unknown coastal town of Palanan provides a number of empty and peaceful “island alternatives” when its neighboring provinces are jam-packed with beach frolickers.

The mainly Catholic community, said to be founded by Frnciscan missionaries in 1609 on the banks of the Pinacanawan River, is bounded by the towns of Divilacan in the north and San Mariano in the south and west, and the vast Pacific Ocean in the east.

Paranan, a mixture of Ibanag, Spanish, Tagalog and the indigenous Agta (or Dumagat) language is the town’s dialect. One can freely interact with the Agtas which makes the trip to this island more interesting. The Agtas are semi-nomadic tribes roaming the Sierra Madre Mountains and leaves along the lean-tos along the river and seacoast.

Palanan was established as a township by the Augustinian friars in 1609 and the parish was named in honor of Saint Mary Magdalene whose feast day falls every 22nd of July. This far flung municipality has been known as the place where General Emilio Aguinaldo, President of the First Philippine Republic, made his “last stand” against US forces in 1901. The geographical location of this town has played its role in our history being the last seat of government of our first president. He sought refuge in what is now called Barangay Marikit, where he met and fell in love with local lass named Isabel Lopez. American forces led by General Frederick Funston finally capture General Aguinaldo on March 23, 1901.

Palanan may have failed to prevent the capture of General Aguinaldo by the US troops in 1901, but this does not mean that the town is devoid of heroes. Former Environment Secretary and Representative Heherson Alvarez, pushed for the establishment in the northern Sierra Madre mountains of a nature park. The park, which later became a component of the World-Bank funded integrated Protected Areas System, was declared the Palanan Wilderness.

Nature conservationist have managed to push Palanan into the limelight, calling it “the home of the guardians of the Sierra Madre” and citing local folks for sacrificing their poor town’s progress and development” in order to save the virgin forests in the northern part of the mountain range. The mountains are “wild and remote, with not a single road crossing the range in its entire length (although most maps do erroneously show several routes).” The terrain is extremely rugged, the mountains steep and densely forested. The highest point within the area is Mount Cresta (eleavation:5486 feet), with at least two more peaks namely Mount Divilacan (4,301 feet) and Mount Palanan (3,977 feet).”

More than 90,000 hectares of Palanan’s total land area of 1,220 square kilometers are timberland, while another 10,339 hectares are used as cropland. It has a built-up area of only 52.05 hectares. In the absence of direct road access from adjacent towns, Palanan can only be reached by a 30-35 minute flight in a six-seater, single engine Cyclone Cessna commuter plane from Cauayan City or a six to seven-hour boat ride from the towns of Dingalan or Baler in Aurora province, in the south, or a three to five day hike from San Mariano town. Except for some tricycles, a few horses and improvised three-wheeled motorized “kuligligs”, the streets of Palanan are empty most of the time.

“Taking the plane in itself is a treat in itself,” Governor Padaca emphasized. “You can see the beauty of the Sierra Madre from the sky, the green treetops look like giant broccolis. Eco tourists will be glad to know that six kinds of forests have been identified in the area, ranging from the lowland evergreen to montane, mangrove beach forest, limestone and forest growing on ultra basic rocks.

Palanan, Isabela

Bird studies conducted in the early 90s by an international team of scientists revealed 241 species, along with 78 of the nation’s 169 endemic species, including the mighty Philippine Eagle. It was a similar story with mammals, 14 species of bats were also found to be endemic.

According to Department of Tourism’s Regional director Blessida Diwa, for a long time, tourism has not been given much attention in the province despite its diverse offering to both environmentalist and regular tourists. But the DOT, with the help of the local government of Isabela, is trying to change that now. Palanan’s rich and colorful historical background, natural harbors, abundant corrals, prolific marine life and rich terrestrial areas including virgin forests are just among the resources that it can offer for eco-tourism destinations.

And then there are the virgin white sand beaches of Dicotcotan and Didadungan, probably Isabela’s best kept secrets. The coastline of both beaches are very much exposed to strong waves from the Pacific Ocean, perfect not only for swimming but also for surfing. Dicotcotan beach has a three-kilometer coastline with coral reefs, sea grass beads and sandy shoreline that is fringed with a coastal forest and a a village. According to Reynante de Veyra, a staff from the city hall, there has been frequent sightings of pointed nosed dolphins and hump back whales aside from the various species of fishes and shellfish, and marine turtles that can be seen from the surface.

Other interesting eco-tourism spots in Palanan are the Culasi Beach, Diminalo Lake, Kanataw Lake, Digoyo Lake, Kanasamuyan Cave, Disangkilan and Sad-sad falls. A lot of natural attractions to see which makes the trip to this remote town time well spent.

About the Contributor: Vic Albornoz Lactaoen is currently a travel writer for Cebu Pacific Airway’s new inflight magazine-Smile and contributor for Manila Bulletin’s Travel Section and The Business Mirror. He still travels extensively around the country and hopes to finish his first travel book on off beat destinations in the Philippines soon.

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  • Margel
  • http://none Margel

    I am encouraging you to visit palanan, as if its gonna be the last paradise on earth for those who have not yet gone there. I have not yet gone home since 1995. Im sure malaki na pinagbago ngayon. Kumusta kamon atanan han.Mabuhay kam a atanan…


  • Janice

    i havn’t been to Palanan, but while reading this article and comments, i was imagined that Palanan is a ‘Paradise’.

    i was born in cabatuan, isabela but i felt i was a stranger to my own province. i didn’t even memorize all the towns of isabela. there are three places that are very common to me, Cabatuan, Cuayan and Santiago only, and the rest? i don’t know.

    we had a trip going to Palanan this september, with my friend. he was born in there. i really am exited to our upcoming adventurous trip. it will be my first ride in a plane, yes! it’s my first time.

    i love environment, i want to see those so called ‘remote places’ in palanan. i want to meet the people there, eventhough i didn’t know much about their dialect but i have a little bit of idea about paranan, like ‘uhu’ means yes and awan or ‘andak’ means no, if im not mistaken.

  • Margel Cauilan

    I was born in Dimasari Palanan, Isabela. Truly Palanan is blessed with vast natural.I love Palanan very much.. Miss You Palanan..

  • querubin

    my province is in ilagan isabela.but today im here in laguna.even me asking on how to go in palanan.i think palanan is lack of information to tourist.i hope that palanan will known of its natural beauty not just local but globally.

  • Annika

    I am from Delfin Albano Isabela and now lives here in Manila. I’d love to visit Palanan and I am curious about the place. I’ve been surfing for more pictures of this hidden paradise but I am not succesful. I think I really should go to this place and post every picture I’d capture. =)

    I believe that Palanan’s lack of an accessible road is a gift itself. We wouldnt want it to be overly crowded like Boracay, right? So, enjoy the hardships of getting there and when you reach the place, embrace the reward of its enchanting beauty. 😉

    BTW,is it safe to go on October??


  • John

    Hi everyone

    A Kano here (well, British). I have been living in San Mateo in Isabela for 2+ years and would love to see Palanan. Every time I look at Google Earth the place beckons as a remote wilderness which must contain much beauty. Glad to see people have confirmed this.

    Can anyone help with the practicalities. My relatives put me off going because “I will be kidnapped/there is NPA activity/the planes always crash.”

    I don’t believe any of it, but can anyone supply details of the air service from Cauayan (cost, frequency) and if we get there would there be places to stay, etc.

    Thanks in advance for all help.

    Best wishes


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  • http://[email protected] wendy

    miss ko na pribinsya…

  • ron

    wow, nakakamiss tlaga my hometown…naturetriping lang palanan kana…sana makauwi na rin.

  • jigs

    palanan is such a nice place. people are very friendly and hospitable. I hope there would be better airlines which is safer and hi tech. the runway should be concreted, hey DOT please help. I hope they wouldn’t allow rich people to own most of the beach lots there so that it will not end up to abused to preserve its natural beauty.

  • joel

    how i wish to visit palanan but i am afraid of the cyclone airways

  • ache

    thanks for featuring my beloved hometown. I really miss this place. maganda dito, promise.

  • karen grace dulay

    kainis nung pattaradday,,dinaya rin kame!!!!!!gaya gaya ang mga “BAGAO FESTIVAL”……………

  • gil

    ganyan talaga ang ibang tao, pag natalo – dinaya, pag nanalo – nandaya. get the meaning of PATTARADAY?

  • lei

    kakainis nung pattaradday festival,last May 5,2007,..dinaya kami!!!!!!

  • islandslinked

    I haven’t been in Palanan but my parents were originally from Cabatuan and whenever my family goes to Isabela the only memory that remains to me is an endless vision of rice fields and more rice fields. Maybe I can include Palanan on my next trip, I can bear the eight hour trip from Manila but I wouldn’t dare myself be victimized by NPA’s – can somebody educate me about the existence of this militant group? My grandfather was killed by them and we were robbed of armaments when I was a young child.
    I hope tourism would flourish here and the latest buzz I’ve heard is that it is slowly turning to a little European town because a lot of Isabela women had married Germans and the like and they build their houses everywhere in the towns of this province.

  • Gil Aluning

    Palanan, Isabela is really a beautiful place. The beauty of the place lies within the people of Palanan. They are really courteous, what’s amazing is, the people of Palanan seems to come from all parts of Isabela and the country, it’s a melting pot.

    I have been to Palanan twice, enchanted by her beauty. My two trips to place was all done by foot. We crossed the Sierra Madre Mountain Range from San Mariano and the beauty of the place starts from the trek itself, the trek was totally amazing that we did it twice, following the so called “Aguinaldo Trail”. Although i have summited several known peaks in our country and have gone to the Coastal Towns of Isabela, the long trek to palanan is the best experience of all. Try it folks!

  • Marlon

    Hi there, thanks for putting palanan to public, i leave in palanan, its been almost 8 years that i left my town to pursue my college education, thanks for those beutifull words, if you want i can give you some photo’s, im just completing some info’s on palanan and add more details in the wikepedia, can i include one of those you written,
    thanks alot, my bday is july 22, 1982, our partonal town fiesta, and if you dont believe my brothers bday is march 23 which is palanan day

  • http://yahoo riza

    hi 2 all isabelinos….
    make your kababayans proud of you!

  • jpm


    Thanks for featuring one of the towns of my province. Even when I was kid, I’ve been hearing stories from my whole household about the place.It makes me wonder now how I wish to see the place. Mind you, I live now outside Pinas but still keeps on coming back to visit. Im considering Palawan on my next vacation. The question is is there a road that link the place from the nearby towns of Isabela? I cant wait to see the place before the vultures will damage it.

    Thanks and have a nice day.

  • Anto

    Dear Vic,

    How are you?


  • Vic Lactaoen
  • zherwin

    eversince i read this article from clickthecity, i google palanan, isabela for some possible guided tour. i was able to find that dept of tourism region 2 has this tour package for palanan. they provided some contact numbers but i think the published numbers are not working.

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