Luna: Your Gateway to Apayao

Friday, March 29, 2019

apayao things to do

This is the tenth installment of the Spread the Impact series -- a collection of travel narratives and guides to less-traveled places in the Philippines, with the aim to spread human impact to the environment as well as uplift the lives of communities through tourism.

The landlocked province of Apayao has a terrain unlike the rest of the Cordillera. While its neighbors boast rolling hills and mountainous spaces, Apayao is marked by a crosshatch of river systems, spreads of farmlands, and a smattering of rock outcrops. The province, furthermore, remains largely unknown to those outside of its folds, often being confused with its then-half Kalinga with which, prior to 1995, it made up a single province aptly called Kalinga-Apayao.

Yet, with such an interesting landscape, it’s only a matter of time before it lures adventurers into its snare.

Take the town of Luna for example. With the bulk of government operations conducted here, you’d think it’s the provincial capital (it’s not, that’s Kabugao). But beyond this facade of administrative affairs lies a trove of incredible natural wonders.
But first, the Leave No Trace Principles:

Make Like a Spelunker
Located in Brgy. Dagupan, Lussok Crystal Cave and Underground River boasts a 200-meter cave-river system. It used to be a hideout both of Japanese soldiers and local militants but has now been prepped to handle tourists.
apayao tourist spots

what to do in apayao

Explore the depths of the cavern and spot spooky rock formations which include, among others, a giant skull. The place, unsurprisingly, has a some sort of eerie The Hobbit vibe to it.

Scramble Up Limestone
Brgy. Marag is a valley that gained notoriety as an insurgent stronghold. For years, the place inspired fear. Now, it’s on the public radar for something entirely different: the marvelous Dupag Rock Formations.
This collection of limestone outcrops is divided into two sections: the Mother Rock, and the Baby Rock. The former is the highest point, affording a sweeping view of the valley. Dupag Rock Formation is now closed to the public.

Cross a Scenic Hanging Bridge
Also in Marag is a long hanging bridge that spans a river that doubles as a local swimming ground. Lounging or conducting a picnic here is possible with the number of floating cottages for rent.
tourist attractions apayao

From the hanging bridge, you'd have an unimpeded view of the river and surrounding mountains.

Related Adventure: Things to Do in Antipolo

Cool Down in a Subterranean River
A trip to the Manacota Cave and Underground River is the best follow-up to a sun-drenched climb up Dupag. Located just a few minutes habal-habal ride from the rock formations, this cave system includes a gorge that looks straight out of a fantasy novel.
places to visit apayao

places to visit in apayao

apayao tourist spots

The runnel gushes ultra clear and cool waters. Sheltered by towering escarpments and lush canopies, Manacota makes for the perfect bathing spot.

Try the Local Fanfare
Just like any Filipino town, Luna has its share of roadside eateries. A staple here is the pinaltit – a spicy pork dish cooked with coconut milk and pomelo leaves.
apayao delicacies

You may also try Apayao’s take on bagoong called sagket. It’s made from palilang – a species of Goby found in the province’s rivers.

Food in Apayao is cheap. There is a string of roadside restaurants in the Luna town proper which sells hearty food and hefty servings for as low as Php30. There's also a stall that sells Emapanadang Ilocos should you have a hankering for some more carbs.

Related Adventure: Eat Your Way To The North

It takes approximately 12 hours by bus to get to Apayao from Manila. I highly recommend taking a sleeper bus from Cubao for utmost comfort. Florida Bus in Kamias has regular trips plying this route. Get on one bound for Junction Luna – best to take the 8PM or 9PM overnight bus so you’ll arrive at Apayao in the morning. This way, you can start your itinerary immediately.
sleeper bus to apayao

Once you’re in Junction Luna, take a tricycle to the Luna Tourism Office. Here, you will be assisted in getting a habal-habal and a tour guide. You may also charter a tricycle directly from the Florida Bus Terminal in Junction Luna.

While it’s possible to do all three activities mentioned above in one day, I highly suggest at least spending a night for a more relaxed pace. This itinerary is for a 3D2N trip, with the third day for traveling back to Manila.

Check out also my husband's Landscape Photography Vlog about this adventure:

Day 1 - Lussok Cave and River
9PM to 10:30 AM - Cubao to Junction Luna via Florida Bus
10:30AM to 11:10 - Junction Luna to Luna Tourism Office
11:10AM to 12:30PM - Secure habal-habal + lunch at a karinderya
12:30PM to 12:45PM - Habal-habal to Lussok Cave
12:45PM to 1:00PM - Register and Orientation
1:00PM to 3:30PM - Explore Lussok Cave and River
3:30PM to 4:00PM - Lussok Cave to Star Jewel Lodge via habal-habal, Check-in
4:00PM to 4:30PM - Freshen up
4:30PM to 5:30PM - Walk around town and look for food
5:30PM to 6:30PM - Dinner
6:30PM onwards - Free time

Day 2 - Dupag Rock Formations + Manacota Cave and Underground River
7:00AM to 7:30AM- Star Jewel Lodge to Brgy. Marag via habal-habal
7:30AM to 7:45AM- Arrival at the Tourist Center, register + get safety equipment
7:45 to 8:00AM - Quick stop at the Hanging Bridge
8:00AMP to 8:15AM - Arrival at Dupag Jump-off
8:15AM to 10:00AM - Start Trek, Explore Dupag Rock Formations
10:00AM to 10:30AM - Walk back to Jump-off
10:30AM to 10:45AM - Jump-off to Info Center via habal-habal
10:45AM to 11:20AM - Lunch
11:20AM to 11:30AM - Info Center to Manacota Jump-off via habal-habal
11:30AM to 12:00NN - River-crossing + trekking to the docks
12:00NN to 2:15PM - Boat ride to Manacota Cave and Underground River, Explore, Swim
2:15PM to 2:30PM - Boat Ride back to the docks
2:30PM to 3:00PM - Trek back to Jump-off
3:00PM - 3:30PM - Jump-off to Info Center via habal-habal
3:30PM to 4:00PM - Arrival at Info Center to log out and return equipment (we didn’t wash up here but there are restrooms available)
4:00PM to 4:35PM - Info Center to Star Jewel via habal-habal
4:35PM - 5:30PM - Freshen up and rest
5:35PM to 7:30PM - Walk to town and dinner
8PM - lights out

Day 3 - Back to Manila
6:15AM to 6:50AM - Star Jewel to Junction Luna via Motorcyle
7:00AM to 7:30PM - Junction Luna to Cubao via Bus

Related Adventure: DIY Guide to Onse Islas

Per person unless otherwise stated
• Bus Fare (Florida Sleeper Bus; Cubao vv Junction Luna) - Php1350 x 2 = Php2700
• Tricyle from Junction Luna to Lussok Cave - Php150, good for 2
• Lussok Cave Entrance - Php120
• Guide fee - Php300 x 2 guides = Php600
• Habal-habal Fare (Lussok Cave to Accommodations) - Php150, good for 2
• Accommodations (Star Jewel) - Php700/night (good for 2) x 2 nights - Php1400
• Habal-habal Fare (Star Jewel vv Marag) - Php150 x 2 = Php300, good for two
• Marag Registration Fee (for Dupag and Manacota) - Php40
• Tour Guide Fee (all destinations, includes habal-habal ride) - Php350
• Helmet Rental (required for Dupag Rock Formations) - Php10
• Boat Ride at Manacota (two-way) - Php10
• Life Vest Rental (required for Manacota boat ride) - Php10, good for two-way ride

We stayed at Star Jewel Lodge in Luna. This place is affordable, safe, clean, and near the town proper. We got a hut with two beds, and a shared bathroom for Php700/night.

Star Jewel Lodge
Kabugao - Pudtol - Luna - Cagayan Boundary Rd, Luna, Apayao
+63 921 560 3331

where to stay in apayao

• All the destinations listed below operate from 8AM to 4PM everyday
• Guides are mandatory in all destinations
• Safety gear is mandatory for all destinations
• For Lussok, two (2) guides per 5 people is the standard (this does not include the boatman).
• For Dupag and Manacota, your habal-habal driver will also be your guide.
• If you are following the itinerary above, make arrangements with your habal-habal driver to fetch you at your accommodations.
• In Lussok, the guide fee is not standard because the guides receive a salary.
• In Dupag and Manacota, the guide fee is set but you may give a tip to your guide.
• Most establishments open around 8AM and close at around 8PM. ‘Tis a very chill place.
• Luna is generally safe, peaceful, and a walkable town.
• Should you wish to explore other parts of Apayao, Luna is a good starting point. There are other cave systems and waterfalls in Pudtol and other neighboring town. We’ve seen buses and jeepneys bound for Pudtol passing by Star Jewel. Contact the Tourism Officer of Apayao (contact details below) for more information.

Rebekah Tamaken-Mamba
Provincial Tourism Officer - Apayao
+63 927 241 7343

Terence Grande
Tourism Officer - Luna
+63 948 403 4331

Tour Guide and Habal-habal Driver
+63 975 953 1376

Enjoy traveling to off-the-beaten paths? Check out the rest of the Spread The Impact series.

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