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Where to Stay in Isabela | Brief History | Isabela Descriptions
Historical, Cultural and Natural Attractions | Religious and Man-Made Attractions
Festivals and Special Interest Tours


Isabela RiverIt is believed that the history of the province dates back to over 25,999 years ago with the Stone Age race of dark-skinned, kinky-haired pigmies whose descendants, the nomadic Aetas (Negritos), can still be found roaming the mountains and forest of eastern Isabela today. The Indonesians arrived 5,000 years ago, followed by three waves of Malays between 200 BC and 1500 AD. These pagan ancestors of the Ibanags, Gaddangs, Yogads, Kalingas, and other original tribes of the valley built a civilization based on corn agriculture and organized around the fundamental political unit, the barangay.

The Spaniards arrived in the late 16th and 17th centuries and introduced Christianity, the encomienda (forerunner of the municipality) system, and the tobacco monopoly. Spanish rule was extremely oppressive so the natives rose in revolt on several occasions, most notably in the 18th century under the leadership of Dabo and Marayag.

According to Fr. Ambrocio Manaligod, STD, from 1851, the Spanish conquistadors established the “Ciudad de Nueva Segovia” in what is called Lallo today. Up to 1839, the entire Cagayan Valley was one large province which the Spaniards called “La Provincia del Valle de Cagayan.” Out of this vast territory, two new provinces were created in 1839. One retained the old name “Cagayan” which comprised all towns from Aparri to Tumauini. Its capital transferred from Lallo to Tuguegarao. The one bearing the name “Nueva Vizcaya” was composed of all towns from Ilagan to the Caraballo del Sur including Catalangan and Palanan, with Camarag (now Echague) as its capital.

A Royal Decree was created in May 1, 1856 creating “Isabela de Luzon” to distinguish it from other Isabelas in the Philippines. It comprised the town of Carig (now Santiago City), Camarag (now Echague), Angadanan (now Alicia), Cauayan, Calanusian (now Reina Mercedes), Gamu, and Ilagan, all detached from Nueva Vizcaya; while Tumauini and Cabagan were taken from the province of Cagayan. It was placed under the jurisdiction of a governor with the capital seat at Ilagan, where it remains at the present.

A new wave of immigration began in the late 19th and 20th centuries with the arrival of the Ilocanos who came in large numbers. They now constitute the largest group in the province. Other ethnic groups followed and Isabela became the “melting pot of the north.”

Although the province did not play a major role in the revolt against Spain, it was in Palanan where the final pages of the Philippine revolution were written when the American forces led by General Frederick Funston captured General Emilio Aguinaldo on March 23, 1901.


The province is divided into three physiographic areas. The eastern area, straddled by the Sierra Madre Mountain Range, is rugged and thickly forested. A substantial portion is uncharted and the unexplored hinterlands are home to a rich variety of flora and fauna while others are government reservations. The western area is a sprawling fertile valley hemmed by the Central Cordillera and is criss-crossed by the mighty Cagayan, Siffu, and Magat Rivers. Its mountains rise to a peak of about 8,000 feet and is home to one of the world’s largest remaining low-altitude rainforests with numerous unknown endemic species of flora and fauna and exceptional biological diversity. The area is popularly known as the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park.

Isabela comprises an aggregate land area of 10,665 square kilometers, representing almost 40 percent of the regional territory. It is the largest province in the region and the second largest province in the country in terms of land area.

Political Subdivision
The province has 35 municipalities and 1,055 barangays and is divided into four congressional districts. Santiago is an independent-component city while Cauayan is a component city. Ilagan is the capital town while Cauayan is the industrial center.

Based on the year 2000 census of population, the province has a population of 1,287,575 with a population density of approximately 120.73 persons per square kilometer.

The major dialect in Isabela is Ilocano followed by Ibanag, Yogad, and Gaddang. People, especially in the capital and commercial centers, speak and understand English and Pilipino.

Generally, the province has two types of climate. The eastern and coastal areas experience moderate rainfall more or less distributed throughout the year while western Isabela has more pronounced wet and dry seasons. The average temperature is recorded at 27.1 degrees Celsius.

Major Industries
Agriculture is the major industry of the people of Isabela. Farming is highly mechanized as most of the agricultural lands are irrigated. With the presence of the Isabela State University, joint ventures and other foreign assisted projects are viable while the Magat Dam Tourism Complex contributes to the high productivity in agriculture. Isabela is acknowledged as the hub of trade and commercial activities in the region due to its central location in the region. Furniture making using narra and other indigenous forest materials/products like Gmelina continue to exist. Potential investments are in fisheries and tourism. The reservoir of the Magat Dam is utilized for fishcage operations, particularly tilapia production. Tourism is relatively a new industry being developed in the province especially in the coastal areas. Support services and accommodation facilities are likewise being developed.

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Historical Attractions

Aguinaldo Shrine
in Palanan, Isabela is the historical place where Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo was captured by the American forces, thus ending the Philippine Revolution in 1901. It is accessible by aircraft, pumpboat and trekking thru Sta. Ana, Cagayan, San Mariano/Cauayan and Ilagan, Isabela respectively.

Cultural Attractions

Isabela Museum and Library
The repository and custodian of the rich historical and cultural heritage of the Isabelinos. Features a gallery exhibit & collection of antiques such as artifacts, fossils, ethnographic items, heirloom pieces, visual arts (photographs, paintings, sculpture, graphic arts); historical and cultural dioramas, miniature models of provincial landmarks, among others. It was inaugurated on May 11, 1999 and is housed at the old capitol building in Ilagan. Open from Mondays to Saturdays from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Natural Attractions

Bonsai Forest (Sumanget, Dinapigue)
The 20,000 hectare area is accessible by land transport from Baler in Aurora Province and by air from Cauayan Airport.

Sta. Victoria Caves and Environmental School at Fuyo National ParkIsabela Caves
It features naturally formed lattices and sparkling rock formations. Visitors are given lectures and allowed to plant their own seedlings, and those enrolled at the Environmental School are given certificates. Within the area is the Pinzal Falls conducive for swimming and other recreational facilities like carabao-drawn carts and horseback riding. The park is 15 kilometers from Ilagan town proper.

Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park (Palanan Rainforest)
The largest protected area in the country with more than 300,000 hectares of rainforest, and the lowest at 800 feet above sea level. Declared number one in biodiversity and also one of the top 10 biodiversity “hotspots” in the world. Research showed the existence of unknown and unnamed species of flora and fauna. A confirmed habitat of the Philippine Eagle and the Cloud Rat. Its coastal areas host whales and dolphins and other cetaceans. Ideal for scuba diving and other water sports, and a mountaineering/trekking challenge.
Accessible by light aircraft from Cauayan Airport (Cyclone Airways), pumpboat from Sta. Ana in Cagayan and Baler in Aurora Province, and trekking from San Mariano, Cauayan and Ilagan in Isabela. Also accessible by air transport from Tuguegarao City Domestic Airport through CHEMTRAD.

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Religious Attractions
Isabela Church

Shrine of Our Lady of the Visitation (Guibang, Gamu)
Guibang Church, which houses the Miraculous Lady of the Visitacion, is located along the national highway of Gamu, Isabela and frequented by travelers passing along Maharlika Highway. It is now as famous as the Shrine of Piat Basilica Minore as it comes alive in July every year when religious pilgrims come to offer prayers of thanks and to ask for another year of good fortune. The image of the miraculous Lady was canonically crowned on May 26, 1973 and acknowledged as a National Shrine on January 24-26.

Parish Church of St. Mathias (Tumauini)
Built in 1753 under Dominican Supervision and completed in 1805, it is an ultra-baroque church unique for its extensive use of baked clay both for wall finishing and ornamentation. Clay bricks come to life in concentric circles on the façade, spiral curves on the finial serpentine reliefs, and many finely molded details – flowers, foliage, surfaces, cherubs, and saints. Its architecture bears Chinese ancestry. This church of stone features a unique cylindrical bell tower that is the only one of its kind in the Philippines. It was declared a National Historical Landmark on February 24, 1989.

Our Lady of Atocha Church (Alicia)
Passing by Angadanan town on February 12, 1805, Fr. Manuel Mora, OP wrote that “Angadanan has a convent of bricks, though not totally finished. Its church is timber, wood and bamboo. The number of inhabitants is 791.” The church and convent as seen today in the town of Alicia, beautiful and solid, was built by Fr. Tomas Calderon, OP and inaugurated in 1849, with Fr. Francisco Gainza, OP, then vicar of Carig (now Santiago City). Famous for their antique Spanish architectural designs, these churches are found along the national highway and are accessible by land transport.

San Pablo Church
Built in 1624, it is said to be the oldest in the province. Its lofty bell tower of six layers including the circular apex made of adobe is the tallest in the Cagayan Valley. San Pablo, the oldest town of Isabela, was founded by Padre de Sto. Tomas, 210 years before Isabela was made a province.

St. Rose de Lima Church (Gamu, Isabela)
Built in 1726, it is famous for its Spanish architectural design. The feast of the patronal saint of Gamu is celebrated every August 23.

Man-Made Attractions

World’s Biggest Butaka
It is 11 feet 4 inches high, 20 feet 8 inches long, and 9 feet 7 inches wide. It weighs 2,368 kilos and was constructed by 25 workers in 29 days.Isabela Dam

Magat Dam Tourism Complex (Magat Hydro Electric Power Plant)
Asia’s biggest dam project at the time of its construction. It serves the primary function of power generation and irrigation. Its reservoir area of 4,450 hectares has a great potential for water-based recreation like fishing, boating and water skiing, among others. The plant is accessible by passenger jeepney and bus from Santiago City.

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Isabela Day (May 1-11)

Bambanti (Scarecrow) Festival (May 10)
Celebrates the bountiful harvest of rice and corn and other agricultural products with street dances and a float parade.

Feast of Our Lady of the Visitacion of Guibang (July 2)

Special Interest Tours

Trekking, Mountaineering, Camping and Exploration
at Palanan, Dinapigue, Maconacon and Divilacan forest area

Diving and snorkeling
at Dicotcotan Beach

River Cruise
at Palanan River

Crocodile Watching (Crocodylus Mindorensis)
at San Mariano at night.

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Where to Stay in Isabela | Brief History | Isabela Descriptions
Historical, Cultural and Natural Attractions | Religious and Man-Made Attractions
Festivals and Special Interest Tours


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