Callao Cave & Pinacanauan River, Cagayan -- Part 1 (Callao Cave)

My friend inside Callao Cave dwarfed in this sky-lit chamber.  Another sky-lit chamber can be seen in the distance.

I was privileged to speak at a youth camp in Penablanca, Cagayan (15 kilometers from Tuguegarao City) last October.  I love travelling but I don't get to travel at leisure.  All the places I have travelled to were not leisure trips.  Most of them were side privileges when I join or get invited to speak or teach at mission trips, retreats, conferences.  This is one of those times.  I explored the cave on two separate days during teaching breaks from the camp.

A panorama of Pinacanauan river and the Penablanca plain as seen from the view deck 

The Callao Cave Visitors' Center across the Pinacanuan river viewed from the deck  near the cave entrance.

You NEED TO SEE these photos and notes on Pinacanuan river in Part two of this blog.

One thing that sets the Callao cave apart from other caves is its size.  It just dwarfs you.  Look at the following three pictures and notice how my friends scale compared to the cave.  We are inside the cave in all these photos.  Light is falling from the skylight in the cave chamber.   These skylights also set Callao cave apart from other caves since they allow you to enjoy the views in most of the chambers without  a flashlight.  These three photos did not require slower shutter speeds so these are all hand-held shots, thanks to the natural illumination from the skylights.  Skylights are formed when the soil/rocks in the cave's ceiling collapse, opening a cave chamber to the air and sky above.

Look at how small my friends are especially compared to the large stalactites.

A small skylight in one of the darker chambers

Now this is the part of the tour where your heart starts to sink where vandals have had free reign.  Vandals have visited this cave for  almost an entire century.  Most of these are concentrated near the 7th or last chamber.  The presence of tour guides can help prevent vandalism.  They say that Callao Cave receives around 500,000 visitors a year.  Tour guides will never be able to control this number of vandals.  So what should we do?  Continuous education of the general public, challenge conservation volunteers to police the cave during peak seasons like the holy week when pilgrims flock at the chapel chamber, penalize vandals, etc.


Not only is Callao Cave a showcase of nature's wonders, it is also a site that proves pre-historic presence and culture of our Filipino ancestors.  Part of the cave entrance has an enclosure set up by the National Museum.   This is an archaeological site that unearthed pre-colonial Filipino existence and culture thousands of years before the Tabon Cave man in Palawan, Philippines! 

Details of the Archeaology of the Callao Cave

The chapel in the 2nd chamber of the cave.  Photo taken from the 3rd chamber looking toward the cave entrance.  The orange light is from a permanent lamp set up by Tourism authorities to illuminate this dark chamber.

Trees and other vegetation at the cave entrance hides the cave from viewers across the river.

My third highlight of the cave tour.  I explored the cave twice on two separate days and I met two of the beautiful young Itawis tour guides, Jerrick and Jenny Ann.  They are among several youngsters trained by tourism officials to give visitors informative tours inside the cave.  They have complete English scripts and they seemed to really like what they were doing.  They both want to study tourism in college. I really felt proud and privileged to meet them.  They were extra patient with me and my friend since, compared to other visitors, we apparently spent more time taking in and taking photos of the wonders of this cave.

My third highlight -- exploring the cave on two separate occasions with two new Itawis tour guide friends

Photos are good.  Stories that go with the photos are better, but one almost always HAVE to personally be in the place in order to fully appreciate and comprehend its wonderful natural and archaeological experience!

"Balik po kayo kuya!" Jenny kept shouting as we stepped back onto our waiting  river boat.  I will surely visit again, given another chance. :-)  When I do come back, I hope my two new friends are still in school pursuing their college dreams even as they earn as tour guides when they don't have classes.

There are more awesome high resolution photos and notes on Pinacanauan river in Part 2 of this post.

If enjoying Callao Cave and Pinacanauan river with large amounts of introspection and rest is the thing for you then you must stay at least two days.  The problem is the resort.  The existing resort no longer matches the wonderful cave and river experience.  Check out photos and notes on the Callao cave resort in Part 3 of this post to see what I mean.

I may come back to Callao cave one of these days.  Hopefully by that time government has already curbed vandalism, added more sustainable attraction for other tourists and vastly improved the resort facilities.

Additional photos below courtesy of my friend Alex:

The young tour guides are eager to point you to mineral formations like this "alien skeleton" and the "merlion" in the background.  There are other formations like "the three kings", "rice terraces" and the "giant lion".

A column at the cave entrance that has already cracked at the top.  Good thing these columns are not cave-supporting structures.

Here's an exclusive photo you will find nowhere else -- a recently discovered cave-dwelling bat  trying to scare away visitors.  Stalactites and columns in the background.

See how minerals dripped and flowed over time

Me standing between the ground and the massive stalactite

Jerrick and I looking so small below, at the formation called the "Three Kings"

Callao cave is definitely not the biggest cave in the world.  The "recently discovered" cave in Vietnam dwarfs  the Callao cave for sure but who among us wants to spend our hard-earned money right now when we have the Callao cave well within our reach? :-)


  1. Thanks for such an educational blog, Ramon. Love the visual aids. :-)

  2. Thank you also, Justice, for reading and looking at the visual aids. :-)

  3. Hello Ramon!

    We're interested in borrowing your Callao photos to use in Bagong Bayani, a singapore based FREE magazine for Filipinos. Would you let us? We'll give your photos full credit and a link to your site. Hope you agree! You can hit me back via email.


  4. Hi Krista,

    It would be a pleasure. Sent you an email.


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