Within its vast land, the Cagayan Valley region is home to some of the country’s best but underrated caves for spelunkers. There’s the Callao Cave in Cagayan, Aglipay Cave in Quirino, and the Santa Victoria Caves at the Ilagan Sanctuary in Isabela.
Nueva Vizcaya is no different as it also has a multi-chamber cave within its generally mountainous province—the Capisaan Cave.
Over 57 kilometers away from the provincial capital, Bayombong, the cave system is located at the municipality of Kasibu, in a limestone-rich barangay of the same name.
According to locals, its initial visitors were not tourists, but bat hunters.
“Bats were consumed as food here before,” says Jerry Laroso, chief guide at the Capisaan Cave. “That’s why people frequent caves to hunt. That’s when they first saw this cave.”
It was only in 1999, following an extensive exploration of the cave, when its potential as a spelunking destination was discovered. Capisaan Cave, with a total passage length of 4.2 kilometers, is the fifth longest cave system in the country.
But it’s not just the cave’s length that has drawn visitors.
Inside the cave
Capisaan Cave has often been dubbed as a spelunker’s paradise—and rightfully so.
“The explorers have said it themselves. This cave’s rock formations are one of the best,” Laroso says.
With a total area of 1,515.96 hectares, Capisaan Cave houses rock formations that resemble curtains, solid waterfalls, pillars, columns, islands, castles, and even human figures.
Two segments of the Capisaan Caves have been classified as Class I, which means that there are delicate and fragile geological formations in the area. This is also indicative of the cave’s threatened species, archeological and paleontological values, and extremely hazardous conditions. Mapping, photography, and educational and scientific purposes are its allowable uses.
Another segment has been classified as Class II. These areas have sections with hazardous conditions and contain sensitive geological, biological, archeological, cultural, historical and biological values or high quality ecosystems. These are the areas open for experienced cavers or guided tours.
Because the limestone cave is a karst, a type of landscape where the dissolving of the bedrock creates sinkholes, sinking streams, springs, and other characteristic features, visitors can expect not-so-usual cave interiors once they begin the guided tour.
“Caves are all uniquely beautiful,” Laroso says. “Unlike Callao Cave, which is dry and terrestrial, Capisaan has a subterranean river inside.”
Capisaan has nine known entrances, including the main entrances Lion, Alayan, and Sabrina, and three others in Barangay Malukbo.
These different cave openings are teeming with wildlife, too, including native and endemic species of plants and animals. There are a total of 91 plant species found in the said areas, 10 of which are endemic to the Philippines.
Apart from spiders, insects, small crabs can be found inside the cave along with snakes, frogs and lizards, fishes like carp, orange carp, catfish, mudfish, and wild guppy can be found thriving inside the cave.
There are at least four different bat species dwelling in various sections of the cave. Meanwhile a total of 931 birds from 61 species were recorded, 36 of which are endemic while eight are threatened.
As natural pollinators, both species are crucial in keeping the cave’s ecosystem thriving.
There are four exploration paths available for tourists at Capisaan Cave: the through and through routes, which is from Lion to Alayan and vice versa; and the halfway routes, which is from Sang-at Salug to Alayan and vice versa.
These routes, according to Laroso, are specifically designated for tourism purposes.
For the safety of everyone, however, only the halfway routes will be opened to visitors.
“Before, they can avail the through and through route, but we’ve so far only allowed halfway routes because they cannot stay inside for too long,” Laroso explains. “Our rule is for them to take the Sang-at Salug entrance and explore all the way to either Lion or Alayan.”
Pre-pandemic, the cave’s carrying capacity is at 100 guests from the nearby Cagayan province, the Cordillera region, and even Manila and Cavite. Currently, however, only up to 50 visitors are allowed inside.
“Before, one tour guide was assigned to handle five guests. Now, following the protocols set by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the provincial and municipal government, we are limiting it to four guests per guide,” he says.
Each group entering the cave should also have a 15-minute interval.
“We avoid big crowds for the safety of the guests, primarily to prevent any untoward incident,” Laroso adds. “We’re also considering the impact of foot traffic to the cave because we wouldn’t want to cause disturbance to the living creatures inside.”
If ever there are walk-in guests that can no longer be accommodated, Laroso and his fellow guides advise visitors to come back the next day for their chance to explore the cave.
Safety gear is a must
Given that spelunking can be quite adventurous, as what can be experienced exploring the Capisaan Cave, wearing appropriate safety gear is a must.
“We recommend lightweight clothing that also covers the arms and legs to prevent scratches as there are parts where guests will have to duck and get into tight spaces,” Larosa says. “It’s best to have a helmet, flashlights, life vest, and proper shoes, too.”
Guests can bring their own but safety equipment is available for rent at Capisaan Cave: helmet (Php 20), flashlight (Php30), life vest (Php30), and aqua shoes (Php30).
Locals as guides
Laroso also happens to be the current vice president of the Capisaan Cave Guides and Tour Guiding Association, a community-based group that has been accommodating guests and keeping the attraction in its best natural state. It currently has 30 Department of Tourism-accredited members who are all locals.
Since it was first opened to tourists in 1992, Capisaan Cave has provided locals—and even their kids—with a meaningful purpose and a means of livelihood.
“Among the 35 newly-trained guides are some of the pioneer cave guides’ kids,” Laroso shares. “They are passing down their responsibility and passion to the younger guides.”
Ready for reopening
Capisaan Cave was where the first National Caving Congress was held back in 2001. The annual event gathers caving enthusiasts, nature adventurers, environment supporters, and eco-tourism advocates to discuss cave-related topics, including technical training on basic caving, cave guiding, cave survey and mapping, single rope technique and cave rescue.
Currently, however, such big caving events are not yet allowed at Capisaan Cave, though limited spelunking for tourists is already subject to pre-booking.
But with all tour guides—both pioneers and newbies—fully vaccinated, Laroso says he and many other guides who shifted to farming in the meantime are prepared to return to welcoming back visitors who wish to explore the cave.
Apart from paying the entrance fee (Php100), guests must present a health declaration form and follow all safety protocols.
“We will lobby it to the local authorities,” Laroso says. “Hopefully, we can open while making sure that everyone is safe at the soonest time possible.”
Capisaan Cave System in Kasibu town is part of the tourism circuit called Feel the Vibe Vizcaya!
Outsource the Planning
For a seamless trip, you may leave the planning to DOT’s accredited tour operators in Nueva Vizcaya:
0917 673 1031 | 0926 776 6869
All tourist destinations in Nueva Vizcaya have health and safety protocols in place to protect locals and visitors alike. Everyone is expected to comply by wearing face masks, regularly washing their hands, and practicing physical distancing.
To check out up-to-date information regarding local destinations that are open and the safety protocols and requirements needed for each location, you may visit www.philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel or the Google Playstore.