Callao Cave

Callao Cave
Callao Cave's 5th Chamber
Location in the Philippines
Location Peñablanca, Cagayan
Coordinates 17°42′11.74″N 121°49′25.5″E / 17.7032611°N 121.823750°E / 17.7032611; 121.823750Coordinates: 17°42′11.74″N 121°49′25.5″E / 17.7032611°N 121.823750°E / 17.7032611; 121.823750
Geology Limestone formation[1]
Entrances One
Difficulty Easy
Hazards Wet cave floor
Access Public
Show cave opened Callao Cave's seven chambers
Lighting Natural roof crevice
Features Church built inside the first chamber

Callao Cave is one of the limestone caves located in the municipality of Peñablanca, Cagayan province, in the Philippines. The seven-chamber show cave is one of 300 caves that dot the area and the best known natural tourist attractions of the province. The town is named as Peñablanca (Spanish for white rocks) for the presence of white limestone rocks in the area.[2] Callao Cave is located in the Barangays of Magdalo and Quibal in Peñablanca about 24 km (15 mi) northeast of Tuguegarao City, the capital of the Province of Cagayan.

Callao and the other caves are situated in the western foothills of the Northern Sierra Madre Mountains of the Philippines. They are situated within the Peñablanca Protected Landscape and Seascape, which stretches from the caves to the eastern shores of Peñablanca town of the Pacific Ocean.[3]

Protection status

Callao Cave was visited by American Governor-General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. in 1932 who under his term created the National Park system of the country with the passing of Act no. 3195 in 1932.[4] Callao Cave was one of the earliest national parks of the country when it was established on July 16, 1935 by Proclamation no. 827. The Callao Cave National Park encompassed an area of 192 hectares (470 acres) of land.[5] With the passing of the NIPAS Act of 1992 that revamped the protected areas of the country, the Callao National Park was reclassified but enlarged by Proclamation no. 416 on June 29, 1994. The protected area was reestablished as the Peñablanca Protected Landscape.

In 2003 upon the recommendation of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (Philippines) (DENR), the protected area was further enlarged to include certain parcels of land in the public domain. Proclamation 416 no. was amended by Proclamation no. 484, signed by President Arroyo on October 6, 2003. The law enlarged the park to 118,781.58 hectares (293,515.7 acres) and renamed as the Peñablanca Protected Landscape and Seascape (PPLS).[6]

The protected area is particularly described as bounded on the North and East of Public Forest under FR-1011 per Proclamation No. 584 dated July 8, 1940; on the South by Callao Reforestation Project and on the West by Block I, Alienable and Disposable of Cagayan Project No. 13-C, Certified on February 27, 1923.[7]


More than 300 caves dot the protected area, 75 of which have been documented by the National Museum since 1977.[8] Callao Cave and the nearby, but more challenging, Sierra Cave are easily accessible by car.[9]

Callao Cave is the premier attraction in the Peñablanca Protected Landscape and Seascape. It is the most accessible of all the caves, its entrance is reached by climbing 184 concrete steps. The Callao cave system is composed of seven chambers, each with natural crevices above that let streams of light to get into the cave, serving as illumination for the otherwise dark areas of the place. Previously, there were reported nine caves in the system, but an earthquake in the 1980s cutoff the last two chambers.[10]

The first chamber of the show cave is the largest room with a width of about 50 m (160 ft) and a height of 36 m (118 ft).[2] The cathedral-like room has been turned into a chapel by the local people. A rock formation serves as the altar of the chapel lit by a stream of light coming from a rooftop opening. The conditions inside the caves have caused the formation of stalactites and stalagmites, more so in the deeper chambers. Several spectacular speleothems or formations are found inside the cave like flowstones, glittering dripstones, cave curtains, crystal helictites, columns, etc.[11]


Callao Cave is classified by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as a Class II cave. This describes caves with areas that have hazardous conditions and contain sensitive geological, archaeological, cultural, historical and biological values or high quality ecosystems. Such caves are open to experienced spelunkers or caving enthusiasts and guided visits, although some portions may be closed seasonally or permanently for conservation purposes.[12]

The Bat Cave near Callao Cave is a Class III cave meaning they are 'generally safe' for inexperienced visitors. They have no known threatened species within, nor any archaeological, geological, historical or cultural values. Economic activities, such as collection of guano and edible bird's nest, are allowed in such caves.[12]

Callao Man

Callao man refers to fossilized remains discovered inside Callao Cave in 2007 by Armand Salvador Mijares. Specifically, the find consisted of a single 61 mm (2.4 in) metatarsal which, when dated using uranium series ablation, was found to be at least about 67,000 years old. If definitively proven to be remains of Homo sapiens, it would antedate the 47,000-year-old remains of Tabon Man to become the earliest human remains known in the Philippines, and one of the oldest human remains in the Asia Pacific. It has been noted by researchers that Callao Man was probably under four feet tall. Researchers also believe that Aetas, mountain dwellers today on Luzon Island, could be descendants of the Callao Man.

Other caves

Other pristine and undisturbed caves with living rock formations in the area include Jackpot, Laurente, Odessa-Tumbali, Quibal, Roc, San Carlos and Sierra Caves, among others. These caves can be explored with guides from Sierra Madre Outdoor Club, Adventures and Expedition Philippines Inc., and North Adventurer. Daily circadian flight of bats from the Bat Cave occur at dusk.[8]

Jackpot Cave

Jackpot Cave in Sitio Tumallo, Bgy. Quibal also Peńablanca is allegedly the country’s second deepest cave with a surveyed depth of about 115 m (377 ft) and a surveyed length of 355 m (1,165 ft).[13] It has a walking passage, winding streams and various-sized pools, multi-depth shafts and drops for lots of rope works.[11]

Odessa-Tumbali Cave

The Odessa-Tumbali Cave System, also called Abbenditan Cave by the local residents, is one of the longest cave system in the Philippines. Its estimated length is about 12.6 to 15 km (7.8 to 9.3 mi) with only about 7.65 km (4.75 mi) fully explored. The cave has five different entrances and is rated by spelunkers as difficult for its narrow and flood-prone passages. The cave have various formations, passageways, lakes, and canals that provides for excellent wet sport spelunking and great opportunities for cave photography. The cave is also home to a variety of wildlife. It can be explored with guides from the Sierra Madre Outdoor Club (SMOC). The cave is located in Sitio Abbenditan in Barangay Quibal also in Peñablanca.[14]

To get to the Odessa-Tumbali includes hiking for about 7 km (4.3 mi) from Callao to get to the entrance then rappelling about 30 m (98 ft) into a sinkhole.[9]

San Carlos Cave

San Carlos Cave is one of the toughest cave in the country to conquer as spelunkers require a lot of cave crawling. A chamber called Ice Cream Parlor contains cluster of white stalagmites that resemble scooped ice cream. The John the Baptist chamber has a sump where one has to take a deep breath and swim to the other side of the chamber. Sharp and rough stones could scratch skin and tear clothing. San Carlos requires a lot of swimming because more than half the cave is covered by cold running subterranean river.[13]

Sierra Cave

Sierra Cave has two entrances - one for tourists and another for experienced cavers. The biggest challenge is crawling through a very low and narrow opening called Celica’s Passage. Cavers though are rewarded by formations inside that include flowstones, columns and draperies.[13]

Other activities

The Pinacanauan River bisects the protected area and the limestone formations. The base of Callao Cave is located along the river bank. The pristine river is conducive for river rafting, boating, kayaking, fishing and swimming while the nearby mountains are perfect for trekking and mountaineering.


The Callao Cave Eco-Tourism Zone is being promoted by the locals as the 'Caving Adventure Capital of the Philippines' since it has more than 300 caves including the mother Callao cave. To accelerate the development of the Callao Cave ETZ, the Provincial Tourism Office of Cagayan has tied up with several Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) such the Sierra Madre Outdoor Club (SMOC), Cagayan visitors bureau, souvenir makers and other interested investors to help make Callao Caves tourist zone more develop and beautiful. One of the projects they established with Cagayan visitors bureau is the establishment of a visitor center at the cottage area.

The SMOC also assists tourists in recreational activities like caving, spelunking, mountain climbing, trekking, kayaking and rappelling. swimming, circadian flight viewing and picnicking. The group also offers their facilities for tourism whenever needed. Like the souvenir makers display souvenir items at the cave site.

The Department of Tourism also gave a boat and a floating picnic house to the residents of the place for a livelihood. The office also augmented the trainings and seminars conducted by the provincial tourism office to the tourist guides, guards, and personnel manning the zone. The tourism office were also arranging some partnerships with other organizations and agencies to rebuild the deteriorating facilities of the Callao Caves’ cottages for trainings, seminars, conventions and other uses.[15]

As of 2013, the Callao Caves Resort located across Pinacanauan River from the caves, is the only accommodation available in the Callao Cave Tourism Zone.[8]

Road improvement

For the fiscal year 2012, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DWPH) and the Department of Tourism (DOT) were allocated ₱100-million by the Philippine government for the improvement of Peñablanca-Callao Cave Road, the only road to the caves. The scope of the joint project involves the widening of 8 km (5.0 mi) including asphalting. The project is one of the two road projects approved to boost the tourism industry in Cagayan Valley Region or Region II. The DPWH and DOT are mandated to develop and enhance road networks leading to tourism sites by virtue of Republic Act No. 9593 or Tourism Act of 1999. The development of the road network leading to the tourist spots will accelerate development activities in the province and nearby areas.[16]


  1. Guillermo, Artemio R. (2012). "Historical Dictionary of the Philippines, 3rd edition", pg. 125. Scarecrow Press, Inc., Maryland.
  2. 1 2 "Peñablanca". Cagayan Province Official Website. Retrieved on 2013-10-04.
  3. "Protected Areas of Region 2 Map" Archived 2013-12-31 at the Wayback Machine.. Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau. Retrieved on 2013-10-03.
  4. "Acts Enacted in 1932". Retrieved on 2013-10-04.
  5. "NIPAS List of 202 Initial Components" Archived 2013-10-04 at the Wayback Machine.. Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau. Retrieved on 2013-10-03.
  6. "Proclamation no. 484" Archived 2013-10-04 at the Wayback Machine.. Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau. Retrieved on 2013-10-03.
  7. "Batanes Protected Landscape and Seascape". Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau. Retrieved on 2013-10-03.
  8. 1 2 3 "Callao Caves". Department of Tourism. Retrieved on 2013-10-01.
  9. 1 2 Bloom, Greg; Grosberg, Michael; etc. (2011). "Lonely Planet", pg. 209. Lonely Planet Publications. Retrieved on 2013-10-04.
  10. Dalton, David (2011-10-03). "The Rough Guide to the Philippines, 3rd edition", pg. 158. Rough Guides (publisher).
  11. 1 2 "Cagayan - Caving Capital of the Philippines". Travel to the Retrieved on 2013-10-04.
  12. 1 2 "DENR classifies 158 more caves". Philippine Information Agency. Retrieved on 2013-10-04.
  13. 1 2 3 admin. "Province of Cagayan" Archived 2013-09-26 at the Wayback Machine.. Cagayan Valley Region, Where Adventure Never Ends. Retrieved on 2013-10-04.
  14. Caparas, Kheem (2012-06-20). "Odessa-Tumbali Cave System". Vigattin Tourism Cagayan Valley. Retrieved on 2013-10-04.
  15. Baccay, Oliver T. (2011-05-19). "Tourism office ties up with NGOs to develop Callao Caves". Retrieved on 2013-10-01.
  16. Valdez, Jr., Wilson A. and Baccay, Oliver T. (2012-10-06). "P250M set for enhancement projects of 2 major tourist destinations". Philippine Information Agency. Retrieved on 2013-10-03.
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