The gradient reflection of the sunset as seen at Port Irene. Photo Courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Located at the northeastern tip of Luzon, surrounded by the water of Babuyan Channel and the West Philippine Sea on the north, and the Pacific Ocean on the east, the special economic zone covers the entire municipality of Sta. Ana, including the islands of Fuga, Barit, and Mabbag. 

That’s 56,000 hectares of natural and historical attractions, and largely untapped expansive flatlands. The Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA), which manages and supervises its development, hopes for the area to reach its full potential as a hub where business meets leisure. 

The vision is to become a self-sustaining industrial, commercial, financial, tourism, and recreational hub that will ultimately attract investors and create employment opportunities for the locals–-and there are grand plans to make this happen. 

It involves building new infrastructure, better roads and transportation, communication and media technologies, and fully operational financial hubs. 

Developing its ports, according to Iloy, is a priority, especially since it is located at the crossroads of shipping routes between the east and the west. 

We’re in the epicenter of Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific regions,” Iloy says. “What we want to address is the development of structures so we can finally tap that market.

Port Irene, the zone’s main port, functions as a commercial harbor. Currently, this is where construction materials like cement, steel, and transformers for the development of the zone come in. 

Port Irene serves as the commercial harbor for construction materials. Photo Courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

“At the moment, we can only accommodate a big vessel,” Iloy adds. “We’re redesigning it into a containerized port to expand it to welcome three to four ships at a time and to be at par with other transhipment hubs.”

Port San Vicente, meanwhile, is designed for tourism purposes. This is where roll on/roll off vessels bound to different islands here in the free zone. 

This port helped boost tourism in the area pre-pandemic, and it is expected to do the same now that Sta. Ana—except Palaui Island and Crocodile Island—is open to tourists at a limited capacity. 

“We’re preparing for the influx of tourists now,” Iloy says. “We plan on building jetty ports because that will help vessels transport passengers better, and ultimately, attract them to come back.”

Among its other upcoming infrastructures, like a $4.5 billion new “city within a city” with hotels, high-end residences, a business park, a hospital, casinos, online gaming businesses, and golf courses, a cyberpark for digital currency firms for bitcoin users is also expected to rise in the zone. 

CEZA is also working on arranging regular domestic flights to and from Manila at the nearby Cagayan North International Airport in Lal-lo. There are only chartered flights from Macau coming to the said airport. While they’ve had successful negotiations with local airlines, Iloy says the pandemic ultimately did not make it possible. 

Meanwhile, a 400-kilometer railway is set to be built, too. This means two hours of travel time from within the zone in Sta. Ana to Manila, and back.  

The railway already has a budget,” Iloy explains. “Then the pandemic happened.” 

Despite the pandemic, CEZA remains busy turning their plans into reality and are hopeful that the situation will be in their favor. 

“In five years time, this will be a 15-hectare transhipment hub in northeast Luzon,” Iloy says, pointing out that it’s four times bigger than the Subic Clark Freeport Zone. “With prayers, we hope by next year, we’ll be able to address the challenges of the pandemic.”

Outsource the Planning

For a seamless trip, you may leave the planning to DOT’s accredited tour operator in Cagayan: 

[email protected]; http://pinkdiamondinternational.weebly.com/ 

For Department of Tourism-accredited accommodations, visit the official Cagayan Valley Tourism website, region2fun.ph

Travel safely!

All tourist destinations in Cagayan 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.