• Beyond Isabela’s fields of rice and corn


    Considered the “Queen Province of the North,” Isabela exuded an aura of pride and joy as the last fireworks lit up the sky. The crowd applauded, ending the night on a high—after months’ worth of laborious preparation made for a successful 2018 Bambanti Festival.

    Typically overlooked as a tourist destination, Isabela actually abounds with white beaches and highlands of the neighboring provinces. Add the vast fields of rice and corn blanketing its land, which are commonly mistaken as the only sights in the province. While the fields are a great sight, they often obscure what the northern beauty really has to offer.

    Dancers of Alicia town dazzle and win the street dance competition PHOTOS COURTESY OF JOHN WARREN BUNGIHAN

    Seeing past through its thriving agricultural production, though, one will see a province rich in culture with a vibrant past, gorgeous attractions, and beautiful people that make up its northern charm.

    The winning festival costumes fit for San Agustin king and queen

    Bambanti – the Ilocano word for scarecrow – is an award-winning festivity that honors the hard work and dedication of Isabeliños, as well as a showcase of the province’s commodities. It is likewise known as one of the biggest festivals in the north that people from different parts of the country attend each year.

    With this year’s festival theme, “Isabela Kong Mahal” (Isabela, My Beloved Land), the northern province became a feast to the eyes for one glorious week in January. Gorgeous booths delicately lined up, built and designed with intricate details from the 34 municipalities and three cities attracted visitors for the wide variety of indigenous products worthy of global recognition.

    The booths became a destination for people who traveled from far away lands to take part in the occasion—from fresh vegetables, to appetizing delicacies, native artworks, hand woven products, and charming little trinkets – presented a unique arrangement of what each town or city is known for.

    More than just the flashy expo, Isabela is also one to be noted for its creative singing as well as fascinating dancing. From the bright and splashy costumes to the powerful and skillful dance moves—the amount of talent in this part of the north is simply astounding.

    Singing ‘Piliin ang Pilipinas,’ Cauayan City singing group beat eight other competitors in choral competition

    Through cash gifts and awards, those who shone brighter and came on top were rewarded. From the cooking show, street dance showdown, choral and agri-ecotourism booth competitions, everyone was recognized, particularly the city of Cauayan, which was awarded as the overall winner of this year’s festival.

    The colorful celebration culminated with a concert and display of lights. For those who came to witness the week-long spectacle, the last day of the festival might seem like the signal to an end of what appears to be an annual gathering. But to the people of Isabela, it symbolizes a new beginning filled with possibilities.


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