Abra may not be the first destination that comes to mind when one thinks of exploring the northern region of the Philippines, but thankfully, more tourists are unraveling the air of mystery surrounding this underrated gem of a province up north.
There is so much to discover in Abra, which boasts of beautiful tourist attractions, one-of-a-kind Abel fabrics, and the merriest festivals that should be on every traveler’s bucket list. As proof of its festival-loving culture—they have at least seven major ones—Abra just concluded its centennial celebration that lasted almost two weeks, led by the province’s mother, Governor Joy Valera- Bernos.
According to Bernos, even its geography makes Abra one of Northern Luzon’s best-kept secrets: Abra is a land-locked province in the Cordilleras, bordered by Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Kalinga, Apayao, and the Mountain Province. It is surrounded by towering mountains, deep valleys, and sloping hills—who wouldn’t want to be in the midst of such wonderful scenery? These landforms are also sources of the tributaries of Abra River, which flows toward the coastal areas of Ilocos Sur. It is this river that led to the province’s name: from the Spanish word “abrir,” which means to open. This opening, or “Abra,” came to be the official name of the province.
And now Abra is opening its doors to more and more visitors who are eager to experience its colorful festivals, historic attractions, and natural wonders, as well as get hold of the beautiful Abel fabrics. It’s really only a matter of time before Abra will be on lists of the world’s must-visit destinations, so if you have a taste for adventure, history, and even fashion, it’s high time to make that trip up to Abra. It just might surprise you.
World class woven fabrics
More than a destination for festival-loving tourists, Abra is also a draw for fashion-forward travelers and those who scour the world for unique fabrics and style inspirations. Abra is home to the loom weaving community that creates the beautifully complex Abel fabrics. The unique traditional fabrics may be made using an age-old craft, but their designs remain relevant and increasingly in demand in today’s fashion industry. In fact, the lady governor made sure that Abel fabrics were showcased in a grand fashion show during the centennial celebration, featuring the works of well-known Philippine designers side by side with the province’s local couturiers.
According to Bernos, anytime is a good time to visit Abra, but timing it around one of its many festivals throughout the year will ensure a truly eventful and memorable trip.
One of their biggest is the annual Kawayan Festival, which celebrates Abra’s Foundation Day on March 9, 1917. As the name suggests, the festival is centered on kawayan (bamboo), which Abra is known for, hence the province is considered the bamboo capital of Northern Luzon and the Cordilleras.
Meanwhile, the capital town of the province, Bangued, celebrates its fiesta every February 23. Called Dapil Festival, it showcases the different products made from sugar cane such as vinegar, basi, tagapulot (molasses), and brown sugar (muscovado). Tayum, one of the oldest towns of Abra, also celebrated its first Lakasa Festival on November 25, 2016 to preserve and promote its rich historical and cultural heritage. Home to a memorabilia of the town’s past and that of the province of Abra, its old Hispanic structures and museum are treasures on their own. The festival involves dances, songs, and a visual feast celebrating the indigo industry of the town.
Moreover, Abra is punctuated with colonial architectures that stand as living testament to its colorful role in Philippine history as well as rich wonders of nature that are sure to attract curious adventurers and serious thrill seekers. This includes the 40-meter Tangadan Tunnel, one of the most well known landmarks in Abra, which serves as the welcome arch of the province, complete with its seal.
Bangued is the capital of the province of Abra and serves as the gateway for exploring the rest of the province. In this municipality alone, one will find several of the province’s must-visit tourist spots, like the Victoria Park, the Calaba River, and the beautiful heritage site San Lorenzo Ruiz Shrine.
Abra is well on its way to becoming one of the Philippines’ most popular destinations, thanks to the efforts of its centennial governor Joy Bernos to promote the province’s tourist spots, products, and festivals. After serving in various government positions since 1996 and supporting her deceased husband, former La Paz Mayor Marck Ysrael Bernos, the governor continues to help the people of Abra with her programs for education, health, infrastructure, social services, and livelihood, all under her umbrella effort “Joy Helps.”
It is, in fact, her advocacy to promote local industries such as loom weaving, furniture making, bamboo product development, food processing, and more by providing them venues for exposure, the latest of which was the Centennial Bazaar, a partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry. Through her programs, Bernos is ensuring that Abra’s products and beautiful tourist spots are recognized not just around the country but the world over, too.