“Bambanti is the protector, the guardian of the fields.”
Mr. Nilo Agustin, Artistic Director of the Bambanti Festival 2024, reiterated this during the press conference at the MultiCuisine Restaurant in Cauayan City, Isabela. He added that, although ‘Bambanti‘, a vernacular term for scarecrow, carries its fair share of negative connotations, in Isabela, it symbolizes a joyous celebration. It honors the diligence of Isabeleño farmers and the rich heritage of the province.
I’ve heard and read a lot of good things about the Bambanti Festival, but this is the first time that I got to experience it firsthand. Knowing the numerous activities planned for the week-long celebration, I was excited and knew I was in for a treat.
Bambanti Festival 2024
This year’s Bambanti Festival theme, “Ettam Ngana Ta Isabela,” is an Ibanag phrase that translates to “Let’s go to Isabela.” It was not just a call to encourage people to visit the beauty of Isabela, it also aimed to honor the province’s roots and the Ibanag people, the first settlers in the province.
After the press conference, we arrived at the Isabela Capitol Grounds, where the activities and festivities took place. Here are the highlights and activities of the Bambanti Festival 2024.
Street Dance Competition
One of the festival’s highlights was the Street Dance Competition, held at the Isabela Sports Complex. Watching all 16 contingents from different cities and municipalities battle it out for the championship was a spectacle. I enjoyed capturing videos of the entire parade.
Watching from a spectator’s point of view was definitely a joy. However, for someone who had the opportunity to watch the entire parade on the ground, witnessing aspects that a typical audience wouldn’t see, it was more than just entertainment. It represented the culmination of every performer’s dedication, hard work, and months of preparation.
This year, the competition was divided into two categories: Category A for cities and first-class municipalities, and Category B for second, third, and fourth-class municipalities.
If you want to watch the entire street dance parade, well I’ve documented it in this video. Enjoy!
Street Dance Parade (Category B)
First Place: Santa Maria
Street Dance Parade (Category A)
1st Place: Jones
By the time we arrived at the Isabela Capitol Grounds, I couldn’t help but be captivated by the design and creativity of Bambanti Village. I was eager to explore the village directly, but first, we needed to make a courtesy call at the capitol. Yes, I know. I was too excited.
Bambanti Village is one of the major highlights of the festival. It’s an agri-ecotourism exhibit and sale that features giant scarecrow figures, agricultural products, and locally crafted items from the 32 towns and cities of the province. The area was packed with visitors, proof of the Isabeleños’ interest in the village.
𝗚𝗶𝗮𝗻𝘁 𝗕𝗮𝗺𝗯𝗮𝗻𝘁𝗶 (𝗖𝗮𝘁𝗲𝗴𝗼𝗿𝘆 𝗕)
3. Delfin Albano
𝗚𝗶𝗮𝗻𝘁 𝗕𝗮𝗺𝗯𝗮𝗻𝘁𝗶 (𝗖𝗮𝘁𝗲𝗴𝗼𝗿𝘆 𝗔)
1. City of Ilagan
3. San Mariano
𝗔𝗴𝗿𝗶-𝗲𝗰𝗼𝘁𝗼𝘂𝗿𝗶𝘀𝗺 𝗕𝗼𝗼𝘁𝗵 (𝗖𝗮𝘁𝗲𝗴𝗼𝗿𝘆 𝗕)
2. San Pablo
𝗔𝗴𝗿𝗶-𝗲𝗰𝗼𝘁𝗼𝘂𝗿𝗶𝘀𝗺 𝗕𝗼𝗼𝘁𝗵 (𝗖𝗮𝘁𝗲𝗴𝗼𝗿𝘆 𝗔)
2. City of Ilagan
3. Cauayan City
Queen Isabela 2024
It’s been a while since I last watched a beauty pageant, and Queen Isabela 2024 did not disappoint with its high-quality production value. The pageant showcased the beauty, intelligence, and cultural pride of the most stunning women in Isabela. Twenty-eight contestants competed for the much-coveted crown in different categories such as casual wear, swimwear, innovative dress, evening gown, and Q & A portion.
Kristine Joy Guzman from the City of Ilagan emerged as the winner, crowned Queen Isabela 2024. Other notable winners were Precious Faith Mirasol from Sta. Maria as Queen Isabela Tourism and Jhudiel Eunisse Taguinod from Echague as Queen Isabela Culture and the Arts.
Here’s a short clip of the announcement of Queen Isabela 2024. The crowd went wild.
Makan ken Mainum
Right after trying Pancit Cabagan, we headed to the capitol grounds to cover “Makan ken Mainum” – a culinary competition designed to showcase the skills of emerging chefs and baristas in Isabela. Participants, aged between 15 and 24 from various municipalities, competed by creating innovative dishes (“Makan“) and beverages (“Mainum“) using local produce.
This event was noteworthy for its encouragement of traditional cooking methods, such as “biggang ken banga” (cooking with a pot and open fire), and its emphasis on using ingredients without artificial colorings or preservatives.
I truly enjoyed this competition, as we got to try some of the dishes and beverages prepared by the contestants, of course, after they had been evaluated by the judges. My personal favorite was the Salted Egg Yema Shake.
Winners in both the food and drink categories demonstrated exceptional creativity and skill, with Dinapigue taking the top spot for both Makan (food) and Mainum (drinks), followed by Santiago City and Luna, among others.
𝗠𝗮𝗶𝗻𝘂𝗺 𝘁𝗶 𝗜𝘀𝗮𝗯𝗲𝗹𝗮
2. Santiago City
𝗠𝗮𝗸𝗮𝗻 𝘁𝗶 𝗜𝘀𝗮𝗯𝗲𝗹𝗮
2. Santiago City
The Festival King and Queen
After covering the Makan ken Mainum competition, we headed to Queen Isabela Park to witness the showcase of Isabela’s finest costumes, worn by the Festival King and Queen contestants.
Although we had already seen these elaborately designed costumes in a showroom at the capitol, watching them being worn by the contestants provided a completely different experience. Participants from various municipalities and cities across Isabela wore symbolic costumes and props that reflected their local culture, festivals, and traditions.
These costumes were judged not only for their visual appeal but also for how they represented the essence of each contestant’s municipality. The competition showcased creativity through the use of indigenous materials, highlighting the unique identity of each part of Isabela.
Festival Dance Showdown
Right after the street dance parade, there was only a brief pause before the Festival Dance Showdown began. This event offered towns and cities in Isabela the opportunity to take the stage and showcase their dance skills to their chosen songs. It was divided into two categories: Category A for the cities and first-class municipalities, and Category B for the smaller towns.
As part of the media, we secured a prime viewing spot in the stadium, allowing me to fully enjoy the performances of all the contingents. Luna and Alicia were among my favorites. Isabela truly showcased the best talent in the country. All the performances were polished and of world-class.
This year, the towns of Alicia and Santa Maria took the top honors in their respective categories.
The Grand Concert
It’s not every day that we get to witness a grand concert featuring talented musicians and artists. So, during the grand concert finale of the Bambanti Festival 2024, I simply sat back and enjoyed the musical spectacle featuring renowned artists, The Juans and Morissette Amon.
The Juans, known for hits like “Hindi Tayo Puwede,” “Hatid,” and “Itutulog Na Lang,” delivered a performance that captivated the audience with their signature music.
Morissette Amon, acclaimed for her powerful vocals in songs such as “Akin Ka Na Lang,” “Gusto Ko Nang Bumitaw,” and “Naririnig Mo Ba?,” added to the night’s spectacular entertainment, showcasing her ability to stir emotions and command the stage.
Things to Do in Isabela
Aside from taking part in the weeklong celebration of the Bambanti Festival, I’m just happy that we also had the chance to visit some of Isabela’s incredible tourist spots. These are mostly located in Ilagan City and the nearby towns. There is still a lot to discover in Isabela but in case you visit the province soon, here are the attractions to check out.
Our first stop upon arriving in Isabela was Meraki Garden located in the town of Reina Mercedes. We had a sumptuous dinner there, and we also went back the following day to experience the garden in broad daylight.
I can say that Meraki Garden is truly a sanctuary for nature and plant enthusiasts, especially those who love bougainvillea. You can find here hundreds of bougainvillea varieties, meticulously collected by the owner over the past few years. There are also numerous activities in the garden perfect for family and groups of friends.
Bonsai no Sato
From the name itself, Bonsai no Sato in Cauayan City is popular for its varieties of Bonsai trees, offering a unique appeal than the usual flower garden. We had a chance to talk to Madam Librada, the owner of the property. She shared that the park just started as a passion for bonsai trees that eventually turned into this park after many years.
Aside from plants, the park also offers a variety of activities and amenities for visitors such as a playground and dining area.
It was 2019 when I first visited Magat Dam, and I realized that this dam is not just an infrastructure project for irrigation and hydroelectric power, it is also a scenic destination offering breathtaking views. Constructed along the Magat River between 1975 and 1982, Magat Dam is one of the largest dams in the country.
Just a 10-minute drive from Magat Dam, Camp Viscarra offers an escape into the wilderness. This is a camping and leisure resort known for its rustic charm and outdoor activities such as hiking and bird-watching.
Hacienda de San Luis
Hacienda de San Luis in Cauayan City, Isabela, serves as a well-rounded destination encompassing the Cauayan City Museum, Gawa-Gawayan Museum, and Cagayan Valley Science Centrum.
An events place, La Flor de Isabela, is also available for special occasions like weddings and debuts. The hacienda promotes adventure, fun, and indulgence while communing with nature.
Philippine Crocodile Conservation Center
The Philippine Crocodile Conservation Center located in San Mariano, Isabela is committed to the conservation and study of the critically endangered Philippine crocodile. This facility is part of broader conservation efforts to rehabilitate and increase the population of this species within its natural habitat.
National Shrine Of Our Lady Of The Visitation Of Guibang
The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Visitation of Guibang, located in the Municipality of Gamu is a significant Roman Catholic shrine and pilgrimage site dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is particularly renowned for housing the revered image of Our Lady of the Visitation, which has attracted devotees and pilgrims from various parts of the country, especially during its feast day on July 2.
Our Lady of Atocha Parish Church
Our Lady of Atocha Parish Church is in Alicia and holds a special place in the hearts of many for its religious and architectural significance. Founded in 1765, it’s a piece of the region’s rich history and culture, under the Diocese of Ilagan and part of the Vicariate of Our Lady of the Pillar.
St. Rose of Lima Parish Church
St. Rose of Lima Parish Church, located in the Municipality of Gamu has been a cornerstone for the local Catholic community since 1738. It’s dedicated to St. Rose of Lima and every August 23rd, the parish celebrates its fiesta in her honor.
The Multicuisine Restaurant in Ilagan City is a fantastic spot that blends local and international tastes perfectly. It was the venue of the press conference hosted by the Isabela local government unit, and the food was amazing. It’s a great mix of local flavors with a touch of luxury.
Try Pancit Cabagan
You can’t leave Isabela without trying Pancit Cabagan. It’s a tasty noodle dish from Cabagan, packed with a rich sauce, pork, liver, and veggies, topped off with chicharon. A dash of vinegar or calamansi on the side brings out its flavors.
Our Lady of the Pillar Parish
Our Lady of the Pillar Parish is a beautiful, historic church located in Cauayan City, Isabela. It’s been around since 1741 and is dedicated to Our Lady of the Pillar. The community comes together every October 12th to celebrate its feast day.
Isabela Museum and Library
The Isabela Museum and Library is a treasure trove of the province’s history, culture, and arts. It’s filled with everything from old artifacts and documents to modern art, giving visitors a deep dive into Isabela’s past and present.
Buy Munggo Products in San Mateo, Isabela
And before you go, make sure to pick up some Munggo (mung bean) products in San Mateo, Isabela. They’re known for turning this simple bean into a variety of snacks and treats that showcase the local cuisine’s creativity.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my time at the Bambanti Festival and some must-visit places in Isabela. Now it’s your turn to explore and see what this beautiful province has to offer. Remember, “Ettam Ngana Ta Isabela!”