You can base yourself in the northeast at SANTA CRUZ for a day or two while you explore the area around it. The town is unmemorable, the only sights a whitewashed Spanish-era church and the dilapidated wooden convent next to it. The narrow streets in the town centre are choked with tricycles and jeepneys from dawn to dusk, so be prepared for noise if you stay here. From the town centre it's a bumpy thirty-minute tricycle ride to the Bathala Caves, but worth the pain. There are seven caves; four are accessible and one contains human bones believed to be the remains of World War II soldiers. You've a good chance of seeing pythons here, along with the thousands of bats that call the caves home. The caves are privately owned and you have to pay the caretaker P100 for a guided tour. There is a natural pool for cooling off after the rigours of the journey.
Rico's Lodging House (Tel:042/321 1085; Under P500), opposite the town hall and the Philippine National Bank, is your only chance of a bed for the night, with very basic rooms with toilet and shower. The dingy coffee shop downstairs serves noodles, sandwiches and chicken.
There are no tourist facilities on Maniuaya, Mompong and Polo, collectively known as the Santa Cruz Islands, but there are a number of white sand beaches that are good for snorkelling. Access to the islands is by boat (around P300 one-way) from Buyabod, 10km southeast of Santa Cruz and accessible by tricycle or jeepney. Another interesting if rather depressing trip from Santa Cruz is to the ghostly site of the vast mine, now closed, that was responsible for one of the Philippines' most infamous environmental disasters (see below). The journey takes about thirty minutes and costs around P50 there and back.