Celebrate the Holidays in Incredible Ilocos
So much has been said about the beauty of the Ilocos region. As has been about the historical and cultural significance of this place in the north to the identity of the Philippines, but what have been said would never be enough to capture the captivating intricacy of Vigan, Pagudpud, Laoag, and other towns and cities that make up the region.
Leaving Manila at 10 in the evening, my friends and I arrived at the capital of Ilocos Sur at around 5 a.m. Seeing the city before the sun peeks out, was in itself an experience. The St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral as the backdrop for the Plaza Burgos where children, tourists, and locals enjoy the city before work takes away the time to marvel, was what greeted us when we stepped out of the car.
This region, that caters to the historian, to the adventurous, and to the tourist, is a place that should be visited with an itinerary in hand to make sure that missing out won’t be a problem later on.
Cobbled streets and Dancing Lights
Vigan is a very smart city. It makes you want to stay there far longer than you should.
Starting the day with bellies filled with Vigan’s longganisa and bagnet, we rode a karitela to tour around the city. First on our list of destinations is the Chapel by the Ruins, located inside the St. Augustine’s Church and away from the touristy crowd of the Bantay Bell Tower, where we spent more than an hour meditating. A good half an hour was also spent talking to the very accommodating caretaker of the place. If you want to be in a place where you can hear yourself think, I highly recommend giving the Chapel by the Ruins a go.
(Note: As much as we would like to drop by the Bantay Belfry, we weren’t able to do so, but a quick search in the net gave me a whole lot of regrets. It seems that one should not leave this city without looking at its panoramic sight viewed from this bell tower, located a quick walk away from the national highway.)
From the Chapel by the Ruins, we then proceeded to the Syquia Mansion where we were reintroduced to the sixth president of the republic of the Philippines, Elpidio Quirino, through portraits and paintings. Walking around the building felt like something out of a history book, but this time we could touch the actual memorabilia.
I usually dislike zoos and anything that promotes animal captivity, but I found it so hard to hate Baluarte where we saw deers walking around a wide expanse of grassy field. The animals also perform, with the aid of the staff. For a P50 entrance fee, Baluarte is a fun place to spend an hour or two especially if you’re enjoying Vigan with the family.
From Baluarte, we then headed to the black-sand Mindoro beach which felt like something out of a dream. The place was so peaceful, and quiet that I can honestly say this was the highlight of my day in Vigan. The crashing waves and the view of the horizon a distance away soothed the adventurer in me. Downside though, this place is quite out of the way. Here’s a tip: Ilocos Sur is a place best discovered with a car.
Vigan is a smart city. According to most travellers, a day is usually enough to tour Vigan and most of them leave for Ilocos Norte before the day ends, so the city government addressed this by giving the tourists and locals alike a show, hence the dancing lights in Plaza Burgos. That’s a pretty classy way of saying, "Stay with us for just one more night."
We ended the evening with a promenade on Calle Crisologo where we paused and posed for the camera. Reader, you can not leave Vigan without a walk at night in this world-famous, cobbled street. You can also buy your souvenirs here, and to answer your unasked question, the vendors were definitely friendly and the prices of the pasalubongs were budget-friendly (P50-150).
Paoay Church, Sand dunes, and the Palace of the North
I tasted one of the best tasting ice creams in Ilocos Norte. That alone should encourage you to make the drive up north, but there’s more to this Marcos bailiwick than delicious dragon fruit-flavored ice cream.
The first place that we visited in Ilocos Norte is the Marcos Museum and mausoleum where the preserved remains of Ferdinard Marcos, former dictator of the country, is encased in glass crypt. The museum gave us an overview to the early life and early political life of Marcos. The details of his life should have stuck with me as a history enthusiast, but the taste of the dirty ice cream sold outside the museum is what I remember most.
After visiting the resting place of the former dictator, we then felt the need to visit another world-famous site, Paoay Church. This Augustinian church has a garden filled with inspiring quotes that could encourage the apathetic. Paoay Church has the kind of appeal that cameras rarely capture. Do not forget to include this in your itinerary.
There’s a palace up north that would make you think how extravagant the Marcoses have lived back then. A tour of the Malacanang of the North, with its grand staircase, ostentatious dining room and bedrooms, excellent view of the Paoay Lake from the balcony, drove the point home. There is an entrance fee of P30.
After a solemn visit to the Paoay Church, the need to feel alive made us try the 4x4 ATV ride. This adventure isn’t for the faint hearted. Numerous times, we found ourselves threatening (in a joking manner, of course) the driver and his sidekick, who so very kindly offered to take our pictures while we were shouting for our lives. Sandboarding is a whole lot of fun. It’s like skating but instead of doing it on a pavement, you do it on sand. The unforgettable experience cost us P2,500. Not bad for something that’s definitely one for the books.
Blue Lagoon, Lighthouse, and Windmills
From Paoay, we chose to drive all the way to Pagudpud for the night. There’s a resort that claims to have Asia’s longest zipline over open water and of course, we did not waste the opportunity to stay there.
Hannah’s Resort, located right in front of the famous blue lagoon at Brgy Balaoi, Malingay, Pagudpud, will definitely give you a sense of exclusivity (so says their Facebook page), since it is REALLY FAR from the national highway. Again, Ilocos is best discovered with a car.
The zipline did not disappoint. With a magnificent view of the blue lagoon, it won’t even cross your mind that you’re travelling a one-kilometer cable, all you’ll be able to think is that you’re seeing the blue water, the rocks, the mountains, and the hope that the cable be far longer than a kilometer.
Before we left Manila, I told my friends that I have to have a photo with Ilocos’ windmills, the electricity-giving turbines of the North. And true to their words they let me have my moment with the windmills. There’s just something inspiring about renewable energy and how it aids the province of Ilocos Norte in achieving cheap, yet sustainable electricity.
Our last stop was the Cape Bojeador lighthouse. This commanding structure stands atop Vigia de Nagparitan Hill in the town of Burgos. The lighthouse in itself, I think is not spectacular, but the view? That’s a whole other story. The view encapsulated what I thought about the region of Ilocos, vast, beautiful, and inspiring.
Let's get you started! Start your Ilocos adventure at Laoag and work your way from there!
With a rich, diverse culture and awe-inspiring destinations, it truly is more fun in the Philippines.