My most favourite region up north, Ilocos! I’ve been here twice already but it’s still my favourite place in Luzon. Ilocos is located in the northwestern coast of Luzon, Philippines. It is known for its historic sites, beaches and the well-preserved Spanish colonial city of Vigan.
What I love about Ilocos is that you can try almost everything! Food trips, beach bumming, church hopping, a trip back in time, sand surfing and a lot more! As what most people described it, each place has its own element.
What to do and where to go in Ilocos
1. Take a look back in time in Calle Crosologo in Vigan
When going to Ilocos, best starting point is Vigan. It is known for its preserved Spanish colonial and Asian architecture. This is where you’ll find Calle Crisologo.
The City of Vigan is one of the cultural sites listed under the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines. Calle Crisologo is best visited around 5-6AM in the morning during the breaking of dawn. The street lights will give an eerie feel on the preserved ancestral home lines and cobblestoned street. It can transport you back in time even without the need of a time machine.
The street could get really crowded even as early as 5am, the damp yellow lights works wonders which gives the place an old discreet vibe, if not only for the flock of visitors coming from time to time haha.
2. Take breakfast and chill at Hidden Garden
One of the well-known food institution in Vigan is Hidden Garden.
Located at the heart of Vigan, this place is not really hidden! It’s a restaurant and a garden combined. Hidden Garden started out as a personal garden of retired engineer Francis Flores whose surname perfectly suits his passion for plants (Flores is Spanish for flowers). Eventually, with the garden becoming popular, he opened it to the public in 1991 and since then it has been part of the tourist destinations of Vigan City.
3. Eat Poqui-poqui and Ilocos Empanada!
My favourite Ilocano dish! Poqui-poqui is a traditional Ilocano vegetable dish that is essentially made of roasted eggplant, tomatoes, and eggs. You can find it almost anywhere, name it! Restaurants, carenderia and even transient houses offers this unique dish!
An Ilocos trip is not an Ilocos trip without munching an Ilocos empanada (yes, that’s a lot of Ilocos haha).
You can find this orange deep-fried pastry in almost every street of Ilocos. The empanada reflects the Spanish markings on Ilocos, although you can find empanada in both Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte, you’ll notice a slight difference. Ilocos empanada is made up of Ilocos’ famous products which are: rice, longanisa (ground pork molded into sausage links), papaya, mung beans, and eggs. Each empanada costs around 20-40php depending on size.
4. Visit Bantay Church and Bell Tower
Visit and climb the famous Bantay bell tower and prepare to be amazed with the surrounding view of the town. It is really Saint Augustine Parish Church but most commonly know as Bantay Church. Locals will offer to take witty photos of you and the Bantay Tower, don’t be surprised when it turns like this!
5. Check out Baluarte Resort and Mini Zoo
Baluarte Zoo is a zoological park in Vigan, Ilocos Sur Philippines. It is owned by Chavit Singson. The entrance is free.
But personally I’m not recommending this place, most animals are in poor living condition, sad. There’s also a museum full of animal heads and taxidermy from the ex-governor’s hunting. The museum gives me chills, won’t go in there again.
6. Try surfing at Blue Lagoon
Surprisingly, Ilocos also offers this sporty option, newbies are welcome to try! Blue lagoon is now nicknamed as “surfer’s haven of the North” thanks to its beautiful swells. For first timers, the waves are not scary! Your surfing board comes with a surfing instructor. When I went here at 2018, the fee is at Php 400 for one hour. Its for both rental of surf board, surfing lessons and a guide.
7. Explore Paoay Sand Dunes in 4×4 Ride
Highlight your Ilocos trip with a 4×4 ride in the famous Paoay Sand dunes! This is my favourite activity during the trip. Control freaks, this ride is for you hahaha. Each turn is unpredictable, at some point I thought I’d die on this truck haha! The drivers really know how to increase adrenaline and scare (almost) the riders. What I can only recall during the whole 30mins ride is shouting and giggles all over.
After some time, the driver would ask you to come down and take photos at the best part of the dunes, so strike your best post! The fee for each person is at Php 500, a maximum of 5 people on the truck.
The trip will end with sand boarding! Just remember to keep your mouth close while sliding if you don’t want sand for lunch! Haha
8. Get lost in Ilocos Norte’s icon, Kapurpurawan Rock Formation
The root word comes from an Ilocano term “puraw” which means white. This creamy white rock formation was formed thousands of year through the process of sedimentation.
From the drop off point of the rock formation property site, tourists needs to trek for around 20-30mins depending on your comfort. The trek could be muddy specially on rainy seasons and the ivory limestone near the formation could be slippery so better if you wear rubber shoes or trekking sandals. For those who doesn’t want to walk, horses for rent are available on jump-off.
A statue of Biag ni Lam-ang is visible along the trek, the size is about 2 meters long. Biag ni Lam-ang is an epic Ilocano poem.
9. Dip and enjoy the cold waters of Kabigan Falls
When travelling to new places with weird names, I always try to ask the locals on the etymology of its name. Most people might think Kabigan is derived from Filipino term “kaibigan” which means “friend”, rather, its name is based the term “kabig” which can be translated in English as “to haul, pull or collect”.
Many tourist might get intimidated when locals say you need to trek going to the falls, but the trek is mostly flat with most areas covered in vegetation, rice fields, water stream and varieties of trees. I brought a water bottle with me because we started our trek around 9am, but I was surprised to find small stores along the way. Most locals who live in the area sells refreshments like rice puddings, fresh buko juice and even soda.
10. Take in northern breeze in Patapat Viaduct
11. Visit the massive San Agustin Church of Paoay
Ilocos is known in preserving churches and ancestral houses. It is also the home of one of the oldest churches in the Philippines, the St. Agustin church of Paoay or Paoay Church.
In 1973, Paoay Church was declared as a National Cultural Treasure by the Philippine Government it was also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The church itself and its detached bell tower is made up of coral stones atleast 5 inches thick with its most striking feature, the buttresses. In order to preserve the church structure from earthquakes, the buttresses were conceived at each sides and the back side of the church.
12. End your day with sunset watching at Bangui Windmill Farm
We were surprised to find a horse at the beach! Then we learned we can rent it for Php 100 for 30mins maximum and take photos while exploring the beachside. The beach itself is fine but swimming is prohibited due to the waters strong current.