The region prides itself on ancient churches and colonial houses. Vigan, the capital of Ilocos Sur, is a UNESCO World heritage site that has best preserved an original Spanish colonial town in all of Asia. Not only is Ilocos teeming with architectural masterpieces, it is also known for yummy local cuisines and an expansive array of natural wonders.
This destination is a haven for history and architecture aficionados, food enthusiasts, photographers, and nature lovers, or simply those who want to soak up culture and mingle with the locals.
Ilocos has 4 ancient baroque churches, 2 of which are listed as UNESCO heritage sites. Ilocos Norte has San Agustin and San Andres Apostol Churches, built in 1710 and 1590, respectively. Ilocos Sur has Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion and San Guillermo de Aquitania Churches, built in 1765 and 1827, respectively. These Churches are forefront witnesses to Philippine history during the Spanish era. During that time Church and State were one. They not only served as venues to promulgate Catholicism, but as fortresses during times of war and revolt. Tombs of prominent families during the era can be found inside the Churches. A bit eerie yet intriguing, isn’t it?
During pre-colonial times, Vigan served as a trading port between locals and Chinese merchants. When you visit, ride a native horse-drawn carriage along Calle Crisologo’s cobblestoned streets where you will see ancestral houses of Spanish and Chinese architecture. Let your imagination take you back to a time without automobiles and electricity and when gas lamps adorned the streets.
A Handful of Museums
Ilocos museums have an extensive collection of relics from the Spanish era from various transportation carriages to antique appliances, from rare historical documents to simple household artifacts. Most museums are originally ancestral homes of the rich, and some of national heroes. Drop by Juan Luna Shrine, Crisologo Museum, Syquia Mansion, Magsingal Museum, Padre Burgos Museum or Bacarra Museum. Malacanang of the North is also a good place to visit to see a panoramic view of Paoay Lake.
Bangui Windmills, Cape Bojeador and Patapat Viaduct
Bangui is home to 20 gracefully laid out windmills, each standing 70 meters high with 41 meters long blades which would intrigue technology buffs. Photographers delight in this amazing landscape with the sun, sea and sky as backdrop for picture perfect shots. Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, also known as Burgos Lighthouse, was established during the Spanish colonial period making it more than a century old. Perched on top of a hill, visitors will get an amazing view of the West Philippine Sea where Spanish galleons historically sailed. Standing thrirty-one meters above sea level, Patapat Viaduct is a 1.3 kilometer bridge hugging Pagudpud’s coastal mountains. There is a small waterfall perfect for jump shots and you literally land about the edge of Luzon Island.
Ferdinand Marcos Ancestral Home and Mausoleum
Hailing from Ilocos, President Ferdinand Marcos had the longest presidential term in the history of the country. His wife Imelda is said to possess more than 3000 pairs of shoes; at least a thousand of which are designer brands. Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, a critical era in Philippine history when press freedom was restrained and any civil act against the government was intolerated. This led to the world-famous People Power Revolution of 1986 where over 2 million Filipinos gathered in EDSA. Holding on to their rosaries, nuns knelt in front of tanks and citizens linked their arms together to stop military tanks from advancing. The Marcoses were then forced to leave and exile to Hawaii. To date Marcoses still have faithful supporters. Marcos’ ancestral home has been converted to a museum and showcases important life memorabilia of the president. His remains lie preserved inside a glass coffin open for public viewing.
Traditional Arts and Crafts
In Ilocos, you will find a bountiful of hand-made crafts like hand woven baskets, bed sheets, towels, pillow cases, table linens, table runners, colorful purses, and the list goes on and on. With a wide array of products, surely you will find something to take home with you. See how jars are made on a traditional turntable and try your hand at it. The province is also renowned for producing wooden furniture. The meticulous method of abel weaving is an authentic Vigan craft that can be traced back to pre-Spanish colonialism. It became very famous with the Spaniards, to the point that Spain’s textile industry almost collapsed. Traditionally used from birth to death as blankets and robes, abel woven cloths were also present throughout all significant occasions in the natives’ lives.
Beaches, Sands and Rock Formations
Saud Beach is a two-kilometer stretch of fine white sand and is the main beach in Ilocos Norte. Most accommodations here are family-owned and managed, giving Saud a homey rather than a commercial vibe. Blue Lagoon is also a white sand beach with inviting blue waters. Mark your footsteps because you are literally standing in Sitio Malingay, the northernmost tip (Read: the edge) of Luzon Island! For the adventurous, you can zip line your way over waters 1.2 kilometers long at the speed of 80kph. Paoay sand dunes are tremendously popular. In this attraction, you will ride a 4x4 open vehicle and sand surf on rough terrain. Kapurpurawan Rock Formations got its name from “puraw,” the local dialect’s term for the color white. Aptly named so, these stunning formations are by and large creamy white in color.
Authentic Ilocos cuisine is distinguished throughout the country due to its pleasantly salty nature, the dominantly satisfying taste to the Filipino palate. Pinakbet and dinengdeng are the most popular ones along with dips which work very well with bagoong, a fermented salty shrimp paste. Meat lovers, delight! Ilocos offers the notorious deep fried pork belly called bagnet and the infamous Vigan longganisa, both perfect with rice. Legendary snacks include stuffed empanada and crunchy chichacorn in various flavors. The Ilocanos went over the top in incorporating pakbet and bagnet in pizza! It does sound bizarre, yet people have found these pizzas surprisingly good. Try basi, a local wine produced from sugar cane. When fermented longer, it turns into sukang Iloko or Ilocos vinegar, another original product of the region.
How to get to and around Ilocos
To get to Ilocos, you can travel by plane of by bus. Flights from Manila to Laoag Airport take about an hour. There are also scheduled flights coming in from Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan. Bus travel typically takes 10 hours, shorter if traveling at night.
It is best to hire a car when exploring Ilocos as most destinations are far apart from each other and public transport may be scarce in some places. There are a lot of tours offered by local travel agencies which include private vehicles, driver and tour guide. It is your best option to be able to save time and energy and learn more about local culture.