My husband and I have been to Ilocos many times. Between the area's history and natural beauty, we always find something new to explore.
Ilocos: The Gem of the Philippines
The Ilocos region is approximately eight hours away from Metro Manila via bus and around an hour away via plane. Despite its many beautiful sites, not many tourists have been there. Neither had we until, out of the blue, we were given a long weekend off from work. We just couldn’t stay home, so we reserved the next available bus for Ilocos.
Three Must-See Places in Ilocos
My husband and I planned on seeing the main three attractions in the region on a limited budget of 5,000 pesos per person (food and souvenir shopping not included):
- Pagudpud, which is the farthest among the three and is already at the tip of Northern Luzon. This place is normally frequented by surfers for the huge waves. It is also visited for the Bangui Windmills, the largest in Southeast Asia.
- Laoag and Paoay are two towns, the latter of which is known for St Augustine/ Paoay Church—a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Vigan is primarily visited for the old heritage houses lined up at Calle Crisologo.
Note: Reservations for the bus must be made at least two days before departure, and the 'Sleeper' bus is only until Laoag. The best bet for a good rest if your first destination is Pagudpud is to take the 'La-Z-Boy' bus (a.k.a. Florida Bus). Alternatively, you can rent a van for hire from Manila to Ilocos and back, which often includes a tour of Ilocos.
Northbound Tour of Pagudpud
We hired a tricycle at the bus stop where we were dropped off. They have a very organized trip with locations and prices posted inside. There are two tours for Pagudpud—north- and southbound. One day is enough to finish both the north- and southbound tours of Pagudpud, but it would be a bit hectic and you might not have as much time as you'd like to see everything.
Note: The maximum number of people per tricycle is 3. The rates are the same for all tricycles.
Highlights of the Northbound Tricycle Tour of Pagudpud:
Saud Beach is lined with beach resorts. Since the weather made swimming a little dangerous, we just took pictures at the public beach. It had fine grey sand and a couple of small boats at the shore. We were the only ones at the beach during that time since there were heavy winds.
We had to hike for 20 minutes to see the magnificent Kabigan Waterfalls. It was a good hike, though, and we did not find it tiring since the air was fresh and there was a beautiful view of the mountains and rice fields. According to our tour guide, the waterfall was named after two lovers who hid near the waterfalls during the Japanese invasion.
Patapat Viaduct is a concrete bridge connecting Ilocos Norte to Cagayan Valley. We had fun posing for pictures in the middle of the empty street. The typhoon also brought large waves below us that we viewed with awe from the viaduct.
Our tricycle driver for the tour told us that Agua Grande is one of the highlights of Pagudpud during the summer season, as natural swimming pools fill up.
Not far from Agua Grande and the Patapat Viaduct, Paraiso ni Anton is located right next to the road. This tiny shrine to Mary is in a grotto—complete with a small spring—at the top of a short, mossy staircase. There isn't much to see there, but it's fairly charming as far as pit stops go. Nearby Timmangtang Rock is a big bell-shaped formation with a nice view of the ocean.
Bantay Abot Cave was shaped like a turtle from afar. When we came close, we saw there was a huge arch that one could pass through. The waves from the ocean were crashing by the cave during that time, but there were still locals diving.
We stayed at a resort by Blue Lagoon called Punta Azul and had lunch at Kapuluan Vista Resort. Blue Lagoon is considered the most perfect surfing area in Ilocos. Dos Hermanos Islands are two islands near the end of Blue Lagoon.
Southbound Tour of Pagudpud
Highlights of the Southbound Tricycle Tour of Pagudpud:
Bangui Windmills was a sight to see. Unlike the Danish Windmills, these tall windmills had a thin and straight bottom portion. These windmills supply electricity to all of Ilocos. There are at least 19 windmills facing the ocean.
There were a lot of people taking pictures at the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse when we arrived. The structure was created during the Spanish period (1892) and still stands in its original form. We weren’t able to go up the lighthouse since it was under maintenance, but taking pictures outside of the old structure was fun enough.
We were not able to visit the Kapurpurawan Rock Formation due to the strong rain. The road going there has not yet been cemented and the tricycle could not pass through the deep mud. We are planning to go back to see this site since it looks very wonderful.
Laoag Walking Tour
2. Laoag and Paoay
We took a bus to Laoag from Pagudpud. The trip was just short, approximately an hour away from Pagudpud’s Cape Bojeador. We stayed at Isabel Suites which was a good choice since it had a convenient location for touring Laoag. After lunch at La Preciosa we had a walking tour of the nearby tourist spots.
Walking Tour of Laoag City:
We heard mass at St William Cathedral, which was built during the Spanish era (1612). English mass times are at 9 am and 6 pm.
The Sinking Bell Tower was built along with St William Cathedral. It was a beautiful structure especially when the lights were turned on come nighttime, although we had a hard time taking a decent picture since there were establishments in front and at the side of it and electrical wires all over.
Tip: The best place to take a picture of the Sinking Bell Tower is by Aurora Park, which is just a few steps away from the bell tower. Also within the park is the Tobacco Monopoly Monument.
On our way back to Isabel Suites we also took a picture of the Ilocos Norte Capitol and the Ilocos Norte Oblation.
Paoay by Tricycle
Tricycle Tour of Paoay:
The next day we hired a tricycle for a tour of the nearby town of Paoay. Unlike in Pagudpud, one has to bargain for the price of the tricycle tour. There are a couple of tricycles for hire at Jollibee, which was just beside Isabel Suites.
The first stop was Malacanang of the North, which was unfortunately closed (as it is every Monday). We were about to leave when the guard told us that we could have a good view of the Paoay Lake at the back of Malacanang.
Tip: Ask your driver to pass by Fort Ilocandia, which is along the way.
We were supposed to do sand-boarding at the La Paz Sand Dunes of Pasuquin, but were advised not to by the owner of the 4X4 vehicle we hired since the sand was still a bit wet due to the rain the previous day. We still enjoyed running around the huge area full of sand and taking lots of pictures. It is definitely a must-visit when in Ilocos.
Another must-visit is St Augustine/Paoay Church, which as I mentioned is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the best Baroque Churches. It was completed in 1710. We were in awe upon seeing the church; both its interiors and exteriors still looked original, unlike lots of other old churches which have been re-painted or cemented, making them look ‘off’ and modern.
Just beside St Augustine Church is the restaurant Herencia Cafe. We ordered three pizzas at 300P per box to go so that we could catch the earliest bus to Vigan. I loved the Bagnet Pizza and the Dinuguan Pizza, but when it was time to have a taste of the Pinakbet Pizza, it had a cockroach under the take-out box—such a disappointment.
Our Horse-Dawn Carriage Tour of Vigan
Upon our arrival in Vigan, we walked a bit until we saw a line for horse-drawn carriage rides (calesa or kalesa in Tagalog) near the Cathedral of Vigan. The prices were fixed for the tour, but it was on a per hour basis (150P per hour).
What We Saw on Our Kalesa Tour of Vigan:
The Belfry at the Saint Augustine Church was still mostly intact, but the floors were badly cracked and the bells were vandalized. We got stuck for a while by the second floor as the rain grew stronger. It was already flooding a bit. Nevertheless, the view at the top was beautiful, and it would have been nice to just stay there for a while if it wasn’t raining that hard.
We didn’t know what was inside the Mansion Syquia. Our kalesa guide just told us that it was owned by a prominent family. Upon entering, it was a bit dark and we saw a picture of a president of the Philippines; he looked vaguely familiar, but my husband and I weren't quite sure who he was. I was a bit nervous when my husband asked me ‘Who’s that in the picture?’ I blushed and guessed—President Elpidio Quirino. Thank goodness I was right. We just stayed there for a while and took pictures. There were lots of paintings and antiques on display.
Baluarte is owned by the governor of Ilocos, Chavit Singson. What caught our eyes were the small horse and carriage that one could rent and the dinosaur display with the name of the place.
For plant lovers, the Hidden Garden is a good place, although we skipped this as neither of us has a green thumb and we wouldn’t want to take home a plant.
We did stay for quite a while at the Burnayan (the Vigan House of Pottery). A staff member demonstrated how to make a clay pot, after which we had a chance to take a picture with the finished product as if we were the ones who made it. We also got some souvenirs from the place.
Our last stop was the Calle Crisologo or the street lined with heritage houses and souvenirs shops. We enjoyed riding in the kalesa as it passed through the cobbled streets. It was truly like we went back in time.
Recommended Itinerary for 3 Days in Ilocos
|Day||Time||Itinerary||Price per Person in Phil Peso*|
Arrive in Pagudpud
Tricycle North Bound Tour of Pagudpud
Arrive: Punta Azul Resort, Pagudpud
Lunch: Kapuluan Vista Resort
Blue Lagoon and Dos Hermanos Islands
Free Breakfast/Checkout Pagudpud Hotel
Tricycle South Bound Tour of Pagudpud
Ordinary Bus to Laoag
Arrive: Isabel Suite's, Laoag
Lunch at La Preciosa
St William Cathedral English Mass
Walking Tour of Laoag
Dinner at Isabel Suite's restaurant Cailian Grill
Free Breakfast/Checkout Laoag Hotel
Tricycle Tour of Paoay
Take out Herencia Pizza
Ordinary Bus to Vigan
Calesa/Kalesa - horse ride Vigan Tour
Mansion Syquia Entrance
Vigan House of Pottery - Souvenir Shopping
Vigan Empanada by the Plaza
Ice Tea at Café Leona
Partas Bus Terminal bound for Manila
For a detailed version of our itinerary, check out our Shared Google Tour Map. It shows the exact locations of all the places mentioned above, as well as quite a few more along the way.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 munchwaffle