The Ilocos Region, consisting of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur, may sound like a daunting place for first-time visitors.
Often, our friends and relatives ask for a dozen Vigan Longanisa, a bottle of Sukang Iloko, a bundle of Native Garlic, or a packet of Bagnet in hopes of also experiencing your travels through your souvenirs.
However, we all know there is a lot more to this beautiful region than what we can find in your typical Pasalubong bag.
Here’s what every traveler in Ilocos should experience before returning home…
1. VIGAN HERITAGE VILLAGE & CALLE CRISOLOGO
Read our full Vigan Feature: CALLE CRISOLOGO: 24-hour Guide To the Philippines' Most Beautiful Street @HotelLuna_Vigan
If you want to experience Vigan on a horse carriage, rent one for P100 and above at Plaza Burgos.
As a UNESCO Heritage Site, Calle Crisologo is revered for its gorgeous Spanish Era buildings, cobblestone roads, and horse carriage rides.
It was such a wonderful experience to “time travel” even if people in modern clothes kept reminding us it was 2016!
There are a lot of different souvenirs you can buy along Calle Crisologo; from windmill figures, key chains, bags, etc…
…but we all know the best gift is food!
If you feel a little parched along the way, look for the Sugarcane Juice stand just along the Calle (it’s hard to miss).
It’s made with freshly squeezed Kalamansi, making it extra tangy and refreshing!
This drink is particularly refreshing on hot afternoons.
If you explore outside Calle Crisologo, you’ll still find yourself in a completely different era.
Vigan Church lies just outside the Calle.
According to law, modern establishments in the Vigan Heritage Village must adhere to the Spanish Era design.
It was amusing to see establishments like Jollibee or Chowking rendered in old era style!
To make your stay in Vigan worthwhile, try avoiding fast food restaurants and opt for the smaller Ilocano eateries scattered around the area.
Plaza Salcedo features a 17th Century San Juan de Salcedo Monument.
This monument commemorates where the first revolutionary woman of the Philippines, Gabriela Silang, was executed via public hanging.
At night, the fountain comes alive with synchronized lights, water jets, and laser shows!
Tips & Reminders
- It’s OK to haggle.
- Pack light, because the area tends to get flooded by tourists.
- Watch out for oncoming Calesas.
- You probably won’t get through Calle Crisologo in one day!
2. PAOAY ONSE REEF 4X4 & SANDBOARDING ADVENTURE
The Paoay Sand Dunes at Onse Reef are a great summer activity for those who’d rather get sand in their shoes than get wet!
With a maximum of 6 people per vehicle (P2,500 per ride, inclusive of Sandboarding Session) you can experience a thrilling 4×4 drive on the peaks and valleys of the Sand Dunes.
Reminders Before Riding
- Wear sunscreen.
- Place all gadgets in a bag and store it below the driver’s seat.
- Remove all dangling jewelry to avoid snagging.
- If you have a long-sleeved shirt, do wear it to avoid getting sand all over your arms.
- For those with long hair, please tie your hair up as a courtesy to other riders.
- Attempting to take photos on the ride is discouraged, unless you want to lose your camera along the way.
- Have fun!
The high-octane ride is dangerously entertaining—as a warning, we don’t recommend this activity for children.
Note: You will scream.
The best way to hold on is by taking one step away from the handrails to prevent your body from hitting them as the vehicle accelerates.
Your 4×4 ride will stop at the Sandboarding area before returning to the station.
You can choose to use your Sandboard like a sled if you’re not comfortable “surfing” yet.
Tips for Sandboarding
- Just listen to the instructors.
- Don’t be scared to look silly.
- Don’t worry about falling—if you fall off your Sandboard, you can get a second try!
- It’s best to wear sandals for this activity.
We had a lot of new experiences that day that left our body sore and our pride beaten, but it was totally worth it!
PAOAY ONSE REEF 4X4 & SANDBOARDING ADVENTURE
Brgy.23 Bacsil, Paoay, Ilocos Norte
Mobile: 0999 710 2779
Monday to Sunday—5:00AM to 7:00PM
P2,500 for 6 people
3. KAPURPURAWAN ROCK FORMATION & BANGUI WINDMILLS
The picturesque Kapurpurawan Rock formation’s smooth, white limestone features were sculpted by centuries of Wind, Waves, and Water.
Before seeing the rock formations, all you have to do is register—entrance is free!
The formation rests along Bangui Bay and gets its name from the Ilocano word “white”.
The neighboring areas are scenic marshes that look too beautiful to be real.
You can opt to take a horse to take you to the rock formations for P100…
…but we recommend you walk to fully appreciate your surroundings.
If you’re with a tour group at Kapurpurawan, chances are you are bound to visit the iconic Bangui Windmills only 5 minutes away.
Did you know that the Bangui Wind Farm is the first ever built in South East Asia? Other wind farms can be found in Burgos and Pagudpud.
4. PAOAY CHURCH & HERENCIA RESTAURANT
Officially known as San Agustin Church among the locals, this iconic structure is heralded for its distinct baroque architecture and was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the Philippine government in 1973.
Paoay Church was completed in 1710 and is characterized by its noticeably large buttresses.
Around the area are a variety of eateries, but one that we highly recommend is Herencia Restaurant (in front of Paoay Church).
Chicharon & Pinakbet 2-in-1 Sampler Pizza (P450)
The peculiar Pinakbet Pizza (a typical Ilocano dish with bitter gourd, eggplant, greenbeans, and tomato) is Herencia’s bestseller.
We were surprised by how well the bitterness of the gourd complemented the cheese and tomato sauce.
We can’t go to Ilocos without trying their famous Bagnet—order the crispy pork Bagnet to get your fix of the sinfully delicious.
McArthur Street, Bgy. 14, Sangladan, Paoay
Telephone: 77 614 0214
Sunday—Saturday: 7:00AM to 8:30PM
5. MALACAÑANG TI AMIANAN (MALACAÑANG OF THE NORTH)
The Malacañang of the North was the official holiday residence of the late president Marcos and first lady, Imelda.
The 5-hectare property overlooking a garden and Paoay Lake was gift from Imelda to Ferdinand on his 60th birthday.
Now as a public museum with an entrance fee of P20, you can have glimpse of how the family lived during the regime.
The 2-storey mansion is embellished with luxurious Spanish and Ilocano Motifs.
Many of the spacious rooms are elegant and inviting.
With Imelda being a well-known patron of the arts, the interiors are also decorated with beautiful paintings.
Seeing family photos of the controversial family put them in a strangely human light…
…and it’s incredible to think that some of the most powerful people in the Philippines had walked on the same marble floors only a few decades ago.
MALACAÑANG OF THE NORTH
Barangay Suba, Paoay, Ilocos Norte
Tuesday to Sunday—9:00AM to 4:00PM
P20 per head
6. MARCOS MUSEUM & MAUSOLEUM
Ilocos Norte is the birthplace of Ferdinand Marcos, whose highly controversial administration is documented at the Marcos Museum in Batac City.
The museum features fascinating memorabilia and family photos of the vastly publicized life of the Marcoses before, during, and after the Martial Law period.
To start the tour, make sure you register and pay the entrance fee.
The Mausoleum is where the late president lies preserved under 7 layers of surgical wax—the tour guide will tell you to put away your camera before entering.
Replicas like Imelda’s Pink Alfombra Slippers and the Salted Watermelon Seeds she was eating on the first night she met Ferdinand can be found around the Museum.
Did you know that Imelda Romualdez Marcos, also called the “Rose of Tacloban” popularized the Butterfly Sleeves now popular in our Filipiniana clothing?
Other memorabilia available for viewing include these magazines printed back in the 60s…
…Ferdinand’s handwritten letter to the people of Ilocos…
…and study materials from Ferdinand’s college days, and more.
One of the most impressive sights for us were binders upon binders of Ferdinand's speeches during his 2-decade presidency.
Whatever your position on his administration, the tour was a fascinating, in-depth look at the lives of one of the most debated presidents in Philippine History.
- Start the tour with an open mind.
- Go early to avoid too many tourists.
- If you have a school ID, you can get a discount on the entrance fee.
MARCOS MUSEUM & MAUSOLEUM
Valdez, Batac, Ilocos Norte
Monday to Sunday: 9:00AM—4:00PM
Break: 12:00PM – 1:00PM
Students & Seniors w/ Valid ID: P30
10 y/o and Below: P10
7. CAPE BOJEADOR LIGHTHOUSE
This centuries old lighthouse, also referred to as Burgos Lighthouse, illuminated Cape Bojeador where Spanish Galleons would sail by in the 1800s.
Before going up, you can enjoy the view of the cape on Vigia de Nagparitan Hill.
It was unfortunate that there were so many people when we visited—don’t be discouraged, the lighthouse-turned-museum is worth the trip.
The antique furniture and the meager room set-ups were maintained.
You can even have a feel of the original brickwork of the lighthouse from the 1800s.
First lit in 1892, this large lens was part of the original light used to guide the Galleons.
Along the walls are where you can read a bit more about the lighthouse’s rich history and cultural significance.
After our visit, we were enlightened about the historical significance of Burgos Lighthouse.
8. BANTAY BELL TOWER & CHURCH
The Bantay Bell Tower of Ilocos Sur was a watchtower people used to guard the town against pirates—hence, the name “Bantay”, which means “to guard”.
Built in 1590, it is considered one of the oldest structures in the Ilocos region—notice the original brickwork.
Visiting the highest floor of the bell tower is encouraged.
It was fascinating to see how everything was so well maintained, but we were disappointed to see how much vandalism the tower had endured.
Note: please don’t vandalize the bell tower in any way, shape, or form!
You can visit the respective Bantay Church, which is dedicated to St. Augustine of Hippo.
EXPLORE LIKE A LOCAL IN ILOCOS
Getting “lost” around Ilocos can do you good, as you’ll run into some very tasty local establishments and interesting attractions!
It’s not hard to find the popular Ilocos Empanada (Longanisa, garlic, eggs, rice flour), which is practically breakfast in empanada form.
If you step out the hotel in your own time, you can learn to appreciate what makes Ilocos such a culturally rich region.
You’ll end up running into a lot of gorgeous churches like the Sinking Bell Tower of Ilocos Norte…
…or maybe a local store to where you can grab bundles of garlic…
…and a bottle Sukang Iloko for your pantry.
To cool off, you can beat the heat with some “dirty” ice cream…
…purchase summer fruit…
…and get your sweet fix of Tinubong, Turones, and Kalamay!
No matter how long your stay in Ilocos, always keep in mind that the greatest souvenir to be had is the experience outside that Pasalubong bag!
Live an Awesome Life,
Sheila Renei Gomez
Team Our Awesome Planet
Disclosure: We paid for everything. I wrote this article with my biases, opinions, and insights. Read Our Awesome Planet Complete Disclosure Policy here.
P.S. Since the tour included so many attractions in a matter of 3 days, always check the timings on your itinerary to stay on schedule.
HOW WE GOT TO ILOCOS
The Ilocos experience of 3 days and 2 nights are courtesy of the DOT-Accredited Ilocos Heritage Tours & Travel (Silaw Package).
ILOCOS HERITAGE TOURS & TRAVEL
1 Asean Avenue, Entertainment City, Tambo, Parañaque City
Mobile: +63917 505 4715 / +63919 888 4849 / +63998 853 2432
Facebook: Ilocos Heritage Tour
The Silaw Package features a lantern lighting event and group buffet.
RATES for SILAW PACKAGE:
PRICE PER PERSON FOR STANDARD HOTEL
P3,999.00 per head (4-12 persons)
P4,300.00 per head (3 persons)
P4,500.00 per head (2 persons)
PRICE PER PERSON FOR UPGRADED HOTEL:
P4,999.00 per head (4-12 persons)
P4,800.00 per head (3 persons)
P5,500.00 per head (2 persons)
Note: Silaw may not be available all year round, so please check the Ilocos Heritage Tour’s Facebook page for more information and package options.