ILOCOS region – the land of light houses and bell towers and pristine white beaches, of rock formations, old Spanish collonial towns, Unesco World Heritage sites, the place of stark contrasts, of enchantment, of old grandeur, of famous longganisa and empanada. Lucky for me, after years of planning and “next time nalang” mentality, I managed to experience it (as a birthday treat to myself), the Travel Factor way!
Travel Factor had became one of the biggest adventure tour providers in the Philippines in recent years. Having the habit of going places alone, I think this is the best way to meet new friends and experience Ilocos.
Ilocos region, collectively refers to two provinces in the Philippines: Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. Inhabitants are called Ilocanos and they speak the language Iloko, also called Ilocano. It is without a doubt one of the most popular getaway you can find in the North and has always been in each and everyone’s travel list.
My top 10 must see places in Ilocos
1. Bantay Belfry
“Bantay” is both Ilocano and Tagalog word for “guard” and “mountain.” – Bantay Belfry was used as a watch tower during the Spanish colonial period. It was sitting on a mound few feet from St. Augustine Church or Bantay Parish
A ten-minute ride away from Vigan, which sits on a hill. This towering structure is one of the sights that should be visited by travelers not only because of its historical and cultural significance but also because of its commanding view of Vigan from the highest portion of it that can be climbed. Some may even claim that they can see most of Ilocos Sur from this bell tower.
It is called the Bantay Belfry because it is located in the Bantay district of Vigan along the national highway. It was said to be the people’s watchtower, part of the city’s defense that helps in alerting it against possible enemies. It was built in 1591.
2. Bantay Parish Church
few feet away from the Bantay Belfry, Bantay Parish is also known as “St. Augustine Parish” and “Sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de La Caridad”. The parish houses the Miraculous image of the Virgin Mary (Nuestra Señora de La Caridad), St. Augustine of Hippo the Doctor of Grace, and the old scenic Bantay Bell Tower. It is considered one of the oldest parishes in the Ilocandia.
3. Cape Bojeador
also known as Burgos Lighthouse, is a cultural heritage structure in Burgos, Ilocos Norte, that was established during the Spanish Colonial period in the Philippines. It was first lit on March 30, 1892, and is set high on Vigia de Nagpartian Hill overlooking the scenic Cape of Bojeador where early galleons used to sail by. After over 100 years, it still functions as a welcoming beacon to the international ships that enter the Philippine Archipelago from the north and guide them safely away from the rocky coast of Ilocos
Bojeador lighthouse window. It is typical of the Spanish Colonial lighthouses which is all masonry made with bricks that are widely used and produced in the area.
4. Kapurpurawan Rock Formation
The word “kapurpurawan” means “kaputi-putian” or state of pure whiteness in Ilocano. The place was named as such due to the distinctive grand white lime stone formations within the area adjacent to the sea. Winds coming from the sea causes a big part to the expoliation of minerals and the distinctive chemical weathering molded this interesting rock formation. It can be found in Burgos, Ilocos Norte. From the main road, you need to do is follow a 30-minute hiking trail leading to the sea and these amazing rock formations.
photo credits to Mr. Alex Mempin
5. Maira-Ira Beach
In the early 90’s, this spot was a secret amongst backpackers and budget travelers. Super hush-hush. Maira-ira point in Pagudpud is the northernmost tip of the mainland Luzon. You can literally say that you are on top of the Philippines. The unspoiled white sand beach within the Maira-ira cove is known as Blue Lagoon. I would dare say that this is the best swimming beach in the North and more apt to be called the “Balesin of the North”. It has an undeveloped charm that seduces you to stay despite the lack of proper huts and urban amenities. It is serene and perfect for presence walks and enjoying bonding time with friends and family. “Luzon’s white sand and bluest water conspire majestically to be situated in one place.” thus said Lonely Planet on this place and I quite agree!
6. Bantay-Abot Cave
In Pagudpud, right beside the main road there is a strange looking land formation that would definately caught your attention. They say its a cave but to me it’s like a huge greenish donut standing right beside the sea. Bantay abot cave is not really a cave but a hill that was wrecked by an earthquake in the 80’s leaving a hole in the middle. The top of the cave is covered with lush green vegetation thus adding the beauty of the cave. To get to the interior of the cave, one need to go down a few concrete staircase and a rocky part going up to the hole. From the hole you can actually have a view of the Maira-ira cove and its clear waters. Although it is close to the blue lagoon, the water surrounding the Bantay Abot Cave is not a good spot for swimming. The waves is too strong that could sweep you away towards the South China Sea.
the surrounding waters within Bantay Abot Cave – careful! Looks can be deceiving
7. Patapat Viaduct
Still in Pagudpud, more of an engineering feat that also attracts tourist to stop over and see, Patapat viaduct looked like a wild roller coaster tracks from an angle. The bridge is elevated 31meters above sea level, this 1.3 km concrete coastal bridge connects the Maharlika Highway from Laoag, Ilocos Norte to the Cagayan Valley Region. It rises along the town’s coastal mountains, which is the starting point of the Cordillera Mountain Range that snakes through Northern Luzon. It is the 4th longest bridge in the Philippines.
8. Bangui Wind Farm
One of the things that made me want to go to Ilocos is to see this towering windmills erected right on the beach. And true enough, when our group reached Bangui, Ilocos Norte, I was like a kid in a toy shop. I standing in one of the most photograph spot in the Philippines. Through the years, the Bangui windmills of has become a major tourist draw not only in Ilocos but the whole Philippines. A lot of times I see it featured in DOT tourism ads. I also love the way they are described by Cecil Morella (Agence France-Presse)
“Standing in an arc in wind-lashed scrubland, the windmills, which started supplying electricity to 40 per cent of Ilocos Norte province in May, are the first source of clean energy introduced in the Phillipines, a nation with 84 million people reliant on oil and gas.”
These 15 giant electric fans as I fondly called them are wind turbines. The turbines are on-shore and arranged in a single row spaced 326 meters apart. The turbines hub height (ground level to center of nacelle – that part holding the blades) is 70 meters high (roughly equivalent to a 23 storey building), each blade is 41 meters long (just 9 meters shy of a Olympic sized pool) giving a rotor diameter of 82 meters and a wind swept area of 5,281 square meters. The Bangui Wind Mills were built by the NorthWind Power Development Corporation to take its share in reducing the emission of harmful greenhouse gases (GHGs) causing global warming and to accelerate the rural electrification of the goverment.
9. Paoay Church
Of all beautiful and grand bastions of faith that was built by Filipinos under Spanish regime, Paoay Church is arguably among the most popular. This is the Roman Catholic parish church of Paoay, Ilocos Norte. Completed in 1710, the church is famous for its distinct architecture highlighted by the enormous buttresses on the sides and back of the building. In 1993, the church was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one best examples of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines.
Earthquake Baroque architecture commonly found in earthquake prone regions such as here and in Guatemala, have distinctive features – church proportion lower and wider; side walls were made thicker and heavily buttressed for stability during shaking. The upper structures were made with lighter materials. Their bell towers are usually lower and stouter compared to towers in less seismically active regions of the world. Towers have thicker girth in the lower levels, progressively narrowing to the topmost level. Aside from Baroque, the church facade also exudes Javanese architecture reminiscent of Borobudur of Java
the butresses supporting the church against earthquakes
10. Calle Crisologo
Whenever someone will say the word Vigan, this is what you will see in your head. Calle Crisologo in Vigan, Ilocos Sur is nothing but cobblestone paved streets, horse-drawn calesas, Spanish architectures, nay, you actually expect Maria Clara or other characters from Noli me Tangere to actually walk in front of you. To say transported back in time is an understatement. You’ll feel that you’re transported into another world completely.
Also known as Mena Crisologo Street located at the heart of Vigan’s commercial hub, it is part of Vigan Heritage Village. The moment I set my foot, I felt the gratitude that I am able to walk along the street made of cobblestones and see for myself the ancestral houses built during the Spanish Era. This is one of the five places in the Philippines under the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The city of Vigan’s full name at the time of its Spanish foundation was “Villa Fernandina”, or “Town of Ferdinand”, in honour of Prince Ferdinand, the firstborn son of King Philip II of Spain.
Longganisa and empanada of course, who will miss out the delectable offering that you can only get in Ilocos? Their famous Vigan longganisa, a local sausage, is garlicky and has a yellowish color. Although it is eaten anytime, even as a bread filling (on empanadas), it is traditionally favored as breakfast fare together with fried eggs and steamed/fried rice. It is best dipped in Ilocos vinegar with plenty of chili, tomatoes and onions.
Getting there and Away
Travel Factor schedules trips to Ilocos 5-6 times a year. The package includes
• 3 Days and 2 Nights air-con room accommodation at Polaris Beach House (beach front resort at Saud beach)
• Full board meals (3 Breakfast, 3 Lunch, 3 Dinner)
• Roundtrip Bus/Van transfer
• All entrance fees, conservation fee, guide fees
• Travel Insurance
• Travel Factor ID and Tshirt
Check out their sample itinerary:
Not bad for Php 6,200 per person (twin sharing) Php 5,850 per person (group sharing)
For other amazing trips and deals you can check here