Ilocos Sur

Ilocos Sur

Home to a heritage village with cobbled streets and colonial ancestral homes.
By TravelBook


Ilocos Sur boasts two UNESCO Heritage Sites: the Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion Church in Sta. Maria, a fortress-like Baroque church on top of a hill, and the cobblestoned streets of the Vigan Heritage Village, where the  stone houses and churches stand testament to the Philippines’ Spanish colonial past. Natural and man-made landmarks, such as the grotto on the rocky shores of Sulvec in Narvacan and Bessang Pass, also contribute to Ilocos Sur’s cultural and historical wealth. The province is also known for its famous empanada, bagnet, garlic longganisa, and chichacorn.


Ilocos Sur has played a major role in the Philippines’ pre-colonial and colonial past. Here are some highlights:

  • In 1572, a Spanish expedition led by Don Juan de Salcedo arrived in Vigan, which was then called Cabibigaan (after biga, a local plant). He set up headquarters called Villa Fernandina, which was later on dubbed as the “Intramuros of Ilocandia.” The whole Northern Luzon was then declared an encomienda by Salcedo.
  • In 1818, a royal decree was released declaring the separation of Ilocos Norte from Ilocos Sur. The northern part of La Union and the whole of Abra were then considered a part of Ilocos Sur. The present geographical boundaries of Ilocos Sur were made official on March 1917 through the Act 2683 of the Philippine Legislature.
  • On December 2, 1899, young General Gregorio del Pilar, together with 60 men, battled against 300 American soldiers in the mountains of Tirad Pass, seeking to cover General Emilio Aguinaldo’s escape. The Battle of Tirad Pass served as the Filipino Revolutionary Force’s last stand under the command of General Aguinaldo.
  • During the last stages of World War II, Bessang Pass in Cervantes, 5,250 feet above sea level, served as General Yamashita’s last channel of defense.

Traveler’s Attractions

Ilocos Sur has much historical, cultural, and recreational appeal for tourists.

  • Walking around the cobbled streets of Vigan shows living proof of the Philippines’ colonial past. The lines of colonial mansions and ancestral homes are a window into the daily lives of the Chinese and Spanish mestizo clans of olden days. Almost all of Ilocos Sur’s towns have notable churches in a range of architectural styles.
  • Savoring local delicacies like Vigan longganisa, bagnet, and empanada is a must for foodies. Garlic lovers will especially enjoy the strongly-flavored dishes and can visit the town of Sinait, which is known for its abundant harvest of garlic. The neighboring town of Magsingal now takes pride in its garlic ice cream innovation.
  • Viewing the traditional practice of pottery-making (and trying it out as well) is also possible in Vigan, where visitors can find the pagburnayan. The burnay pots made here are used to store sukang Iloko, basi and bagoong.
  • Surfing at Cabugao Island is also possible for adrenaline junkies. The island, which boasts a white sand beach, is accessible through a motorboat.

Getting There and Away

  • From Manila, Vigan is accessible by land through air-conditioned buses that travel for 6-8 hours. Bus lines with regular daily trips to Vigan are Partas, Viron, and Dominion. Bus lines such as Partas Trans, Fariņas, Florida, Maria de Leon, Autobus, and RCJ pass through Vigan City on the way to Laoag, Ilocos Norte.
  • By air, one can take a flight from Manila to Laoag and then ride a public bus on the way to Manila that will pass by Vigan City, which will take about 1-2 hours. 
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Vigan Heritage Village

Old houses line the cobblestoned streets of the Vigan Heritage Village.

Calle Crisologo

A sign above a shop selling woven goods marks Calle Crisologo.

Vigan Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral and its bell tower at night.

Plaza Salcedo

A view of the Vigan Cathedral across the Plaza Salcedo, with the Salcedo Obelisk in the foreground.


The ubiquitous burnay or clay pot can be found in many burnayan or pagbuburnay workshops on the outskirts of Vigan.


A wildlife sanctuary and mini-zoo in one, former Governor Chavit Singson's Baluarte is an interesting (if rather unusual) place to visit. Ostriches and tigers are among Baluarte's residents.

Bantay Church

The St Augustine Church in Bantay is home to the Nuestra Seņora de la Caridad or Our Lady of Charity. The statue of Our Lady rests in a niche in the church faįade, just below the cross.

Bantay Bell Tower

The three story brick bell tower of the Saint Augustine Church in Bantay is located on a hill. A climb up the hillside steps and the tower itself yields a good view of the neighboring old cemetery.

Quirino Bridge

The majestic span of the Quirino Bridge connects the town of Santa to Bantay, and marks the traveler's imminent arrival to Vigan.

Sulvec Grotto, Narvacan

This grotto perched on one of the larger boulders along the rocky Sulvec Beach in Narvacan is a popular stop for photo ops.

Sta. Maria Church

The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Sta. Maria is located on top of a hill and is reached by climbing a number of steps.

Sta. Maria Bell Tower

The leaning bell tower behind the Sta. Maria Church is composed of four octagonal-sectioned levels.

Sta. Maria Church

A wide stone-paved path behind the church leads to the old chapel and an abandoned cemetery.

Sta. Maria Church

Behind the Sta. Maria Church lie the ruins of the old chapel and a few forgotten tombs.

Sta. Lucia Church

The maroon-and-white Church of Sta. Lucia is characterized by its decorative moldings.
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