The southern and northern Ilocos provinces have great beaches, colonial homes and churches, and lots of opportunities for adventure.
The Ilocos Region, or Region 1, includes the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, and Pangasinan. When people speak of Ilocos, however, it is usually to refer to the area encompassed by the provinces of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. These are located at the northeastern tip of the Philippines. The provinces are blessed with excellent infrastructure, miles of scenic coastline, and colonial churches, houses, and institutional buildings that make it a popular destination for art and architecture enthusiasts and history buffs.
Ilocos Sur - Overview
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.
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, Fariñas, 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.
Ilocos Norte - Overview
Ilocos Norte is a province of historic sites and natural attractions. For history and culture buffs, there are grand colonial churches, lonely watchtowers and lighthouses, and a presidential mausoleum. For adventurers and explorers, there are white sand beaches, desert-like dunes, hidden waterfalls, and surf-friendly waves. Foodies will also be more than satisfied with Ilocano native delicacies like bagnet, longganisa, and empanada.
Ilocos has a history dating back to pre-colonial times. Some highlights:
- Before the Spanish colonization, the area was known for its gold mines and was often visited by Chinese and Japanese traders.
- The region was colonized by Juan de Salcedo in the 16th century. The Spanish occupation explains the high concentration of churches, bell towers, and watchtowers.
- Ilocos was so-named for the abundance of coves (“looc” in Spanish) along its coast.
- During Spanish times, the land was one of the major production centers for various agricultural monopolies for tobacco and wine. The region also played a key role in revolts and uprisings against Spanish rule.
- In more recent history, Ilocos Norte has become more well-known as the home town of former president Ferdinand Marcos. His remains still lie in state at the Marcos Mausoleum in Batac.
Ilocos Norte is a good place for all kinds of travelers:
- For those interested in history, culture, Christianity, and architecture, the province has many places of interest: the Spanish “earthquake Baroque” churches, the crumbling colonial-era watchtowers dotting the coast, and the Cape Bojeador lighthouse in the town of Burgos.
- For adventure-oriented travelers, activities abound: riding all-terrain vehicles across the rugged landscape of the La Paz sand dunes, trekking the eco-trail in Adams, and surfing the swells in Pagudpud.
- For foodies, Ilocos Norte’s distinct food culture offers bagnet, empanada, longganisa, and pinakbet. The area is also known for its vinegar, sukang Iloko, and garlic, which is sold in shops, markets, and roadside stands.
- For family-oriented travelers, some of Ilocos Norte’s towns like Currimao and Pagudpud offer relaxing beach resort vacations. The grand Fort Ilocandia is also a popular destination for local and international tourists.
Getting There and Away
- Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific offer daily flights to and from Laoag.
- Bus lines with an Ilocos Norte route are Philippine Rabbit, Partas, Dominion, Florida, Farinas, and Maria de Leon.