Vigan is the provincial capital of Ilocos Sur, situated on the western coast of Luzon. It is one of the oldest towns in the Philippines and has successfully preserved pretty much everything that proves its rich history. Its ancient structures, old-fashioned streets, and overall laid-back lifestyle all combine to create an atmosphere reminiscent of the Philippines during the 16th century. There are many historic cities in the country, but no one comes close to Vigan in creating an experience for tourists that can only be described these days as "throwback."
Vigan has long been a busy town even before the colonial period, visited by Chinese traders from the South China Sea. When the Spaniards came to the Philippines, they developed Vigan into a commercial center in the northern region. During the World War II, the city was luckily spared from Japanese and American attacks.
Vigan has everything tourists can expect from an old Spanish town—old wooden ancestral houses, cobblestone walkways, and even horse-drawn carriages. Strolling along the streets of Vigan is the best way to enjoy and appreciate the preserved atmosphere of its past. There are modern establishments near the main plazas like fast-foods, banks, and shopping centers, but they were designed in old Spanish-inspired architecture. Vigan is hailed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders Cities.
There are shops all over the plazas in Vigan that sell antique furniture and various souvenir items. But food is considered to be one of the city's main draws. Some of the must-tries are its version of empanada, the deep-fried pork called bagnet, and the garlic sausage Vigan longganisa.
While Ilocos Sur does not have an airport, you can still reach Vigan with Laoag Airport in Ilocos Norte as your entry point. Commercial airlines like Cebu Pacific Air and PAL Express offer one-hour direct flights from Manila Domestic Airport to Laoag Airport daily. Once you reach Laoag, hop on board a Vigan-bound bus like Partas that will take you there after a one-and-a-half hour ride.
Land travel is the more practical way of getting to Vigan. You can easily get to the city whether you are bringing your own car or even commuting. From Metro Manila, it takes about seven to eight hours' drive to reach Vigan if you take the NLEX-SCTEX-TPLEX route. Meanwhile, a bus ride to Vigan takes about 10 hours from Manila. There are several bus lines to choose from: Florida, Maria de Leon, Partas, Dominion, and Fariñas, and Viron Transit. Fares usually vary since some of these bus lines feature extra amenities like reclining seats and a comfort room.
How to Get Around
There are also jeepneys in Vigan that take you to some points in the city. However, jeepneys are not usually available in Vigan's main attractions like Calle Crisologo.
Tricycles are the most popular form of public transportation around. You can ride a tricycle to go to a certain destination in the city. You can even hire one to tour you around the city.
Tour Vigan via a kalesa or horse-drawn carriage if you want your Vigan experience to have an authentic feel.
What to See
Vigan's well-preserved Spanish colonial era structures are the reason why it was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This place is perfect for both sightseeing and walking tours as there is no shortage of historical and cultural landmarks here that will satisfy the curiosity of history buffs and all kinds of tourists.
Its most popular attraction would have to be Calle Crisologo in the Mestizo District. Its numerous heritage houses and cobblestoned streets will make you feel like you are stepping back in time and experiencing living in the Spanish colonial era.
Some of the ancestral houses in Vigan have even been converted to museums and now serve as notable landmarks of the city. These include Crisologo Museum, owned by the political family Crisologo; Padre Burgos Museum, the ancestral home of the martyred priest Father Jose Burgos; and the Syquia Mansion, the house of President Elpidio Quirino who served as the 6th president of the country. In each of these houses, you will find various memorabilia and artifacts like furniture and other decor that will give you a glimpse of the life of Filipinos during the Spanish era.
In addition, Vigan boasts two plazas that also serve as main tourist attractions in the heritage city. Plaza Salcedo, the larger of the two, was named after the Spanish conquistador Juan Salcedo. This plaza is where the iconic female revolutionary leader Gabriela Silang was publicly executed. Every night, Plaza Salcedo gives way to an amazing dancing fountain display.
On the other hand, Plaza Burgos was built in memory of Father Jose Burgos. Along with Father Mariano Gomez and Father Jacinto Zamora, they are known in history as Gomburza, the three Filipino Catholic priests who were killed by garrote at Bagumbayan in the year 1872. There is a statue of Father Burgos in the plaza. Today, it serves as a great hangout for locals and tourists and is known to be the best place to snack on some street food.
Of course, Roman Catholic churches can also be found in Vigan. Just within walking distance from Plaza Salcedo is Saint Paul's Cathedral. Also known as the Vigan Cathedral, it was built in the 1800s in the "Earthquake Baroque" style architecture. It currently serves as the seat of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia. Meanwhile, Simbaan a Bassit, is small compared to Vigan Cathedral but equally interesting. Its name literally translates to "small church" and was built in the 1850s.
Mindoro Beach is a usually overlooked attraction in Vigan. However, once you visit it, you'll know that it is out-of-the-ordinary. It features a black sand shore. The sand is colored as such because of the presence of iron ore. You can enter this public beach via the Playa de Oro Beach Resort.
Apart from the well-preserved houses here, there are lots more to visit and explore in Vigan. One of the unusual yet popular attractions here, especially for kids, is the Baluarte Zoo. It serves as the home of several rare species of animals like camels, tigers, deer, and birds. The zoo is owned by Chavit Singson, the former governor of Ilocos Sur. Likewise, The Hidden Garden is also brimming with different species but of plants instead of animals. Featuring various flora and fauna, this garden is perfect for those who are not only gardening enthusiasts but also those who seek some peace and quiet after an exhausting day spent in the city.
Meanwhile, the Mestizo River Cruise will give you more insight into Vigan's history. In this cruise, a boatman, who also doubles as a tour guide, will take you across the river to several stations with life-sized dioramas that depict some of the important events in the history of Vigan.
Vigan is not only rich in history but also in culture and traditional practices. One of its traditions that are still practiced to this day is weaving of abel cloths. Visit some of the weave shops in Vigan to see how this traditional Ilocano product is made. In addition, Vigan is known for making burnay jars. There are some pagburnayans or burnay pottery studio and shops in the city where you can buy these jars and even try making one yourself. Ruby Pottery is one of the well-known pagburnayans in Vigan since it is owned by National Folk Artist Fidel Go.
Events and Festivals
Vigan celebrates several feasts and events so make sure to schedule your trip on these occasions to witness them. Vigan City Fiesta is one of its busiest and most awaited events. It is a week-long event that kicks off every January 25. It is a celebration in honor of the conversion of St. Paul, the patron saint of the city. The fiesta is highlighted with colorful parades and street dances, along with fun competitions and trade and food fairs that the whole city can participate in.
Come first week of May, Vigan pays tribute to its cultural heritage and traditions through the Viva Vigan Festival of the Arts. Aside from main events like the Santacruzan and the kalesa parade, you'll also witness lots of fun contests and games.
A unique festival is held in November to commemorate the departed loved ones of the locals. The Raniag Twilight Festival features street dances and parade of floats, but the much-awaited event of the festival is the releasing of the sky lanterns.
Where to Eat
Fast Food Chains
If you're looking for familiar food in Vigan, you'll find branches of your favorite local and international fast food chains in Vigan as well. So whether you're craving for Jollibee or McDonald's, you need not go far to fulfill your craving.
The cuisine that most restaurants around Vigan offer is predominantly Ilocano, so expect bagnet, Vigan longganisa, and poqui-poqui to be included in most of the restaurants' menus. But there are also some that offer American, International, and Asian dishes if you want something other than the native dishes. Some of its well-loved restaurants include Cafe Leona at Calle Crisologo, Uno Grille at Granpa's Inn, and Lilong and Lilang Restaurant which you'll find tucked in Hidden Garden.
If you want a taste of authentic Vigan empanada, you simply must visit Irene's Vigan Empanada in Calle Crisologo or Insiang's Empanada in Calle Salcedo. These two eateries have become institutions when it comes to offering Vigan empanada for locals as well as tourists. Aside from empanada, these two shops also offer savory okoy.
Carinderia and Street food
Dining in Vigan is not limited to restaurants as you'll also find eateries that offer budget-friendly meals for backpackers. Some of these eateries sinanglaw, another delicacy of Vigan. It is a soup made from beef and the cow's internal organs so those who have a flair for the exotic are recommended to try it. Aside from these carinderias, you can also snack on street food sold by carts available outside of main tourist attractions. Most of them are situated in Plaza Burgos and Plaza Salcedo. There are also Vigan empanadas and okay sold in the streets, along with dirty ice cream for those who would like to cool off from the heat.
Bars and Clubs
While most establishments in Vigan close early, there are still some spots where to get your nightlife fix. Sitio Bar is one of the best places to get a nightcap, while you can find karaoke machines at Cafe Leona and The Cool Spot Restaurant at The Vigan Hotel.
Where to Shop
Bazaars, Pasalubong Areas, and Street Vendors
There are already a number of souvenir and pasalubong shops along Calle Crisologo and in some of the main tourist spots in Vigan. So after your walking tour, you can just approach one of the establishments and street vendors and purchase Vigan t-shirts, handicrafts, antiques, religious statues, and even snacks like cornick or chichacorn to bring home for pasalubong. You'll also find a branch of the Islands Souvenirs along Calle Crisologo. It is a store well-known for selling quality local souvenirs and apparel. Apart from the Ilocano delicacies, you can also swing by Marsha's Delicacies and bring home a box of delicious bibingka.
Items sold at the markets are usually cheaper as compared to those which are being sold at the tourist spots. You can buy your bagnet, Vigan longganisa, and even sukang Iloko or Ilocano vinegar at much cheaper prices than in other stores. Haggling is allowed while in these markets.
ATMs and Money Changers
If you find yourself short on cash, you need not worry since there are banks, ATM machines, including money changers, remittance outlets, and pawnshops around the city center.
Fare: PHP 600.00 to PHP 900.00
Bus fares from Metro Manila to Vigan vary because some of the buses feature extra amenities like sleeper seats and comfort rooms. If you choose to fly to Ilocos via Laoag Airport, airfare should be around PHP 3,000.00. If you take the Partas bus to get to Vigan from Laoag, you'd have to pay PHP 150.00 for the bus fare. Meanwhile, tricycle rides around Vigan cost a minimum of about PHP 10.00 per person. Kalesa rides cost less than PHP 200.00 per hour.
Food: PHP 35.00 to PHP 500.00
If you plan on munching on Vigan empanada for an after-tour snack, it will cost you about PHP 35.00 apiece. Meanwhile, full meals at a carinderia will cost you from PHP 50.00 to PHP 100.00. As for restaurants, the range is about PHP 200.00 to PHP 500.00 depending on where you'll eat.
Shopping: PHP 50.00++
There are a lot of cheap items for souvenirs like keychains and wallets in Vigan. But if you want to take home Ilocano delicacies for pasalubong, a pack of Vigan longganisa is less than PHP 200.00, while a kilo of bagnet is about PHP 400.00.
Accommodation: PHP 500.00 to PHP 4,000.00
Vigan's accommodations range from budget inns to fancy hotels and even to beach resorts so whatever your budget may be, you'll definitely find a place to stay when visiting this heritage town.
Activities: PHP 100.00++
While most of the activities in Vigan are free, a Mestiza River cruise will cost you more or less PHP 100.00.
Other Fees and Taxes: PHP 50.00++
If you will be driving to Vigan, you'll have to pay for the toll fees if you pass through NLEX, SCTEX, then TPLEX. Once you get to Vigan, make sure to set aside some cash in case of unexpected fees like parking fees.