La Union is easily accessible from Metro Manila. The drive there only takes about four to five hours passing through North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX). This scenic destination can also be reached via bus. There are several bus lines that serve Metro Manila passengers going to La Union. Partas, Dominion, Viron Transit, and Genesis are just some of the popular bus lines that ply the Manila-La Union route daily.
How to Get Around
Jeepneys are the most popular mode of transportation in the country, so expect to find them when you commute around La Union. They also serve as the cheapest mode of transportation. For backpackers, jeepneys are sure to complement your shoestring budget. You can get to the main destinations in La Union by riding a jeep and even to some of the neighboring towns.
By Tricycle and Kotse-kel
Tricycles are also another favorite mode of transportation in La Union. While tricycle fares cost more than the jeep, you can cut costs when you share a ride. So if you are traveling with a group or bringing lots of luggage, a tricycle would be more ideal. You can ride a tricycle to reach a certain destination in La Union, or you can even choose to hire one for a tour.
Meanwhile, in the municipality of Bangar, a tricycle and car hybrid serves as a unique and efficient means of getting around. The kotse-kel features an air conditioned sidecar whose design resembles that of a car.
Habal-habal units or motorcycles can also be hired in La Union, especially if you plan on visiting some waterfalls.
What to See
La Union's rich history and diverse culture is evident in its numerous and various landmarks that serve as popular tourist spots among locals and foreigners.
In the town of Luna, you'll find the ruins of a baluarte or watchtower. Like other ancient watchtowers in the country, this Spanish-era structure was used by guards to warn the residents of incoming enemy attacks. However, the 400-year-old watchtower was greatly damaged during the onslaught of Typhoon Lando in October 2015.
While you are in Luna, you should also include the famous Bahay na Bato in your itinerary. The house, which incorporates stones in its architecture and design, is owned by a couple from Baguio who originally planned it to be their rest house. However, the mayor saw that the house had the potential to be an attraction in the town, so he persuaded the owners to convert the property into a tourist destination. What is unique about the house, aside from the architecture, is its collection of sculptures made by Vong Kim, a South Korean sculptor.
In addition, La Union boasts several places of worship. For instance, the Ma-Cho Temple located in the provincial capital of San Fernando is a sight to behold. All tourists, regardless of religion, are allowed to visit this Taoist temple that is dedicated to the Chinese deity Ma-Cho. You can marvel at its architectural magnificence and picture-perfect surroundings while meditating in its serenity and blissfulness. Of course, La Union also boasts several Catholic churches. In fact, you'll find one of the oldest churches in the country in the town of Bauang. The Sts. Peter and Paul Paris' foundation was laid down in the 16th century. Its legendary San Pedro Bell was taken by the Americans in 1901 during the Filipino-American war and has been recently returned. Meanwhile, the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Charity is another Spanish-era church. It is found in the town of Agoo and houses the statue of the Our Lady of Charity, which serves as the town's patroness. Other notable churches include the Santa Catalina de Alejandria Church in Luna and St. John the Baptist Church in San Juan. There are also the ruins of the Pindangan Church and the statue of Christ the Redeemer, which are both in San Fernando for more religious attractions you can visit.
While La Union's beaches are its best known natural wonders, you'll be surprised that aside from the sun, sand, and the sea, it is also home to an abundance of waterfalls. Among them, the Tangadan Falls in San Gabriel, the Tuddingan Falls in Naguilian, and the Occalong Falls in Luna are some of the best known. These waterfalls are great if you're up for some trekking and swimming in fresh waters.
La Union has something for everyone. Whether you are a nature lover, an adventurer, or a history buff, you'll surely find something that will pique your interest in this province in the Ilocos Region.
Of course, surfing is one of the main activities that tourists seek out when in the province. Most of the beach resorts and hostels are concentrated in San Juan which is why it is referred to as the surfing capital of the north. There are several surf shops set up along the beachfront, each offering beginner lessons and board rentals. So whether you are a novice or a surfing enthusiast, you'll find everything you need in these surf shacks.
Who says you need to go to Banaue to see some rice terraces? La Union’s very own Bolikewkew Rice Terraces in the town of Burgos is another popular tourist spot. In addition to being an ideal destination for those who love hiking and sightseeing, the terraces also serve as the main source of livelihood of the people of Burgos.
For those who are appreciative of the history behind a destination, La Union has several historic attractions that may appeal to you. First is the Tomb of Unknown Soldiers. Located in the middle of an intersection, this tomb monument was erected to commemorate the unidentified soldiers whose death contributed to the fight for the country's freedom from the colonizers. Meanwhile, the Bacsil Ridge Monument is dedicated to the memory of the Bacsil Ridge Battle between Filipino soldiers and the Imperial Japanese Army.
For the more adventurous at heart, Pugo Adventure Park or PUGAD features several attractions that will give you the adrenaline rush you are craving for. It has zip-lining, rappelling, kayaking, and other exciting activities.
Events and Festivals
Although the annual Sillag Festival just started in 2011, it remains as one of the most anticipated events in La Union apart from the fiestas of each of the towns. Usually occurring for four days every second week of April, the festival highlights the rich culture of the province and its hardworking residents. It's a lively event that features street dances and parades as well as food and trade fairs.
Where to Eat
Fast Food Chains
If you have a flair for fast food, fret not because La Union has plenty. Whether your craving be homegrown favorites like Jollibee, Chowking, or Mang Inasal, or American fast food chains like McDonald's or KFC, you'll surely find it here. Most of the fast food chains are found in shopping malls or in the town and city centers.
La Union offers tourists a culinary experience with its wide array of restaurants that offer various cuisines to suit any palate, whether you crave for Asian, European, or American dishes.
Gefseis Greek Grill is the go-to place for those who love Greek cuisine. This restaurant in San Fernando offers sumptuous dishes that are cooked and prepared using healthy ingredients.
Meanwhile, Surf Shack will satisfy a surfer's appetite with its tasty and filling dishes. The restaurant also offers basi or sugarcane wine, a well-known native Ilocano concoction. For healthy eaters, the smoothie bowls at Makai Bowls La Union, topped with fruits and nuts, are as nutritious as they are delicious. You can find this restaurant at the Flotsam and Jetsam Hostel in San Juan. Lastly, one cannot visit La Union without trying the famous halo-halo at Halo Halo De Iloko. This famous dessert perfectly complements the savory local meals served at this restaurant in San Fernando City.
If you are looking to get the best bang out of your buck for your meals, try eating at a carinderia or eatery. There are lots of them in La Union, mostly on the roadside, and serves dishes at very affordable prices.
Bars and clubs
There are bars and dance clubs in La Union for those who are looking for a place to get a nightcap or dance the night away. Meanwhile, for high rollers who are looking to test their luck, Fiesta Casino at Poro Point is the place to go.
But if you want to bond with other tourists and locals, youth hostels usually host bonfires and gatherings. Make sure to book rooms at these hotels if you want to meet and make new friends.
Where to Shop
CSI Mall La Union serves as the main shopping center in the province. Located in the capital city of San Fernando, it offers a wide array of dining, shopping, and entertainment options for those looking to make the most out of their stay.
Most of La Union's towns and cities each have their own markets where you'll find the freshest produce and pasalubong items at a cheaper prices. Also, being able to haggle is another perk that comes with shopping at the markets.
Pasalubong Areas and Street Vendors
There are many shops and roadside stalls around La Union if you are looking for a place to buy last-minute souvenirs and pasalubong items.
What to buy
Some of the popular pasalubong items from La Union are basi or sugarcane wine, Sukang Iloko, rice cakes like suman, and fish products like tuyo, bagoong, and dried squid. You'll also find some stalls selling tupig, a delicacy made from sticky rice, coconut meat, sugar, and wrapped in banana leaves.
ATMs and Money Changers
You'll have no problem withdrawing your cash or exchanging foreign currency since you'll find lots of banks, ATM machines, and money changers in some of the main spots around the province.
Fare: PHP 370.00++
Bus fares from Metro Manila range from PHP 370.00 to PHP 650.00, depending on the class of the vehicle. Meanwhile, the minimum fare for jeepney rides when getting around La Union is PHP 7.00.
Food: PHP 50.00 to PHP 500.00
You'll find lots of dining places like fast food chains or eateries that offer meals as low as PHP 50.00. Meanwhile, if you are going to eat at a mid-range restaurant, prices range from PHP 200.00 to PHP 500.00, depending on the dish you choose.
Shopping: PHP 50.00++
There are lots of cheap food and items for pasalubong. Try haggling at markets and with street or roadside vendors and see if you can lower the price.
Accommodations: PHP 400.00 to PHP 4,000.00
Aside from the hostels and beach resorts offered in La Union, you can also pitch a tent in San Juan. The fee for pitching a tent on the shore is about PHP 400.00.
Activities: PHP 200.00++
Pugo Adventure Park charges an entrance fee of PHP 200.00 for adults. There are also individual fees for attractions there like the several zip-lines and rappelling. You can avail of the packaged activities if you want to experience more than one attraction in the adventure park. And if you are a novice surfer who wants to ride the waves in San Juan, surfing lessons inclusive of board rentals cost PHP 400.00.
Other Fees and Taxes: PHP 100.00++
Be sure to leave some extra money for toll fees and parking fees if you are bringing your own car to La Union.
||Arrive in La Union from Metro Manila. At the town of Bauang, visit the Saints Peter and Paul Parish to offer a prayer of thanks and guidance during your trip.
||Revel in the enormous statue of the Christ the Redeemer in San Fernando City. Snap a few photos to include in your travel diary.
||Explore the grounds of the Ma-Cho Temple. Study the intricate details of its design and structure and take lots of photos with you and your friends.
||Have a hearty lunch at any of the fast food restaurants in CSI Mall. Afterwards, complement your budget-friendly meal with a sinful dessert— the special halo-halo at Halo Halo de Iloko.
||Arrive at Barangay Urbiztondo in San Juan. Snap a few selfies at the beachfront.
||Check in at the accommodation of your choice. Some of the popular beach resorts and hostels in Urbiztondo include Fatwave Surf Resort, Sebay Surf Central, and Urbiz Graden Bed and Breakfast. Arrange your luggage in your room, then wash up before heading to the beachfront.
||Sign up for a surfing lesson at any of the surf shacks along the beachfront. Learn how to stand on the surfboard and ride the waves from surf instructors.
||You can also try other water sports in San Juan. Kayaking and snorkeling are also offered at some resorts. After your adrenaline-pumping day spent at sea, take a breather. Relax and lie down on the sand while waiting for the picturesque La Union sunset.
||Choose from the many restaurants around San Juan for dinner. You can savor delicious Greek dishes at Gefseis Greek Grill, or munch on hearty American food at Surf Shack. Either way, your heavy dinner is best complemented with a steaming cup of java at El Union Coffee. You can even try their dessert dishes like their famous version of s'mores.
||Gear up for a fun night out. There are several bars around San Juan where you can sip some cocktails while enjoying live music.
||Arrive in the town of Luna to see the Baluarte. Take a few photos with this Spanish-era landmark on the background.
||Arrive in Tangadan Falls in the town of San Gabriel. Enjoy swimming, cliff diving, and rafting.
||Check out from your accommodation in San Juan.
||For lunch, you can eat at any of the carinderias around town. You can also try out the hearty Filipino comfort food at Tagpuan Restaurant.
||Buy pasalubong at any of the roadside stalls in San Fernando or at the San Fernando Dry Market. Stock up on bagoong, dried fish, and some kakanin. You can even buy basi if you like.
||Visit the Pindangan Ruins for a photo op.
||Depart La Union for Metro Manila.
La Union is usually in sync with the rest of the country's weather. It follows the dry and wet seasons of the Philippines. But if you're looking for the best time to go surfing, schedule your trip during the months of October until March when the waves are at their peak.
In case of emergency situations, there are several hospitals in La Union. There is La Union Medical Center in Agoo and Lorma Medical Center in San Fernando, to name a few. Be sure to also bring medicine in case of fever, headaches, and stomach aches. Remember to also pack bug spray and insect repellent lotion, especially if you'll be outdoors a lot during your vacation.
Although Tagalog is also used in La Union, Ilocano dialect is widely spoken. Here are some useful phrases if you want to communicate with the locals using their language:
Naimbag a bigat- Good morning.
Naimbag a sardam- Good evening.
Diak maawatan- I don't understand.
Ayanna ti banio?- Where's the bathroom?
Sagmamano daytoy?- How much is this?
Safety and Security
Although La Union may be generally safe, it won't hurt if you practice constant vigilance all the time. Make sure to store your valuables in a safe place, and always be mindful of your surroundings.