The Ilocos Region is made up of four regions : Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, and Pangasinan. It encompasses the northwestern coast of Luzon. To the east is the Cordillera Administrative Region and Cagayan Valley, to the south is Central Luzon, and the South China Sea to the west. It is known for its historic sites, beaches and well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture. The best way to tour the region is by land and you may spend 3-4 days for the whole trip.
1. The Hundred Islands National Park (in Pangasinan)
About 6 – 7 hours from Manila, the Hundred Islands National Park is one of the most astounding tourist destinations in the Philippines. The protected area is located in the city of Alaminos, Pangasinan. There are about 100 – 123 recorded islands and islets. The three most popular islands where tourists can stay for a swim and a picnic are the Governor’s Island, Quezon Island, and Children’s Island. There are picnic tables, cottages, or camping tents set up in these islands. Be ready to spend the whole day touring these islands or you may skip this site and continue to the next destination.
2. Manaog Church
Even if you’re not religious, most of those visiting the Ilocos Region begin their tour here. The Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of Manaoag, commonly known as Manaoag Church, is a major pilgrimage site. Located on top of a hill in the town on Milo Street, it has been canonically affiliated with the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome since June 2011. You may want to stop here first for a visit and prayer before you continue with your tour of the region.
3. Calle Crisologo at Night (in Vigan)
Calle Crisologo is the most famous and well known tourist stops in Vigan. You have not officially been to Vigan if you did not walk along this 500 meters long centerpiece of the Vigan Heritage Site. The street is teeming with history as seen in its Spanish-styled houses that gives us a glimpse of the prosperous lifestyle of the people during that era. Although highly commercialized now, it is a “must” to have at least one selfie in this famous street. The view is fantastic especially at night cruising the short street on a horse-drawn carriage. There are many old houses turned tourist inns along the street with very good restaurants as well as food vendors especially the famous “Ilokos empanada”. You may want to spend the night here during the first day of your tour.
The Baluarte Zoo is privately owned by a local politician and businessman, Chavit Singson, who cites his hunting hobby as his motive in setting up this zoo. Admission is free so it’s not a big-budget type zoo so don’t expect extravagant shows and pen areas for animals. The zoo is open to public the whole week, and there are rides, picnic areas and educational activities for kids to learn about animals indigenous to the Philippines as well as around the world. There are rides, and picnic areas that families can enjoy.
5. Fort Ilocandia
A very classy hotel and leisure park, it is worth your while to stop by the area, walk around the manicured lawns and the beach front, and check out the entrance and the lobby of the hotel. Fort Ilocandia Resort Hotel is a 4 star hotel situated in Barrio Calayab, Laoag City, Ilocos Norte. The resort has 267 rooms with private balconies with views of the beautiful sea. There are restaurants, casino, and other recreational activities in this antique colonial house. If you can afford to stay for the night, there are no reservations required.
6. Malacaῆang of the North
This mansion used to be the official residence of ex-President Ferdinand Marcos in Ilocos. From the balcony at the back, you have a beautiful view of the Paoay Lake.
7. La Paz Sand Dunes
The La Paz Sand Dunes or Bantay Bimmaboy is an 85-square kilometer (33 sq m) protected sandy coastal desert and beach located in Laoag City. The name refers to the common perception that the dunes resemble pigs in shape. Also popularly called the Desert of the North, it is a popular location for shooting films. La Paz Sand Dunes is only a part of the Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes (INSD) which was identified as one of the significant geological formations in the Philippines by the National Committee on Geological Sciences (NCGS) on November 26, 1993 for the uniqueness of the desert environment and its scientific and educational value. If you are an adventurer and want to experience a one-of-a-kind adrenaline rush, you can opt for the 4×4 vehicle ride or go sand boarding.
8. Paoay Church
Paoay Church, also known as St. Augustine Church, was founded in 1686 by Padre Antonio Estavillo. It is made of coral stones and bricks and used the earthquake baroque architectural style, meaning it has huge buttresses that form part of the foundation of the building. Former President Ferdinand Marcos declared it as a national treasure and is now included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The church, located at Marcos Avenue, Paoay, Ilocos Norte, is one religious site you should not miss even if you’re not religious. The picture-perfect structure is magnificent and probably one of the most impressive church structures ever found in the Philippines.
A separate bell-tower is built several feet from the main church. This served as observation post for the Filipino revolutionaries during the war against the Spanish conquerors and again used by the Filipino guerillas during the war against the Japanese soldiers during World War II. Unfortunately, this has been damaged during a recent earthquake and is now closed to the public.
9. Bangui Windmills
Bangui Wind Farm is found in Bangui, Ilocos Norte. There are 20 units of 70-metre (23- ft) high wind turbines arranged on a single row that stretches on a 9-kilometer shoreline off Bangui Bay facing the West Philippine Sea. All 20 turbines are arranged in a graceful arc reflecting the shoreline of the bay.
There is a café and souvenir stalls in the area but be sure to go early to avoid the crowds and the scorching sun. Be sure to wear sandals or sneakers as the sand gets too hot to walk on during mid day. The area again is picture-perfect so make the most of your visit and snap away.
10. Pagudpud Beaches
Pictured above is Saud Beach, one of the many beach resorts that line up this northern tip of the main Island of Luzon. It is about 45 miles from Laoag City, the capital of Ilocos Norte. From Manila, it is about 350 miles accessible by public or private transport. This quiet rural village is located to the north of Bangui and its windmills. There are many beautiful beaches, spectacular waterfalls, and a stunning scenic view that lured many tourists to the area. All the beach resorts offer excellent accommodations so it’s worthwhile to spend the night here before you continue with your trip to other destinations.
11. Patapat Viaduct
The Patapat Viaduct is an elevated road at the municipality of Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte. The bridge is 31 meters above sea level, and is 1.3 km long. The fourth longest bridge and the northernmost roadway in the country, it connects Ilocos Norte to the province of Cagayan. Very few bridges in the country (close would be the San Juanico Bridge) can offer the same scenery as the Patapat Viaduct. The bridge itself follows the curves of the mountain range to its right (or left if you’re coming from Cagayan) with the West Philippine Sea on the other side. The site is again picture-perfect and should be included in your itinerary.
12. Kapurpurawan Rock Formation
The Kapurpurawan rock formation is known for its creamy white limestone formations that have been sculptured by nature. It is located on the rocky coast of Burgos, Ilocos Norte, around 30 minutes drive from the Windmills of Bangui. There is a cemented path leading to an open field that offers a magnificent view of the vast South China Sea, now known as the West Philippine Sea. Be prepared to hike a short distance through rocks, pools of sea water and mangrove trees to get to the base of the rock formation. If you are a lover of nature, or someone who appreciates a magnificent sight, you will not be disappointed.
13. Cape Bojeador Lighthouse
Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, situated on a hill named Vigia de Nagparitan near the town of Burgos overlooking the South China Sea is the highest within the Philippines. Also known as Faro Cabo Cape Bojeador, it is a National Treasure heritage listed by the National Museaum as one of the last Philippine Spanish Lighthouses. The lighthouse is also one of the most accessible and most visited by tourists among those of Luzon lighthouses.
Still being actively used till today, there is also now a mini-museum as well as lodging for people looking for very basic accommodation. There are no amenities available, and there is no entrance fee to the lighthouse. The light keeper will assist visitors if you want to cling the circular steps to the beacon light so it is just polite to offer him some tip.