Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte are home to natural and historical sites that tell the story of the Philippines' rich heritage. These provinces sit along the northwestern tip of the country. They have become a popular destination for travelers since they are accessible from the Philippines' metropolitan center, Metro Manila. More specifically, they are situated about 367 KM from the bustling hub.
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Ilocos Sur is best known for the Heritage City of Vigan, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Meanwhile, Ilocos Norte is known for its Bangui Windmills Farm, the Boracay of the North called Pagudpud, and thrilling 4x4 tours along its sand dunes. However, these are only the tips of the icebergs as both provinces have more attractions that are open to curious visitors.
To help you see the best of both worlds and plan your Ilocos tours, we've compiled a list of the top Ilocos Sur tourist spots and Ilocos Norte tourist spots that you shouldn’t miss when creating your Ilocos itinerary.
12. Pagburnayan Jar Factory
Recognized for its historical and cultural charms, Vigan City has drawn flocks of travelers to Ilocos Sur over the years. Contributing to its overall appeal is the Pagburnayan Jar Factory.
It is one of the few remaining factories that continue the traditional way of making burnay, or unglazed earthen jars, dating back to colonial times. The art of making jars originally came from Chinese traders who eventually settled in Vigan.
To spread the appreciation of making these clay jars, the factory lets travelers try their hand in molding their own creations during Vigan tours. The whole process involves shaping the clay on a spinning stone wheel using your own hands and traditional tools.
Let your creative mind run wild and decorate your jars to your heart's content. After, you will cook the jars inside in-ground kilns to harden them so they can stay in shape.
Today, jar-making has become one of the staple activities in Ilocos Sur tour packages. Along with teaching guests how to shape clay, the staff also share interesting stories on the origins of the craft and how they preserve the practice.
While they undoubtedly have great cultural significance, these jars are more than just unique souvenirs. In fact, they are still often used to ferment homemade specialty vinegar and artisanal wines made by locals.
11. Crisologo Museum
Continue to embrace the heritage of Ilocos Sur by checking out the classic Crisologo Museum. It is best known for being the ancestral home of the late statesman Floro S. Crisologo, whom it was named after.
However, he was unfortunately assassinated in the 1970s while inside the St. Paul's Cathedral. Despite the tragic event, his wife, Carmeling, and the rest of his family decided not to seek vengeance on his behalf.
Instead, they chose to honor his life and his achievements inside his home. Soon, the family opened the mansion up to the public, and it is now one of the most iconic museums in the Philippines.
Upon entering the first floor, you can find Floro's study and library, which has been filled with news clippings about him and his family. Visitors can even enter the master's bedroom that contains some of his most prized possessions.
The museum's main exhibit is the bloodied clothes the late congressman was wearing when he was shot. Aside from the clothes, an old car is also preserved in the home. It was the same vehicle his wife was riding when someone tried to take her life. Fortunately, the bullet did not hit Carmeling, and she lived until the age of 94 before dying in 2018.
10. Cape Bojeador Lighthouse
Cape Bojeador Lighthouse is known for being one of the highest elevated lighthouses in the Philippines that dates back to the Spanish colonial era. The 66-foot-tall octagonal stone tower stands on the country's northwesternmost point, the Vigia de Nagpartian Hill, and overlooks Cape Bojeador in the West Philippine Sea. First lit in 1892, the structure has guided numerous seafarers to safe shores over the years.
While it was constructed years ago, it is still used today and is regularly maintained by staff. Most of its original designs were preserved and remain functional today, but a few modern touches have been fixed to keep it running smoothly.
It initially worked with a Fresnel lens lamp that had to be replaced in the 1990s when an earthquake struck the region. Pressurized kerosene lit the lamp for around a century before it was replaced with solar panels.
The tower, more commonly known as the Burgos Lighthouse, was designed by Magin Pers y Pers back in 1887. However, it was eventually finished by the Lighthouse Service under Guillermo Brockman.
Along with this structure, the two Spanish engineers also built other lighthouses across the Philippines as part of the Spanish government's plan to illuminate the islands. Today, this building is recognized both as a National Cultural Treasure and a National Historical Landmark.
9. Vigan Cathedral
Vigan Cathedral, also called the Saint Paul Metropolitan Cathedral, is one of the most iconic Ilocos churches. Standing in front of the city's Plaza Salcedo, this holy building is hard to miss and has been regarded as one of the must-see tourist spots in Vigan. Due to its proximity to the plaza, many travelers also have their photos taken between the two historical sites.
Juan de Salcedo, a Spanish conquistador, ordered the construction of a temporary church in Vigan back in 1574. At the time, the structure was built with only wood and stalk. The simple building was eventually replaced with a studier one in 1641, the first official Vigan Cathedral.
However, the church was damaged by two earthquakes over the years and was ultimately burned in 1739. Following the series of incidents, the fourth and current version of the cathedral was finished in the 1800s under the order of Augustinian priests.
The whole cathedral boasts a Baroque style, complete with large buttresses on either side. Inside are a silver-paneled altar, 12 minor altars, and brass altar railings. On the other hand, a 25-meter-high bell tower that symbolizes St. Peter sits to the south of the church.
8. Patapat Viaduct
The Patapat Viaduct goes on for 12 kilometers, making it one of the longest bridges in the Philippines. It is located at the foot of the cliff of the Northern Cordillera Mountain Range in the municipality of Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.
Today, locals pass through it to reach the neighboring province of Cagayan Valley or vice versa. Standing at about 31 meters above sea level, this bridge also offers great scenic views of Pasaleng Bay and the mountains that it passes by.
The current pathway was opened to the public in October 1986. Before the Patapat Viaduct, an etched footbridge in the upper part of the cliff was the only connection between the two provinces. Over the years, it has been dubbed the French Riviera of the Northern Philippines due to the breathtaking sights it provides to people going on Ilocos Norte tours. It's one of the top attractions included in Pagudpud tours.
Tourists often stop by the side of the bridge to take in the view and take photos with the stunning bay and its azure waters as their backdrops. The Pasaleng Bay also features one-half of a shipwreck that dates back to when the Japanese occupied the Philippines. Meanwhile, the other half is believed to lay in the depths of Agua Grande, further along the bridge.
7. Bantay Church Bell Tower
Another important cultural site in Ilocos Sur and a top attraction in Vigan tours is the Bantay Bell Tower. It dates back to 1591, making it one of the oldest bell towers in the region. Sitting atop a hill that overlooked the Bantay district in northeast Vigan, locals initially used it as a watchtower when fighting broke out in the Spanish era and World War II.
After the wars, it was restored and repurposed as a belfry for the nearby Saint Augustine Parish Church, more commonly known as Bantay Church. Built a year prior to the tower's construction, these two structures are a testament to the rich heritage that has taken place in Ilocos.
Travelers can simply admire the red brick tower from the foot of the hill. Otherwise, you can climb a set of stairs to the tower's entrance and even go up the winding steps inside it. After reaching the top of the belfry, you will find the large metal bell. Aside from the historic bell, visitors are also rewarded with a breathtaking view of the surrounding area.
After getting a closer look at the tower, visitors also often check out the Bantay Church to get a better sense of the area's culture. Take your time as you stroll through the grounds that are designed with beautiful greeneries and religious statues.
6. Sand Dunes
Photo by Department of Tourism
While Ilocos is filled with spots that shed light on its people's culture, the region also has its share of stunning natural wonders. Specifically, the Paoay and La Paz Sand Dunes in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte. These sandy deserts offer thrilling adventures for tourists and are a refreshing change from the usual seaside activities in the province. A 4x4 ride to these sand dunes can be booked in Laoag tours.
The La Paz Sand Dunes are situated near the coast of the West Philippine Sea and spans an area that measures 85 square kilometers. It is also known as Bantay Bimmaboy among the locals and contains sand dunes that can be as high as 30 meters. Due to its sheer size, this sandy area reaches the nearby municipalities of Currimao and Pasuquin that sit to the north and south of Laoag, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Paoay Sand Dunes face Suba Beach and covers an area of 88 square kilometers. Similar to the ones in La Paz, travelers can explore the area while riding a 4X4 vehicle operated by a staff member. These thrilling rides take you up and down the dunes at fast paces and can give guests a rush of adrenaline. Tourists can also stop in the middle of the desert to try sandboarding, where you will ride a wooden or plastic board down sandy slopes.
5. Saud Beach
Photo by Department of Tourism
Saud Beach in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte, is a pristine shore that has gained popularity over the years as one of the best beaches near Manila City. Travel magazines across the globe have also recognized its powdery white sand and calm, clear waters. Stretching for about 2 kilometers, this tropical paradise offers a relaxing escape for all of its visitors.
Travelers can swim, snorkel, or dive in its cool waters or simply lounge and sunbathe on its smooth shoreline. Feel free to take photos as you wade through the shallow parts of the coast or strike a pose with the scenic view of Pagudpud as your background. In between your seaside activities, guests can also feast in cabanas under the palm trees that line the beach.
The best time to enjoy a day on Saud Beach is between the months of January and early May when there are fewer chances of rainfall.
4. Kapurpurawan Rock Formation
The Kapurpurawan Rock Formations are regarded as one of the most popular rock formations in the Philippines. Situated in Bangui Bay, Ilocos Norte, this geographical attraction gets its name from the Ilocano word "puraw," which means "white" in English. These beautiful white sandstone structures were shaped by years of exposure to the wind and the sea and is a must-visit attraction in Pagudpud tours.
To get a closer look at these towering rock formations, you will first need to take a short hike through beautiful landscapes dotted with lush trees and natural pools. Guests can either walk all the way or rent a horse that you can ride to the structures.
At the end of the trail, you will be greeted by the towering sandstone formations. From there, you can also get a panoramic view of Bangui Bay and the giant windmills that top the nearby hills. Feel free to walk around the area to capture a picture-perfect snap of the anvil-shaped rock, which is often considered the site's main draw.
Certain parts of the formations can be climbed to give you an even more in-depth look at the smooth surface shaped by the waves and gusts of wind coming in from the bay.
3. Paoay Church
When visiting Laoag in Ilocos Norte, make sure not to miss the iconic Paoay Church. Construction of this Roman Catholic church finished back in 1710 after around two decades of work. It is officially named the Saint Augustine Church.
Years after its completion, UNESCO recognized it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the "Baroque Churches of the Philippines" group. The national government also honored the church for its historical significance and named it one of the country's National Cultural Treasures in 1973.
Built in the iconic earthquake baroque style, the church features a wide base and massive buttresses on its sides and back. The chapel's exterior walls are made of large coral stones and bricks, which were common materials for older churches in the Philippines. Its facade also resembles elements from Javanese architecture, specifically, designs that are similar to the Borobudur temple in Java, Indonesia.
Aside from the church itself, its three-story bell tower is a striking building as well. Detached from the main cathedral, it previously served as an observation post for natives during the war with Spaniards in the 1800s and the fight against Japanese forces in World War II.
After opening its doors in the early years of the 18th century, the church continues to hold masses. Priests currently celebrate mass in English, Filipino, or Ilocano, depending on the schedule.
2. Bangui Windmills
Situated along Bangui Bay in Ilocos Norte are 26 giant wind turbines that face the West Philippine Sea. These towering white structures were built in three phases. The first phase was completed in May 2005 with 15 initial windmills. Each turbine is 70 meters tall and has three blades that measure up to 41 meters in length.
The Bangui Windmills are the first wind farm in the Philippines and generates enough energy to power more than 40% of Ilocos Norte's electricity. The turbines' energy reaches the province's residents and businesses through the Luzon Grid. Thanks to its strategic location away from forests that can block the wind, the farm has become one of the country's top sustainable sources of energy.
Along with being a more environment-friendly alternative to more traditional sources of energy such as fossil fuels, the wind farm has become a popular tourist spot as well. Since it was opened to the public, tourists have made their way to the site to see the massive turbines up close and personal. Though more windmills are situated in different areas in the farm, the most famous ones are those that line a 9-kilometer stretch of the Bangui Bay shoreline.
1. Calle Crisologo
Photo by Department of Tourism
Ilocos Sur tours would not be complete without strolling along the cobblestoned streets of Calle Crisologo in Vigan. Commonly known as one of the most beautiful streets in the Philippines, this 500-meter-long avenue is lined with centuries-old Spanish-style homes.
It is also a pedestrian-only area, further bringing to life the laid-back atmosphere present in the province's early days. In place of cars, tourists can explore the street on their own two feet or while riding horse-drawn carriages locally known as kalesas during Calle Crisologo tours.
A number of the ancestral homes have been turned into restaurants that cook the famous Ilocos bagnet (deep-fried pork belly) and empanadas. On the other hand, a few of them have become inns or souvenir shops that offer crafts created by local artisans. These artworks are often displayed outside the shops as well, making it easy for travelers to window shop while enjoying the scene.
The street was previously known as Calle de Escolta de Vigan. It was later changed in 1927 to honor the late Governor Marcelino "Mena" Crisologo, a renowned local poet and writer who died in the same year. Today, it is part of the city's Heritage Village, which has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Aside from Calle Crisologo, the village consists of around 200 restored homes dating back to the 16th century.
Revisit History in Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte
From Baroque-style churches to decades-old rock formations, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte are filled with treasures contributing to the Philippines' overall charm. Find your next favorite souvenir from the numerous artisan shops that call the provinces home, or create your own in the clay jar-making hub of the region.
Curious minds will also be treated to epic tales of war, heroism, and art in the museums that honor the many historical events that have taken place in these provinces. Along with great tales of the past, dive headfirst into the natural beauty of Ilocos by trying your hand at sandboarding or swimming in the pristine Saud Beach.
Map out your trip to these provinces and explore tourist spots near Manila City by checking our Ilocos tour packages.
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