Vigan / Ilocos Sur

Vigan, with its centuries-old edifices, is a breathing reminder of what was once a royal city. One of the earliest Spanish settlements in the country, Vigan was founded in 1572 by Juan de Salcedo who patterned its design to that of Intramuros (Old Manila).

Time-locked Ilocos is a broad hardy country blessed with impressive wide highways and stretches of narrow cobblestoned roads, antiquated towns dominated by heavily-buttressed grand churches and Antillan ancestral homes, and a brave people who, by sheer industry, harnessed a formidable terrain into a source of sustenance. A seemingly tempestuous sea rimmed with uneven rock formations and ascetic mountains are the two scenic images that first impress the visitor to Ilocos. Wedged between the wild China Sea and the rugged Cordillera mountain range, the region presents a visual feast that is at once dazzling in its boldness. Divided into Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte, their capitals - Vigan and Laoag City - are anchor tourist destinations and part of the 7,000 times more islands that make up the Philippine archipelago.


Vigan, with its centuries-old edifices, is a breathing reminder of what was once a royal city. One of the earliest Spanish settlements in the country, Vigan was founded in 1572 by Juan de Salcedo who patterned its design to that of Intramuros (Old Manila). It became the seat of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia and was called Ciudad Fernandina in honor of King Ferdinand.

Today, Vigan retains much of the patina of 18th century Castillan architecture as seen in some 150 stone houses which stand in the town’s Mestizo District, notably Mena Crisologo Street. Many of these ancestral homes are still in good condition and some have been turned into cozy inns, museums, and souvenir shops.

Along with the homes are other vestiges of the town’s colonial past:
The majestic St. Paul’s Cathedral was built by the Augustinian friars along the distinct "Earthquake Baroque" style of the Ilocos region and features Neo-Gothic and pseudo Romanesque motifs. Standing on an elevation west of the cathedral is Plaza Salcedo, the oldest monument in Northern Luzon. The Archbishop’s Palace is a rich repository of religious artifacts from the Ilocos region. Plaza Burgos was built in honor of Fr. Jose Burgos, one of three Filipino priests who were garroted by the Spaniards for espousing church reforms.

But it is not only edifices which are preserved in this town inscribed in the World Heritage List. Viganos also remain steadfast in their traditional crafts, notably pottery (burnay) and handloom weaving (inabel). The horse-drawn calesa (rig) is as much a presence in the streets as motor vehicles.

After Vigan, Juan de Salcedo pressed further north to Laoag which even before the Spanish colonial times was already a center of trade with the Japanese and Chinese. Laoag City, today, is the major crossroads for international trade and commerce in the Ilocos region. Though bustling with business, the city has retained pretty much an unhurried, laid-back lifestyle. Dominating the city landscape is the provincial capitol which sits atop Ermita Hill, also popularly known as Raquiza Garden. Another point of interest is the St. William’s Cathedral, built by the Augustinians in 1612 along the Italian Renaissance design. Its unique 2-story facade is held by four pairs of coupled columns. A deeply recessed niche carries the image of St. William. A hundred meters away from the church is the Sinking Bell Tower which leans slightly to the north. It sinks an inch a year to the ground. Like in Vigan, the calesa is an integral part of the street landscape.


Because of its difficult terrain and arid temperature, the Ilocos was once described as a "God-forsaken land" and one was well-advised to have the "patience of a spider" in order to survive it. But Ilocanos, the hardy people that they are, not only survived in this formidable land but were able to turn this highland country into "God’s own paradise."

Ilocos has many churches of distinction which include two that are inscribed in the World Heritage List. In Ilocos Sur is the salmon-bricked Santa Maria Church. Built in 1769, it sits atop a hill towering over the town proper. In Ilocos Norte is Paoay Church. Built by the Augustinians in 1596, the church looks like a cross between a Javanese temple and a European church. The town of Bantay was the scene of fierce uprising led by Diego Silang against the tobacco monopoly in 1762. The town’s savage seascape has been immortalized in the films of Philippine Action King Fernando Poe, Jr. The town church is an architectural gem combining Baroque with Gothic motifs.

Currimao has a burgeoning beach resort industry. Visitors to this coastal town never fail to appreciate the sight of fishermen pulling in their nets shortly before dusk while performing a song-and-dance ritual for a bountiful harvest. Everybody is welcome to join in and each participant is given a rightful share of the catch. The town of Pagudpud offers a breathtaking landscape which includes the enchanting Bantay Abot-abot, a natural sculpture carved by the wind and sea, the white sand Saud beach and the majestic Mabogabog Falls. Impressive living canvasses unravel as one traverses the winding Patapat and Calvario roads.

Aside from its church, Paoay has a national park that envelops a placid lake. Built along its edge is the Malaca๑ang of the North, official residence of the late President Marcos in northern Luzon. The town also has stretches of undulating sand dunes, the setting of Mel Gibson’s "Mad Max" series and Tom Cruise’s "Born on the Fourth of July." The Paoay Sports Complex is the biggest in northern Luzon.

The pastoral town of Pasuquin has many fine beaches and is known for its salt-making industry. Its hills and mountains abound with wild game. Pasuquin Cave can be reached after some 45 minutes of traveling via a dirt road. A Mayor’s Permit is necessary.

The simplicity of Ilocano cookery is its own virtue. Bitter-flavored dishes are part of the Ilocano cuisine. Purposely laced into meat stews, fish grills and salads, the bitter taste is as enjoyable as the other aspects of taste, such as sweet, sour and salty. A popular dish is pinakbet, a vegetable stew of bitter melon, squash, eggplant and okra with crisp pork belly.

The town plaza and the marketplace are the best places to savor local flavors. The hotels and resorts have their own dining outlets and serve both native and international dishes. They can prepare picnic meals upon request.

Filipinos do not simply provide the guest with a place to rest or park their luggage, they also share the best of what they have. This warm, effusive brand of hospitality is what distinguishes Philippine hotels from the others. In Ilocos, one can easily find comfortable lodgings to suit one’s budget and needs.

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  Information provided by Department of Tourism. Government of Philippines.


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