So your kids have finally outgrown riding the colorful horses of Baguio and watching the dolphins of Subic, and you’re thinking where else you can take them where they can do some new adventures while the wifey can do some shopping, and the whole family can have a few lessons in culture and history.
My ready answer to those who are ready to graduate from the usual destinations is to take the family for a road trip to the Ilocos region. It is now easier than ever and there are many alternatives if you do not wish to drive.
The region offers a wide array of attractions to satisfy all types of travellers from adventure-seekers to sun-worshippers to heritage conservationists to gourmands. The fun thing is every family member can be any of them in a span of three days.
Yes, you don’t need a lot of days to sample what the Ilocos region can offer. Remember, it’s your first time and if you enjoy anything, you can always come back the next time and stay longer.
The road trip is best done during a three-day weekend. So, even you just planned the trip the very last minute, there is no need to worry about places to stay as there are always plenty of them. Of course, if you’re travelling as a family, I recommend that you have your vehicle checked before going on a long drive. It is also advisable to bring an alternate driver as the land travel to Vigan takes around 10 hours.
Use Vigan as your base for exploring the rest of the region. An alternative is either to stay in Laoag or Pagudpud, but the lodging there are quite expensive and you have nothing much else to do particularly during night time. In Vigan, the city bursts with more activities as sun sets in. And Vigan offers staying at century-old bahay-na-bato converted into guesthouses. Family rooms starts at P2,000, and they come with free breakfast. Best places to stay are the Cordillera Inn, Villa Angela Heritage House, Grandpa’s Inn, Vigan Plaza Hotel and Gordion Inn.
On Day 1, leave very early from Manila, say between 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. so you arrive at Vigan by lunchtime. Explore the attractions around Vigan. On Day 2, drive further to Ilocos Norte, explore the attractions there until you reach the Patapat Bridge and then return to Vigan for another night. On Day 3, you can return to Manila.
On top of the list is the city of Vigan, which is included on the list of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. The best time to see the old houses at Crisologo Street is a few minutes before sunset until dusk or half an hour before the sun rises. Those who can’t wait until dark can take a calesa tour that can take you to Bantay Church and Watchtower, Crisologo Museum, Syquia Mansion, Burgos Museum and Jar Making.
Two other churches in Ilocos are included on the UNESCO World Heritage sites under Baroque Churches, and these are the churches of Paoayin Ilocos Norte and Santa Mariain Ilocos Sur. Both were built in the late 16th century and are a prime example of a fusion of European church design, local materials and indigenous decorative motifs.
The most picturesque among the Spanish era lighthouses can be found at Cape Bojeador at the town of Burgos, Ilocos Norte. The lighthouse is now accessible by car, but your visit should be timed in the afternoon when the lighthouse-keeper is there to allow you to climb to the top of its tower.
Two modern engineering feats have become tourist attractions of the north – the Patapat Viaduct and the Bangui Windmills. The viaduct connects Ilocos with Cagayan and offers a magnificent view of the Babuyan Channel, while the 20 wind turbines of Bangui produce 33 megawatts of power.
The beaches of Pagudpud, particularly those in Saud and Maira-ira Point, with their powder-white sands can rival those in Boracay. Now that you are already in Ilocos, you can go there on a day trip. They have public beaches that you can enjoy for minimal fees.
The sand dunes of Paoay and La Paz now offer new types of adventures for the thrill-seekers – from 4X4 riding to ATV (all-terrain vehicle) driving to sand-boarding.
There are also several hidden waterfalls including the one at Kaibigan that require some minor trekking, or one can also opt climbing the Kapurpurawan Rock Formation in Burgos or maybe try boating and wind-surfing at Paoay Lake. You can also visit the private zoo of Governor Singson in Ilocos Sur.
Taste of Ilocos
No visit to Ilocos is complete without trying the traditional dishes of the Ilocanos. On top of the list is Pinakbet, a combination of okra, eggplant and ampalaya steamed with bagoong. Another vegetarian dish is Dinendeng, a soup-based dish made of vegetables and kalabasa flowers. There is also the Sinanglaw, a hotpot made from beef innards.
And there’s the famous Ilocos longganisa, a local sausage made from ground pork, lots of chopped local garlic and Sukang Iloko. Vigan’s version is smaller compared to Laoag’s. There’s also the famous Bagnet, or crispy pork belly that can either be eaten as is or as ingredient to other Ilocano dishes like Pinakbet.
Lastly, there are the local concoctions that offer the traditional dishes with a new twist. The restaurants in front of Paoay Church have on their menus Pinakbet, Bagnet and Dinuguan Pizzas.
It is best to travel to Ilocos using a vehicle with a big cargo space as you don’t go back home empty handed. There are simply a lot of things you can buy as you go around the region.
Crisologo Street is also a good place to shop for local cotton clothes known as abel that are made into blankets, bed sheets, pillow cases and hand towels. You can also buy Vigan longganisa and Bagnet to take home from the local market, but be sure to ask the seller to pack them well otherwise the whole vehicle will smell pungent as you go back to Manila.
Along the highway, one can also buy many things from local garlic and onions to dragon fruits to local grapes.
But the best souvenir one can take back home is the memory of time well-spent together exploring the fun-filled destination of Ilocos, and about a thousand photos that one can start uploading in Facebook.