A trip up north conjures images of rustic mansions, cobblestones, horse-drawn carriages and maybe (just maybe) local villagers dressed in the national costume of barong tagalog and baro’t saya terno. The idea is certainly not far-fetched. After all, Vigan is one of a few surviving historic cities dating back from 16th century with most houses built around mid-18th to late 19th century. The city has astonishingly preserved the Spanish colonial and Asian architecture prompting a greatly deserved recognition from UNESCO in 1999 as a model of “best practices in World Heritage site management”. These structures are evident in government offices; the Archbishop’s Palace, built during the Spanish colonization; St Paul’s Cathedral (Vigan Cathedral), the seat of the Diocese of Nueva Segovia. Flanking the church are 2 of the well-known plazas in the city, Plaza Salcedo to entertain visitors with fountain light shows and Plaza Burgos lined up with stalls of delicious Ilocano street foods.
And so it came as no surprise that the alluring heritage and history of Vigan city, the capital of Ilocos Sur, has made it to the New7Wonders Cities of the World in 2015.
Further up is Ilocos Norte, known for pristine beaches in Pagudpud and a bell-shaped Timmangtan Rock and Kabigan Falls. The Sarrat and Paoay churches are also built in baroque architecture reminiscent of its early period prominent in the 2 provinces of Ilocos.
The region of Ilocos prides itself of its illustrious sons who went on to occupy the highest position in the country. Elpidio Quirino, the 6th President of the country was born in Vigan. Ferdinand Marcos Sr., the 10th President was from Sarrat. And there were more who shaped the history of the nation. Padre Jose Burgos of the GomBurZa trio, was accused of rebellion by the Spaniards and eventually sentenced to death.
The preservation of Ilocano heritage ranks highly amongst the residents and so with their centuries -old arts and crafts industry that is handed down from generation to generation. ‘Abel weaving’ as it is known is made from yarns of cotton grown locally. The process uses a wooden handloom which is intricate and labour intensive but produces fabrics that are strong and beautiful enough to pass as heirlooms. Burnay earthenware is much sought after by local and foreign visitors. The Damili (meaning ‘moulding’) red clay is used in ancestral homes as roof tiles and connotes a social social status as the ‘old rich’. The clay used in the production of pottery and tiles are common to the region and undergo traditional production method. The craftsmanship of antique furniture, either real or reproduced is still the best in the country and very much sought after.
Indulge in the culinary taste that is distinctly Ilocano: empanada, longganisa, bagnet, pinakbet, dinengdeng, dinakdakan, pinapaitan, sinanglaw and anything and everything bitter, salty or flavoured with bagoong (fish paste).
There are daily direct flights to Laoag (LAO) from Manila and travel time takes up to an hour.
By land using public transport, travel can take up to 8-9hours to Vigan, Ilocos Sur and a further 1.5hours to Laoag, Ilocos Norte. A number of bus companies have a regular service from major points in Manila and Cubao. Travel by private car will take shorter.
*Semana Santa in Vigan – Main streets in Vigan can get too crowded with spectators and devotees during the Easter Week, especially on Good Friday when a ‘prusisyon’ is held around town.
*Most business establishments close at 8pm except when special religious occasions are observed. However, hotel cafes and restaurants remain open until late.
What else to see?
Undoubtedly the most popular street in all of Vigan, also referred to as “mestizo district”. Meander through four blocks of cobblestones lined up with heritage houses depicting a bygone era of prosperity and wealth. Visitors are transported back in time to the Spanish colonial era. At night, antique-style lamps line the street for a more dramatic scene.
A fortress with multitudes of species roaming free on the grounds of this vast estate. The zoo provides a comfortable home not only to living creatures endemic to Philippines but also from other countries such as Bengal tigers and lions.
Fort Ilocandia Resort
A sprawling deluxe resort amidst sand dunes and pine forests, exuding old world opulence and modern convenience. The 2-kilometer stretch of sandy beach faces the South China sea.