From Down South to Up North: The 1-Week Ilocos Summer Road Trip

Browsing through Facebook and Instagram, I enjoyed seeing the posts of friends about their vacations. As we reached the mid-summer season, many have already gone out of the country, to the beach, to their respective provinces, and make use of the much-awaited summer getaway.

As for us, we decided to allot our one week exploring the hot and beautiful Ilocos. We’ve never been in this part of Luzon so we paid attention to what friends have to say, the reviews we read online, the expertise on road adventure of Waze and the will to be in a new place with our reliable pick-up truck (my son named him “Cookie Ranger”).

The Subic–Clark–Tarlac Expressway (SCTex) and The Tarlac–Pangasinan–La Union Expressway (TPLex) played a huge part of making the trip safer and faster! SCTex is a 93.77-kilometre four-lane expressway north of Manila while TPLex is an 88.85-kilometer four-lane expressway currently ending in Urdaneta, La Union with ongoing construction far north. The view of the entire highway stretch is scenic!

If at one point you decide to visit Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte and is a bit clueless with your itinerary, here are some of the highlights/landmarks to get you covered on your trip. We chopped the schedule from one city to another and we did not aim to go to every single tourist destination; we just want to have fun and not stress over strict must-go places to visit.

There are just so much beauty in the Philippines; go ahead, travel! Let our country amaze you.

Day 1

Parañaque to Batac, Ilocos Norte via SCTex/TPLex (7 hours)

We left Sucat, Parañaque at 2am and reached Balintawak toll gate (via Skyway and EDSA) within 30 minutes.

Marcos Museum and Mausoleum – Integrates both memorabilia storage and the current resting place of former President Ferdinand Marcos. His remains are still on public display; the solemn interior is divided into an entry hall styled with old English standards and a bust. The family’s mortician confirmed that the corpse is real, although people suspect it is a wax replica, and the real body was secretly buried in ground.

The young Ferdinand

The young Ferdinand

Immaculate Conception Church – Built in 1527 during the Spanish era. Its facade has been renovated recently, whitewashed, and plastered with the original palitada – a decorative plaster used to protect and decorate soft volcanic stones that form these colonial-era churches. The palitada is a mixture of lime, sand, water, and molasses or egg whites.

Batac Riverside Empanada – There are plenty of stalls selling empanada in this location. Ilocos Empanada is deep-fried rather than baked and is made of a savory filling of grated papaya, monggo, chopped Ilocano longganisa and egg. The dough that serves as its thin and crisp wrapper is made of rice flour.

Empanada here is so yummy! Don’t forget to also order their orange fried quail eggs aka kwek-kwek aka tukneneng!

Batac, Ilocos Norte to Paoay, Ilocos Norte (10 minutes)

Saint Augustine Church (Paoay Church and Bell Tower) – Completed in 1710, the church is famous for its distinct architecture highlighted by the enormous buttresses on the sides and back of the building. It is declared as a National Cultural Treasure by the Philippine government in 1973 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Paoay Sand Dunes – the sands are not static forms; they change in shapes, sizes, and location, depending on the strength and direction of the prevailing wind. It is the product of wave action during high tides cause’s sand and silt deposited offshore to form sand bars. During low tides, sand bars close to the beach are dried by the wind and the sun, which are transported by strong winds blowing toward the land, to finally build up Sand Dunes.

Herencia Cafe – Not really an excellent service, even the rest room was not clean and servers look quite unhappy doing their job BUT the bagnet and chicharon pizza is worth your patience.

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Healthy Pinakbet and Sinful Chicharon Pizza

Paoay, Ilocos Norte to Laoag, Ilocos Norte (45 minutes)

Java Hotel – I would be open to explore other Hotels when we visit back. Room is just okay for the price but guest service was very poor. No one assisted with our luggage upon arrival and staff not very courteous especially the front desk people.

Laoag Sand Dunes – Consists of an area of approximately 85 square kilometers (52 square miles) of protected sandy coastal desert and beach. The height of the dunes ranges from 10 to 30 meters.

Cookie enjoying the sands!

Fambam enjoying the sands especially Cookie!

It is a perfect spot for a 4×4 adventure ride!

Sinking Bell Tower – Built of old brick and stoned faced with limes stucco plaster, the tower rises in four tiers; claimed to be the most solid and tallest bell tower in the Philippines. It stands 45 meters high but probably stood higher before it began sinking. Despite its sinking state (supposedly at a rate of an inch a year), the bell tower still continues its centuries-old purpose of ringing the bell to call Catholic brethren to mass.

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La Preciosa Resto – Bagnet, pinakbet, and carrot cake are sure winners! And they have a better service too.  The resto is along JP Rizal Street, Laoag.

Day 2

Laoag to Pagudpud (2 hours)

Cape Bojeador LightHouse (Burgos Lighthouse) – The 66-foot-tall (20 m) octagonal stone tower was first lit on March 30, 1892. Visitors climb a flight of concrete stairs to the perimeter wall which offers a good view of Cape Bojeador, West Philippine Sea and enter the courtyard.

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Kapurpurawan Rock Formation – Rock formations created by forces of the ocean on the rocky coast of Burgos, located just a few minutes further from the Cape Bojeador LightHouse.

Kapurpurawan Rock Formation-Burgos-Ilocos-WriteNowna

The empanada at the stall before you step down the stairs is yummy!

Bangui Windmills – The wind farm uses 20 units of 70-metre (230 ft) high Vestas V82 1.65 MW wind turbines, arranged on a single row stretching along a nine-kilometer shoreline off Bangui Bay, facing the West Philippine Sea.

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Kapuluan Vista Resort – Good accommodation and warm staff. Food is a bit pricey compared to other local restaurants but a must-try. Beach is not ideal for swimming but a good place to just relax. Swimming pool is nice and cozy. Kapuluan is a sanctuary nestled between three mountains and the sea.

Day 3

Around Pagudpud

The Beach

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View of the Maira-ira Beach, the northernmost tip of Luzon Island

Patapat Viaduct – The bridge is elevated 31 meters above sea level. It is a concrete coastal bridge 1.3 km long and connects the Maharlika Highway from Laoag, Ilocos Norte to the Cagayan Valley Region. It rises along the town’s coastal mountains, which is the starting point of the Cordillera Mountain Range that snakes through Northern Luzon.

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Paraiso ni Anton – The cool waters of the mountain stream are reputed to have miraculous healing properties. There are several stalls selling local products, fruits, shell art and colored pebble trinkets.

Bantay Abot Cave – This geological formation is not really a cave but a rocky hill that resulted from an earthquake that happened so many years ago. It means “a Mountain with a Hole.” The beach is very rocky and the waves are very strong, that’s why the area is not ideal for swimming but it’s worth the climb.

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Tinmangtang Rock – Just a few meters away from Bantay Abot Caves, it is a bell-shaped rock located along the seacoast of Sitio Gaoa, Balaoi, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte. Timmangtang Rock is said to be part of the “Mountain with a Hole”. There is no such history about this rock but locals believed that the two are “lovers rocks”—the Timmangtang Rock is the male rock and the Bantay Abot Cave is the female.

La Cocina at Casa Consuelo – Another hotel near Kapuluan that serves affordable, delicious Ilocano food. Imagine having your late lunch with this view.

La Cocina at Casa Consuelo-Pagudpud-Ilocos-WriteNowNa

Afternoon beach view at La Cocina

Side Trip: Pagudpud to Claveria, Cagayan (45 minutes)

The 600km Mark at Claveria – The mark starts in Manila and just out of curiosity we agreed to find out where 600km would lead us since we already saw the 580+ along Pagudpud.

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Cookie at the 600 Road Mark

Portabaga Falls, Praxedes Cagayan – 25-meter single-drop waterfall having four downstream catch pools.

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We did not swim here but the pool looks so enticing we just wanted to jump!

Day 4

Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte to Vigan, Ilocos Sur (3 ½ hours)

Side Stop:

Fort Ilocandia, Laoag – 5-star deluxe resort hotel in the northern Philippines sprawling over 77 hectares of land amidst gentle sand dunes and pine forests with a 2 kilometer sandy beach facing the South China Sea.

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Malacanang of the North, Paoay – Closer glimpse of the former President’s mansion with a lovely view of the Paoay Lake.

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Luna Hotel – Located at the heart of the Heritage Village in Vigan City, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Hotel Luna is the first and only museum hotel in the Philippines.

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View from the top of Luna

Calle Crisolgo/Crisologo Street Heritage Village – Streets lined with Spanish Era ancestral houses (with ancient tile roofs, massive hardwood floorings, balustrades and azoteas in varying Spanish, Mexican, and Chinese architectural styles) and cobble-stoned streets, which led to Vigan’s inscription in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Tourists can buy souvenirs or even ride a calesa (horse-drawn buggy).

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Open whole day but best to explore at night.

Cafe Uno – Small quaint corner coffee shop inside Grandpa’s Inn. Food is yummy (but not the Pesto Pasta, I should have remained loyal to the Ilocano menu) and great Iced Latte after meal.

Day 5

Around Vigan

Vigan Cathedral and Bell Tower – The city’s major church built in the Earthquake Baroque style (with the Bell Tower built separately to prevent it toppling over the church).

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Archbishop’s Residence – Located next to the Vigan Cathedral, The Archbishop’s Palace of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia is the oldest continually inhabited Archbishop’s residence in the Philippines, with the building itself dating to the 16th century. It was completed in 1793 after a span of 7 years

Philippine National Museum – Located almost behind the Provincial Capitol, former Ilocos Sur provincial jail. The museum is also known as ‘Father Jose Burgos Museum’ for this is the birthplace of Father Jose Burgos, one of the three martyred Filipino priests at Bagumbayan (GOMBURZA). It also houses Ilocano artifacts and ethnic arts of the Tinggians.

Plaza Burgos – Dedicated to the memory of Father Jose Burgos. Located beside the Vigan Cathedral. Depending on the weather, the streets surrounding it (except for the street adjacent to the Empanadaan) is closed off to motorized traffic every Saturday and Sunday to allow people to walk the streets freely.

Vigan Empanadaan – Reserved location where visitors can sample Vigan’s famous empanada located at the eastern part of Plaza Burgos.

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Empanadaaaaa!!!

Baluarte – Zoo located in Salindeg where visitors can see a variety of animals (including tigers and ostriches). It is also a popular venue for special events such as seminars and conferences. The owner of Baluarte is former Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson.

Pagburnayan – Barangay at the southwestern end of Liberation Boulevard in Vigan, where the famous Ilocano jar called burnay, used for storing locally made vinegar, local wine (called basi), and fish sauce (bagoong); and as decorative ware, is produced. Tourists can see these factories making the burnay using pre-historic methods of production, using carabaos (water buffalos) to knead the clay, and foot-powered potter’s wheels to turn the clay into burnay jars.

Hidden Garden – Located in Bulala (a barrio known for its making of bricks, pots, and other objects made of clay), it is a wonderland of greenery, with a mini-snack bar nestled somewhere in the middle.

Plaza Salcedo – Dedicated to the memory of the great conquistador Juan de Salcedo. It is also the site of Gabriela Silang’s public hanging in 1763. Located in front of the Vigan Cathedral.

Vigan Dancing Fountain – Located at the Plaza Salcedo Lagoon, this Korean-engineered attraction is the first of its kind in the country (the locals compare it to Bellagio Water Fountains in Las Vegas, Nevada).

Syquia Mansion – Vigan residence of Elpidio Quirino, 6th President of the Philippines.

Crisologo Museum – Residence of the Crisologo family in Vigan converted into a museum. It houses the memorabilia of the Crisologos and original furnishings of a typical Vigan ancestral house.

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Simbaan A Bassit – This Cemetery chapel has a Bell-gable design, the only one of its kind in the Ilocos Region. The chapel’s name is an Ilocano term meaning “small church.”

(Vigan Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vigan)

Leona’s – Worst Ilocano restaurant we have tried! Makes you wait really long for the food accompanied by a very bad service! Servers are so impolite! We even saw a group of customers walked out in disgust, how terrible!

Day 6

Vigan to Baguio via Naguilian Road (2 ½ hours)

The Manor, Camp John Hay – We did not roam much around Baguio; we were there during the Labor Day long-weekend and it was so traffic, many areas jump-packed by tourists. We just stayed within the Camp John Hay vicinity (and had our first Starbucks frappuccino in almost a week!)

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Missing our Frap!!!

The four-storey structure with 177 rooms to accommodate guests is designed to blend neatly with towering pine trees, provides a magnificent view of the Cordillera mountain range. For a distinct touch, a Baguio stone exterior finish, shingled roofing, and tinted glass windows add warm accents to luxurious ambiance.

But it was not a very amiable experience for us on that particular stay. Front desk made us wait for an hour, room service food not properly cooked, and dirty carpet in the room that marked a black stain on the feet. This is also the first time we checked-in during the summer season; it was not very comfortable and my son’s been perspiring because Manor has no air-conditioned feature. They relied so much on the cool weather of Baguio but it was not that cold anymore during this time of year. The ceiling fan did not do much help.

Day 7

Baguio to Manila via TPLex/SCTex (4 hours)

Side Trip Before Going down to Manila: Baguio – La Trinidad, Benguet (30 minutes)

Strawberry Fields (Strawberry Picking) – La Trinidad Benguet is the Strawberry Capital of the Philippines.

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Just a reminder on your trip:

  1. Restaurant service is really slow so don’t come extremely hungry or you’ll be frustrated waiting for your meal. Eat in between and always have small snacks. The long wait for the food is worth it, anyway.
  2. Bring anti-mosquito lotion and patch especially for the kids; there are just so many flying insects even when inside the hotel room or restaurants.
  3. Weather may go from 38.9C to 39.9C in summer so bring sun block, comfy clothes, and bottles of water.

Reference is hyperlink to the source
Photo Credits: c/o JK Austria
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