Quiet, historic, cultured and mellow: Ilocos has charms both natural (unspoiled beaches, green countryside and epic sand dunes) and manmade: the handsome relics of colonial Spain
Where? The region of Ilocos – made up of two provinces, Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur – stretches across the northwestern coast of Luzon island.
How? It takes just 45 minutes to fly from Manila to Laoag airport, in Ilocos Norte.
Why? Who needs a time machine when Ilocos and its cobbled streets give visitors a vivid insight into life in the Philippines in the 16th century? Unesco reckons that Vigan is Asia’s best-preserved example of a Spanish colonial town – we reckon they know what they’re talking about.
What? Hop on a kalesa (horse-drawn calash) and explore Vigan’s cobbled streets; admire Spanish-era ancestral houses at Calle Crisologo; watch local potters at work and pick up some brightly patterned, weaved abel cotton for the folks back home. Admire the mighty 19th-century bell tower at Bacarra Church; puff away on an old-fashioned cigar (the Spaniards based their tobacco monopoly in Ilocos). Get the skinny on controversial former Filipino president Ferdinand Marcos at the Marcos Museum and Mausoleum; admire Santa Monica church and its pretty brick facade in Sarrat. From Sarrat, nip 31km to Paoay Town to admire one of the country’s most impressive Baroque buildings (and Unesco World Heritage Site), St Augustine Church. Swap godly pleasures for devilish thrills: Laoag’s sand dunes include a section called Devil’s Drop. Scale the dunes in a chunky 4X4, or try sand-boarding. Beach bums will want to include some time in Pagudpud – start with Saud Beach, admire Cape Bojeador Lighthouse and feel the breeze at Bangui Windmills. Have a surf lesson at Kapuluan Vista Resort, or try kitesurfing at Kingfisher Resort.
Try… Fatty bagnet: twice-fried pork belly; longganisa: sausages made with local garlic and sugarcane vinegar (best enjoyed with rice and a fried egg on the side); pinakbet: fermented shrimp, sun-dried pork and mixed vegetables. Locals also rustle up empanadas. Two of the best places to get a flavour of the region are La Preciosa restaurant and the Laoag Public Market.