Monday, July 29, 2013

Bucket List | Ilocos Norte, Philippines

... also known as the entry of things to do and the must see places in the northwestern-most province of Luzon and the Philippines.

If you're anything like me who looks for a little bit of everything in a given place, you'll be as much excited as I am to visit this lovely province in the northwestern-most part of the Philippines. From great food to great sights and stories; to being taken back to old worlds or seeing modern engineering marvels; getting pampered in a 5-star resort or staying in a remote white sand island beach under palm trees or getting lost in nature trails and san dunes; and, admiring nature's masterpieces formed through time. Oh, and the activities! I pray to god for waves to surf, and the time to surf sand as well. I'm getting so overwhelmed by all the possibilities to see and do.. not to say I'll be hitting all these places in one trip, but just the prospect of hitting any of these makes me all the more excited for what will be an awesome trip up north.

(To my lovely friends with whom I'll be traveling soon, feel no pressure at all for us to do all these. I'll be good to just be lounging at the beach to get a tan, too. I promise! Maybe with just a bit of surfing on the side) ;) Then, there can always be an excuse to travel back here some more.

Getting there

Ilocos Norte is 470+ kilometers or 290+ miles from Manila, accessible via road - private car or bus - or through the international and domestic airport in its captial, Laoag City. Flights to and from Manila take 45 mins. Buses to and from Manila take 8-10 long hours (Manila-Laoag), and are provided by the following bus lines: FariƱas Transit, Florida Bus (recommended), Partas, Philippinee Rabbit and Maria De Leon.


Ilocos Norte has two pronounced seasons: dry (November to April) and wet (May to October). The province is occasionally visited by tropical cyclones and storms during the southwest monsoon season (May to October). These are most dominant during the month of July. - Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, Laoag City. The wet season wouldn't be the best time to go to the province except if you'd like to go surfing and enjoy the best waves.

The List

Done with the basic stuff. Now, the fun part: the actual bucket list. Here are items taken off my research from friends and other travelers who have loved their experiences of the province and who have shared them through stories, photos and blog entries. Hopefully, I'll be able to do the same and share them here with you.

The Municipality of Paoay

Home to the Paoay Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You may get there from Laoag City via an hour jeepney ride for 30 Php per person.

1. San Agustin Church of Paoay

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This UNESCO Wolrd Heritage Site is of a Baroque Roman Catholic Church built in 1710 with a larger base to adapt to the seismic condition of the country located along the Pacific Ring of Fire. Its garden at the back is said to be a must see.

2. Sand Dunes of Suba

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About 45 minutes to an hour to walk across from Fort Ilocandia in Laoag, you may also explore the dunes in a 4x4 jeep, or swim at its adjacent beach. A 4x4 rental will cost 500 Php per person. This fee will include a rental of a board which you can use to surf down a sandy slope.

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The City of Laoag

3. Fort Ilocandia

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The only 5-star deluxe resort hotel in the province sprawling over 77 hectares of land amidst gentle sand dunes and pine forests (really?), with a 2 kilometre sandy beach facing the South China Sea. It is located in the heart of the City of Laoag and the province of Ilocos Norte. It is a 10-minute drive from Fort Ilocandia Golf & Country Club in Paoay, and the Laoag International Airport.

This spanish-inspired architecture of the resort gives it a romantic feel that makes it a popular venue for weddings and receptions. The resort is a complete service complex resort hotel with added areas for horseback-riding, shooting, and kayaking to name a few. It also has its own casino which attracts Taiwanese and Korean tourists all year-round. 

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The Municipality of Burgos

Burgos is a municipality found 49 kilometers and about an hour drive north from Laoag City. A bus can be taken from Laoag to Burgos at 50 Php per person. COMING UP: Bigger than the known windmills in Bangui (number 6 on this list), Burgos has recently announced the opening of the 2nd and larger windmill farm project to be fully operational in 2014. Something to look forward to! Stories published by the PhilStar and PIA.

4. Kapurpurawan Rock

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Taken from the word "puraw" which means white, this rock formation, obviously white in color, and although features only 1 area, is one the most visited places in the province. You'll only need to pay 15 Php to enter (5 Php for children 15 years old and below) to marvel at this natural seaside wonder created over time by forces of the ocean at the rocky front of Burgos. It's a bit hard to get to; the trip won't be very comfortable, but all I read advised it would be well worth it.

5. Cape Bojeador Lighthouse

photo credit: Huno Garces (via Flickr)

Found a few minutes away from the Kapurpurawan Rock formation is this old lighthouse built during the Spanish Colonial period. This is also known as the Burgos Lighthouse. What used to be the beacon that guided galleons in the 19th century is still operational more than 100 years later for international ships that enter Philippine territory from the north. Contrary to what other sources say, it's not the tallest lighthouse in the Philippines. However, it is the most accessible in the island of Luzon through the Maharlika Highway from Laoag City. Upon crossing Paayas in Burgos, a sign on the right side will lead travelers to a winding road to reach the base of the lighthouse. Main source: Wikipedia

The Municipality of Bangui

Taking the Pan-Philippine Highway/Manila North Road from Manila/Laoag City, and upon reaching Burgos, watch out for a directional marker on your left that will lead you towards Bangui Bay. Take this dirt road towards the Bay. The windmills should be visible at this point. Travel time from Laoag City to Bangui will be approximately 90 minutes. 

6. Bangui Wind Farm

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These energy generating wind turbines are arranged on a single arced row across the 9-kilometer shoreline of Bangui. These are 20 units of 70 meter windmills facing the South China Sea. There won't be a need to hire a tour guide to bring you there, and to show you these giants. Stay a while, relax, and witness the sunset at the end of the day.

The Municipality of Pagudpud

The surfing capital of the north, as people say. It's found 2 hours from Laoag City, and approximately 10-12 hours from Manila. Its terrain is a medley of mountains, valleys, hills and flat coastal land. With secluded white sand beaches and crystal blue waters with waves that attract surfers from around the world, this place has been featured as an emerging tourist spot by numerous local and international media.

NOTE: There are no ATMs in this place. The nearest would be in Pasuquin found 1h 30mins away via local bus. Be sure to have enough cash with you before heading there. 

7. Saud Beach

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This has been the most popular destination in Pagudpod, possibly until the boom of Maira-ira Beach (item 8 on this list). And, of the 3 vast beaches in Pagudpod, with the 2 others farther east being Maira-ira Beach and Pansian Beach, this is where more of the posh and modern accommodations are located. Though this is busiest, it's still a far cry from the nightlife and commercial nature of Boracay Island in the Visayas Region, which is great thing! It's serene, quiet, and with a far view of the Bangui windmills. Its sand is white, water crystal, and its palm trees stretched along its coastline. It would be better to see this first before heading to Maira-ira to avoid being underwhelmed, and to be able to appreciate it for its real beauty. 

Once you reach Pagudpud via the National Highway, there will be a lot of signs to direct you towards Saud Beach. Just make sure you travel during the day as there aren't any street lamps to guide you at night. 

8. Maira-ira Beach

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More commonly known as the Blue Lagoon, this unspoiled beach was hardly visited until late because of its distance from Manila. The sudden popularity is not surprising given that I've heard it said to be "the most beautiful beach in the north." Pretty bold words, right. What looks to be a large sandy swimming pool by the ocean turns bright azure on a sunny day. The water is most calm like that in a pond during the dry season, and can be surfed leisurely during the wet season. 

To get there, you can take a tricycle (local covered side-car comfortable enough for for 5 petites) from the Pagudpud Municipal Hall to cover the 18 kilometer distance. If you'll be going from Saud Beach (item 7 on this list), you can rent a direct tricycle to the farther Blue Lagoon for 300-500 Php. The trip will only take 20 minutes. 

9. Kapuluan Vista Resort

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This charming ocean-front resort is a 10 minute walk through coconut groves from the Blue Lagoon, and has a natural playground fit for surfing, hiking, mountain biking and exploration, all on top of basic resort amenities. Definitely for the adventurous and for those who'd like to find a weekend getaway for relaxation and maybe even meditation (they have a Yoga room!). They offer pick-ups at the Laoag airport.

10. Patapat Viaduct

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The Patapat Viaduct is the 4th longest bridge in the Philippines that straddles 1.3 kilometers along the coastal mountains of the province, and is elevated 31 meters above sea-level that connects Maharlika Highway from Laoag in the East to the Cagayan Valley Region in the West. 

11. Pannzian Beach

Pannzian Beach is a resort in Pasaleng Bay that, unlike the previous beaches that boast of pristine waters and white sands, is content with waves that can get "moody," and gray sand that is not as fine. In spite of these, it boasts of gems that add this beautiful destination to my bucket list. Pannzian.

The food. Ooh la la, the food. Made from fresh and organic ingredients from their backyard garden, as well as from local farms and fishermen. These look so good. And, they're healthy too, and help the local community and native Ilocos by embodying true Ilocano tastes and traditions. 

Hermit Crab Paella & Fried Bagnet (deep fried crispy pork)

Pichi-Pichi, a dessert made of cassava, sugar and a coating of coconut (photo credits:

"A different lifestyle." The resort promotes appreciation for nature and consistently upholds this through the discipline of simplicity and by providing only the necessities to make your stay as comfortable as possible and refreshing. There are no distractions like TV sets, cellular signals from Globe and Sun Mobile (only SMART), and Wi-fi. By forcing guests to do away with technology, they are invited to unwind and enjoy the natural surroundings that contribute to a more healthy and stress-free lifestyle. 

The community. What I'd want to do is help the fishermen haul in their catch right after sunrise, and just be surrounded by locals who are known for hospitality, and by Pannzian's staff who are said to treat you like family. With all these combined, sounds just like a dream vacation, right?

The entrance to Pannzian Beach is found immediately after the Patapat Viaduct. You'll be able to reach the Beach in no more than 10 minutes.  

12. Kabigan Falls

photo credit: Bryan Rapadas (via Flickr)

Don't be fooled by the distance by this being found only 1.8 kilometers from the National Road in Barangay (village) Balaoi. The walk could be tiring as you'll need to trek for 30 minutes through mountains, rivers, creeks and farms to finally get to the majestic falls with a concave basin to swim in. It's a place where you can camp out for a night as it's surrounded by a peaceful thick forest that's safe as well. 

You'll need to pay an entrance/preservation fee of 20 Php per person, and a 150 Php group fee for your guide. 

The Municipality of Adams

This municipality along the Eastern territory of the Ilocos Norte is also called the "Little Baguio of the North," or the "Garden of Eden." It was named after Adam of that garden anyway. The town is found in a little valley - a very green one covered in lush fields and surrounded by lush rolling hills and mountains, with 18 known waterfalls and 10 hanging bridges.

To get there, take a bus for 20 Php headed to Sta. Ana or Tuguegarao from Pagudpud and get off at Pancian, the jump-off point to Adams. From Pancian, you should hire a motorbike to bring you Adams Proper. The trip will be uphill through a rough road for 1h 30 mins. 

13. Anuplig Falls

photo credit: Mon Corpuz (via Flickr)

More for the adventurous, the trek to Anuplig falls I've read can be quite dangerous with deep cliffs, sharp rocks and a slippery terrain. The trek can last up to 45 minutes. Anuplig Falls is 2-tiered and a short 20 feet. The lower tier is ideal for swimming.

1 comment:

  1. I will add these to my bucket list. Thanks for sharing!