Monday, March 12, 2012

Ilocos Virgins: A 3-Day Travel Itinerary

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Recently, I have been getting a lot of inquiries about traveling to Ilocos. I don't know if this has something to do with the launch of the Paoay Kumakaway tourism ad or that music video for a telenovela which features Ilocos region's scenery. Perhaps, it's simply because it's summer in the Philippines.

Laoag City is the gateway to Ilocos Norte.
The region of Ilocos is located at the northwest of the island of Luzon and is composed of four provinces: Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, La Union and Pangasinan. Usually, when people say they will be heading to Ilocos, they mean visiting the first two. Though near each other, the topography, culture and political history of both provinces are very different, making them more interesting to explore. Specifically, Ilocos Norte is well-known among locals for its churches and natural wonders while Ilocos Sur is popular for its food and the country's only UNESCO heritage city - Vigan.

Anyway, here is the 3-day itinerary (including some notes) I prepared for my travel buddies during our Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte trip last year. As it was their first trip to both provinces, I called them "Ilocos Virgins". To ensure that we get to explore a lot of places, we rented a van (arranged through the hotel). It turned out to be great idea as commuting was difficult due to the scorching summer sun. In fact, at 5:30 a.m., the sun was already as high as the 9:00 a.m. sun in Manila!

Day 1: Ilocos Norte Center

12:15 to 12:30 p.m.              Arrival at Laoag International Airport
12:30 to 2:00 p.m.                Travel from Airport to hotel
                                            (Gertes Hotel and Resort)
                                             Late lunch
2:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.          Explore Laoag, Batac and  Paoay:                                         
                                             Provincial Capitol
                                             Museo Ilocos Norte
                                             St. Williams Cathedral Bell Tower
                                             Malacañang Ti Amianan
                                             (Malacanang of the North)
                                             Batac Riverside Empanadahan
                                             (Eat at Glory's Empanada)
                                             Marcos Mansion and Museum                                            
                                             Paoay Sand Dunes
                                             Paoay Church
                                             Fort Ilocandia (Catch the sunset)
6:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.           Return to hotel
7:00 p.m. onwards                Dinner at Saramsam Cafe
                                             Free time/Rest
Notice that our first day was packed? That's because the Ilocos Virgins wanted to see a lot of things on their first visit.  The attractions listed above can be explored quickly or at a leisurely pace. In our case we explored some of the places quickly (e.g. Provincial Capitol, Bell Tower and Paoay Sand Dunes) so that we can visit other attractions before they close for the day. The Museo Ilocos Norte and Marcos Museum were initially not part of our itinerary but the hotel's management recommended it.

The Bagnet or deep fried pork belly with blistered skin is a must-try Ilocano dish.

Day 2: Outside Ilocos Norte's Capital 

8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.       Breakfast at the hotel
9:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.         Road trip to La Paz, Pasuquin and Burgos
                                          La Paz Sand Dunes
                                          Bacarra Tower
                                          Pasuquin Salt Harvesting
                                          Cape Bojeador Lighthouse
                                          Bangui Bay (to see the windmills up-close)
12:30 p.m.-1:30 p.m.        Lunch at a roadside eatery
1:30 p.m.-5:00 p.m.          Pagudpod
5:00 p.m.-7:30 p.m.          Return trip to Laoag
                                          Brief stop at the Bangui Windmill View Deck
7:30 p.m. onwards            Dinner at Fort Ilocandia
                                          Free time/Rest

We planned to do sand-boarding and four-wheel driving at La Paz but the rental facility was closed that day (to our dismay).  As for our dinner, we returned to  Fort Ilocandia as most dining establishments in Ilocos Norte close early.

Vigan, the capital of Ilocos Sur, is renowned for its old world charm.

Day 3:  Ilocos Sur
8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m       Breakfast at the hotel
9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.    Road trip to Vigan, Ilocos Sur
11:00 a.m to 6:00 p.m.     Singson's Baluarte
                                         Lunch at Cafe Uno
                                         Crisologo Museum
                                        (no entrance fee, just make a donation)
                                         St. Paul's Metropolitan Cathedral
                                         (Vigan Cathedral)
                                         Museo San Pablo
                                         (no entrance fee, just make a donation)
                                         Burgos Museum
                                         Syquia Mansion (with entrance fee)
                                         Mestizo District/Calle Crisologo
                                         Vigan Empanadaaan
6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.      Return trip to Laoag
8:00 p.m.                          Dinner at hotel

Initially, we wanted to see the Currimao Rock Formation on our third day. However, we decided to slow down a bit  so we could enjoy the sights and sounds of Vigan. We also needed time to shop for souvenirs and popular food items as our return flight was scheduled the following morning.

For this trip, our initial budget was at  PhP 5,000 or  almost $120 per head (excluding personal shopping expenses and air fare) for 5 travelers. However, one of our travel buddies didn't make it so we had to shoulder the additional cost and ended up adding PhP 1,000 each.  A large part of our budget went to transportation, hotel and our pricey dinner at Fort Ilocandia (We ordered too much and didn't realize that the dishes were more expensive). Our biggest savings was our trip to Pagudpod as we didn't rent a cottage or stayed at a resort. Our driver suggested that we could just park our van near the beach and just pay for the use of a shower room. (Note: The shower room isn't anything fancy. Similar to those in remote provinces, it's a small  unpainted room without bathroom tiles and the shower is basically cold water coming from a hose. But for five pesos, who were we to complain?)

Now if you want more details of our Ilocos adventure, check these posts or see the photos on my Facebook page:

Vigan, Ilocos Sur
Paoay Church
Bangui Windmills


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