If you want to experience the best of Ilocano culture, history, and cuisine, look no further than the original Ilocandia, Ilocos region. Home to Dagupan City and the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, and Pangasinan, this traditional homeland of the Ilocano people is teeming with world-renowned heritage sites, popular surfing havens, and stunning natural wonders.
Start your journey in Laoag, the capital of Ilocos Norte and the famous hub of everything Ilocano. Discover the rich history and culture of the Ilocanos by touring Museo Ilocos Norte and historic Spanish-era structures like the St. William Cathedral, Sinking Bell Tower, and Tobacco Monopoly Monument.
Less than an hour away from Laoag, you’ll find Paoay Church, a Spanish-era Baroque structure deemed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Another famous historical site in Ilocos Norte is the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, a century-old Spanish lighthouse that still remains active to this day.
Continue your tour of Ilocos’ history by heading to Vigan, the famed capital and heritage town of Ilocos Sur. As one of the country’s few remaining 16th century towns, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is lined with European colonial-style houses, churches, and structures.
Journey back to the Spanish era by riding a traditional horse-drawn carriage, or calesa, along the weathered cobblestone street of Calle Crisologo. You can also tour the town’s majestic colonial structures like the St. Paul’s Cathedral, Archbishop’s Palace, and Padre Burgos House.
Another pride of Ilocos Sur is the Sta. Maria Church, an 18th century brick church that served as a fortress during the 1896 Philippine Revolution against Spanish colonizers. This historic church is also one of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines, a group of four 16th-18th century Roman Catholic churches deemed collectively as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Travel further down south to the province of La Union and you’ll find the ruins of the Spanish-era Baluarte Watch Tower standing over the rocky shores of Pebble Beach. You can also head to San Fernando for a glimpse of the enchanting Pindangan Ruins, remnants of a stone thatch church built by Spanish colonizers in 1764 to centralize the area’s evangelization.
If it’s beaches you’re looking for, the region of Ilocos has a wide variety to offer. Head to Ilocos Norte to check out the brown sands of Currimao or the famous white shores of Pagudpud. The region’s northernmost province is also home to Bangui Bay, where you’ll find a row of 50-meter-tall windmills towering above its shores.
Surfing enthusiasts will want to check out the smooth, rolling waves of San Juan in La Union, a thriving surfer’s haven known as the “surfing capital of the North.” Those who want a calmer beach experience can relax along the white sands of Santiago Cove in Ilocos Sur.
Those feeling a little more adventurous can go island hopping across the various islands and islets of the Hundred Islands National Park in Pangasinan, Ilocos’ southernmost province. Snorkelers will also enjoy exploring the thriving coral reefs in the azure waters of Bolinao and Alaminos.
Adrenaline junkies and adventure lovers will also find plenty of other natural attractions to explore aside from the region’s beaches. Travelers can ride a 4×4 or go sandboarding in the La Paz Sand Dunes, trek to the stunning Bolinao Falls, go horseback riding at the Kapurpurawan Rock Formation, hike up to Tirad Peak, or ride a 400-meter zipline across the Abra River.
Ilocos is also famous for its signature Ilocano flavors, so make sure to get the most out of your trip by sampling favorites like bagnet (deep-fried pork meat), longganisa (local sausage), empanada (grated papaya, egg, and longganisa wrapped in orange rice dough), and pinakbet (vegetables stewed in fish sauce).
You can also feast on some of the freshest seafood by buying straight from the local fishermen in Pangasinan. It might be a good idea to buy some extra empanada, longganisa, tinubong (sticky rice snack in bamboo), and the highly addictive Ilocos chichacorn (deep fried corn kernels) as souvenirs, just in case you find yourself craving those Ilocano flavors once you return home from your trip.