Do you want to visit a place of rich history that will take you back 300 years of Spanish influence? There are only a few places in the Philippines that preserve such Hispanic towns with a fusion of Spanish colonial culture — and Ilocos region is one that truly stands out. From historic churches, deep aquamarine-colored seas, panoramic vistas of rugged mountains, hidden waterfalls and a multihued history, there are plenty of things to discover that will leave you a feeling of nostalgia.
As many locals tend to visit Vigan (Ilocos Sur), one of Philippine’s oldest preserved Spanish towns, the Travelling Foxes decided to venture out to Ilocos Norte. About 488 kilometers north from Manila, Ilocos Norte is the self-proclaimed “True North”, where you can almost see from a distance the tip of our nearest neighboring country, Taiwan! Getting there is easy as you can ride an overnight bus that takes you straight to Laoag City; or if you want to save up some time, take a domestic plane ride from Manila that will get you there in 1.5hrs or less.
Our trip to Ilocos Norte was a pretty cramped one (we stayed there for 4 days, including our travel time to and from the city). So to say that we’ve fully explored the city is an overstatement, but nonetheless, we were able to see and do as much as we can, and capture moments that are worth sharing.
Here are top 5 things we did and highly recommend when you plan to visit Ilocos Norte:
1. Visit the wind farms of Bangui.
They’re more than just a pretty structure. Bangui (bang-gee) used to be a sleepy town until it gained tourism fame in 2005, where the first wind farm in Southeast Asia started operations with 15 wind turbines of about 70 meters tall. These giant white fans are perfectly planted along the 9-kilometer stretch of the beach on Bangui Bay, making it as picturesque as the iconic windmills of Netherlands. The number of turbines have since grown, and attracted a number of tourists wanting to take photos of what’s now become a symbol for Ilocos Norte.
We were lucky to have the opportunity to talk to one of the local wind power companies and actually climb one of the turbines to get a stunning panoramic view of the Bangui wind farms. Unfortunately, this isn’t open to the public, but it’s definitely still worth visiting — and perhaps learn more about how energy is transmitted through wind power!
2. Chill out on the beaches of Pagudpud.
I’ve never seen so much shades of blue until I visited Pagudpud. Just a few kilometers away from Bangui, you will discover that Pagudpud is not your typical beach. Because it’s located at the northernmost tip where the winds may be strong, it can get rather gloomy and rainy. The deep waters can also get dangerous as the waves are big (perfect for surfing though!). However, because of the frequent rain, you’re most typically rewarded with a pretty rainbow; and you’ll love every minute whenever you get a chance of sunshine.
The hospitality here is great and there are many places to stay – I recommend Evangeline for the great service and comfortable rooms! But more than that, if you’re in Pagudpud, it’s definitely a must to “chillax” and listen to the waves crashing on the shore. Just don’t let the rain get in the way!
3. Sample some yummy Ilocano chow.
Like the rest of Ilocos region, Ilocos Norte is not an exception when it comes to gastronomic adventures. Now, I’m no foodie (I’m the worst critic ever!), but trying out some Ilocano specialties is definitely a must. If you want to sample some of their familiar dishes, the most popular one would be Bagnet – as I call it, crispy deep-fried pork to perfection. If you’re craving for something exotic, I’ve tried Dinuguan pizza (pictured above) and Pinakbet pizza in Paoay. We were travelling with a German girl who has never tried any of these dishes, so imagine me trying to explain what Dinuguan is (yep, it’s basically pork blood!).
There are loads of dishes we haven’t tried when we were there, unfortunately, but I heard that one should never miss their famous empanadas, the “abu-os” or ant eggs, and their specialty vegetable broths called Dinengdeng. Ilocanos love their pork and veggies!
4. Discover the hidden waterfalls.
There are literally dozens of waterfalls in the area, and many of them require a bit of a trek (thus, hidden!). We decided to visit one of the less touristy and difficult to find waterfalls because of course, they’re usually the ones worth seeing. Pass the roots, dead leaves, bushes and trees, we finally made our way to Ka-agrian falls, magically sleeping in the middle of nowhere.
There was absolutely no one else but us, and we rushed to explore 2 falls – the Ka-agrian, and another one (pictured above) just a few meters down. It’s more majestic, breathtaking, and beautiful. It’s a must to see at least one of the falls in Ilocos, but if you want more info how to get to Ka-agrian, feel free to ask us 🙂
5. Get the adrenaline rush with sand dunes adventure.
For our last stop in Ilocos, we decided to stay in Paoay, particularly in Fort Ilocandia. This sprawling 77-hectare resort is one of the largest in Asia, and has a lovely Spanish architecture, built during the time of the late President Ferdinand Marcos. I was a bit overwhelmed with the range of activities you can do in the area – from shooting, ATV, parasailing, horseback riding, golf, and other water sports.
My favorite activity (and highly recommended) is the 4X4 ride across the vast lands of the La Paz sand dunes. You can also do ATV and sandboarding as part of the package, but you’ll love the thrill of riding through the bumpy sands and get that adrenaline junkie going. Fun Fact: Hollywood films like “Mad Max” was shot in this place — and it’s no wonder, the place literally looked like a scene from a movie!
To say that we have fully explored Ilocos, again, is an overstatement. But this short trip proves that there are still a lot of things to do in just a short amount of time. We’ll definitely be back, Ilocos!
Enjoy the post and maybe have some recommendations for us? Feel free to leave a comment below!