Exploring ILOCOS NORTE: The Pride of Ilocandia

SUNSET IN ILOCOS NORTE
I did not imagine getting a glimpse of the beautiful sunset in Ilocos Norte due to the activities we did during the day. But lo and behold! I gasped when I saw it!

Ilocos Norte is home to a rich number of interesting travel destinations. It has centuries-old churches, stunning natural wonders, as well as magnificent man-made structures. According to the Department of Tourism in 2017, three of its tourist spots are some of the top favorites of local Filipinos to visit, and these are the beaches of Pagudpud, the windmills in Bangui and the sand dunes in Paoay. All these and more provide an eclectic combination of places a traveler of any age would want to experience.

 

As my father was born and raised in Ilocos Sur, the whole family would visit our small town there at least once a year. Ever since I was a child, I have always wondered how does Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur’s twin province, look like. I’ve somehow reckoned that maybe it’s the same as what I’ve always felt and experienced in Ilocos Sur. Yes, even as a child, I’ve already pondered about these kinds of things. Haha. I guess you can tell if a child’s gearing to travel when they grow up if they are very interested in geography early on.

I’ve finally set foot in Ilocos Norte about 5 years ago. It took me that long to be able to experience what I’ve always yearned on experiencing. But since then, I have visited the province for three more times (though I was just passing through during the second and third visits). Recently, I’ve enjoyed many of its travel spots again, which serve as my inspiration for writing this blog post.

In this guide to Ilocos Norte, I will walk you through the most interesting places to visit in the province, the best places to dine in and suggest budget-friendly accommodations to stay in. I would also discuss how to get here, how to go around if you’re not bringing a car, and how much you would likely spend. Most importantly, a sample itinerary would be given by the end. Ready? Let’s begin!

ILOCOS NORTE

Map of Ilocos Norte
Ilocos Norte as highlighted in the map of the Philippines. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Ilocos Norte is located in the northwesternmost part of the island of Luzon, Philippines. It is bordered by the mountainous provinces of Apayao and Cagayan in the east, Ilocos Sur at the south, the Luzon Strait on the north, and the West Philippine Sea in the west. A part of the Ilocos Region, it is the least populated among the region’s four provinces.

Most of the Ilocanos, as what the people in the province of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur, are Catholics. Ilokano, Filipino and English are the languages dominantly used. Sources of living of the people include farming (i.e. rice, corn, tobacco), fishery and manufacturing and processing of food (e.g. salt, fermented fish, fish sauce, etc.).

 

 

HOW TO GO TO ILOCOS NORTE

There are two main methods of going to Ilocos Norte: air travel and land travel.

You can go here by riding the airplane from Manila. Travel time would only take less than an 1 hour.

The more popular means of travel going here is by land. You can ride buses en route to the Ilocos Region, or take your car with you. Travel time, though, would take about 9 to 12 hours. The main bus transits going to Ilocos Norte are Partas (located in Cubao, Quezon City), Florida (located in Lacson Avenue, Sampaloc Manila), and Fariñas (also located in Lacson Avenue, Manila). When we asked if we can reserve a bus ticket ahead of time, they said we could not, which is why it’s best to go here as early as you can when you’re planning to ride the bus to go to Ilocos Norte.

WHAT TO VISIT

Around Pagudpud

CAPE BOJEADOR LIGHTHOUSE

First constructed in 1892, this lighthouse has served and still serves as a guide to ships sailing by in Burgos, Ilocos Norte. As the town has a rocky coast, the lighthouse warns those who are passing nearby.

Photographs such as this is hard to have especially during holidays as lots of tourists are expected to visit!
Solo shots such as this is challenging to have especially during holidays as lots of tourists are expected to visit!

Some parts of the lighthouse have been converted to museums wherein a detailed history and description of the lighthouse can be found. There are also old apparatuses and the like that are on display here.

CLOSER TO THE TOWER!
CLOSER TO THE TOWER! I remember that when I first went here with the family several years ago, this portion of the tower was closed because it was under renovation. This is why I grabbed the chance to get closer to it now that it has already opened!

The place is usually crowded, especially in holidays and weekends.

BANGUI WINDMILLS

THE BEAUTIFUL BANGUI WINDMILLS
THE BEAUTIFUL BANGUI WINDMILLS. It wasn’t as sunny as I would have expected when we came to visit the famous windmills of Bangui. But, it turned out, it’s more beautiful than what I have wanted!

This wind farm in the town of Bangui is an absolute must-visit when you are in Ilocos Norte. The Bangui Windmills used to be the largest windfarm in Southeast Asia until the one in the nearby town of Burgos was built. Initially having just 19 windmills, it now has 49 that contributes to about 40% of the province’s electricity.

GLOOMY DAY? No way!
GLOOMY DAY? No way! It’s actually cloudy with a chance of drizzles when we went here in Bangui. Thank God, though, because the rain didn’t push through!

The windmills are impressively 60 m in height, and are located just about several meters from the sea. Its turbines have three vertically-oriented rotor blades that continuously rotate due to the constant heavy winds that pass by in this part of the province.

DRAMA EFFECT. I just love how the elements made a dramatic effect in this picture of the windmills- the water on its feet and the clouds up above.

What makes these structures really stand out are their contribution for sustainable development. They produce energy without leaving any carbon footprint!

KAPURPURAWAN ROCK FORMATIONS

An amazing landmark of nature, Kapurpurawan Rock Formations in Burgos, Ilocos Norte is a sight to behold! Kapurpurawan comes from the Ilocano word “puraw,” which means white. Hence, it features a landscape of various smooth and white rock formations, that are so calming to the eyes!

THE AMAZING KAPURPURAWAN ROCK FORMATIONS
THE AMAZING KAPURPURAWAN ROCK FORMATIONS. I wish I can go back here and spend more time looking at its beauty.

The drop-off point in this travel spot is about three kilometers away from the main highway. From the entrance, visitors have to go down a flight of stairs then walk towards the rocky coast to reach the rock formations. Depending on the weather, the trail can be an easy walk or it can be very muddy.

PATAPAT VIADUCT

PATAPAT VIADUCT!
PATAPAT VIADUCT! Here’s the iconic bridge in Ilocos Norte. You’d know you’ve gone very far if you have already reached this point!

Crossing this bridge in the coastal town of Pagudpud would tell you one thing: you have reached one of the farthest places in mainland Luzon from the capital city of Manila! Claimed to be the 4th longest bridge in the Philippines, the Patapat Viaduct connects the Maharlika Highway from Pagudpud to the Cagayan Valley. The bridge overlooks Pasaleng Bay, said to be home to hundreds of marine organism species.

DONNED WITH SUMMER CLOTHES
I’M DONNED WITH SUMMER CLOTHES yet it’s drizzling when we were here! Haha.

People passing by this viaduct would often stop to take pictures of the place, just like what we did when we went here! Haha. By the way, you can see in these pictures that it was drizzling when we visited. It’s not unexpected as it’s still wet season in this part of the country during the time we went (November). Dry season would usually start from late February to early May in this part of Luzon.

AQUA GRANDE

AQUA GRANDE
AQUA GRANDE. I can just imagine how huge the waters would be here come rainy season! A you can see, cottages can be seen on the right where visitors can stay and relax.

Just several meters away from Patapat Viaduct, the Aqua Grande Resort is a nature park where water from the mountains gush towards Pasaleng Bay. Aqua Grande means “large water” in English and this is meant to describe the huge and strong current of the freshwater stream as it passes to meet the saltwater sea.

BIG ROCKS OF AQUA GRANDE
BIG ROCKS OF AQUA GRANDE. A few meters from me in this picture is the Pasaleng Bay, which carries with it huge waves!

Some people say that visiting this site used to be free of charge. Currently, the management asks for P35 per person. There are cottages across the area (aside from those shown in the picture), and these can be used by visitors to rest and relax.

BANTAY ABOT CAVE

I fondly remember going here several years ago in this cave because it was full of visitors! As in it seemed like there was no place for “decent” pictures! Haha. That’s why I made it a point to go back here when I have recently visited again the province of Ilocos Norte. Thankfully, there was no one else around!

BANTAY ABOT CAVE
BANTAY ABOT CAVE. Thank God because this time, we had the place all to ourselves!

Bantay Abot means “a mountain with a hole,” and this sight in the little town of Baloi is actually interesting. It is said that its current formation had occurred due to an earthquake a long time ago. Anyway, looking at its greenish and brownish surface against the backdrop of the clear, blue waters is relaxing to the eyes.

BLUE LAGOON

ALONG THE FINE SANDS OF PAGUDPUD
ALONG THE FINE SANDS OF PAGUDPUD. Isn’t it beautiful here?

One of the most visited places in the Philippines is Pagudpud, and one of the main reasons why is its white sand beaches! Probably the most popular one among these beaches is Blue Lagoon.

LET THE CHILDREN PLAY
LET THE CHILDREN PLAY! Here are two children playing along the waves of Blue Lagoon!

Blue Lagoon got its name because of its aquamarine waters that are truly mesmerizing. This beach can be a perfect spot for resting and relaxing, though it would depend on what time of the year you would be coming. Reminder, this is flocked by people during the summer months, especially so during the holidays!

Around Laoag

I was able to visit Laoag and some of its nearby attractions before. Even though I wasn’t able to visit them recently, I highly encourage you to visit them. Tourist spots that should be on the top of your list when you go here are PAOAY CHURCH, PAOAY SAND DUNES and MALACANANG OF THE NORTH.

HOW TO GO AROUND ILOCOS NORTE

When you’re using your own car to travel to Ilocos Norte, it’s easy to go around the popular travel spots here in this province. It’s best to travel in car when you go here in groups.

Group picture in Ilocos Norte!
SHEMBOTS IN ILOCOS! Here with me in this picture are Gerard (IG: @gerardonduty), Ardee (@ardeemd), Andrew (@engr.andrew.escalante) and his brother.

During our recent travel, we did ride the bus and toured some of the tourist spots using car. How did we do that? We met our good friends from Isabela who brought their car with them.

If you’re traveling solo or with a small company, don’t fret. It’s okay if you didn’t bring your car to roam around. Tricycles can take you to the different travel destinations of the provinces. They can accommodate 1 to 4 people. Choose the tour or tours that would suit your liking and of course, your time in the province:

  1. From Laoag (priced at P250 per tour)
    1. Batac Tour – Marcos Presidential Center and Mausoleum, World Peace Center, Aglipay Shrine, Batac Church and General Ricarte National Shrine
    2. Paoay Tour – Paoay Church, Paoay Sand Dunes, Malacanang of the North, Paoay Lake
  2. From Pagudpud (priced at P600 per tour)
    1. Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, Kapurpurwan Rock Formation, Bangui Windmills
    2. Kabigan Falls, Bantay Abot Cave, Blue Lagoon Beach, Patapat Viaduct, Paraiso ni Anton, Aqua Grande

With these things in mind, you can visit the travel spots of Ilocos Norte for 3-4 days. Remember, it’s up to you to choose which ones you’d like to explore.

SAMPLE ITINERARY FOR A WEEKEND GETAWAY IN ILOCOS NORTE

Day and Time Activity Remarks

—DAY 0—

8 PM Ride Partas bus en route to Laoag, Ilocos Norte The bus fare from Cubao to Ilocos Norte is around P1,100.

—DAY 1—

7 AM ETA in Laoag. Go to hotel and settle your things. If you can’t check in for your room yet, ask if you can leave your things at the counter. There are budget-friendly hotels in Laoag. Search for them via travel apps such as Traveloka.
8:30 AM to 12 NN Prepare to start your Batac Tour. Visit Marcos Presidential Center and Mausoleum, World Peace Center, Aglipay Shrine, Batac Church and General Ricarte National Shrine Ask people from your hotel to contact tricycle drivers/ tour guides.
12 NN Lunch break. You can ask your guide to bring you to the best restaurant in town. You can also choose to return first to your hotel to settle your things and rest for a bit. You may opt to ask your driver to have lunch with you. It’s your choice.
2 PM to 6 PM Start your Paoay Tour. Visit Paoay Church, Paoay Sand Dunes, Malacanang of the North and Paoay Lake. Bring sun block to protect your skin, especially when you visit the sand dunes!
7 PM Dinner Eat light at night!

—DAY 2—

6 AM Wake up. Prepare things and eat breakfast. Just take a shower so you don’t have to spend much time in the bathroom.
7:30 AM Go to Laoag Bus Terminal and ride the bus from Laoag to Pagudpud. It’s always better to start early, guys!
9 AM ETA in Pagudpud. Go to hotel and settle your things. Find tricycle for tour. Ask the help of people from your hotel to contact tricycle for your tour.
10 AM Start of North Tour in Pagudpud. Visit Patapat Viaduct, Aqua Grande, Bantay Abot Cave and Blue Lagoon. This tour would take about 4 to 5 hours. Ask your tour guide to bring you to the best restaurant in Blue Lagoon for lunch.
4 PM Go back to hotel. Take a rest. Dine. Some hotels have dine-in restaurants where you can eat.

—DAY 3—

6 AM Wake up time. Prepare for South Tour in Burgos. Eat breakfast. It’s always better to start early, guys!
7 AM Start of South Tour in Burgos. Visit Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, Kapurpurawan Rock Formations and Bangui Windmills. This would take about 3.5 hours.
11 AM Go back to hotel. Prepare your things for checkout. Pack quickly but don’t forget to check everything before leaving your room!
12 NN Check out from the hotel. Go to the bus terminal and prepare for your travel going back to Manila. If you are able to ride the bus by 1 or 2 PM, you’re most likely to reach Manila during the wee hours of the morning the following day. Bus terminals in Pagudpud do not reserve tickets for passengers. They operate in a first come, first serve basis.

Meanwhile, here’s a sample list of expenses good for 2 pax in this trip:

Sample List of Expenses
Bus fare (MNL to Laoag) P1,000 per pax
Hotel P1,800 per night, good for 2 (P3,600 for two nights)
Batac Tour P250 per group
Paoay Tour P250 per group
Bus fare (Laoag to Pagudpud) P150 per pax
South Tour in Burgos P600 per group
North Tour in Pagudpud P600 per group
Bus fare (Pagudpud to MNL) P1,100 per pax
Food (approximate for the whole trip) P1,500 per pax
Souvenirs P100
TOTAL EXPENSES P6,500 per pax

Meanwhile, here’s a sample list of expenses good for 2 pax in this trip:

WHERE TO EAT IN ILOCOS NORTE

CREME BRULLEE
CREME BRULEE. This mouth-watering dessert is available in BergBlick!

Among all the restaurants we’ve eaten in while in Ilocos Norte, it’s in BergBlick Restaurant that I’ve enjoyed the most. Located in Sitio Salucag, Bgy. Burayoc in Pagudpud, this restaurant features Filipino and German dishes. It has nice ambiance, good service and yummy, value-for-money meals!

YUMMY DINNER.
YUMMY DINNER. We’ve had our tummies filled with delicious food in Bergblick! They have bagnet, cordon bleu, pancit bihon and pinakbet!

WHERE TO STAY IN ILOCOS NORTE

There are lots of hotels/hostels/homestays in Laoag and Pagudpud, but you have to make sure you have already booked before you travel here. Use travel apps (e.g. Traveloka) or go to travel websites (e.g. agoda.com) to look for an accommodation of your choice.

***

I hope I was able to inspire you to travel to Ilocos Norte, guys! What are you waiting for? Pack your bags now and head to this wonder of a province!

ILOCANDIA.
ILOCANDIA. Ilocos Norte is one of the places where you can have a superb sunset view.

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