Time-locked Ilocos is a broad hardy country blessed with impressive
wide highways and stretches of narrow cobblestoned roads, antiquated
towns dominated by heavily-buttressed grand churches and Antillan
ancestral homes, and a brave people who, by sheer industry, harnessed
a formidable terrain into a source of sustenance.
A seemingly tempestuous sea rimmed with uneven rock formations and
ascetic mountains are the two scenic images that first impress the
visitor to Ilocos.
Wedged between the wild China Sea and the rugged Cordillera mountain
range, the region presents a visual feast that is at once dazzling
in its boldness. Divided into Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte, their
capitals - Vigan and Laoag City - are anchor tourist destinations
and part of the 7,000 times more islands that make up the Philippine
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Old World City
Vigan, with its centuries-old edifices, is a breathing reminder
of what was once a royal city. One of the earliest Spanish settlements
in the country, Vigan was founded in 1572 by Juan de Salcedo who
patterned its design to that of Intramuros (Old Manila). It became
the seat of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia and was called Ciudad
Fernandina in honor of King Ferdinand.
Today, Vigan retains much of the patina of 18th century Castillan
architecture as seen in some 150 stone houses which stand in the
towns Mestizo District, notably Mena Crisologo Street. Many
of these ancestral homes are still in good condition and some have
been turned into cozy inns, museums, and souvenir shops.
Along with the homes are other vestiges of the towns colonial
The majestic St. Pauls Cathedral was built by the Augustinian
friars along the distinct "Earthquake Baroque" style of
the Ilocos region and features Neo-Gothic and pseudo Romanesque
motifs. Standing on an elevation west of the cathedral is Plaza
Salcedo, the oldest monument in Northern Luzon. The Archbishops
Palace is a rich repository of religious artifacts from the Ilocos
region. Plaza Burgos was built in honor of Fr. Jose Burgos, one
of three Filipino priests who were garroted by the Spaniards for
espousing church reforms.
But it is not only edifices which are preserved in this town inscribed
in the World Heritage List. Viganos also remain steadfast in their
traditional crafts, notably pottery (burnay) and handloom weaving
(inabel). The horse-drawn calesa (rig) is as much a presence in
the streets as motor vehicles.
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Gateway of the North
After Vigan, Juan de Salcedo pressed further north to Laoag which
even before the Spanish colonial times was already a center of trade
with the Japanese and Chinese.
Laoag City, today, is the major crossroads for international trade
and commerce in the Ilocos region. Though bustling with business,
the city has retained pretty much an unhurried, laid-back lifestyle.
Dominating the city landscape is the provincial capitol which sits
atop Ermita Hill, also popularly known as Raquiza Garden. Another
point of interest is the St. Williams Cathedral, built by
the Augustinians in 1612 along the Italian Renaissance design. Its
unique 2-story facade is held by four pairs of coupled columns.
A deeply recessed niche carries the image of St. William. A hundred
meters away from the church is the Sinking Bell Tower which leans
slightly to the north. It sinks an inch a year to the ground. Like
in Vigan, the calesa is an integral part of the street landscape.
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A Hardy But Beautiful
Because of its difficult terrain and arid temperature, the Ilocos
was once described as a "God-forsaken land" and one was
well-advised to have the "patience of a spider" in order
to survive it. But Ilocanos, the hardy people that they are, not
only survived in this formidable land but were able to turn this
highland country into "Gods own paradise."
Ilocos has many churches of distinction which include two that
are inscribed in the World Heritage List. In Ilocos Sur is the salmon-bricked
Santa Maria Church. Built in 1769, it sits atop a hill towering
over the town proper. In Ilocos Norte is Paoay Church. Built by
the Augustinians in 1596, the church looks like a cross between
a Javanese temple and a European church. The town of Bantay was
the scene of fierce uprising led by Diego Silang against the tobacco
monopoly in 1762. The towns savage seascape has been immortalized
in the films of Philippine Action King Fernando Poe, Jr. The town
church is an architectural gem combining Baroque with Gothic motifs.
Currimao has a burgeoning beach resort industry. Visitors to this
coastal town never fail to appreciate the sight of fishermen pulling
in their nets shortly before dusk while performing a song-and-dance
ritual for a bountiful harvest. Everybody is welcome to join in
and each participant is given a rightful share of the catch.
The town of Pagudpud offers a breathtaking landscape which includes
the enchanting Bantay Abot-abot, a natural sculpture carved by the
wind and sea, the white sand Saud beach and the majestic Mabogabog
Falls. Impressive living canvasses unravel as one traverses the
winding Patapat and Calvario roads.
Aside from its church, Paoay has a national park that envelops
a placid lake. Built along its edge is the Malacañang of
the North, official residence of the late President Marcos in northern
Luzon. The town also has stretches of undulating sand dunes, the
setting of Mel Gibsons "Mad Max" series and Tom
Cruises "Born on the Fourth of July." The Paoay
Sports Complex is the biggest in northern Luzon.
The pastoral town of Pasuquin has many fine beaches and is known
for its salt-making industry. Its hills and mountains abound with
wild game. Pasuquin Cave can be reached after some 45 minutes of
traveling via a dirt road. A Mayors Permit is necessary.
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The simplicity of Ilocano cookery is its own virtue. Bitter-flavored
dishes are part of the Ilocano cuisine. Purposely laced into meat
stews, fish grills and salads, the bitter taste is as enjoyable
as the other aspects of taste, such as sweet, sour and salty. A
popular dish is pinakbet, a vegetable stew of bitter melon, squash,
eggplant and okra with crisp pork belly.
The town plaza and the marketplace are the best places to savor
local flavors. The hotels and resorts have their own dining outlets
and serve both native and international dishes. They can prepare
picnic meals upon request.
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Filipinos do not simply provide the guest with a place to rest
or park their luggage, they also share the best of what they have.
This warm, effusive brand of hospitality is what distinguishes Philippine
hotels from the others. In Ilocos, one can easily find comfortable
lodgings to suit ones budget and needs.
source: Department of Tourism
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