Visitors old and new can escape to Ilocos Norte once more as the coastal province reopens its borders to fully vaccinated, point-to-point travelers. Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Your next dream getaway might be closer than you think. The coastal province of Ilocos Norte has long been a favored destination among travelers looking for a quick escape, especially those coming from the National Capital Region and its neighboring towns and cities. Located on the northwestern tip of Luzon, the Ilocano province is accessible via a 10-hour road trip or bus ride from Metro Manila. It’s also home to an international airport, found in its capital city Laoag, which services flights to and from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Beyond its accessibility, Ilocos Norte boasts a gamut of experiences and activities deeply rooted in its heritage. It’s this dynamic passion for local history and culture among Ilocanos that tourists see and which has kept them coming through the years.  It’s the same spirit that visitors both old and new can expect as the beloved tourist hotspot reopens its borders to travelers from across the country.

Set out for an Ilocano adventure for the books with a stopover at these top Ilocos Norte destinations.

Soak up the sun in Saud Beach

The Ilocos might not be the first place that comes to mind when planning a beach trip in the Philippines. But Ilocos Norte is, in fact, home to Saud Beach, which was recently hailed as one of the 25 Most Beautiful Beaches in the World by New York-based magazine Travel + Leisure. Known to locals as “The Boracay of the North”, this underrated gem features palm-lined coasts with white sand and untouched blue waters that are “clear-as-glass”. Its location on the northernmost tip of Luzon keeps it a good distance away from urban life and lends to its “super-mellow” environment, as Travel + Leisure calls it, which is perfect for peaceful dips and leisurely, undisturbed picnics on the sand or meals in cabanas by the trees.

Saud Beach is just over an hour away from Laoag City. Visitors can take either a tricycle or a bus from the city proper, which will take them to Pagudpud. Saud is just another 10-minute tricycle ride away from the Pagudpud Municipal Hall. You’ll need to pay a small entrance fee upon arriving at the beach, which can range from free to P50, depending on where you enter. This slice of tropical paradise is conducive to day trips, but it also offers a range of accommodation options, from as low as P500 to P800 a night, in case you decide to stay over.

Besides its neighbor La Union, Ilocos Norte also boasts a number of surfing spots. Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Surf the waves at Maira-ira Cove or Blue Lagoon

If you prefer more action-packed seaside adventures, make a beeline for Blue Lagoon, a surfing haven about 20 to 30 minutes away from Saud Beach. Locally known as Maira-ira Cove, this small yet captivating beach earned its popular moniker for its crystal blue waters, whose waves can go from gentle and calm in the dry months to massive and intense during surf season.

Like Saud Beach, Blue Lagoon is great for day trips but is also well-appointed with a selection of accommodations that cater to extended stays, from homestays to surf resorts in a range of price points. Experienced surfers can get the most out of a trip to this underrated surf spot during the habagat, our southwest monsoon season, when waves can swell up to 10 feet high. Beginners, meanwhile, will enjoy a visit during the drier months, when waves are calmer and thus more ideal for surfing lessons and practice sessions. Some establishments offer surfboards for rent and one-on-one lessons with accredited surfing instructors.

Blue Lagoon is non-surfer friendly, too. The beach has spots that are swimmable all year round as well as resorts that offer other water sports and outdoor activities like kayaking and banana boat, jet ski, and ATV rides.

  • Address: Blue Lagoon, Sitio Malingay, Brgy. Balaoi, Pagudpud
Tourists can go on an extreme ATV adventure at the famous Paoay Sand Dunes, and try their hand at sandboarding while at it. Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Get an adrenaline rush at the Paoay Sand Dunes

Elsewhere in the province, you can try a different kind of surfing. Less than two hours from Pagudpud are the Sand Dunes of Paoay, an 88-square-kilometer stretch of sandy desert that has become a must-visit for thrill-seekers looking to try sandboarding and extreme ATV adventures. The famous dunes’ hills and ridges go as high as 20 feet and make the perfect landscape for exhilarating slides on a sandboard and roller coaster-like rides on a zooming 4X4.

A fleet of ATVs stands ready at the base of the Sand Dunes. For a few thousand pesos, you can rent one for a group of five and hire a professional 4X4 driver to tour you around. Some ATV packages already include unlimited use of sandboards.

  • Address: Paoay Sand Dunes, Barangay Suba, Paoay, Ilocos Norte
The iconic and historic San Agustin Church of Paoay continues to stand watch over the town after withstanding earthquakes, typhoons, revolutions, and wars. Photo courtesy of the Department of the Philippines.

Peek into Philippine history at one of the country’s oldest churches

As a coastal region, the Ilocos played a prominent role in Philippine history, and much of its storied past can still be gleaned from a number of its tourist spots. Paoay, in particular, is the site of the San Agustin Church, one of four Baroque Churches of the Philippines recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Apart from being one of the oldest edifices of its kind in the country, Paoay Church, as it is more popularly known, is also one of the most iconic landmarks of the Ilocos Region.

What makes the Paoay Church so distinct is its pyramid-like design known as “Earthquake Baroque”, a local adaptation of the European Baroque architecture popular at the time of its construction in the 17th century. As the architectural style suggests, the ancient church was built to withstand the Philippines’ seismic conditions, with a total of 24 buttresses that support the towering structure, and a bell tower constructed separately to prevent debris from damaging the main church in the event of an earthquake. So formidable was the church’s design that it continues to stand today, well over 300 years later. It withstood not only earthquakes and typhoons but also wars and revolutions: it served as a base for the katipuneros who revolted against the Spaniards in the 19th century, and for the Filipino guerillas during World War II.

  • Address: Address: Marcos Ave, Paoay, Ilocos Norte
  • Contact numbers: (077) 7932030 / 09088652853 / 09152757998
  • Email: [email protected]
Travelers can bring a piece of Ilocos Norte home with them by purchasing a piece of inabel fabric. This traditional textile is handwoven on a pedal loom and turned into a variety of household items. Photo by Erwin Lim courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Marvel at the beautiful woven patterns of Abel Iloco

No trip to Ilocos is complete without a peek into its weaving tradition. Both Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte are known for their Abel Iloco, a type of textile made of cotton woven into soft yet intricate patterns on hardwood pedal looms using techniques passed down through generations. In Ilocos Sur, much of the inabel (which means woven in Ilocano) textiles are produced in Vigan, but in Ilocos Norte, the practice is more widespread. You can easily purchase your own inabel fabric, which is commonly made into a variety of household items such as curtains, blankets, bath towels, and bed linen at most souvenir shops in the province, including that of the Museo Ilocos Norte in Laoag.

Ilocos Norte is also the birthplace of 97-year-old Magdalena Gamayo, a mag-a-abel for over 80 years who has been recognized by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts as a National Living Treasure. Before the pandemic, Gamayo presided over inabel weaving courses organized by the local government unit to teach young weavers and anyone interested to learn the art of inabel in her hometown Pinili.

The popular Ilocos Empanada is a deep fried delicacy that features a tasty mix of local longganisa, vegetables, and egg enclosed in a crunchy, bright orange shell. Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Indulge in deliciously deep fried delicacies Batac and Laoag

Besides its historic landmarks, beautiful textiles, and pristine beaches, Ilocos Norte is also famous for its cuisine. Two proudly Ilocano dishes that stand out are the bright orange-hued Ilocos empanada and crispy bagnet—and while it’s easy enough to get a taste of these tasty delicacies around the Philippines these days (thanks to the proliferation of restaurants that specialize in the cuisine and delivery services), nothing could ever beat the originals.

Many say the best authentic Ilocos empanadas can be found in Batac City, Ilocos Norte’s oldest town and birthplace of the popular street food. Lanie’s Batac Special Empanada offers a variety of this deep fried delicacy, from the classic recipe (egg, longanisa, and veggies) to double double special (two servings of everything), eggless, and meatless.

Laoag, meanwhile, might be the best place to satisfy your bagnet craving while you’re in the province. Cuisine de Iloco serves different renditions of this indulgent dish. You can order the classic bagnet, in all its deep fried glory, or try it as sisig, dinuguan, or sinigang.

HOW TO GET TO ILOCOS NORTE

By land: Bus lines like Partas and Florida offer direct trips to Laoag City from their terminals in Cubao, Quezon City. Buses from Vigan, Ilocos Sur to Laoag are also available. Travel time from Manila is about 10 to 12 hours; from Vigan, seven to eight hours.

By plane: Philippine Airlines offers direct flights from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila to Laoag International Airport. Flights to the province take about an hour. You may hire a vehicle to take you around once you get there. Otherwise, you can take a tricycle or jeep to the city proper upon arrival.

HEALTH AND SAFETY PROTOCOLS

Ilocos Norte was the first province to receive the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Safe Travels Stamp, in recognition of its strict implementation and adherence to healthy and hygiene protocols.

For more information, you may visit Ilocos Norte Tourism’s Facebook Page, the Provincial Government’s Official Page, or call the province’s tourist triage hotlines: 09088108636, 09088108607, and 09088108603.

To know the latest updates and travel advisories about the Philippines, visit https://www.philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.