Vigan was one of those cities that I have always wanted to visit but never been. So, when I was invited by Our Philippines TV to join them in one of their trips to the Northern Philippines, I was thrilled because I will finally get to see this beautiful place that I only see in travel magazines. When I got there I could not believe what I saw. This place is simply the most beautiful city in the entire country!
Vigan at Night
Some Random Facts About Vigan
Vigan is located in the Ilocos region and is the capital city of Ilocos Sur. This city is actually an island that is detached from the mainland by three rivers- Great Abra river, Mestizo river and Govantes river. It is 400 KM away from Manila and is about 7 to 10 hours drive to the north, depending on traffic. They also have a small airport but most travelers to this city take buses or drive along the scenic highway of Ilocos region with beautiful views of South China Sea to the west.
I could not contain my excitement when I got to Vigan. I loved its cobblestone streets!
What Makes Vigan So Special
Vigan is listed as a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site for being one of the best preserved examples of Spanish Colonial Town. The Philippines is the only Spanish colonial country in Asia, thus making the country very unique compared to the neighboring countries in South East Asia. But before the Spanish colonial times, Vigan used to be a coastal trading port of Chinese traders. So the architecture in Vigan is a combination of Philippine, Oriental and European/ Spanish architecture making the city very unique compared to the rest of the Philippines and the world.
Calle Crisologo at Night
It is one of the few extensive Philippine historic cities dating back to 1570’s when conquistador Juan de Salcedo, appointed by King Philip II of Spain arrived with Augustinian priests to make Vigan a colonial city. Since then, the city has been through wars from Spanish regime to American and Japanese wars. Calle Crisologo, the most famous street in Vigan is where most of the colonial houses are. Some of these houses were casualties of fire during the Japanese period and WWII. Extensive reformations based on its original structure were made and the city was preserved to showcase what it really looked like in the 16th century. Being so well preserved, it earned its title as a UNESCO World heritage city.
Old Houses in Vigan
There are a lot of guesthouses and hotels you can choose from in Vigan. Though I found that a lot of them are more expensive relative to the rest of South East Asia, it is worth spending a couple of nights here. If you are staying right in Calle Crisologo, the guesthouse prices will be a bit higher compared to the other streets in town. Since I was traveling with a group, we stayed at a hotel and though it’s really nice, I recommend staying at old houses more since they are cheaper and can provide a more authentic feel of staying in a historical city.
Sixteenth Century homes
Sunday morning in Vigan
Although there are a few tourist destinations outside Vigan, the town itself is relatively small and can be explored by foot, a tricycle (‘tuk tuk’), or my favorite form of transportation- the ‘kalesa’ or horse drawn carriage. The cost is about P150 ($4) for an hour’s ride. This wasn’t the first time I rode a kalesa so this wasn’t new to me. So, I actually asked the driver if I can drive instead. The driver happily agreed. Why not?
This is me telling Princess we can do this
Since this is a Spanish colonial city, there are a couple of churches and plazas that you can explore while visiting this city. As it was a Sunday when I visited, the Cathedral was packed with people. This place is also popular tourist spot during “Semana Santa” or Holy week in the Philippines as pilgrims come and visit the many baroque churches in Ilocos region. If you’re up for colorful festivities, come here during Easter.
Vigan Cathedral, locals and tricycles
Inside Vigan Cathedral
Food shopping with my good friend in Calle Crisologo
Aside from exploring this beautiful city, I recommend any traveler to Vigan or Ilocos region to try out the food here. They have their own unique foods that cannot be found elsewhere in the Philippines. This could also be a good starting point to try out Filipino cuisine as the city has a lot of small stores and restaurants that cater only Filipino and Ilocano food. I might not be a travel food expert here but there are certain foods I think you should try when you visit this city- some of them include their bibingka empanada and other Philippine delicacies.
Dirty Ice Cream truck
Luckily for me when I was here, there was dirty ice cream. If you say dirty ice cream in the Philippines, everybody knows it’s the ice cream from a tiny truck. I don’t think this ice cream is really dirty at all. But I do have quite a strong stomach since I grew up in the Philippines and never had a single problem filling myself with street foods in Asia. But trust me, this kind of ice cream is not something you’d want to miss out on.
I might be a bit biased here because my mother’s ancestry is from Ilocos and both my parents have Spanish blood, which maybe explains why I have such feelings towards Vigan and love for Spanish heritage. Nonetheless, I can attest that this city is truly one of the most beautiful and photogenic cities in South East Asia due to its old-world charm which makes it very unique in the entire continent. So if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind old-world experience in a cultural heritage setting in the Philippines, this is the place to be. I would go back here in a heartbeat.