Does traveling to a different place and time in the past appeal to you? Then it’s time for you to visit Vigan City, Philippines. City dwellers that want a getaway from the bustling modern city and spend time in historic cities with romantic settings will fall-in-love with Vigan.
Vigan, capital of Ilocos Sur, known as the Heritage City of the Philippines, is famous for its well-preserved historical structures especially ancestral houses of Spanish, Mexican, and Chinese architecture, and cobblestone walkways that were common in the 16th century. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was also named one of the New7Wonders Cities by the New7Wonders Foundation in 2015.
The nearest airport is Laoag, Ilocos Norte. It’s a 45-minutes flight from Manila. The bus terminal going to Vigan from Laoag is located at Lagasca St corner Gen Antonio Luna with travel time of around 2 hours.
Vigan is 407 kilometers or 8 to 9 hours by land travel away from Manila. Bus lines going to Vigan have stations in Cubao, Pasay City, and Manila with bus fare ranging from P580 to P800 depending on type of bus. Vigan tours coming from Manila are also available for P3,000 to P4,500 which includes accommodation and breakfast for 3 days and 2 nights.
The best way to go around Vigan is by kalesa or horse-drawn carriage. These open carriages will not only let you enjoy the sights of Vigan, but will also let you experience the 16th century means of transportation in the city. A one-hour ride costs around P180. However, if traveling on a kalesa is not for you for some reason or if you are content with just a short-ride and a couple of pictures on a kalesa, but need to travel around some more, then hiring a tricycle (motorcycle with attached covered sidecar) is your best option. Tricycle drivers charge around P150 per hour.
Vigan’s major attraction is its four blocks of picturesque cobblestone streets surrounded by heritage houses that can be found in Calle Crisologo. This district is also the place to be for shopping Vigan’s best products such as woven goods, basi wine, burnay jars, chicharon, jewelry and many more. Day tours and night tours, whether walking or traveling in horse carriages are both equally wonderful because the streets give a different charm on a sunny or cloudy day as well as under a lamp-lit night.
Tourists visiting Vigan also makes sure to see the Bantay Belfry. The belfry is part of the St. Augustine Church or the Bantay Church which visitors can climb to see a better view of Vigan. The church itself which was built in 1590 and has a deep brown, neo-gothic façade is a site to behold. Another church to visit is the St. Paul Cathedral which is considered a major religious landmark in the Philippines.
Plaza Salcedo, which is located beside St. Paul Cathedral and is surrounded by important government offices and commercial establishments, is also a popular tourist attraction. It has an Obelisk erected there in the 17th century as its centerpiece as well as a man-made lagoon. Today, the plaza has a garden with a diorama of landmarks of other cities in the world plus a world-class dancing fountain which was added to the plaza in 2013.
Get your hands dirty and try the art of pottery-making. Vigan is known for burnay, a traditional jar crafted from locally sourced clay. The best place to try molding a burnay is at Ruby Pottery in Barangay VII, Liberation Avenue. There you can meet Fidel Go who was awarded as National Folk Artist for his burnay-making artistry. Don’t forget to take pictures while you are behind the pottery wheel and kiln, singing the “Unchained Melody,” and trying your hands shaping clay into a jar. Buy also some of their ready-made earthenware for souvenir which can be used as container for condiments and wine or as decoration at home and in the garden.
Another artsy thing to do is to witness the weavers at Barangays Mindoro, Camangaan, and San Pedro use the handloom to weave the abel, the traditional woven fabric of Vigan. Abel products like bed and table linen, towels, wall decors, robes, and clothing are usually given as wedding gifts for its intricate design. You can also buy abel and other handmade textiles at Calle Crisologo and the Vigan Public Market.
Once you get to Arce Mansion, you can finally fulfill that idea playing inside your head right after you arrived in Vigan, take pictures of yourself inside one of the old mansions while wearing 16th century garbs. There are lots of Maria Clara dresses, barong tagalog, and other colonial period costumes for your entire group so you can also have group portraits and a fantastic time posing for the cameras.
Go where the locals go for quick, cheap, and still very Ilocano delicacy: the street stalls in Florentino St. along Plaza Burgos. Choose from local empanada (thin orange-colored taco filled with grated green papaya, mung bean sprouts, whole egg, and Vigan sausage), okoy (shrimp fritters), and, if the weather isn’t too hot, sinanglao (beef soup).
For a variety of Ilocano dishes and some Japanese and other Western dishes, head to restaurants like Café Leona, Hidden Garden, and Celedonia Garden.
Because Calle Crisologo looks both romantic and other-worldly at night, coffee session in one of the cafes in the street will give you a unique, serene experience of Vigan at night.
But if you are looking for a night of electronic music and thumping bass, go to Legacy. Inside, it looks every bit a New York bar, you’d get a little strange shock when after hours of booze, music, and dancing, you get out its doors and find yourself surrounded again by the heritage sites.
Stay in hotels that have complete modern facilities but have that vintage, heritage look inside and out. Hotels that have this old-worldly charm include Vigan Plaza Hotel along Crisologo Hotel, Vigan Hotel at the corner of De los Reyes and Burgos streets, and El Juliana at Quirino Boulevard. Budget inns are also plenty although most of them do not have the looks of heritage hotels. Eto Mansion, Casa Teofila Lodge, Cordillera Inn, Gordion Hotel, Grandpa's Inn, and La Feliza Tourist Inn are just among many others near the major tourist attractions in Vigan.