Must Do Adventures in Ilocos Norte, Philippines
November 14, 2018
by Camille Castro
Ilocos Norte is situated in the northwestern region of Luzon, Philippines. For tourists or adventure-seekers based in Manila with plans of traveling to this region, it’s important to note that travel time can take anywhere from 10 – 12 hours by van/car or bus. I personally have not tried the (quicker) airline option, but can honestly say that the road trip from Manila is well worth the distance.
Should you choose this option, there are plenty of van/car rental services available as well as affordable bus tickets. The best time to leave is after evening rush hour (in our case, we left Manila at 10 PM) so you get a chance to see the city lights, take a nap, and wake up to spectacular provincial landscapes just coming into focus with the sunrise. An additional perk of this option is the pitstops, especially since its guaranteed that the drivers stop at establishments with excellent local food and interesting souvenirs!
More Than Beaches and Windmills
Ilocos Norte is in close proximity to the coast, which means the area boasts fantastic beaches and great surfing locations – the typical image that comes to mind when people talk about tourist activities in the Philippines. When talking about Ilocos Norte, the famous Pagudpud Windmills almost always gets placed in the itinerary as well. However, it’s worthwhile to note that Ilocos Norte is more than just beaches, surf, and windmills. It’s location near the coast and the mountainous provinces bless the area with a variety of landscapes and adventures. Here are three of my recommended, must-do, not-your-usual adventures for anyone visiting the province:
Blue Lagoon Zipline
Located in Pagudpud, this zip line spans approximately 1.2km over a small stretch of forest in the beginning and over the sea for the remainder of the line. It’s supposedly the world’s longest zip line over water. True or not it was definitely an exhilarating experience for me as it was my first time ever to try zipping.
The Blue Lagoon Zip Line is accessible through Hannah’s Resort and the fee is inclusive of gear and a shuttle to take you up to the jump-off point, which is at the top of a nearby mountain. During the drive up, you can look out the window and see, in the distance, the landing platform on the beach located opposite the mountain.
It’s scary when you get to the top of the launch pad and prepare to jump, but once you’ve taken the leap (or in my case, once the staffer pushed me off) and you’re zipping across the sky, you automatically become so focused on the experience – the cool wind against your face, the crystal water below you, the clouds – that you forget any fears in that moment and in your life. I can honestly say that it felt like flying.
Note: You can opt for the Superman configuration which allows you to lie on your stomach while zipping through. Buddy zips are also allowed, and you can bring your camera along for the ride. As a newbie, I opted for the typical seated position and did not bring my camera lest I accidentally drop it.
I had no idea the Philippines had anything close to a desert until I found myself in the La Paz Sand Dunes. Of course, it isn’t anything like a real desert in terms of the size and heat (not to mention you can see the sea in the distance), but it was a pleasant surprise to see something so different and unexpected. We went in the morning (around 9 AM) which was alright as there weren’t many tourists at that time however the heat was quite intense. I would recommend perhaps going later in the afternoon so it’s cooler and could also be cool to catch the sunset in this location (and another sunset while ziplining!).
To travel across the dunes towards the sea, we rented a 4×4 (fits 5 people, including the driver) with a driver who took us on a roller coaster ride! Some dunes were so steep that it felt like we were going to fall off the vehicle on the descent, and there were a number of times wherein the vehicle was pretty much gliding through the air after bouncing off one dune to the next. Not only are the drivers skilled at maneuvering the 4×4, but they are also skilled as to where to take the best photos and how to take them (they are experts at jump shots). If you ask nicely, they also might let you take the 4×4 for a spin.
In addition to the crazy 4×4 ride, there is also a sandboarding station in the area where you can surf down the dunes. Take note it isn’t even close to international sand boarding standards, but the makeshift aspect is what makes it so thrilling. There is no lift – you have the climb the medium-sized dune after every turn. The board is simply a piece of metal with two leather straps for your feet; nothing fancy, but quite sturdy. You can even opt to try it barefoot, or for first-timers, sitting down.
Kapurpurawan Rock Formations
This was my favorite destination of all as it felt like I was transported to another world. The trek to the rock formations starts from the top of the hill, descending down to the coast. Visitors can opt to walk the trek (around 30 minutes) or go by horseback (horses in the Philippines are quite small, so imagine a pony). The best time to go is in the morning when there isn’t much of a crowd just yet as some trails are quite narrow and you would want to get pictures of the formation without people in it – except for yourself. The downside of going at this hour is the heat, so make sure to bring an umbrella or a hat for protection.
The scenery is spectacular – lush greenery all around, colorful flowers dotting the trail and the rock formations in the distance. As I trekked through it felt like I was walking through Middle Earth, and when I arrived at the formations, it suddenly seemed like I was on Mars or some other planet. Apart from admiring the rock formations and it’s dazzling whiteness, I had the time of my life climbing the rocks to see how high I could get. There’s a part towards the back that’s a much easier climb and has some sort of a rock platform jutting out above the shore of the coast. It’s a great place for an adventure photo with nothing but you, the sea, the sky, and the brilliant shining rocks.
A Place to Return to
From my brief 3-day trip across Ilocos Norte, the destinations mentioned above were my favorites and are what made the trip extra memorable. Of course, there are a dozen other things to do in the area, but I know I wouldn’t have enjoyed as much as I did if I didn’t get to experience the zip line, the dunes, and the rock formations – all of which are truly unique adventures. Plus, the laid-back and friendly nature of the locals and the delicious food were great additions to the spectacular sights! But I’ll save that for another piece. Overall, Ilocos Norte is one of those unique places you just know you will someday return to.