VIGAN, Ilocos Sur: a city frozen in time
January 1, 1970
by Stephanie Jane
Whether you’re an avid fan of Philippine history or just a casual traveler looking for your next destination, you should definitely include VIGAN in your travel list. That is, if you still haven’t been!
For history nerds like me, Vigan had always been my ultimate dream getaway but I never got the chance to get on to it till now. It would also be my first time to go traveling alone so I spent days just researching everything I need to know about the place.
So where did the name “Vigan” come from?
Vigan was coined from the word “bigaa“, a term for taro tuber crops cultivated by the locals during the Spanish era.
How to get there?
If you plan to go there via public transport, taking a Partas bus from either Cubao or Pasay terminal station would be my personal best option. Their website does not have clear information on bus schedules but as far as I know, they only do trips at night between 7 PM to 10 PM every day.
You can buy your ticket ahead of time so you can pick your preferred seat for free. Be sure to arrive at least 30 mins to an hour ahead of departure to have your reservation ticket replaced with the actual one.
I took the Deluxe bus trip for Php 805 scheduled to leave by 10 PM. I suggest you pack light if you’ll be traveling on your own like I did. They have overhead storage available to stow your belongings, or you can arrange to have your bigger luggage included in the bus compartment below for an additional fee.
It was my first time aboard a Deluxe bus and being welcomed by theater-like recliner seats on board was a sweet surprise for me. It was so comfortable that I didn’t even notice the 7-hour long trip all throughout!
The entire journey will have two 10-minute stop-overs for bathroom and snack breaks — the first is in Sison, Pangasinan (±3 hours from Manila) and the other will be at Candon, Ilocos Sur (another ±3 hours from Sison).
The city was still asleep when I arrived in Vigan at 5 AM. Turning on my GPS, I started to walk towards my hotel. It was still closed when I got there so out of nothing else to do, I decided to visit Vigan’s flagship street Calle Crisologo which was just a block away.
It was definitely hard to miss — it’s the only cobble-stoned street around! I felt like Dorothy walking on the Yellow Brick Road.
I heard that the street is more breathtaking under the night sky. They were absolutely right.
The streets were empty, save for some early-birds who had the same objective as me — capture the street at its pre-dawn glow.
After having my fill of the centuries-old street, I went to the city capitol next to give thanks at Vigan Cathedral.
An early mass was going on that morning. It was in their local dialect so I just said my personal prayers and went on my way.
Daybreak came but the only sounds you’ll hear were the trotting of horses and the rustling broomsticks from the sweepers at the plaza. I dropped my stuff at the hotel and hailed the nearest tricycle to take me to my first destination.
What to do in VIGAN?
You can start your tour by going to the Municipality of Bantay, a 10-minute ride away from Vigan capitol. The best time to visit would be the early hours of the morning (around 7 AM) to avoid thicker crowds visiting in the later hours. In here you’ll see the Bantay Bell Tower, a three-story tall edifice built on a hill right next to St. Augustine’s Parish. You can climb the tower up to the third level and enjoy the cool breeze while surrounded by the panoramic views of the mountains of Kalinga and the South China Sea.
St. Augustine Parish is just a few meter’s walk downhill from the Bantay Bell Tower and is considered as one of the oldest surviving churches in Iloco. It also houses the miraculous statue of Apo Caridad (Our Lady of Charity).
After visiting St. Augustine Parish, don’t forget to stop by at the Chapel by the Ruins. This open garden chapel can be found upon entering the church’s arcade to your right near the entrance. The hallway will take you to the Candle Room and an open garden leading you to this little piece of heaven. Destroyed during the war, it has been left as is since then and is now converted into an outdoor chapel.
Ilocos is also known to be makers of export-quality clay jars with their particular way of preparing terra cotta. The best place to go for a first-hand pottery experience would be at Pagburnayan. Coming from the Iloko root word burnay which meant “earthenware jar”, the word pagburnayan can be loosely translated into a “jar factory”. Located along Liberation Boulevard in Vigan, you can check out Pagburnayan’s yard filled with hundreds of earthenware in different shapes and sizes. You can also channel your inner artist by trying out some pottery on their rotating stone slab, fully guided by one of the potters in the shop.
The Hidden Garden of Vigan would be perfect for people who love gardening and landscaping. What started out as a small hobby has now turned into a full-blown tourist destination in Vigan. You can also try out local Ilocano cuisines by dining in at their restaurant Lilong and Lilang. Some plants are also for sale so make sure you have enough space to take one home with you!
The Baluarte Zoo offers free admission to visitors of all ages, showcasing a large collection of menagerie and safari conquests. Visitors can also enjoy a Sea World-like exhibition of their marine animals or have a nice picnic in the cottages overlooking the sea.
Once home to the family of the 6th President of the Philippines, Elpidio R. Quirino, the Syquia Mansion is now converted into a museum where you can see the Syquia clan’s antique belongings and several of Pres. Quirino’s memorabilia.
If you feel like garbing up some 19th century Spanish ternos to get a feel of the colonial fashion, Arce Mansion is the place to go. You can prepare for an old-fashioned photo shoot by choosing among a variety of Filipiniana outfits to suit your mood. You can also have dinner there while donning your Spanish-Chinese inspired garments, serenaded by Ilocano folk songs.
The Crisologo Museum is the ancestral home of the Crisologo clan led by their patriarch Floro S. Crisologo (1946-1970). Best known to be the Father of the Social Security System, he was assassinated by a bullet to the head in the late 70s while attending a mass at Vigan Cathedral. Floro Crisologo’s case remains unsolved to this day. Survived by his wife and children, the house is now a museum exhibit with all memorabilia from his legacy as one of the most admired congressman in Ilocos.
The Burgos Museum used to be home to Padre Jose Burgos, one of the three martyr priests sentenced to death by garrote during the Spanish Revolution. The house contains Padre Burgos’ memorabilia, photographs, and all other family antique heirlooms as you roam around the house on the same floorboards Padre Burgos once walked on.
The former Provincial Jail of Ilocos Sur is notable for being the birthplace of the 6th President of the Philippines, Elpidio Quirino. Now turned into a museum, it offers free admission to everyone who wanted to get a peek at the interiors of the former prison. It also has other exhibits inside courtesy of the National Museum, along with several of Pres. Quirino’s political memorabilia.
Where to eat in VIGAN?
Vigan has the typical fastfood restaurants you’ll see in Manila but if you’re in for more authentic places to dine, their only-in-Vigan restaurants can surely take care of that.
I chose to have lunch at Cafe Leona located at the very end of Calle Crisologo for a legit Vigan dining experience.
The place was jam-packed with patrons, proof that Cafe Leona is indeed one of the must-eat places in Vigan. I ordered their Daily Special, Ginisang Pusit, or squid sauteed in soy sauce.
After lunch, I walked along Calle Crisologo again to buy a few take-home trinkets for my folks back in Manila, then retired to the hotel for the rest of the afternoon.
That night, I roamed around town looking for a good Vigan dinner experience. I found it at Cafe Uno.
I had their Caesar’s Salad for the appetizer, Vigan’s specialty sinanglao (beef innards in bile soup and bilimbi) for the main course, and mango crepes for dessert. I think I went overboard with my order but I chowed them all down!
How much have I spent?
While this may not be the most budget-conscientious Vigan trip for a solo first-timer, I made sure I wasn’t spending too lavishly either. I took note of everything I’ve spent there as a guideline, in case you think about doing the same stint soon:
- Partas bus from Cubao to Vigan = Php 805
- Pagburnayan (donation) = Php 50
- Syquia Mansion entrance fee = Php 50
- Crisologo Museum = Php 50
- Hotel rate = Php 600/night
- Vigan day tour fee = Php 500
- Lunch at Cafe Leona = Php 260
- Dinner at Cafe Uno = Php 545
- Vigan shirts to take home = Php 660
- Miscellaneous = Php 290
TOTAL = Php 3,810
The idyllic beauty of Vigan definitely makes me want to come back again, and soon. The Bigueños are nice, easy-going people who knew how to make tourists feel welcome in their world-renowned city. The place is absolutely safe even for a lone lady traveler like me. I walked around town during the wee hours of dawn and at the dead of night without a single bad experience to note. Well, it was a bit creepy as I passed by the town cemetery both times but apart from that, everything was fine as a daisy!
I recommend this as a good place to start for first-time solo travelers because of Vigan’s no-frills, friendly atmosphere. It’s also perfect for people who feel like going on a “no-plan plan” escapade. Even tourists without a private vehicle can easily go around town as their accessible tricycle tours will surely take care of your itinerary. All you ever have to do is enjoy the city at your own leisure.
You can also continue going further up north and visit Laoag and Pagudpud to complete your Ilocandia experience!