Vigan City Travel Guide – The Philippines’ historical wonder city

I would never get tired being in this City!” That’s exactly what I said and thought of, the moment my feet touched the ground of Vigan, Ilocos Sur [again].

I have been in Vigan on four different occasions and true enough, I just can’t get enough of this City. I can probably say that this travel addiction is the same thing that people who visit Paris, Rome, and Spain get every time they are in said countries.

Just this week, my friends and I, braved the 10-hour travel and the holiday rush to visit this splendid gem up north that was declared as one of the 7 Wonder Cities of the World just a year ago.

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I’ve been to several cities and provinces in the Philippines and if I am to compare, no City and/or Province is at par yet with Vigan. Every time I get to Vigan, it’s like travelling back to the rich culture the Philippines has had during the reign of Spanish and American colonisers. Every single time I visit the Heritage City, I get that same feeling of excitement that a child gets when he pays a visit to an amusement park (You can ask my friends, I was like smiling like crazy!)

To me, a traveller, a foodie and a photographer, Vigan is definitely a haven and heaven in one. A paradise like no other with all the great-tasting food, picturesque locations, and stunning destinations. Truth is, even if you’re not into travelling, food (but which I highly doubt) and photography, I can confidently say that Vigan wouldn’t disappoint you with all its wonders.

If you happen to visit The Heritage City, there’s a “standard” list of the things that you shouldn’t miss and definitely do. To help you with your travel itinerary, I came up with a list of what I think you should do in Vigan:

1. Visit Calle Crisologo – Declared as a Unesco Heritage Site years before Vigan was even declared as part of the New 7 Wonder Cities, Calle Crisologo is the focal point of Vigan’s rich culture. Calle Crisologo, being the [unofficially] most photographed street or calle in the Philippines, never ceased to amaze first timers and even its frequent visitors with its picturesque Hispanic houses and cobblestone street.

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Every time I get to Vigan, it’s like travelling back to the rich culture the Philippines has had during the reign of Spanish and American colonisers.

Calle Crisologo is your giant time machine in a form of a street that will definitely transport you back to the Philippine Spanish Colonial Era. The houses that were owned by Filipino-Chinese traders who were prominent during the Manila-Acapulco Trade are still complete with brick walls, capiz (sea shells) windows with the intricate workmanship and street lamps that show our forefathers’ inclination to art and architecture that adds to the 18th-century ambience of the street.

TIPS:

There are several hotels in Calle Crisologo and those hotels are relatively cheap especially in non-peak seasons.

Visit Calle Crisologo at three different times: early morning, late afternoon and late in the evening. If you do, you’ll get completely different vibe depending on what time you visited.

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Took this shot at around 10:00 in the evening. Unfortunately, I don’t have a tripod with me during that time.
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This is my favourite shot so far. I took this at 4:30 in the morning using an SLR and a tripod.
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Took this shot around 6:00 in the morning.
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I took this photo around 4:00 – 5:00 PM.

If you want to take its picture in low light conditions, make sure you use a tripod. Using a tripod is definitely worth its extra weight.

2. Ride a Calesa – You might think that riding the famous horse carriage is a bit unnecessary, overrated and just too much. Well, scratch those thoughts off your head and get a calesa. Truth is, those thoughts were what I had in mind, not until my most recent trip. For a price of PhP150.00 per hour, I enjoyed the calesa ride and found it even more romantic, especially the part when you are in the middle of Calle Crisologo. As I was in the Calesa, I couldn’t help but imagine how 18th century Filipinos rode calesas as their primary mode of transportation.

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The “terminal” of Calesa just beside the church and walking distance from Calle Crisologo.

TIPS

You can ride the calesa to visit places within Vigan and even some attractions in neighbouring towns. The top options are Bantay Bell Tower, Pagburnayan, Elpidio Quirino Museum and Hidden Garden.

If you’ll ride the calesa outside Calle Crisologo, expect that you’ll be travelling alongside jeepneys and cars. Also, it would be a hot and humid ride, too. I highly suggest that you ride the calesa early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

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With my ever supportive partner, travel buddy, best friend and partner in crime in our most recent trip to Vigan.

3. Forget your diet regimen – Seriously, you just have to. Otherwise, your trip would only be half-satisfying. From snacks to desserts, the Heritage City has it all. Vigan is well known for its longanisa, a staple breakfast food for most Filipinos. It’s basically like a locally-made sausage that is on the garlicky side which makes it even tastier.

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The famous Vigan Longanisa.

Another must-try is their bagnet. Bagnet is a cured pork, deep fried to crunchy perfection, and is best dipped in tomatoes, onions and fish sauce/paste (bagoong) trio. If you’re looking for snacks, then visit Tongson’s, a food store just by the entrance of Calle Crisologo. They’re well known for the tasty Royal Bibingka (oven-baked cassava cake) and chichacorn (deep-fried corn bits, yeah, we Filipinos love everything deep-fried).

Speaking of deep-fried, another local specialty is the empanada. It is not your usual empanada, as it is made of Vigan longanisa, egg and veggies deep fried in empanada wrapper. Another must-try is Vigan’s Sinanglao (Beef Innards Stew) that is sold just beside the post office. The name doesn’t sound so good but I can guarantee that a sinanglao breakfast will complete your Vigan Tour. Ugh, writing this part is more than enough to make me drool on the spot and speed back to Vigan.

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Sinanglao of Ilocos Sur.

TIPS:

You can buy bagnet and longanisa almost anywhere in Vigan and the taste are all delish. Just make sure to buy those two just before you leave the City, to guarantee freshness after the long haul if you plan to bring them home. Also, wrap everything very well, if you have a cooler then put some ice in it and put the goodies there.

The best empanada for me is the one in Hidden Garden and the one being sold in the plaza. If the vendor is in a good mood (which often they are), they can even allow you to make and cook your own empanada on the spot.

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This was me a year ago, the third time I went to Vigan. The vendors allowed me to cook my own empanada.

The best Royal Bibingka and Chichacorn are sold in Tongson’s (no further discussions).

4. Try Pottery – Yes, get your hands dirty. Pagburnayan (pottery shop), as the locals call it is just a stone throw away from Calle Crisologo. There are ready-made clay pots that you can buy, but the locals who are in the Pagburnayan are more than willing to teach you how to make your own for free and if you’re staying in Vigan for several days, you can even take it home.

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TIP:

Just have fun and be creative!

5. Understand the Hardcore Vigan and Ilocos History – The Heritage City wouldn’t be complete without a museum. Just recently, they opened the Elpidio Quirino National Museum. President Elpidio Quirino was born in Ilocos Sur Provincial Jail. The relics from his old house and also some antiques are displayed in the Museum. The City government transformed their old jail into a cozy museum displaying historical artefacts from paintings, burnays (clay jars), pieces of jewellery, well-preserved clothing and a lot more. There are also exhibits that show images of Baroque architecture across the archipelago that’ll give you an idea that the rich culture is not just limited to Vigan but across the whole country, too.

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The entrance to the Museum.

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TIPS:

Follow the guards’ instructions on photography guidelines such as avoiding the use of flash and the taking of videos. The items inside the Museum are ancient artefacts that have to be secured and are maintained in a controlled environment. Doing otherwise will compromise the environment where they are being kept.

Take time to read the descriptions below each artefact.

6. Search the Hidden Garden – the Hidden Garden is both a garden and restaurant in one. Once you enter the establishment, it is highly recommended for you to take a short trip inside [unless you’re really starving, then you can do it after eating] and appreciate the flora cultivated by the owners. If you’re into gardening, plants are also being sold and I must say that they have a wide variety of plants to choose from. Food-wise, the best that I’ve tried are of course bagnet, longanisa, empanada, halo-halo (shaved ice with milk and fresh fruit/preserves in season) and bagnet sinigang (bagnet in sour soup).

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TIP:

At night time, it’s best to use mosquito repellants. The place, being a garden in itself, has a share of mosquitos.

7. Watch the Dancing Fountain Show – It is a relatively new attraction compared to most of the destinations/attractions mentioned above. This feature of Vigan adds a modern touch to an otherwise a bit too historical scenery. The Dancing Fountain can be found in between the Provincial Capitol and the Vigan Church. True, it is not as elaborate and grand as the one you see in Dubai and other countries but it is pretty fun to watch nonetheless.

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TIPS:

The show starts at 7:30 PM during weekdays (one-time only), and 7:30 PM and 8:30 PM on weekends.

The music background may not be that updated. Haha! The last time we’ve been there, they’re still playing Gangnam Style.

Brace yourself, Philippines is a country of politicians. I have no word to describe these politicians other than being traditional. Don’t be surprised if you see their names and faces on the fountain itself.

8. Visit the wonders that surround Vigan – There are several tourist attractions that are near the Heritage City that you should definitely pay a visit:

Bantay Bell Tower and Church – Being close to Calle Crisologo is not much of a pressure to this Heritage Site. The church itself is a newer version of the one previously beside the now lone standing bell tower. The original church was heavily damaged during the World War II leaving the belfry standing alone that also served as a watchtower during the war era is still standing strong on top of the hill.

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Baluarte – Baluarte is owned by a prominent politician based in Ilocos Sur. The place serves home to animals you thought you can only find in Africa and other parts of the world.

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Pinakbet Farm – The Pinakbet Farm is located in Caoayan, Ilocos Sur.

Pinakbet Farm, as the name somehow entails, is a restaurant that has a farm and serves pinakbet. Pinakbet is a mixed vegetable stewed with shrimp paste, a famous dish in the whole of Ilocos Region. As you dine, their food servers will serenade and entertain you with Ilocano music showing a man and woman’s journey from courtship to old age.

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Tourist destinations in neighbouring towns and Ilocos Norte. There is so much in store for you in Vigan’s neighbouring towns, and Ilocos Sur’s sister province — Ilocos Norte. I hope I can do another trip up north, in Ilocos Norte this time so I can share details about the trip.

I hope this blog gave you a virtual tour of the Heritage City and its wonders. Like any other cities and tourist destinations, my photos do not do justice in showing how stunning Vigan is; and I highly recommend and insist that you see Vigan yourself.

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