La Union Travel Guide – The northern surfing capital of the Philippines

The Philippines has already been put on the map by travelers worldwide. All thanks to the country’s treasured natural wonders, rich culture, and hospitable people that showcase the warmth the archipelago exudes. The country is divided into 81 provinces and each has a truly distinct character. The globally renowned Palawan, Cebu, and Aklan are popular choices when visiting the country. But how about choosing La Union this time around? 

La Union has earned the spot as one of the country’s surfing capitals alongside (Baler) Aurora and (Siargao) Surigao Del Norte. Every year, travelers, both locals and foreigners, flock to La Union to hit the waves and chillax. However, the truth is, there’s more to La Union than just being a surf capital.

 Surfing La Union

About La Union – historical, young, and underrated

La Union (literally means The Union) is one of the youngest provinces in the Country which was founded on April 18, 1854 in accordance to the Royal Decree issued by Queen Isabela II of Spain, confirming Governor General Antonio Maria Blanco’s Superior Decreto in 1850 which established La Union as a political-military government. Its municipalities were drafted from then existing Ilocos (northern part), Pangasinan (southern part), and Cordillera (east part) provinces, which is why, to date, La Union still is predominantly displaying traces of how it became a melting pot of three ethnicities in Luzon.

Despite being relatively young, certain spots in the province were witnesses to the Philippines’ rich history when Filipinos revolted against our colonisers aeons ago. Likewise, nowadays, the province is a favourite destination for the young generations who’d love to enjoy and experience a laidback chillaxing urban life away from the bustling metropolis.

Indeed, La Union may seem underrated but it is definitely worthy of travelers’ attention and time, and we’d say that it’s a must-visit province in the Philippines.

 

Getting to and around La Union

The best route to get to La Union is via land transportation. You could ride public transportation or rent a private vehicle. See details below:

Getting to La Union

Metro Manila (Cubao) – La Union (Public Transportation; 5 – 7 hours)

Take a Partas Bus heading to La Union, Vigan, or Laoag from Cubao Terminal in Metro Manila. Inform the bus operator that you intend to alight at La Union. Depending on your itinerary, you can ask that they drop you off at either Agoo, Bauang, San Fernando, or San Juan. 

Metro Manila (Cubao) – Dagupan, Pangasinan – La Union (Public Transportation; 5 – 7 hours)

Take a Victory Liner, Solid North, or Five Star Bus at the Cubao bus terminal bound for Dagupan City, Pangasinan. The bus’ last stop is at Dagupan City Terminal. From there, you can transfer to a Victory Liner bus going to Baguio but inform the operator that you need to get off in La Union. Depending on your itinerary, you can be dropped off at either Agoo, Bauang, San Fernando, or San Juan. 

Here’s a map of all the major bus companies’ terminals in Metro Manila:

Private Transportation (Van or Car Rental)

If you’re traveling with a big group, 8 – 12, it may be best to rent a van instead. There are several van rental companies based in Metro Manila and the cost varies depending on the number of days that you’ll be staying in La Union. Just inform the van rental company of your itinerary. 

Coming from the Visayas, Mindanao, or Overseas

The nearest airport to La Union is the Laoag International Airport stationed at Ilocos Norte. Philippine Airlines does have a direct flight from Visayas and Mindanao to Laoag International Airport. There are also international flights heading to Laoag from other countries. 

From Laoag International Airport, take a bus heading to Metro Manila (signages would say Cubao), then ask the operator to drop you off in La Union. 

 

Going around La Union

Like most provinces in the Philippines, the only means of transportation in La Union are jeepneys and tricycles. The  minimum standard fare for a jeepney ride is PhP 8.00 per person. Alternatively, you could also hire a tricyle that’ll bring you to almost every popular destination in La Union for only PhP 1000 – 1600 per day.

La Union’s top destinations and activities

Here are the top destinations in La Union that you shouldn’t miss:

1. Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Charity – Located in La Union’s oldest town, Agoo. The Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Charity is actually the successor of the original church founded in 1578. The Basilica that stands firm today at the heart of Agoo was established in 1978. Its facade may appear simple but the moment you enter the church and look at its interiors, that’s when you’d feel its presence, both in a spiritual and structural sense.  

Address: Agoo, La Union (Town proper)

Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Charity La Union

2. Grape Farms in Bauang  – Most Filipinos actually find it interesting to finally see a vineyard in person. Grapes which is generally perceived to be a fruit that couldn’t be grown locally, are very much abundant in the Grape Capital of the Philippines — Bauang, La Union. If you want to pick grapes, you could head to one of the many grape farms in Barangay Urayong. Some grape farms charge tourists upon entry, but if you want to see one free-of-charge, head to Orpilla Estigo Grapes Farm.

Address: Barangay Urayong (near McArthur Highway), Bauang La Union
Admission Fee: Depending on the farm that you’ll visit.

Grape Farms La Union

3. Pindangan Ruins – Located in San Fernando, the capital of La Union, are the remains of Pindangan. Pindangan which means a place used to dry fish, was one of the old settlements during the Spanish Colonial Era. It was born in an effort to protect the inhabitants then of the two settlements, San Vicente de Balanac and San Guillermo de Dalangdang,  from pirates, pillagers, and headhunters (from a tribe seeking for human sacrifices) in 1759. It was the same year when they decided to build the San Guillermo Church.

Address: Barangay Parian, McArthur Highway, San Fernando, La Union (Near Max’s and Shakey’s San Fernando Branch)
Admission Fee: PhP 20.00 per person

Pindangan Ruins La Union

4. Urbiztondo, San Juan – The surf town of La Union not only boasts of great waves to ride on but also exudes the vibe of a typical surf town similar to what you see in the movies: laid back, relaxing, and fun. Aside from surfing, walking around Urbiztondo could be a good treat to travelers who would love to mingle with fellow travelers and enjoy the surf town’s gastronomic pleasures.

Address: McArtthur Highway, Urbiztondo, San Juan, La Union

Urbiztondo beach La Union

5. Pebble Beach – The country is known for its white-sand beaches, but there’s more to the Philippines aside from its white-sand beaches. In fact, the archipelago is also home to pebble beaches, one of them could be seen in Luna, La Union. Aside from the huge difference in its appearance, there is actually something relaxing about hearing the thundering waves of La Union being amplified by the pebbles hitting each other underwater. 

Address: Barangay Nalvo Norte, Bacnotan, Luna, La Union (Near Kamay na Bato)

Pebble Beach La Union

6. Kamay Na Bato  – Previously called Bahay Na Bato (Stone House), Kamay Na Bato (Stone Hand), is an art gallery situated close to the Pebble Beach in Luna, La Union. The art gallery is created by Bong Kim, a Korean artist who’s fascinated by stone artwork which is evident in every eclectic sculpture and mosaic on display. 

Address: Barangay Nalvo Norte, Bacnotan, Luna, La Union
Admission Fee: PhP 20.00 per person

Kamay Na Bato La Union

7. Baluarte – The watchtower in Barangay Victoria, Luna, La Union, is one of the oldest structures in the province. Originally built during the Spanish period to ward off attacks from pirates pillaging the province, it was later turned into a communications tower during World War II. The Baluarte which is made of coral stones cemented by egg whites, finally gave in to the forces of nature and was destroyed by a typhoon in 2015. However, it was later repaired by the Government which made it appear like a two-toned watchtower. 

Address: Barangay Victoria, Luna, La Union

Baluarte Luna La Union

8. Namacpacan Church – The name of the church came from the original name Luna, La Union. The century-old church is home to the miraculous image of Our Lady of Namacpacan. There were claims about the miracles connected to the Lady of Namacpacan and even before it set foot in La Union, it is believed to be shrouded in mystery. The image is originally set to be delivered to Vigan, but it’s as if nature and the statue didn’t want to go there, and chose Luna as its home instead. 

Address: Barangay Victoria, Luna, La Union

Namacpacan Church La Union

9. Ma-Cho Temple – A Taoist temple dedicated to the Chinese sea-goddess Mazu, the temple stands proudly facing the West Philippine Sea and was erected in the year 1977 by Filipino-Chinese citizens led by Dy Keh Hio and with the approval of the former Tourism Secretary, Jose D. Aspiras. Although it is located in a predominantly Catholic nation, the moment you enter the temple, it would make you feel otherwise as you’re welcomed by the holy tiger statues and dragon symbols at its entrance. Note: In Buddhist temples, instead of the tiger and dragon symbols/statues, you’ll be welcomed by Buddhist guard sculptures.

Address: Ma-Cho Temple Driveway, Quezon Avenue, San Fernando, La Union

Macho Temple La Union

10. Tangadan Falls – Located in the municipality of San Gabriel, Tangadan Falls is one of the destinations best for travelers who’d love to be one with nature and experience a bit of thrill. Travelers who wish to see Tangadan Falls would need to trek for 1 – 2 hours
(depending on your group’s pace). There are also spots where you could jump off the cliff for some adrenaline boost. 

Address: San Gabriel, La Union
Admission Fees: PhP 20 per person

Tangadan Falls La Union

11. Immuki Island – Known to locals as Kaparingitana word derived from the dead corals (paringit) where the sea creatures Babao or Bao have thrived. These sea creatures are actually sea slugs that look like the female genitalia, and hence the name Bao (a local Pangasinense dialect). In Ilocano dialect, it is translated to Uki and that’s why the island is now called as Immuki. Although the sea slugs no longer exist on the island, the locals prefer to still call it Immuki primarily “because the shape of its main lagoon is like the shape of a female genital[ia].” Anatomy aside, this place is one of the best destinations to witness the sunset. 

Address: Bacnotan – Luna – Balaoan Rd, Bacnotan, La Union
Admission Fee: Voluntary donation

Immukki Island La Union

Where to stay if you will visit La Union

There are lots of places to stay in La Union depending on your budget and the type of the accommodation that you’re looking for and your traveling style:

1. Flotsam and Jetsam Hostel  – One of La Union’s best hostels conveniently located near the beach of San Juan. This hostel is not just perfect for surfers but also for people who’d love to socialize with fellow travelers and to party by the beach. The hostel has kubo dorms, suites, and air-conditioned rooms. It also has the Kitchen Bar which serves as a breakfast buffet venue in the morning, restaurant at noon, and a party place in the evening. 

Address: 12500 MacArthur Highway, Urbiztondo, San Juan, La Union, 2514, Philippines
Contact details: +63-9178021328 / flotjetlife@gmail.com
Room Rates: Starts at PhP 680 (per bunkbed in Kubo dorms) to PhP 3200 (for suites), per night

Flotsam and Jetsam La Union

2. Thunderbird Poro Point La Union – Considered as the premier accommodation in La Union, the Santorini-inspired resort has been a favourite place for people who’d love to experience a full-serviced accommodation in their vacation. Note that this resort is a bit  far from Ubiztondo, which is best suited for travelers looking for a quiet escape. It has three restaurants, several pools, and a white coral sand beach within its premises.

Thunderbird Poro Point La Union

Address: VOA Compound, Pennsylvania Avenue, San Fernando City, La Union
Contact details: +63-72-8887777 / pororeservations@thunderbird-asia.com
Room Rates: Starts at PhP 8,600 (for premium deluxe rooms) to PhP 33000 (for villas), per night

Note: We’ll be adding to this list over time. Stay-tuned.

Harv Experiences

1. Surf in San Juan – A trip to La Union wouldn’t be complete without trying to surf. Now you might think that surfing is just for swimmers or those who are really into water sports but that isn’t the case. There are surfing lessons dedicated to beginners that could cost PhP 400, depending on the surf school you’ll enrol to. If you’re afraid to try surfing the huge waves, you can surf in the Urbiztondo Beach in-front of the Kahuna Resort. But if you’re brave enough to try out bigger swells of waves, the spot in front of Flotsam and Jetsam is the place to be.

Surfing La Union

2. Visit the now two-toned watchtower – Baluarte is one of the oldest infrastructures in La Union that dates back to the Spanish Colonial Period. Like the province where it is erected, the Watchtower has gone through a lot since the day it was built. Although the biggest physical blow was when the Typhoon Lando hit the coastline of the province that caused the watchtower to split in half. The now rehabilitated watchtower is a combination of old and new materials that somehow symbolizes how the old and new can coexist in La Union. 

Baluarte Luna Watchtower La Union

3. Party at Flotsam and Jetsam – The hostel holds parties that start at 10:00 PM and could last until 1:00 AM. The crowd is filled with fun-and-beer-loving people who dance to the beat by the hostel’s party DJ. Travelers who did not book in Flotsam and Jetsam are also welcome to join the party. If you prefer a more chillaxing beach experience, you could drop by the hostel before 10:00PM (any time, actually), and drink booze of your choice. 

Party at Flotsam and Jetsam La Union

 

La Union Itinerary

This itinerary is just your guide. Do not base your trip solely on the one published in this article. Each traveler has a different pace, travel styles, and preferences. However, we hope that you still find this helpful.

Day 1

LA UNION ITINERARY

Day 2

LA UNION ITINERARY

Day 3

LA UNION ITINERARY

La Union Itinerary Map

To help you plan your trip, here’s a map that pins each destination mentioned above (blue pins), accommodation featured (yellow pins), and the Partas Bus Terminal in La Union (red pin).

Where to eat in La Union

La Union has the usual fast-food and restaurant chains in the Philippines. However, if you’d love to taste food that could only be found in La Union, here are our top choices so far (at least in Urbiztondo, San Juan):

1. El Union – One of the go-to cafes in San Juan. Although their coffee may seem ordinary, the breakfast food that they serve is what’s causing long queues every day. From their grilled-cheese sandwich to the heavenly s’mores, every piece of food is worth every dime.

El Union La Union

2. Tagpuan – Cheap and tasty. This hole-in-the-wall eatery boasts of tasty Filipino flavours at a very affordable price. The dining area is relatively small and there are only few seats available, so if you’d want to try their food, you may need to wait for several minutes to secure a seat.

Tagpuan La-Union

3. Beach Bum Food Park – One of the biggest food parks in Urbiztondo. Beach Bum does not just give you a lot of options to choose from but most of the food being sold are very affordable. If you are craving the classic inihaw (grilled) food or even the Ilokano food like pinakbet or bagnet, then you may want to explore this food park.

Beach Bum Food Park La Union

Important tips and reminders when visiting La Union

1. Tourists flock to La Union all year-round. However, it is particularly more crowded during long weekends. Best to book your accommodation months in advance.

2. Speaking of booking in advance, it is also advisable to book your bus tickets in advance to avoid the long queues and wait times in bus terminals. Check out these platforms: Pinoy Travel and PhBus.

3. When visiting a grape farm in Barangay Urayong, you can ask the tricycle drivers (or locals) to bring you to the grape farm that is just about to harvest. It could give you better chances to see a farm teeming with grapes hanging at their vineyard.

4. Your resort/hostel may offer packaged tours within La Union. However, we highly recommend that you engage a local tricycle driver instead. They offer a much cheaper rate, the income goes solely to them, and you are also able to help their livelihood. We only paid PhP 1,600 per tricycle (could fit in 3 – 4 individuals) to visit all of the destinations above.

5. If you’d want to surf and you’re afraid of the big waves, take a lesson in one of the surf schools in front of Kahuna Resort. However, expect to see a lot of students lying down on their surfboards waiting for the waves to swell. If you’d prefer a less crowded surfing spot with bigger swells, take a class near Flotsam and Jetsam.

6. Planning to stay in Flotsam and Jetsam? It is a nice place to stay at, but if you hate sleeping in a noisy place, the place may not be suitable for you.

7. Ma-Cho Temple and the Catholic churches in La Union are places of worship. Keep quiet and show respect to said places regardless of your faith and belief.

8. Planning to visit Immuki Island and Tangadan Falls? Best to wear durable footwear. Immuki Island is full of dead corals and sharp sea stones. While you’d need to trek your way to Tangadan Falls for you to see its beauty.

9. Some municipalities in La Union prohibit swimming after 6:00 PM for safety reasons. Make sure that you abide by that ordinance.

10. If you’d be taking a bus on your way home to Metro Manila and you’ll be coming from Urbiztondo, it would be best to wait for a bus from there rather than go to the terminal. Buses pass by Urbiztondo, San Juan first before it stops at the bus terminal.

11. Do not leave any trace behind, vandal, or do anything that’ll damage the environment and other infrastructures. Don’t be like “Justino Sevilla” and the rest of the names who vandalised the walls of Luna Watchtower.

Vandalism at La Union

La Union could be the next Boracay

La Union’s beaches don’t have a fine white sand unlike Boracay, but its laid-back vibe is definitely almost similar to the now temporarily closed island. Like Boracay, La Union’s surf beaches have been a favourite all year-round destination for locals and foreign tourists alike, making it one of the top destinations to visit in Luzon.

However, aside from the cool vibe that La Union exudes, there’s one more characteristic that made us believe it is quite similar to Boracay — the inability of its tourists and even the locals to protect its natural beauty and resources.

The grey sand of La Union may appear clean and spotless, but if you look closer, you’ll see cigarette butts, plastics, bottles, and other pieces of trash that pollute the ecosystem. Even the path to remote places like Tangadan Falls did not escape from its visitors’ lack of discipline and concern for the environment. In three, or even two years’ time, if this agitating trend continues, do not expect to still see its natural beauty and wonders.

Who can be held accountable for this? All of us.

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