Travel Guide To The Ilocos Region, Philippines
Last Updated on April 10, 2023
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Written by Majesta Zea
When planning a vacation to the Philippines, many people will opt for popular tourist spots like El Nido, Boracay or the country’s capital, Manila.
But if you’re looking for a truly special and unique Filipino experience, the Ilocos region should be your next holiday destination.
As well as being located on the road less travelled, Ilocos has something for everyone, from beautiful beaches and sweeping sand dunes to historic sites and preserved colonial cities.
Whether you’re solo travelling, visiting as a couple or bringing the family, there are plenty of places to visit in Ilocos to find entertainment, enlightenment and hospitality.
Let me show you around this unforgettable region of the Philippines!
Table of Contents
Travel Guide to the Ilocos Region, Philippines
Before you start thinking about what to do in Ilocos, you need to first ask “where is Ilocos located?”
The Ilocos region is the Northwest portion of the main island of Luzon in the Philippines.
Far away from the tourist towns of the Philippines, Ilocos is perfect for the traveller who desires to go down the road less travelled.
Ilocos Sur is the more historic of the Ilocos regions of the Philippines, as it’s home to the 16th century Spanish city of Vigan.
Head to Ilocos Norte, and you’ll find distinct landscapes such as the La Paz Sand Dunes.
In both regions you can find friendly people, plenty of history, great food and gorgeous beaches, all of which combined will help give you a true Filipino experience.
Where to Stay in the Ilocos Region
In general, in this part of the Philippines, everything is budget friendly because the prices are not inflated from tourism.
However, a beautiful place to stay is the UNESCO World Heritage Centre of Vigan. The buildings are very old and still have that Spanish touch.
I’m not one to be a fan of budget hotels but the Vigan Plaza Hotel is one of the best in the area.
It’s a cheap place at about $50 USD a night, and you can be in the heart of the town and have a complimentary breakfast!
This hotel is also in a great location to explore the rest of the Ilocos area. Getting to Ilocos definitely involves some travelling from the main city of Manila.
You can take a connecting flight into Laoag’s Ilocos airport which will be about an hour and a half flight and cost $70 USD.
There are plenty of things to do in Laoag, and the flight lasts the perfect amount of time to plan what to do in Laoag when you arrive.
Alternatively, you can take a deluxe bus for $15 USD but it will take about 12 hours. It is up to you!
Where to Eat in the Ilocos Region
You can’t undertake an Ilocos travel adventure without thinking about the places to go in Ilocos for food.
But here’s a hot take: there is no particular location I would recommend because I prefer to eat from street vendors.
You can purchase delicious empanadas or BBQ for as cheap as $2 an empanada and 50 cents for a BBQ stick. They even have dessert vendors!
There are chain restaurants available in Ilocos Philippines, and the Philippines guide in me says that you should stay away from them in favour of the street food.
But if you really want to try something commercialized, I can suggest Jollibee. It’s the Philippines’s #1 fast food chain, and $4 spent there will get you a full meal.
It may not be the best answer for where to go in Ilocos for food, but it is still part of the local experience.
One special place to go for delicious and unusual fruit is to head to the REEER Dragon Fruit Farm in Ilocos Norte.
These bright coloured fruit treats look unlike anything most people associate with food, but they are delicious! And they are grown right here in the Ilocos Region.
You can also get your picture taken with a large dragon statue for extra fun – it’s a great thing to do in Ilocos for kids!
What to Do in the Ilocos Region
1. Head to the Beach!
As your Ilocos travel guide I can strongly recommend one activity in particular: the beach!!
You can not go wrong with their beaches in this area. They are extremely less crowded than in other parts of the Philippines but just as beautiful.
Kapurpurawan Beach and Sexy Beach are must-see places to visit in the Ilocos Region.
If you make your way to Kapurpurawan Beach, you’ll also be able to see the majestic Kapurpurawan White Rock Formation.
These are striking white limestone rocks stand looking out over the sea, and have been eroded into various shapes by the ocean spray and sea breeze.
To get to them you will need to take a short hike away from the national highway. I recommend driving to this location because there’s no public transport that will take you to it.
2. Paoay Church
If you want to learn some Ilocos Region history, seeing Paoay Church can be a quick but worthwhile sight to see.
Parts of this huge, ornate building are from the late 17th century, and it’s a great showcase for the religious history of Ilocos Region.
The church and its bell tower are both recognised as a National Cultural Treasure, and the church was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
3. Bangui Wind Farm
This is not the first thing you would think of when deciding on Ilocos region destinations to visit, but it is one of the most unique!
Right at the top of Ilocos Norte you can find Bangui Bay, and sitting on the beaches and hills that line the coast of this bay are many wind turbines.
They make a unique and picturesque addition to the landscape, and they are much larger than most people realise!
4. The Sinking Bell Tower
The bell tower at St William’s Cathedral in Laoag City is a must-see.
This historic structure is notable for many reasons, but the main one is that it is constantly getting shorter.
Because of the sand foundations and the heavy nature of the stone construction, St William’s Cathedral bell tower is sinking at a rate of about 1 inch per year.
So while it is around 150 feet tall today, it might not be that tall when you visit!
The tower is also unusual because it was built far away from the cathedral (about 80m away) instead of being attached to it.
It is situated not far from the Padsan River and easy to spot. Ask anyone local for how to go to Ilocos sinking bell tower and they will be able to either tell or show you.
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What Not to Do in the Ilocos Region
The horse and carriage ride in Vigan. Although not a super touristy area, the horse ride is a tourist trap. It will cost you about $10 USD and it goes by quickly.
Also, if you do not speak the language, you will have no clue what you are looking at because most of the drivers won’t be able to speak English too well.
I recommend you spend your time walking instead.
Also, when on the beach there will be locals approaching you to buy items from them, usually hand made crafts.
Any Philippines travel guide will tell you: do not buy from them. Because if you buy from one person, word will spread and you will get surrounded by many more very quickly.
Instead, buy items from sellers who are more anchored to their location, so that you can be the one to move away.
Facts About the Ilocos Region
To give you more of an idea of this wonderful place, here are some facts about Ilocos Region that should help give you an idea of what to expect from the people you will meet:
- The language spoken mostly is Ilocano. Many people who work at larger restaurants and hotels can speak English so it is not absolutely necessary to know Ilocano.
- Tipping is greatly appreciated and usually expected. There are many people who will gladly help you with your luggage, provide directions, drive you or pick up after you if you like. Please tip them; this is how they make most of their livelihood.
- The Philippines is a very polite country. It is customary to address everyone in a respectful title, such as Sir or Boss for males and Miss and Ma’am for ladies. Try to smile everywhere and at everyone!
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Author: My name is Majesta Zea but you can call me Zea for short! I’m 26 years old and have been blogging for about a year now. I was born in the Philippines and lived there for the first few years of my life. Since then, I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, London and currently Las Vegas. I have a passion for exploring the world and the food it has to offer. I have a never-ending passion for travel and although I am based out of Las Vegas, I try to do so whenever possible!
Frequently Asked Questions
The Ilocos Region is in the uppermost north western part of the Philippines, along the coast of Luzon Island.
The Ilocos Region has some of the best preserved centuries old architecture, with Ilocos Sur containing two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The predominant religion in the Ilocos Region is Roman Catholic, with many churches and other religious structures having been built by the colonial Spanish settlers.
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