North Luzon is the place to visit in the Philippines if you are into historical architecture: you will find several important medieval churches and the beautiful heritage town of Vigan. The City is great, full of crumbling Spanish colonial buildings and alive, inhabited by charming locals who organize events all the time. Established in the 16th century, Vigan is the best-preserved example of a Spanish colonial town in Asia, blending perfectly with cultural elements of the Philippines, China and Europe.
Vigan is not that easily accessible unless you fly to Laoag City two hours away. We had to take four different vehicles to get there from gorgeous Banaue. First we took a local bus carrying passengers, furniture, goods, luggage and live chickens. Then we took three different vans, going up and down curvy roads. It was strange to be puking while enjoying such outstanding views! After 8 hours we reached the coastal town of Santiago, 40km south of Vigan where we spent a night, woke up, dipped into the sea and continued to the city.
Locals are proud of Vigan and its status as one of the world’s wonders (according to them, we couldn’t confirm it). It is indeed very different from any other city in the Philippines. Apart from the beautiful architecture, numerous events take place year round. We witnessed the parade of Miss Luzon, gorgeous girls walking all day long with their huge hills, wild fireworks with ashes falling from the sky and a crazy fountain show with locals screaming and singing to popular songs.
Vigan is home to the largest number of Spanish colonial residential buildings in the Philippines. Many of them were converted into hotels; one is the Burgos National Museum and another is the Archbishop’s Residence. Crisologo is the city’s most beautiful street. Closed to traffic, it is where most of the action happens. Between the two popular squares Plaza Salcedo and Plaza Burgos St. Paul’s Metropolitan Cathedral displays both Spanish and Asian influences. Within walking distance, though administratively not part of Vigan City, the Bell Tower of Bantay Church is the oldest structure in the region.
After 3 wonderful days in Vigan we took a bus to Laoag City and got off at the picturesque Paoay village where we spent half a day around the impressive 17th Century Saint Augustine Church. The church is a great example of Spanish colonial baroque architecture adapted to local seismic conditions. Before taking our flight to Manila we spent some time in the Laoag itself, which wasn’t anything special except for the Saint William Cathedral and its sinking tower.
Filipinos are probably the nicest people on earth. In Vigan we met so many people and had long and fun conversations. We took pictures with half of the town, and made cute kids laugh. Actually if there was one thing I remember from this beautiful country it’s the constant laughter. There is a Filipino restaurant near my home in Barcelona and whenever I pass next to it I begin to smile. I guess I’ll eventually have to go back to the Philippines.
Happy Frog recommends staying at Ciudad Fernandina Hotel