Vigan is the most well-preserved model of a Spanish colonial town in Asia. The area was home to wealthy Chinese-Ilocano families, setting it apart from the typical Mestizo districts in Latin America.
Even the architecture and townscape of Vigan distinctively combines Asian and European aesthetics. The community’s design was strategic in keeping its reputation as a significant coastal market even before the Spaniards’ rule.
The town lies on Abra River’s delta, along the northwestern area of Luzon’s coastline in Ilocos Sur. That means aside from the fascinating streets, you can also enjoy a scenic view of the waters surrounding the province’s capital.
Now that we’ve given you the appetite to explore this piece of history, we’ll help you achieve that full Vigan experience.
How to Get There
Since Vigan is right within Luzon, getting there from Manila is pretty easy. You could go there by plane or by bus, although the latter is cheaper and a bit more fun.
From Manila, you have several bus lines at terminals located in different parts of the Metro. Check out the following bus companies:
- Aniceto Bus
- Viron Transit
- Dominion Bus
- Florida Bus Line
- RCJ Bus Lines
- F. Franco Transit
- Maria De Leon Bus Lines
The ride will take at least 8 hours, and the fare costs around 700 PHP. This trip is an excellent way to see the beauty of North Luzon as you’ll be passing by a few towns on your way to Vigan.
Where to Stay
When in Vigan, it’s imperative you stay in one of the hotels built in the old buildings of the town. It’s for the complete experience and your Instagram feed, of course.
Here’s the run-down of the top hotels that will take you back in time:
This hotel is a fantastic fusion of the old Vigan and modern-day architecture. The museum hotel has plenty of paintings, pictures, and sculptures that add to the structural beauty of the establishment.
Despite the classic style of the hotel seen in its pieces of furniture and decor, it has high-technology bathrooms with tubs to relax after a long day of going around town. The hotel pool also gives you a full view of the impressive layout of the building.
Check out their rooftop terrace at night for an exquisite view of the streets.
Estimated rate per night: 2,876PHP/55 USD
If you want an authentic old home experience, this is the hotel for you. Walking inside, the amount of wood used to style the place will immediately give you those Noli Me Tangere feels.
The antique interior of the hotel has impressed many visitors from different parts of the world. You don’t see much of these Filipino-Spanish themes anymore, so it’s worth checking out.
Estimated rate per night: 2680 PHP/51 USD
Here’s a simpler yet equally elegant version of our first pick on the list. Ciudad Fernandina Hotel captures the charms of a traditional wood-accentuated building.
The combination of dark brown wood and white walls makes the hotel extra cozy. The brick walls in the dining area also give off an old pub vibe for a more approachable take on the overall sophistication embodied by the hotel.
Estimated rate per night: 2157 PHP/41 USD
Hotel rates from Agoda
Things to Do
Once you already have your accommodations booked, it’s time for the fun tour around the City of Vigan. You’ve probably heard some of the attractions we’ll cite here, but we included perhaps a couple of underrated ones, too.
So here’s how to hit the overrated spots right and discover the underrated ones.
Explore Calle Crisologo
Walking around Calle Crisologo to admire the details of the cobble-stoned streets and have your pictures taken on them isn’t enough. You need to do it at dawn when the old town lights illuminate the area like it’s a movie scene shot in Europe.
The silence of the streets at that time of the day also makes a huge difference. Prepare your phones or cameras for the spectacular light gradually forming different hues on the skies.
Join the Heritage Cruise in Mestizo River
The heritage cruise in the Mestizo River is the best way to relive the history of Vigan City. The riverbanks served as trading stations for the Chinese and town natives back in the pre-colonial era.
The tour also has a voice-recorded narration for the epic stories that took place around the area. The boat stops at points where there are dioramas to visually portraying every significant event in Vigan’s past.
You can also spot the plant called bigaa as you pass through the river. The plant has inspired plenty of legends and folktales, as well as the naming of the city.
Visit Syquia Mansion Museum
This is where the 6th President of the Philippines, Elipidio Quirino lived with his wife as it was her family’s ancestral home. The mansion on Calle Quirino is an architectural prowess on top of its historical importance.
Adore the antique furniture, oriental porcelain, vintage carvings, and the high ceiling parallel to the hardwood floors of the house.
Watch and Learn from Weavers in Action at the Abel-Iloko Showroom
Abel cloth is known for its quality products that are woven traditionally by skilled craftsmen and craftswomen of the town. You can watch the weavers at work, learn the craft yourself, or check out the store.
Climb the Bantay Bell Tower
The bell tower stands on top of a hill in Bantay, Vigan. It is right next to one of the oldest churches of Ilocos Sur.
Visitors are allowed to climb the tower to see the town from such a great spot or simply enjoy the open skies. If you’re terrified of heights, you can always take pictures next to the magnificent watchtower instead.
Visit Father Burgos’ House, “Bahay na Bato”
Padre Burgos was one of the GOMBURZA priests who were executed back in the Spaniards’ rule. His house is now a museum of photographs of notable people in the city and old livelihood equipment.
The bedroom of the friar remains complete with his treasured possessions, including his writing materials.
Witness Mindoro Beach’s Black Sand
What’s an out-of-town trip if you’re not getting out of Vigan City’s walls, right? Head out to Mindoro Beach where you can take a break from the overrated white sands the Philippines is known for.
The black sand of Mindoro Beach comes from the magnetite or iron ore, which glimmers a little, up-close. Illegal mining in the past caused this dark sands to form, so expect some parts of the shore to be lighter.
Dress up as an Ilustrado at Arce Mansion
Arce Mansion used to be an ancestral house back in the Spanish era. Now, it’s a museum where guests can dine and dress up as Ilustrados living that high life.
With the maintained original interior and decorations of the mansion, you can get a realistic feeling of how it was like to live in such home back in the day.
Go on a Jewelry and Antique Hunt
Vigan City is rich in antique items and boasts a collection of rare and eclectic jewelry pieces. The town has many shops for those, as well as for old coins and vintage clothes that make great souvenirs.
Delicacies to Try
With that long itinerary, we’re sure you’ll build up a great appetite. So here are the local foods you have to try. As an Ilocana myself, I got hungry just writing about these delicacies.
From a biased standpoint, no longganisa is real unless it’s from the Ilocos region. This pork sausage is an unprecedented choice for me as its saltiness works so well with its garlicky flavor.
Dip it in sukang Iloko or native vinegar for a more authentic taste.
When in Vigan, do not ever miss a bite of Empanada. As an Ilocana living in Manila, you have no idea how stressful it is to find that right orange, tasty bread.
The ingredients inside are only perfected by Ilocanos themselves as well. So munch on one of these while touring the city and be an adequately immersed tourist.
Vigan also takes pride in their Bagnet, and Café Leona is the best place for it. The restaurant is named after the poet Leona Florentino who used to live in that establishment when it was still an ancestral home.
The restaurant offers other cuisines besides Filipino meals, such as Japanese, Italian, and Japanese foods.
Sinanglaw is a local dish, which is pretty much the same as pinapaitan. It is beef with its innards and some bile, flavored with onions, garlic, ginger, and kamias for a little sour kick.
Sinanglaw is best accompanied by beer, too. The best Sinanglaw stalls are near Padre Burgos.
Malunggay Pan de Sal
Pan de Sal (salt bread) made of malunggay (moringa) is something Vigan bakes so well. Make sure to grab a few for breakfast before your day exploration begins.
Going to Vigan on your own, without travel assistance Philippines is known for, is the ideal way to explore the city. That is only because sometimes, organized tours can limit your stay in particular attractions.
To avoid that, check out Rakuboss for tour guides who will give you insider tips on your visit to Vigan instead. These individuals or teams can share insightful recommendations and advice for your vacation.
You can also arrange more flexible assistance from these people for negotiable rates.