The Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT) welcomes the selection of the City of Vigan as among the CNN’s 13 of Asia’s Most Picturesque Towns.
“The City of Vigan’s heritage, the Hispanic architecture, and the food make it a picture-perfect site and deserving of the spot in the CNN’s list,” Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage City.
Vigan City, described by CNN as “one of the best places to experience Spanish colonial-era architecture in Asia,” is the capital of Ilocos Sur Province, an ideal destination for meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE).
CNN’s Kate Springer also noted the plethora of must-see Instagrammable landmarks at Vigan City including Plaza Salcedo, the restored church of St Paul’s Cathedral, and the trade center at cobble-stoned street Calle Crisologo.
Vigan’s traditional Hispanic checkerboard street plan, grid street pattern and historic urban lay out reflects its rich history, recognized as the best-preserved model of a Spanish colonial town in all of Asia.
“The CNN citation of the City of Vigan means that sustainable tourism is not just about environmental protection but also the preservation of the country’s history and culture,” Sec. Puyat points out.
The DOT chief says Vigan City showcases the local government’s efforts in preservation of its ancestral houses by mandating thorough research and documentation of the building original design before permitting any restoration work.
A touch of Spanish colonial style is also a requirement for the design of new structures in the area to complement the City’s preservation and tourism program.
Family ancestral houses are transformed into museums, souvenir and antique shops, and restaurants while maintaining its original Spanish style influence.
Selected as one of the New 7 Wonders Cities in 2014, Vigan’s attractions include the pottery workshop, food adventures with its established culinary scene that features unique native dishes, such as the Bagnet, a deep fried crispy pork belly dish, Poqui-poqui, a mixed vegetables dish, and theEmpanada, a stuffed fried pastry.
The other localities completing the “13 of Asia’s Most Picturesque Towns” are Thailand’s Phuket Town, Hong Kong’s Sai Kung, China’s Zhouzhuang, and Japan’s Yufuin.
Have you been saving and searching for a dream vacation? Well, stop searching, because we’ve got a bucket list full of the best things to do in the Philippines that’ll have you booking your flight in no time.
For the Avid Hiker
The Philippines consists of 7,641 islands with a tropical maritime climate–which means it’s warm and humid the majority of the year. The extensive coastlines and rainforests on the islands provide a perfect habitat for plant and animal life to flourish. Hiking expeditions through this exotic wildlife offer unique experiences at sites that are inaccessible by car.
Explore the Banaue and Batad Rice Terraces
Carved into the mountainside more than 2,000 years ago, the rice terraces created–by the ancestors of indigenous Filipinos–are a sight to behold. The rainforests above the terraces provide water to the ancient irrigation system, which is still used today.
Catching a ride in a Jeepney–which provides local transportation across the Philippines–is the suggested way to start your hike. Guided hikes can be negotiated and purchased when you arrive in Banaue or before leaving for the Philippines.
Learn more about Lotte, a travel blogger from the Netherlands, and her hike through the rice terraces on her blog, Phenomenal Globe.
Backpack Mount Apo
Backpack to the top of Mount Apo, the tallest peak in the Philippines archipelago. The best known starting point originates in the national park located in Kidapawan City, the capital of Cotabato Province. The hike is expected to take three to four days and is considered a seven out of nine-difficulty rating, according to the local mountaineering guide.
Go Spelunking in Cantabon Cave
Described by some as an experience much like an obstacle course, you can try spelunking into one of the least corrupted caves in the Philippines when you visit Siquijor. The professionally guided caving experience at Cantabon Cave may leave you wet, dirty, and tired–but it’s unlike anything else you will see while visiting the islands.
The 800-meter hike into the cave is expected to take around two hours to complete. Watch this video of one group’s experience in the cave.
For the Divers and Swimmers
Under the clear blue water, the flora and fauna of the Philippines provide a spectacle any diver would enjoy. In fact, you can find more than 500 types of coral and 2,400 species of fish. Beyond the natural wonders of the area, you’ll find sunken ships to discover, special swimming classes, and friendly boat captains.
Attend the Philippine Mermaid Swimming Academy
Photo used courtesy of the Philippine Mermaid Swimming Academy[/caption]
Have you dreamed of swimming through the seas with one fin like a mermaid? The Philippine Mermaid Swimming Academy will teach you how! Start your introduction to a mermaid’s life in Boracay, Cebu, or Manila. For more in-depth courses, you’ll have to visit Boracay.
Initial intro classes include tail measurements and fittings, safety and photo training, and free swim time in shallow water. Advanced classes further teach safety, methods for swimming in deeper water, and lessons on how to act more like a mermaid by doing handstands and blowing mermaid bubbles.
Discover the Coron Bay Reefs and Wrecks
With more than 1,000 types of marine life to discover among the reefs and a dozen wrecked World War II ships, the area around Coron Bay is a diver’s paradise. It has been named among Forbes Traveler Magazine’s Top 10 Dive sites. Rock formations in the area also provide a lively snorkeling experience for those who like to stay near the top of the water. One famous dive site is known as Gunter’s Cave, where you can visit a naturally lit, underwater cave. At certain times of the day a beam of light shines through the opening in the cave and illuminates the entire space.
Scuba at Tubbataha Natural Park
While visiting the sites at Tubbataha Natural Park, you must schedule a boat and stay on board during your trip. Its location in the middle of the Sulu Sea, with no human-inhabited land, makes visiting without a boat impossible.
Experienced divers, as well as newcomers to the hobby, will be impressed with no less than 360 coral species, 600 types of fish, 11 different shark species, and 13 whale and dolphin species that call the area home. Since December of 1993, the area has been considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is protected and loved by those who Scuba dive there.
For the Natural Wonder Enthusiasts
The climate and location of the Philippines creates natural wonders you won’t find anywhere else. Some of the natural wonders require boat rentals and some you might want a guided tour to enjoy. Either way, these are experiences you don’t want to miss.
Tour the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River and National Park
Copyright by Eric Beltran[/caption]
Under the island of Palawan, you’ll find an exciting experience. The Puerto Princesa subterranean river flows directly beneath the St. Paul Mountain Range, weaving through cave-like structures beneath the mountains for 8.2 km. Getting to the starting point of the underground trip at Sabang is only about a 40km trip from Puerto Princesa. Once you’re there, this “New 7 Wonders of Nature” site will amaze you with waterfalls flowing from cave walls, ancient fossils, and creatures that live nowhere else in the world.
Don’t forget to get a permit to travel there, or else you won’t be allowed in. If you book a guided tour, your permit, boat, guide, lunch, and transport are usually all included. If you are staying in Sabang, you can opt to buy everything separately and use your negotiation skills to save some pesos.
Soak in the Hinatuan Enchanted River
Copyright Dennis Onashi[/caption]
The Hinatuan River is a deep spring, saltwater river on the island of Mindanao, which flows directly into the Philippine Sea and onto the Pacific Ocean. Catching a ride on a habal-habal motorcycle is the preferred way to get to the river once you arrive in Hinatuan.
The enchanting color of the water has long left local people to believe the water holds secrets. Whether the water itself has healing powers or if spirits keep the place safe, no one knows for sure. However, novice adventurers or advanced swimmers alike can find an area of the river they enjoy.
For the History Buffs
The history of the Philippine Islands is diverse. Different regions have unique stories and not all the islands have the same background. Travel the islands and sample cultures from around the world without having to get additional stamps in your passport.
Step Back in Time on Corregidor Island
Corregidor is an island found at the mouth of Manila Bay, in the southwestern part of Luzon Island. It has long been fortified by the reigning military forces to protect the most important seaport located in Manila. During World War II, the area was of great importance to both the Japanese military and the Allied Forces.
Today, the ruins of the fortifications from that time serve as a memorial and reminder to visitors about the cost of war. Families from around the world visit the site to remember loved ones and learn more about the history of the Philippines during WWII.
Hanging Coffins of Sagada
The practice of burying the dead in hanging coffins predates the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. Hoping to get the dead closer to the spirits of their ancestors, Filipinos hung or nailed the coffins to the sides of cliffs. However, the tradition is practiced today on a much smaller scale than in the past.
Today, the burial ceremonies are only held by the elders of Sagada, as the younger generation have adopted more modern burial traditions and enjoy being able to visit their ancestors on All Saints Day.
Walk the Cobblestone Streets of Vigan
Vigan is one of the oldest cities in the Philippines, but its structures have mostly been preserved and restored. The cobblestone streets and unique architecture–which marry the Philippines’ traditional Filipino structures with those of the Spanish-colonial era–make it a popular vacation destination.
One can visit preserved houses near the central park, known as Plaza Salcedo, which surrounds Plaza Burgos. You’ll also find a museum along Crisologo Street with unique antique collections of memorabilia and vehicles. When your feet tire of walking along the cobblestones, snag a ride in a kalesa and complete your journey back in time.
For the Nature Lovers
The unique land, as well as the special plants and animals that call the Philippines home, often require protection. Unfortunately, it would be easy for these unique plant and animal species to be endangered without formal conservation efforts. While you’re there, visit a few of the reservations dedicated to protecting the Philippines’ natural wonders.
Experience Everything El Nido Marine Reserve Park Has to Offer
Located on the northernmost tip of the Palawan mainland, El Nido Marine Reserve Park is a perfect example of the diversity you’ll see when traveling through the Philippines. You can fly into the airport at Puerto Princesa or travel by boat. When you arrive, you’ll see white sand beaches and limestone cliffs, high-end resorts, endemic and endangered species of birds, and lush forests.
With more than 30 dive sites, there’s more to see while diving than you’ll be able to fit in during most trips. The resorts on nearby islands offer snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, and spa treatments in addition to the diving expeditions. You can even find a secret beach hidden among rocks if you’re brave enough to swim through a hole in the limestone.
Visit the Tarsier Sanctuary
The Tarsier, one of the world’s smallest primates, is indigenous to the Philippines. You can visit the Tarsier Sanctuary while you are in Bohol and, for a small price, you can pay for a guide to help you trek through the sanctuary and spot the Tarsiers in their natural habitat. Your guide will be glad to help with taking videos and photos along the way. The tour lasts about 30 minutes and culminates on a viewing deck over the sanctuary.
See the Ruins at Mount Mayon Active Volcano Natural Park
Mount Mayon is the most active volcano in the Philippines and is located on the island of Luzon. The most destructive eruption happened in 1814. Five towns were destroyed in that eruption, but each one was rebuilt, demonstrating the resilience of the locals.
The Cagsawa Ruins are the remnants of a Franciscan church destroyed in the 1814 eruption and are one of the most visited areas of the Natural Park. Near the ruins, you will find the Cagsawa National Museum, which helps the local government care for the park and ruins.
Live Like a Local
One of the greatest treasures you will find while traveling the Philippines are the people who live there. Learn about how they live while doing things the Filipino way. Get to know them, make friends, and let them show you the best ways to enjoy your time in the Philippines.
One of UNESCO’s World Heritage Cities, Vigan is acclaimed for being an intact example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia that features 233 historical structures built during the mid 18th to the late 19th century lined up in a grid of 25 streets. The famous cobble-stoned Calle Crisologo is definitely one of the highlights but roaming around the rustic but elegant streets of Vigan would definitely tire you out. Worry not, here are 5 of the most sumptuous foods from the city of Vigan that will boost your energy fuel.
Pakbet or more known as Pinakbet for people in the South, is also one of Ilocos’s preserved dishes. Vigan’s style of pakbet sets its difference from the Southern’s through adding bitter gourd and excluding squash which is a key ingredient of Southerns. Ilocanos customarily uses vegetables which can be grown from their backyards such as eggplants, okra, string beans, chili peppers, and bitter gourd. If you’re feeling a bit conscious about your health, this is the perfect meal to try out in Vigan.
A sweet tooth must-try, the royal bibingka also made its mark as one of Vigan’s specialties. If compared with the ordinary “Christmas bibingka”, Vigan’s royal bibingka falls short if size were the basis. But, what they say is true, small is terrible. In this case, terribly delicious! The crusty top and the sticky but soft cupcaked-sized body makes up the crowd favorite bibingka. Topped with cheese and butter, you can never go wrong with a Royal Bibingka.
If you’re a breakfast geek, Longganisang Iloko which is also branded as Vigan Longganisa among locals is the town’s own traditional version of a sausage. A bit plump, full of garlic, and seen as a bit yellowish compared to usual sausages but one small bite can change your life. Filipinos cook them in a pan with a bit of water. After the water evaporates, the longganisa is fried using its own fat and is further fried until it turns slightly brown. It brings out its best flavor when dipped in vinegar.
Of course, if you’re in town, you shouldn’t miss out on this one. Found almost anywhere within the crowded plazas of Vigan, Empanada is something Vigan takes pride in. Combining the aforementioned Longganisang Iloko, beans, shredded cabbages, grated unripe papayas, onion, garlic and egg makes up the core of orange-colored Empanada. Sellers make it right before your very eyes which is also another interesting sight.
Traditionally dried under the sun, marinated then deep-fried to make it crisp and tender, Bagnet is recognized as the region’s delicacy symbol. This huge chunk of meat with crunchy golden skin that was fried to perfection can be eaten at any time of the day which is convenient for travelers as it is available basically everywhere. One bite and you’ll get hooked so be wary of this cholesterol-rich slice of heaven.
So, if you’re going to give in on the Filipino-Spanish nostalgia that comes with visiting beautiful Vigan, then we suggest you try these delicacies before packing up your bags to go back home! To learn more about Vigan, just click here!