Vigan City: an Essential DIY Guide

vigan

Vigan City, located in the northern part of Philippines, is an unparalleled planned Spanish colonial town in Asia. It is unique among the Philippine towns because it is the country’s most extensive and only surviving historic city that dates back to the 16th century Spanish colonial period [1].

Contents

Disclaimer: The content of this article is based on personal experience as well as references to the date of publication. Changes may occur on contact details, transportation, fees, etc. With this, please do comment at the end of the article any updates as well as corrections on the content, anything amiss, or any information that you think is crucial to the readers. Thank you!


About Vigan City

Vigan City, located in the northern part of Philippines, is an unparalleled planned Spanish colonial town in Asia. It is unique among the Philippine towns because it is the country’s most extensive and only surviving historic city that dates back to the 16th century Spanish colonial period [1].

Historically, Vigan was a coastal trading post before the colonization of the Spaniards. Mostly are Chinese and the place was called then Isla de Bigan [1]. In the early 1574, Don Juan de Salcedo who did previous expedition and exploration of the North, pioneered the evangelization of the Ylocos and established a Spanish City, for the purpose of controlling the neighboring country [2]. This city has flourished as a Spanish City until the 1800s.

Hundreds of years passed since the Spanish occupation ended and the city still maintained its 16th century Spanish City façade. The city was even inscribed UNESCO World Heritage Site as best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia with a unique European atmosphere. In 2015, Vigan City was officially recognized as one of the New7Wonders Cities of the world.

Currently, Vigan is a center of tourism in Ilocos Sur, showcasing its preserved colonial looks.

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Top Places to Go in Vigan City

Calle Crisologo
Calle Crisologo. Photo courtesy of Ray in Manila (2015) [3] (license description under CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0).

Calle Crisologo is probably the most popular tourist destination in Vigan City. This street covers the most picturesque part of the city that defines its 16th century Spanish time façade. The road is entirely covered with cobblestones. Old Spanish-looking houses are still standing proud along the length of the road.

On a busy day, tourists usually swarm this road taking selfies, looking amazed at the view, or buying local stuffs in small stores inside those hundred-year-old houses. Foot traffic and kalesa are allowed to pass through and not for motorized vehicles.

On the other hand, this street totally transforms at night to a different vibe. Dining tables and chairs suddenly sprang up, happy to satisfy tourists’ palates with local delicacy and drinks.

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Inside Baluarte’s Zoo and Museum

Vigan City in Ilocos Norte is a place for tourists who loves nature and history. Around 15 minutes away from the Spanish-like town, a zoo, taxidermy museum, and safari hotel can be easily accessed. Baluarte Zoo and Museum offers a different view of the city.

Baluarte Zoo

The zoo offers animals native in our country as well as imported ones, among others. A butterfly farm as well as horse riding track is situated within the complex. Along the paths, roads, and cages, tourists can have a glimpse of lions, Bengal tigers, camels, monkeys, peacocks, civet cats, iguanas, pythons and other reptiles, birds, and animals.

Baluarte Museum (Safari Gallery)

The 120-hectare expanse of Singson’s lot also houses a taxidermy museum. This is located on the top of the hill overlooking the zoo and parts of Vigan City. Preserved animals hunted by Singson in foreign countries are on display.

More details here:

Baluarte: A Zoo and Museum in Vigan City

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Bantay Watch Tower

The Bantay Watchtower is one of the most popular daytime destinations in Ilocos Sur, Philippines due to its history and religious significance as well as its alluring facade.

The watchtower is known in many names that tourist might get confused. I was one of them, haha. When I was planning to go there, I put in my itinerary the “Bantay Watchtower” and “Bantay Belfry”. To my utter shame, it is the same as what the tricycle driver explained to me, lol. The structure is called Bantay Church Watchtower, Bantay Bell Tower, Bantay Belfry, Belfry of St. Augustine Church, among others.

More details here:

Bantay Watch Tower

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Syquia Mansion Museum: Spanish Era Filipino Mansion

Syquia Mansion Museum is one of the most elegant existing Ilocano mansions since Spanish era. When I went for an Ilocos tour, I listed Syquia Mansion in my itinerary because it is quite a popular destination in the region. Initially in my mind, it will just be another Crisologo Museum-like house or even less grandeur. Well, until I stepped inside its portals.

Its interior gives you an idea how wealthy Ilocano family lives during this time. It has been the residence of one of the Philippine presidents and has been a mute witness to the changing of times.

Otherwise known as bahay na bato, Syquia Mansion was originally built by the Justo Angco, a wealthy businessman of Chinese descent, in 1830. He later gave it to her daughter as a dowry when she married Gregorio Syquia in 1875. Wings and rooms were added as their fortune and family grew. Their fortune was from his active part in Acapulco-Manila Galleon Trade.

When Gregorio’s oldest granddaughter Alicia (firstborn of Gregorio’s son Thomas and Spanish Conchita Jimenez of Binondo) married Elpidio Quirino, who later become the president of the Philippines, more rooms and fixtures were added. At that time, there were two wings existing, initially one for Gregorio and the other for Thomas. The addition of Elpidio in the household as well as his nature of work in the government made them add more areas to cater to bigger audiences.

More details here:

Syquia Mansion Museum: Spanish Era Filipino Mansion

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Crisologo Museum: The House of an Ilocano Legend

The Crisologo museum is one of the most famous tourist attraction in Vigan City, Ilocos Sur. Primarily, its fame is related to its well-known owner as well as the content which brings you back to the Spanish era.

The Crisologo Museum is the residence of the late Floro S. Crisologo, the head of the Crisologo clan and a well-known congressman in his time. Now a century-old mansion, it is a mute witness to the success and struggles of Floro Crisologo. From authoring laws behind the creation of University of Northern Philippines and Social Security System to his death as he was shot in the head in the 1970s. His death has become the impetus to establish the museum. To date, his death is not yet solved.

More details here:

Crisologo Museum: The House of an Ilocano Legend

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Vigan Pottery: A Craft Passed Through Generations

Vigan is home to a lot of wondrous places and activities. One of which is pottery making, specifically the local burnay. This sought-after activity in the north draws both local and foreign tourists.

Established in the 1920s, pottery making business in Vigan City has been passed from generation to generation. Its history actually dates back even before the Spanish occupation when Chinese immigrants that the place has a good source of pottery materials.

Of the pottery products, the most popular and widely used by the locals is the burnay. Majority of local orders were from Manila and Bulacan while Great Britain and Belgium topped foreign trades . During those days, the use of these earthen wares are bit different of its mainly decorative purposes today.

More details here:

Vigan Pottery: A Craft Passed Through Generations

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The Hidden Garden: An Ilocano Food Restaurant cum Garden
hidden garden vigan

Vigan is home to a lot of wondrous places and activities. A day would be easily filled with going to historical houses, churches, museums, etc. With all the activities that you can do, make sure to get a good meal at the end of the day. This could be answered by a lot of food stalls and restaurants in the city. However, one of the food establishments offers authentic Ilocano foods IN A garden.

The ‘hidden’ garden has an interesting history. Six years ago, Francis Flores, the owner of Hidden Garden of Vigan suffered from three heart attacks and had half of his body paralyzed. Also, this made him realize to change his life, start a garden, and became a landscape architect. It later became a business and an restaurant even popped inside it.

The restaurant is officially known as Hidden Garden Lilong and Lilang Restaurant. It offers native Ilocano dishes such as bagnet, longganisa, sinanglaw, poqui-poqui, dinengdeng, pinakbet, etc. The following images are pages from their menu.

More details here:

The Hidden Garden: An Ilocano Food Restaurant cum Garden

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Other Notable Places To Go
  • Villa Angela Heritage House
  • Padre Burgos House
  • Mindoro Beach
  • Arce Mansion
  • Plaza Burgos
  • Ilocos Sur Adventure Zone

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Local Ilocano Cuisine

Vigan is also famous for its native delicacy. Here are the most popular must-eat when you go to this beautiful city:

Vigan Longganisa

This Vigan delicay is a small size (around 2-3 bites), yellow-colored, garlicky plump sausage. Traditionally, this is part of the local’s breakfast, paired with sinangag (fried rice). Like othe longganisa in the country, this is best dipped in spicy vinegar (infused with chili, garlick and onions) but other also like it with ketchup.

Vigan longganisa is said to be an influence of the Mexican salami. The tradition of making this native has existed since the period of the Spanish galleon trade. It is distinct from other Philippine sausages because of its use of the local sugar cane vinegar and Vigan-grown garlic, which are major products of the city as well [4].

Vigan Bagnet

Vigan Bagnet is like the lechon kawali in Tagalog region. It is a big piece of pork belly which is boiled, air-dried, then deep-fried. It is believed that it originated in the town of Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, the home of the annual Bagnet Festival.

Vigan Empanada

Trying empanada when going to Vigan is a MUST. The good thing is, empanada can be eaten anytime–it has a place on different meal times and as a merienda. Accordingly, this novelty food is in keeping of the local’s love for vegetable.

Vigan empanada is made just like a fried taco filled with vegetable and meat. The crust is made of rice flour with atchuete which makes its orange color. The filling consists of grated green papaya, both sprouted and whole mongo, shredded carrots, whole egg, skinless Vigan longanisa, and spices.

Vigan Okoy

Okoy is a crispy deep-fried fritters made with glutinous rice batter, unshelled small shrimp, and various vegetables. The grated vegetables may be pumpkin, sweet potato, cassava, mung bean sprouts, scallions and julienned carrots, onions, and green papaya.

Bibingka

Bibingka is probably one of the best tye of kankanen (sweet rice puddings) in Vigan City. More specifically, royal bibingka is one of the mostly bought take away for tourists. It is made of glutinous rice, cheese, and sometimes with strips of macapuno, and baked in a pugon (traditional oven).

Sinanglao

Sinanglao is usually served as a pulutan, to sober you up in the morning after a night of drinking alcohol, or even served as part of lunch or dinner. Unlike pinapaitan which is bitter, sinanglao is composed of beef meat cut in cubes with hints of bile and innards.

Okilas ken Dinardaraan

This dish is basically translated as pig skin cracklings and black pudding (dinuguan). Dipping a crackling in a black pudding might sound strange to you; however, you’ll understand why this is a dining practice in Vigan if you try it yourself.

Vigan Miki

This is a popular local snack, or even a meal in Vigan. This is already being sold as a street food. Vigan miki is a noodle soup dish made locally.

Masa Pudrida

This local pastry treat is commonly served with hot, steamy coffee. It is usually served during special occasions and dates back from the early 1960s.

Turunes de Mani

This is one of the many Ilocano desserts in the form of small, nougat-like candy. This is made from honey and egg white mixed with crushed preanuts [as the name of this sweet treat implies] and wrapped in a wafer-like covering.

Amianance Yema

This variant of yema is soft like the regular yema but it has a crunchy crust.

There are also other delicacies in the city–the Town rather. All you have to do is ask the locals. For me, I usually ask the tricycle drivers. They know the cheapest and best local karenderias.

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How to Get There

By land. Take any bus heading to Vigan City or Laoag City.

  • Manila buses bound to Vigan City are Partas, Dominion Bus, Aniceto Bus, Viron Transit, Florida Bus Line, Fariñas Trans, Maria De Leon Bus Lines, RCJ Bus Lines and F. Franco Transit.
  • From Baguio City, you can take a Partas bus near SM City Baguio or the ordinary mini-buses in Bayanihan.
  • GMW Liner and Florida Liner have buses plying a vice versa Abra and Tuguegarao with a stop in Vigan City route.
  • Anywhere from Vigan City, hail a tricycle or kalesa [two-wheeled horse-drawn carriage] and tell your driver your destination. Me? I usually plan ahead. Otherwise, I just hire one tricycle for the rest of the day. I also let the driver plan how I would go to my destination sites.

By air. Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines flies from Manila to Laoag International Airport. Take any bus bound to Vigan City.

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Places to Stay

There are a lot of hotels, local houses, Air BnBs, etc. to accommodate you when you go to Vigan City. I would not make a list because they are all [or most] are listed in booking apps or sites. Moreover, most follow the architectural theme of the city.

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Helpful Local Phrases
  • Good morning: Naimbag a bigat; Good afternoon: Naimbag a malem; Good day: Naimbag nga aldaw; Good evening: Naimbag a rabii
  • How are you?: Kumusta
  • Thank you: Agyamanak
  • What is your name?: Ania ti nagan mo?
  • I don’t understand: Diak maawatan
  • How do I get to…?: Kasantnu ak a makapan sadiay…?
  • One: maysa, two: duwa, three: tallo, four: uppat, five: lima, six: ennem, seven: pito, eight: walo, nine: siyam, ten: sangapulo
  • How much is this?: Sagmamano daytoy?
  • Help!: Arayat!
  • Sorry: Pakawanennak

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References

[1] Vigancity.gov.ph. n.d. The City – Vigan City. [online] Available at: <http://vigancity.gov.ph/city/&gt; [Accessed 11 September 2020].

[2] Vigan City 7 Wonders of the World. n.d. About. [online] Available at: <https://groupgarcia.weebly.com/about.html&gt; [Accessed 22 November 2020].

[3] Ray in Manila. 2015. Calle Crisologo, Vigan, Philippines – One Of The New 7 Wonder Cities Of The World. [image] Available at: <https://www.flickr.com/photos/rayinmanila/50025182191/&gt; [Accessed 12 September 2020].

[4] Vigan.ph. n.d. Vigan Longganisa. [online] Available at: <https://www.vigan.ph/cuisine/vigan-longganisa.html&gt; [Accessed 22 November 2020].

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