This destination is the Philippines' best-kept secret

  • Empty Saud Beach

    Paradise found on Saud Beach, Pagudpud

    The Philippines is renowned for its islands and beaches, and the masses head for Boracay and Palawan, meaning your strip of paradise might not be so paradisiacal. Instead, head up to northern Luzon’s Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur, where you’ll find beautiful empty beaches and a wealth of cultural attractions that are well off the beaten path.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Emerald water at Saud Beach

    Pagudpud's turquoise water: Boracay without the crowds

    Pagudpud is the spot to head for white sand and emerald water. Locals call it the 'Boracay of the North,' except that there aren’t any crowds. You can choose between Maira Ira (better known as Blue Lagoon) or nearby Saud Beach, pictured here, which has five kilometers of undeveloped paradise.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Dreamy seascapes, Northern Luzon

    Surreal seascapes along the Ilocos Norte coast

    Dreamy seascapes dominate the entire north coast here. From the Blue Lagoon, you can even walk out to Dos Hermanos Islands when the tide is out. December to February is the ideal time to come here, the "cool" and dry season, with sunny skies and pleasant temperatures every day. The Philippines "summer" falls in March-May, when it gets hot and you’ll have the most domestic tourists on the road.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Patapat Viaduct, connecting mountains and sea

    The Philippines' most photogenic stretch of highway

    The Patapat Viaduct is a man-made wonder that connects Ilocos Norte to the neighboring Cagayan Valley. Set above the turquoise sea, it runs along the coastal mountains which mark the start of the Cordillera chain. It’s just a short ride out from Pagudpud to check out the viaduct, and local tours include it in a visit to the Blue Lagoon, Kabigan Falls and a host of other Pagudpud attractions.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Surfing at the Blue Lagoon, Ilocos Norte

    Surf's up at the Blue Lagoon, Pagudpud

    The north coast of Ilocos Norte is also home to some of the country’s best surf, with waves for all levels of abilities. And during certain months, there’s enough wind to make it a top kitesurfing destination as well. Boarders don’t have to worry about sharing the surf here with too much competition either, as the crowds don’t make it this far north.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Hidden Kabigan Falls

    Enjoying cool pools at scenic Kabigan Falls

    It’s not only the beaches that top the natural attractions in Ilocos. Kabigan Falls is tucked into the forest, reached by a thirty-minute trek, and features a big swimming hole set right under the beautiful waterfall. It’s shaded and peaceful, and if you come early in the day, you’ll be all alone.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Nature's bounty: beautiful Pinsal Falls

    Ilocos Sur's best secret: Pinsal Falls

    Perhaps even more impressive for waterfall-lovers are the cascades of Pinsal Falls, located in Ilocos Sur. These falls cascade from a river canyon that has warm springs and an abundance of natural swimming holes. You can take a bamboo raft to the base of the falls, charter a boat on the river that passes through here, and spend the whole day picnicking and hiking above the falls. Once again, other than a handful of locals, you’re likely to have this gorgeous spot mostly to yourself.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Sunset at Bangui windmills

    Orange glow on the Bangui windmills

    On the northwest coast of Ilocos Norte, you’ll find the Bangui windmills, an impressive line of tall windmills that harness the trade winds here and supply alternative energy. You can make day visits along the beach up next to the windmills, but perhaps the best view of them is from Saud Beach in Pagudpud at sunset, when the windmills are silhouetted against a burnt orange sky.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Horse carriage in historic Vigan

    Charming UNESCO World Heritage Centre

    Culture lovers will also be enticed by northern Luzon’s non-natural attractions. The town of Vigan is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a Spanish colonial town with traffic-free cobblestone streets, and possibly Asia’s finest example of preserved colonial architecture. 

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Honeymoon in Vigan

    Cobblestone streets and Spanish mansions

    Atmospheric old Spanish mansions line Calle Crisologo, the town’s most preserved artery. This movie set-like backdrop brings young folks here to do their wedding photos, and it’s a magical place for photography.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Historic travel on kalesa horse carriage

    Kalesa horse carriage on Vigan's cobblestone streets

    Horse-drawn carriages known as kalesas still serve as transport here, adding to the retro vibe. Chartering one for an hour is a great way to explore the historic area. Not only was Vigan the Spanish capital of Ilocos, but it also was a stop on the famed Silk Route that linked China to Europe, and was a major trading port sitting right on the coast of the South China Sea.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Charming cobblestone streets, Vigan

    Spanish colonial charm

    Many of the old mansions around Crisologo Street have been converted into rustic bed and breakfast inns, museums and restaurants. Here you can sample the famous Vigan treats like empanadas (stuffed meat and vegetable pastries) or longganisa garlic sausages.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Church of Paoay, Baroque-earthquake style

    Paoay's Baroque UNESCO church

    Another UNESCO World Heritage attraction can be found in nearby Paoay, home to the Paoay Church, also known as St. Augustine. Started in 1704, the church mixes Baroque and Gothic styles, and has withstood years of earthquakes and other disasters due to its hardy brick structure.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Night comes to the UNESCO Heritage Paoay Church

    Blue hour at the Paoay Church

    The church is especially photogenic at blue hour just after sunset, when it gets illuminated and has an eerie atmosphere set against a blue background. Most visitors here come during the daytime, making sleepy Paoay a great place to spend the night.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Romantic Bellagio Hills

    Ilocos Norte's most pampering stay

    The best spot to stay up north is Bellagio Hills, set above the beautiful Paoay Lake. It feels more like a private home than a hotel. The resort is in a gated community, features a British chef serving fresh seafood and other treats and is Ilocos Norte’s most comfortable place to relax after a day of touring the sights.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Marcos' former palace

    Historic MalacaƱang of the North palace

    Just near Bellagio Hills, you’ll find another must-visit spot. Former Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos came from here, and he and Imelda’s summer home was at this palace known as Malacañang of the North. The beautiful mansion is now a public museum, showing off antiquities and tidbits of Marcos' flamboyant life.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Pork belly and eggplant stew, Ilocano treats

    Bagnet and pinakbet, Ilocano cuisine at its best

    Foodies will enjoy coming to northern Luzon, as it features a unique regional cuisine. Ilocano food features dishes like bagnet, a mouthwatering deep fried pork belly, and pinakbet, a vegetable stew made with okra, bitter gourd and eggplant.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Ilocano cuisine, regional feast

    Ilocano feasts for foodie travellers

    From longganisa garlic stuffed sausages to poqui poqui, a mashed grilled eggplant dish, and kilawin, a raw seafood dish similar to ceviche, you won’t go hungry up here. In Laoag, try the long-running La Preciosa restaurant to sample the best regional cuisine.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Surreal tidepools, Blue Lagoon, Ilocos Norte

    South China Sea landscapes

    Photographers, families, ocean lovers; all will enjoy the coast of Ilocos Norte, whether it be tidepooling, enjoying the sea views, or taking shots of the surreal seascapes. The morning tide and waves coming in at the Blue Lagoon in Pagudpud are just one of a handful of easily-accessed spots to enjoy the natural wonders.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Rafting Pinsal Falls

    Bamboo raft under Pinsal Falls

    Forget about the islands. Here in northern Luzon, you have beaches and dramatic coastline, and in the mountains, caves to explore and majestic waterfalls, plus cultural and historic attractions galore.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Atmospheric Vigan

    The cobblestone streets of Vigan after rain

    From UNESCO towns and churches to empty white sand beaches, dramatic coastline, surfing spots and a fraction of the tourists that you’ll find down south, make a beeline for the Philippines' best kept secret.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis