These Underrated Spots in Ilocos Norte will Redefine Your Vacation

by Julia Escaño

Ilocos Norte, the northwestern-most province in the island of Luzon, has become synonymous with windmills and white beaches. Rightly so, we think, with these popular sights truly a breathtaking experience. But while tourists crowd all the usual spots, there are lots more to see in this rich and laid-back province. Check out these underrated spots in Ilocos Norte for a one-of-a-kind trip (and unique selfies!).

Cabo Bojeador Lighthouse, Burgos

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Also known as the Burgos Lighthouse, the Cabo Bojeador Lighthouse was first lit in March 1892 and is still operational up to this day. It marks the northwestern-most tip of the country and serves as a beacon for ships entering our waters from the north. The lighthouse offers commanding views of Cape Bojeador from its hilltop location. It’s perfect for sunset selfies against the structure’s beautifully preserved Spanish colonial architecture. The lighthouse’s volunteer staff also offer short guided tours where guests can learn all about its construction, history, and current operations.

Sta. Monica Parish Church, Sarrat

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The Sta. Monica Parish Church in the town of Sarrat was first constructed in 1724. The whole complex, including the main church, belfry, and convent, were completed in 1779. It features Baroque and Neoclassical architecture with its red bricks and white details. The Sta. Monica Parish Church is considered the biggest in Ilocos Norte, and possibly even in the whole of Ilocos, with its deep nave as a focal point in the interiors. The parish has been declared an “Important Cultural Property” by the National Museum for its architectural value. It most recently appeared in the hit biopic, Heneral Luna.

Pinakbet Pizza at Herencia Café, Paoay

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Photo by Ilocos Norte | CC BY

No trip to Ilocos Norte is complete without eating pinakbet. But why not give it a twist and try pinakbet pizza instead? Herencia Café in Paoay (just across Paoay Church) created the original pinakbet pizza, which many other restaurants have since copied. They even serve it with bagoong that can be added on each slice, instead of hot sauce or chili flakes. While the idea of vegetables and fish paste on top of pizza doesn’t sound very appetizing, its unique and creamy goodness – thanks to the cheese – is something its throng of fans swears by.

Salt Refineries, Bacarra

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Salt refineries are not your usual tourist spot. As a matter of fact, if you didn’t know where they are, you wouldn’t even give them a second look. The salt refineries in Bacarra and surrounding towns are nothing more than small, nondescript huts sitting on the roadside. There’s nothing eye-catching about them at first glance. However, if you take the time to look inside, workers would be glad to show you around the small space and tell how salt is made. Seeing mounds of salt piled over boiling saltwater and seeing how long and tedious the process takes lends a deeper appreciation for the condiment we use with every meal.

Kingfisher Beach, Pagudpud

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Kingfisher is a remote beach past widely-popular Saud Beach in Pagudpud. It takes a few hours to reach from the main area of Pagudpud, which makes it ideal for longer stays. Its remoteness makes it the perfect place for quiet and relaxing vacations away from the crowds. At the same time, however, it’s a great spot for kitesurfing and windsurfing, thanks to its location. Many international and professional kite and wind surfers even come here for competitions, exhibitions, and practice.

Sofia’s Empanada at Dap-ayan Food Court, Laoag

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Of all the empanada in the Ilocos Region, how could this small stall in the middle of a Laoag eatery be any different? First off, they add sprouts – not a traditional ingredient – which gives every bite a unique crunch. They make their eggs perfectly fluffy and the papaya finely grated.  But it’s the longganisa that steals the show. It is so garlicky it adds so many levels of flavor to the already tasty snack. Top it off with their mix of sukang Iloko, and you can find yourself munching on 2, 3, (4!) of these treats in one seating.

These Scenic Drives in Luzon Will Leave You Breathless

by Julia Escaño

The US has the Pacific Coast Highway; Canada has the Columbia Icefields Parkway, and Australia has the Great Ocean Road. But you don’t have to go abroad just to see beautiful drives and breathtaking highway views. The Philippines has its fair share of gorgeous routes, starting with the most scenic drives in Luzon.

With these vistas, the journey truly becomes half the destination (if not more!) So check your tires, gas up, and pack your car chow as these scenic drives around Luzon give a whole new meaning to road trips.

Halsema Highway to Sagada 


When talking about scenic drives in Luzon, Halsema Highway is perhaps the most famous – and for a good reason. Now that Sagada is a tourist hotspot, Halsema Highway is becoming just as busy. This stretch from Benguet to Mt. Province first became famous for its rolling terrain and sharp zigzags, where the mountain falls off on either side of the road and transforms into rice terraces, small fields, or quaint little villages. It’s also famous for its gasp-inducing turns, where you don’t see the road beneath your car when you look out the window. Another attraction on the Halsema Highway are the rickety old buses speeding like rocket ships, which add a whole new layer of excitement to the experience.

Tabuk to Tinglayan, Kalinga

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Officially, the almost 3-hour-long route is called the Mt. Province-Tabuk-Enrile-Cagayan Road – a mouthful. And when driving through its winding mountainous highway, the road is an eyeful as well. Some turns would reveal verdant rice terraces carved on the mountain ranges as far as the eye can see, while some turns would unveil sparkling blue rivers snaking through the thick forest below. This is one of the most common routes to Buscalan, where the now legendary Apo Whang-Od, the mambabatok, lives. It’s also possible to commute this way by taking a Victory Liner bus from Kamuning to Tabuk, then taking a jeep to Tinglayan. When passing through this road, make sure to keep your windows down to maximize the fresh and cool mountain air.

Patapat Viaduct, Pagudpud

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Photo by Ilocos Norte | CC BY

The Patapat Viaduct is a short stretch of road in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte. What it lacks in length, however, it makes up for in drama. The road itself is right on the edge of the mountain and seemingly hangs over the ocean beside it. Cars can stop on the roadside (with caution!) and take photos of the stretch, where you can see the giant pillars holding the road up. The contrast between the lush greens of the mountainside and the deep blue of the ocean is a sight to behold, especially after coming from long expanses of white sand beaches.

SCTEX to Subic

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We’ve become all too familiar with SCTEX, being the bringer of shorter trips to Subic and Baguio. But have you looked out the window during your drives at all? The lush landscapes on both sides of the highway look like they’re right out of Amorsolo paintings. If you look hard enough, you could even start seeing the classic Filipina beauties bathing and doing their laundry in the streams, just like in the maestro’s works. Another highlight on that drive are the massive retaining walls on either side of the road. These feats of engineering not only add to the character of the landscape but also help keep the mountains intact and prevent landslides.

Nasugbu-Ternate Highway

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The Nasugbu-Ternate Highway was completed less than 5 years ago. It’s fast becoming an alternative to the now-congested Aguinaldo Highway when going to Batangas from Manila. The highway starts in Nasugbu, Batangas and ends in Cavitex. It also features the Kaybiang Tunnel, a 300-meter long stretch piercing through Mt. Pico de Loro, which has become a tourist spot in itself. In between is a breathtaking drive with commanding views of the Batangas shoreline and mountains.  Bikers and motorists can even stop by a view deck between Pico de Loro and Kaybiang Tunnel, and enjoy refreshments at the small sari-sari store while watching the sunset.

Have this Unique Manila Daytrip by Taking the Pasig River Ferry

by Julia Escaño

Think you’ve seen and done it all around the Metro? Think again! The Pasig River Ferry service may have been opened in 2007 (and reopened in 2014), but it remains to be a secondary and oft-forgotten means to get around the city. With this Manila day trip itinerary, however, not only will you evade traffic, but you’ll also get to discover another side to the city itself.

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Photo by Noel Perlas | CC BY

Operating from Mondays to Saturdays from 6:00AM to 4:15PM, the Pasig River Ferry includes the stations of Plaza Mexico, Escolta, PUP, and Sta. Ana in Manila; Guadalupe in Makati; and San Joaquin and Pinagbuhatan in Pasig. For rates and more details, check out MMDA’s guide to riding the ferry.

Start with brunch in Poblacion, Makati

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Apart from being home to Rockwell Center, Barangay Poblacion also has a bustling food scene. If you’re around really early, you can check out Panero’s Café, a small joint that starts offering comfort breakfast food at 6am. Spots like Bucky’s, Bean & Yolk, Fig, and OTO are also perfect for breakfasts. After a happy meal, you can take a short jeepney ride to the Guadalupe ferry station and get on your merry way.

Discover national heritage sites like the Lichauco House and Sta. Ana Church in Sta. Ana

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Photo by Ngiping kidlat | CC BY
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Photo by Zernan2014 | CC BY

Hop off the Sta. Ana ferry station for a cultural adventure right in the heart of Manila. Start with the Parish of Our Lady of the Abandoned, also known as the Sta. Ana Church, which was established in the 1500’s. It was originally made of nipa and bamboo until the present stone structure was built in 1720. The church is home to many notable architectural structures, from frescoes to murals, as well as the 300-year-old statue of its patron saint, which has been in Manila since 1717. After the church tour, visit the Lichauco House heritage site and other local Spanish mansions for a glimpse of Manila’s golden age. Check in with the Sta. Ana Heritage Tourism Association for available tours and itineraries.

Check out the art scene at Escolta

 

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Photo by John Tewell | CC BY

Get your art on after alighting at the Escolta ferry station. This once-forgotten street of Manila is well on its way to a revival with new art hubs and cafes sprouting everywhere. Check out the Calvo Museum, the First United Building Community Museum, and PAN/// for various exhibits featuring vintage items, historical pieces, and brand new artworks alike. You can also get caught up in 98B’s Saturday X Future Market if you visit on a Saturday, where quirky pieces and rare finds are up for grabs. Don’t forget to look up as you stroll down the street to fully appreciate Escolta’s historic buildings.

Have a quick bite at Polland Hopia

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Egg yolk hopia from Polland Hopia | Image source

Before hopping back on board the ferry, grab a quick bite at an Escolta institution. Polland Hopia has been around since the 60’s and is still holding its ground. It’s famous for its many varieties of the sweet Chinese delicacy. But if hopia isn’t your thing, Polland now also offers siopao, lumpia, and cuapao, among others. Apart from the tasty treats, what’s so great about the café is the street view, where you get a real feel of Escolta’s nostalgic vibe.

Take a stroll at historic Plaza Mexico and Intramuros

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Photo by John Tewell | CC BY

The Pasig River Ferry’s last stop is the Intramuros Ferry Station at Plaza Mexico. Here you can see the historic square featuring a monument commemorating the 4th centenary of the Mexico-Philippines Maritime Expedition as well as the historic Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade. From here you can take a leisurely stroll through the ancient streets of Intramuros. Pass by Fort Santiago for a look at the life of our national hero, or just gaze at the beautifully preserved colonial architecture of the walled city.

Cap off your day with dinner at the Bayleaf Hotel’s roof deck

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After a full day, sit back and relax at the Bayleaf Hotel’s Sky Deck View Bar. It’s a rooftop lounge with stellar 360-degree views of the city. If you arrive by sundown, prepare for first row seats to the Manila sunset. At night, you can enjoy the gleaming city lights of Manila, Makati, and Bonifacio Global City under starlight. Sky Deck View Bar also offers an extensive menu and drinks list, perfect for reenergizing after a long day of exploring.

Awesome Adventures in Tarlac Perfect for Every Kind of Outdoorsman

by Julia Escaño

Sometimes, the best adventures are found right outside your door – or at least kind of close to it. Take Tarlac, for instance. It is only 2.5 hours from Manila and is a downright mecca of exciting activities. Sure, there is the famous Pinatubo trek, which tourists flock to, year in and year out. But not many are aware that there is so much more to see. Rappelling? Canoeing? Whitewater rafting? There is no shortage of outdoor pursuits in this province north of Manila. If Mother Nature calls out to you on a weekly basis, check out these fun activities in Tarlac that will surely quench your thirst for thrills.

From Above

Fly high on a helicopter ride

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Few things truly capture the phrase “experience of a lifetime,” but a private helicopter ride over the lahar canyons of Tarlac and the turquoise crater of Mt. Pinatubo is one of them. PhilJets, a renowned aeronautics company, offers private charters over the famous volcano. Guests can experience views few have seen, and appreciate one of the country’s most iconic destinations from a breathtaking perspective. PhilJets offers tours ranging from 1 hour and 25 minutes to up to 3 Continue reading Awesome Adventures in Tarlac Perfect for Every Kind of Outdoorsman

This Bulacan Itinerary is Perfect for Every Weekend Warrior

Bulacan is one of the most historical provinces in the Philippines. From the Malolos Constitution to the Battle of Quingua, many momentous events in our country’s story took place here. It’s also rich in culinary tradition and natural resources, making it a great destination for short vacations.

So for you weekend warriors out there, we created a list of the must-visit tourist spots in Bulacan! Choose between natural wonders, cultural landmarks, and delicious food for a fun weekend with the gang.

Tour Angat Rainforest Eco-Park, Norzagaray

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Photo by Albert Lozada | CC BY

The Angat Watershed isn’t only responsible for the potable drinking water or the electricity within Manila and its surrounding towns and provinces. It’s also home to a diverse species of flora and fauna native to the Philippines. A tour at the Angat Rainforest Eco-Park, which is part of the Angat Dam Continue reading This Bulacan Itinerary is Perfect for Every Weekend Warrior

This Heritage Town in Laguna is a Living Museum Worth Visiting

by Julia Escaño

If the constant stream of tourists in places like Vigan and Taal say anything, it’s that there’s still space in the Filipino’s heart for culture and history. After all, there’s no better way to get a feel for the olden days than to visit a town that’s pretty much a time machine. One such place is the Pila Heritage Town in Laguna.

Pila’s historic town center is located in Barangay Sta. Clara Norte. In 2000, The National Historical Comission (NHC) declared it as a National Historical Landmark, but didn’t gain traction as a mainstream tourist spot until a few years ago. If you’re looking for a cultural weekend experience and a quick break from the city, check out Pila Heritage Town for a good dose of history.

It’s only 1 of 4 such towns in the country

Over the centuries, one war or another obliterated most of our rich heritage. After 300 years of Spanish colonization and the subsequent American reign, we were left with only 4 towns recognized as national historic landmarks. These are the city of Vigan, the town of Taal in Batangas, Silay in Negros, and Pila, Laguna.

It’s like going back in time

A visit to Pila Heritage Town is an excellent way to get a real feel of the Philippines in that era. Its rareness and the stellar condition is a unique peek at the way the country once was. It’s also an opportunity for some great photos, with blocks and blocks Continue reading This Heritage Town in Laguna is a Living Museum Worth Visiting

13 Valentine’s Promos in Manila for an Unforgettable Celebration

It’s that time of the year once again. Roses seem redder, chocolate seems sweeter, and the sky looks bluer. Whether you’re under the spell of Cupid or not, Valentine’s is always a great excuse to head out and have some fun. And with these Valentines promos in Manila, it’s pretty hard not to.

Take your sweetheart, your BFF, your barkada, or even your whole family and enjoy these awesome treats that are sure to make your Valentine’s more memorable.

The Henry Hotel Manila

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Pull out all the stops with The Henry’s extra special romantic package. If you stay between February 10 to 19, not only do you get an intimate dinner at the hotel’s old-world courtyard, you also get breakfast for 2, couples massage, a bouquet of flowers, and a complimentary bottle of wine. This comes with an overnight accommodation for 2 in their stylish suites, where old-world charm and modern comforts are sure to give your stay an extra special ambiance. Reservations start Continue reading 13 Valentine’s Promos in Manila for an Unforgettable Celebration

8 Artsy Activities to Enjoy in Manila

Sure, Manila gets a bad rap for its horrendous traffic and pollution. And while many people (locals and foreigners alike) love to hate this frequently misunderstood city, the country’s capital is teeming with fun things to do and cool places to see—particularly for the artsy and creative. If you’re happiness revolves around arts, crafts, and music, do check out these 8 creative activities in Manila.

1. Visit museums

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Visiting museums is not just all about appreciating or interpreting art. It is also one of the quickest ways to better understand a city. So needless to say, whether you’re into arts or not, a trip to the museum should be on your things to do in Manila list. Admire artworks, sculptures and artifacts at these museums*:

The National Museum
Artists of all levels and skills should pay the National Museum a visit, as it holds some of the most significant artworks and archeological pieces about the Filipino culture. Many of these national treasures date as far back as the 18th century, such as the 3,000-year-old Manunggul Burial Jar. Of course, our very own version of Mona Lisa, Juan Luna’s Spoliarium, will surely give you heart-wrenching feels and chills. Artworks by Hidalgo, Botong Francisco, Luz, and Manansala, are also a must-see. Continue reading 8 Artsy Activities to Enjoy in Manila

Volunteer Diving Expeditions in the Philippines with Marine Conservationists

by Julia Escaño

A few months ago, in October 2016, nature conservation groups World Wildlife Fund and Fondation Segré added over a million hectares of offshore and coastal waters to the Philippines’ Marine Protected Areas. These are found within 2 barangays in Palawan: Cagayancillo and Aborlan. They flank the Tubbataha Reefs in the Coral Triangle and are meant to bolster fish stocks.

The residents of Cagayancillo welcomed this news, after clamoring to be declared a Marine Protected Area for years. They claim that the conservation efforts being done in the Coral Triangle result in a better livelihood. Though it’s still a long way before all of the Philippines’ 1557 MPA’s become as successful as Cagayancillo, it’s still a step in the right direction.

If you are passionate about our oceans, and the riches beneath them, you can be a part of these efforts, too. By volunteering in marine conservation projects in the Philippines, you can take part in protecting the seas with these group of conservationists:

Marine Conservation Philippines

If you’re an avid scuba diver and you want to give back to the habitat you so enjoy, check out Marine Conservation Philippines. This non-profit organization works to preserve, protect, and enrich the country’s underwater resources. Marine Conservation Philippines’ has a range of projects with different durations. Some projects such as the creation of artificial reefs are one-offs. Meanwhile, others are continuous, such as research and documentation.

Website | Facebook

Coral Cay Conservation

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Coral Cay Conservation or CCC is an international NGO that’s been running since 1986. They entered the Philippine marine conservation scene in 1996, and until Continue reading Volunteer Diving Expeditions in the Philippines with Marine Conservationists

Where to Travel this Year of the Rooster Based on Your Zodiac Sign

The Year of the Fire Rooster is fast approaching. From January 28 to February 18, 2018, the Fire Rooster will be ruling the astrological skies. And with it comes many predicted changes. According to Chinese astrologers online, the interaction of the 5 elements brought by the Fire Rooster will bring about many new things. After a dramatic 2016, many are apprehensive about what the coming year will bring.

But that’s no excuse to stop living every day to the fullest! Just take heed about what the year is set to bring you to make the most of your 2017. Here is our list of where to travel in 2017 based on your zodiac sign’s forecast. If you don’t subscribe to Chinese astrology, then consider this a 2017 to-do list.

Good luck!

Year of the Rat

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Born: 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1084, 1996, 2008 

Forecast

It’s going to be a stellar year career-wise for female Rats, thanks to due recognition and praise. While male rats are predicted to have a steady, uneventful year, it’s also the time to build good connections and create new work relationships. Just make sure to avoid quarrels, which might lead to loss of assets.

Travel

Give yourself a pat on the back with all your career achievements this year. As a reward, an escape from the city and the daily grind may be just what you need. Go for a quick getaway in Manila or bask in some luxury in Boracay with the special Continue reading Where to Travel this Year of the Rooster Based on Your Zodiac Sign