Bong Magana

Well, Ilocos Region is popularly known for dazzling heritage sites. Ilocos Norte is located in Ilocos Region and situated in the northwest corner of Luzón, 483 kilometers away from Manila. Its capital is Laoag City, which came from the word light. When we hear Ilocos, we usually mistook and thought of the famous city of Vigan. Popular Vigan is a city part of Ilocos Sur, a World Heritage Site. The name Ilocos came from the word "Ylocos,' which meant "from the lowlands," referring to natives by the coast called "looc." Subsequently, the Spaniards called the region "Ylocos" or "Ilocos" and its people "Ilocanos."

During the Spanish era, Roman Catholicism in this region spread and prospered under the watchful eyes of the Spaniards and forcibly transformed some lands for building churches and belfries. The extensive construction of churches and the dedication of the people to religion, which is strategic in hastening the Christianization, produce some of the most remarkable architectural edifices that still exist today, like churches. Ilocos became known for beautiful grandest churches, you can spend whole day church-hopping.

Ilocos Norte is more than being the hometown of the late former President Ferdinand Marcos. It is also known for popular destinations for all types of travellers; from adventure-seekers to heritage conservationists. Tourist arrivals peak during the summer seasons, the beach resorts topping the most visited list. What captures their hearts is the blend of profound natural beauty, historical churches, historical places, aquamarine beaches, rich culture, appetizing foods, and hidden waterfalls.

As you travel the Ilocos province, you will understand the immensity of its history and culture and appreciate more their majestic natural wonders. The breathtaking sight will relieve your stress and make you enthusiastic for more adventures.

If you plan to visit this place, I suggest at least a 3-4-day stay for you to enjoy and maximize your adventure, so you don't also miss the nearby towns. I recommend maybe between October to April, where the waves at the beaches are calm, after all its dry season.

See for yourself and check out some of these popular exceptional destinations:


  • Paoay Church

  • Malacanang of theNorth

  • Sinking Bell Tower

  • Santa Monica Church

  • La Paz and Paoay Sand Dunes

  • Juan Luna Shrine

  • Bacarra Domeless Tower


  • Burgos Lighthouse

  • Kapurpurawan Rock Formations

  • Bangui Windmills

  • Patapat Viaduct

  • Pagudpud Beach

  • Kaibigan Falls



The Paoay Church is a historical site named as a National Cultural Treasure by the Philippine government in 1973 under Presidential Decree No. 260. The church was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with San Agustin Church; Santa Maria Church in Ilocos Sur; and Miagao Church, Iloilo on December 11, 1993. Paoay Church, also known as Saint Augustine Church, was completed in 1710. 

Why makes Paoay Church impressive from other well-known churches around the country, because of its superior pyramid-like structure considered as a primary example of the earthquake baroque style of architecture. 

The church is well-known also for its recognizable, unique architecture, the 24 massive buttresses of about 1.67 meters (5.5 ft) thick at the sides and back of the church building. It was extending from the exterior walls, whose primary purpose is to support and protect the building from earthquakes. Characterized by its thick walls made of large coral stones on the lower part and bricks at the upper level. The interior is just as impressive with a beautiful wooden roof highlighted by an ornate pulpit and a beautiful stained glass window. 

Over the centuries, the church was damaged during the 1706 and 1927 earthquake. The church has stood the test of time, and still, it stands majestically. It radiates unmatched grandiosity displaying his designation as one of the most famous churches of Ilocos Norte. 

Adjacent to the facade is a three-story coral bell tower constructed separately from the church building resembling a pagoda. Several projects for the restoration of Paoay Church are sought by government and non-government organizations due to the possible deterioration of its structural integrity.

Neighboring the church is the Herencia Cafe; you can try the popular Pinakbet, a different kind of Filipino pizza originating from Ilocos Norte. It was topped with traditionally local vegetables.



13 Kilometers North of Paoay Church is another tourist attraction which is the Malacañang of the North or also commonly called as, Malacanang Ti Amianan. It serves as the official residence of the late President Marcos family in Ilocos Norte; it was a gift from the former First Lady Imelda Marcos.

This is a two-story colonial-inspired mansion; it has a spacious terrace with impressive views of the Legendary Paoay Lake. Complete with large, spacious bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining area, an office, a modest function room, grand staircase, and wide hallways, and even an Olympic-sized swimming pool, which no longer used today.

Currently, it was transformed into a museum. It exhibits remembrances and some personal belongings of the Marcos family. You can move around and take some photos inside the mansion. The entrance is only 20 PHP, and it is open from 9 am to 5 pm daily.



The Rich heritages demonstrates the significance of Roman Catholicism in Ilocos Norte.  St. William Cathedral is one of the province's proudest edifices, also known as Laoag Cathedral, which is located at the heart of the city and was built in 1612 by Augustinian friars. The grandeur of the Cathedral has been magnified, especially by the distinctive elaborate façade in the Italian Renaissance style.

The main historical landmark that made St. William's Cathedral, famous for is the Sinking Bell Tower. Less than a hundred meters away from the Cathedral, built in 1612, measures around 45 meters tall. According to the locals, Sinking Bell Tower has earned its famous name because the tower is actually sinking. It was constructed on a soft, sandy underlying base during the Spanish occupation; because of its massive weight, the tower remains sinking at a rate of an inch per year. You will notice that the door was already buried underground.

 The tower is also stunning at night when it's lighted up, with warm lights that make it look more radiantly dramatic.



TRIVIA: Did you know that there's a place in the Philippines where you can find sand formations that resemble desert? It is not the usual one that you had in mind; they call it sand dunes. Deserts are only present in big continents, and small tropical islands like the Philippines are not supposed to have them. Coastal topography contributes to outdoor activities like sand-boarding and four-wheel driving at Sand Dunes. 

Opt for an Outdoor Adventure activity? Let us unleash the adventurous spirit in you! Experience the adrenaline rush and savor the panoramic views of the slopes of the sands aboard your 4X4 off-road jeep! Nothing beats the thrill of doing it in an environment where the road is designed dirt in an extreme angle climbs and declines in an extreme situation.

There are two (2) famous Sand Dunes in Laoag, the La Paz Sand Dunes, and the Paoay Sand Dunes. These Sand Dunes, with heights ranging from 10-30 meters in the coast near Laoag City, are usually "beach sand," shaped in dunes by the sea formed by weathering processes. Because of its desert environment, it is often held as a location for various shooting scenes of famous local and international filmmakers. 

Spend over an hour of insane wild trail riding action and see how each machine performs in this sandy off-road challenge. Start your engines and hop in on a 4X4 jeep. Nothing beats the thrill of doing it in a different environment. The exuberant nature of the sport is bound to help you feel that adrenaline rush that most people lust for as you go up and down the terrain on an unfamiliar road. We promise that you won't be disappointed. Its rolling and sometimes steep slopes make it a perfect place for a heart-pumping 4x4 ride.

You may also want to experience sandboarding downhill in the sand, which comes as a bonus for experience. The budget for the 4X4 off-road ride is P2,500 (maximum of five people); it's one of the top adventure tours in Ilocos Norte. Come and experience it; visit the province of Ilocos Norte!



Santa Monica Church, commonly known as the Sarrat Church, is the oldest and largest church in the whole Ilocos Norte province, considering the length of the aisle, which is 137 meters long. It was named initially as San Miguel to commemorate the arrival of the first Augustinian missionaries in Sarrat. 

Mayor Cristino Lagman, on July 30, 1911, stated that the church was completed in 1764 under Bachiller Calixto Gregorio. It was 5 years later when the convent was built to serve as a temporary chapel. The church, belfry, convent, and the curillo or bridge staircase connecting the church and convent was simultaneously constructed and finished in 1779. 

In June 1983, the grand wedding of Gregorio Araneta and Irene Marcos, the daughter of President Marcos, took place in this church. The event was eventually considered as the "wedding of the century." The wedding brought about the immediate reconstruction of the church since it was damaged through time, wars, and two major fires. Unfortunately, after two months, a devastating earthquake struck causing significant structural damage on the altar, church's facade as well as toppling down the bell tower. The church underwent restoration and repair after the earthquake.

The church's design includes motifs genuinely influenced by the Spanish regime. The church, the convent, and the bell tower are all made from baked bricked, thus making the color of the church red. The nave was embellished with a high open ceiling showing molave trusses, designed with a brick layered interior wall, stained glass windows, wrought-iron grills, and religious relics lining the front door. Surprisingly, it blends well with the prevailing architecture. The most notable and striking architectural feature of the church is its retablo-like façade, the lavishly floral decorations of the main entrance, and the windows above it. The church once had a clock on the dome that strikes every half-hour, installed by Father Jose Ruiz. 

Outside, you will notice the courtyard, the old church ruins, and buttresses surrounding the church. The church has ruins of a torture chamber where you will find two brick pillars, an indication where Filipinos who were against the Spanish, were hanged and tortured.

The bell towers before are always detached from the main church itself to protect it from damage in case an earthquake would topple the bell tower down. 

The church was declared as an Important Cultural Property by the National Museum of the Philippines on September 27, 2009.



Halfway between Vigan and Laoag, you can stop at the restored ancestral home and birthplace of Juan Luna, located in Badoc, Ilocos Norte. Juan Luna Shrine was acknowledged as a National Historic Site on October 7, 1976. Juan Luna is one of the Philippines national heroes, also a world-renowned brilliant painter, famous for his painting "The Spoliarium" and arguably the Philippines' most celebrated painter. He is also the brother of Gen. Antonio Luna, who also fought for Philippine independence. The Shrine is a reconstruction of the original two-story middle-class country home of Juan Luna. The original house was completely damaged by fire in 1861, and they resurrected it in 1977. They ceded Luna's house to the government in 1954 and completely restored by the government.

They designated the Shrine to Juan Luna to commemorate his genius works. The ancestral home has been turned into a repository of some of his masterpieces and merely reproduction paintings. It also contains some personal memorabilia, as well as antique household items, including an original "emperor-sized" four-poster bed used by Luna.

Let's take a peek inside the restored ancestral home of Juan Luna. The Shrine is a middle-class Bahay na Tisa made of clay bricks and molave wood. The house has two stories: the ground floor used to be the basement while the second level is for the living room and bedrooms. The ground floor of the house showcases some replicas of his great works like "Spolarium," household gadgets, vintage family photos, and different memorabilia. Not only of Juan Luna but also some stuff of General Antonio Luna, these include his sword, uniform, and the letter he wrote to Leon Apacible. The 2nd level is divided into four sections: the living room, the bedroom, the chapel, and the Azotea. You'll observe a showcase of lovely antique and Parisian furniture, and paintings. Outside, they still maintain the old-fashioned water well where Luna obtain their water. 

The whole building and surroundings are very well maintained. Thanks to the curator for an excellent job. Because of Shrines, we can now get a glimpse of the past that marked significant achievements by a man like Juan Luna. It highlights the other side of ordinary Juan Luna like us, not just about the hero. It arouses nationalism within us for our country and inspires hope for us to value patriotism. With the rate at which cultures are disappearing, careful preservation of tangible proof of history is the only hope we had for recovering our cultural pieces. A visit like this provides a window to our account. Understanding our past can help shape our future. It is hopeless for humankind to progress if we are not aware of our history was. This kind of educational attraction opens our eyes that there is more than just travelling.



We're always excited when we saw currently popular or widely discussed locations in social media, where trending places feature always. How about adding on your list some of these unknown places in Ilocos?

Maybe you have already visited the famous Bantay Bell Tower in Vigan and Sinking Bell Tower of Laoag? Doesn't mean you're gonna miss this Bacarra Domeless Tower found in Bacarra, Ilocos Norte. The town is famous for its century-old, the belfry was known as Torre ti Bacarra, which is a part of the St. Andrew Church. Bacarra is just next town from Laoag (10 km), a strange site to many tourists, and probably haven't heard. 

The Bacarra Domeless Tower was built in 1830, standing for some 50 meters. Periodic earthquakes from 1931 to 1971 caused the dome to start leaning. However, on August 17, 1983, another 7.8 intensity earthquake almost completely wrecked that caused it to collapse some part of it and reduced to 2 stories, remaining debris still lying at its foot. It became known as "The Domeless Dignified Bell Tower of Asia." This is why bell towers before are always detached from the main church itself.

Currently, the Domeless Tower is now being restored to its former glory, which started on June 10, 2019. Locals are very thankful for the development as the distinguished domeless bell tower is often seldom noticed and appreciated.

  •  Parish Church - The famous old church of St. Andrew Parish is located just 100 meters away from the Domeless Belfry. The church was destroyed by two intense magnitude earthquakes in 1983. Still, it was restored and completed in 1984 at the cost of ?3 million. Indigenous materials were used in the reconstruction of the building. The rebuilding of the church took almost 6 years.

The church's facade was original of Baroque architecture, and the beautiful tiles are still the original tiles since it was built

Unknown to many, the old church of Saint Andrew the Apostle, along with the bell tower and convent, are among the surviving landmarks of the Augustinian Friars that marked a historical and cultural milestone of Bacarra. It was established by Spanish Augustinian Friars in 1593 in memory of St. Andrew. The local people of Bacarra celebrate the feast of Saint Andrew during November 27-30.

Under Presidential Decree No. 260, then President Ferdinand E. Marcos declared the Bacarra Church a National Cultural Treasure on Aug.1, 1973. Bacarra Church should also be included in your itinerary.

  • Museo de Bacarra- Near the tower, you can find Museo de Bacarra. The two-story restored convent features numerous artifacts portraying the culture and history of the Ilocanos, dates back to the Spanish colonial era.  Old photographs, antique furniture, religious art, some nicely displayed local costumes, and some ecclesiastical history of the Catholic Church; mostly contributed by the people of Bacarra.

There’s an entrance inside the secret garden, mysterious underground staircase leading to three tunnels that were used as an escape route during the years of the revolution and WW2 - believed to be connected to the Bacarra River, the church tower, and the altar

Visit the museum to appreciate and understand local Ilocano culture and history.


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