Why go now Ilocos Norte, about 488km north of Manila, is known as Marcos country. The late deposed Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos was born in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte; so a tour of Ilocos will not be complete without a visit to his birthplace and mausoleum. Youngest Marcos daughter Irene, Borgy Manotoc's aunt, wed in Sta. Monica Church, in Sarrat in what was described as the wedding of the century. Houses along the wedding path were painted and roads, paved. Some Spanish colonial-inspired houses were built for the wedding and still stand. These days, however, Ilocos Norte's greatest draw is its beaches and adventure activites.
Said Manotoc: "Ilocos norte has so much to offer. If you want to be in the middle of nowhere with nobody around, you can do that. If you want to be in the heart of the city with lots of stuff going on around you, you can also do that. In general, it’s just so beautiful. It can offer everything from the most picturesque beaches that will beat Boracay and Palawan. And then you have these totally obscure natural wonders like the cove.”
Ilocos Norte’s 77-hectare Fort Ilocandia casino, also attracts Asian high rollers, mostly Taiwanese, Korean and Chinese.
Where to Stay
"You simply can't ignore Fort Ilocandia. It’s like the heritage of Ilocos Norte. It’s built after a resort in Casa Blanca. The entire structure is made out of red bricks. It’s a very old hotel but the place is nice because of its charm.
"At Fort Ilocandia, you can drive; you can go to the beach, ride the ATV (automated transfer vehicle). They have things like the firing range, extreme game- oriented stuff. The place is nice because of its charm; the furniture’s nice; every room has a nice balcony. When it’s December or January, the weather’s so great. The temperature goes down to about 15 degrees. During the day, you can wear a light jacket. I don’t know if it’s true but they tell me that Ilocos Norte’s getting the Siberian breeze. In the morning, the sun may be glaring; but because of the breeze it’s so cool and the humidity’s not really at all uncomfortable. And at night, it’s really quite chilly. In front of Fort Ilocandia, they have this barbecue and live band set up. You just pick out what you want and they'll cook it for you. You get to enjoy your meal because you’re by the beach so you get that smell of seawater," said Manotoc.
Opened in 1983, the resort was said to have been built for the wedding reception of Marcos’ daughter Irene. Fort Ilocandia Resort and Casino has a golf and country club and a two-kilometer beach. Room rates range from P7,000 (about US$151) for standard single/double rooms to P38,800 for the ambassador suite. For inquiries and reservations, call +6377 670 9001 to 15, visit Fort Ilocandia Resort and Casino.
Hannah’s Beach Resort in Pagudpud is a 40-villa property situated right in front of the famous Blue Lagoon, otherwise known as the Maira-ira Beach. The resort is enveloped by large forests and cliffs and is a great place for snorkeling, mountain trekking, and boating. Room rates range from P2,000 a night for standard villas good for twoto P22,000 night for family suites for nine. For inquiries and reservations call +63928 520 6255, visit Hannah’s Beach Resort’s Facebook page.
Located in Currimao, Ilocos Norte, the 18,000sqm Sitio Remedios is a heritage resort facing the West Philippine sea. It is owned by Dr. Joven Cuanang, St. Luke’s Medical center medical director, who wanted to recreate a typical Ilocano village in the mid-50s. The houses and buildings at Sitio Remedios are in the Filipino-Spanish style, made of vintage bricks and wood salvaged from mid-century structures mostly from the towns of Ilocos Norte. Furnishings are vintage Ilocano hardwood furniture and the butaca plantation chairs with elongated armrests. With no television sets in the houses, Sitio Remedios is a destination for people who want to get away from it all. Rates are from P4,000 a night for Kwarto San Antonio, a room with queen-size bed and private bathroom, to P12,500 a night for Balay Batac, a two-floor house with two air-conditioned rooms, king- size beds and bathrooms. For inquiries and reservations, call +63917 332 0217, visit Sitio Remedios’ website.
Where to go
Paoay Church or St. Augustine Church is a UNESCO world heritage site, one of the “earthquake baroque” style churches that features 24 massive brick reinforcements running along its sides, with walls made of coral rocks, baked bricks, lumber, limestone mortar and sugarcane juice.
History has it that the bell tower of this 18th century church was used by the Katipuneros (Filipino vigilantes) as observation post during the Philippine revolution in 1898 against the Spaniards, and also by the Filipino guerillas during the Japanese occupation in World War II. For more information and inquiries call +6377 793 2030.
Malacañang Ti Amianan (“Malacañang of the north”) overlooks Paoay Lake and was built on a five- hectare land in 1976, inspired by Spanish colonial houses. It was one of the 29 summer residences of the Marcoses built during his regime. Though a substantial property, it pales in comparison with the other more lavish Marcos residences. It has nine spacious rooms for the family and their guests, and showcases a combination of both Ilocano and Spanish architectural designs. The walls are made of baked bricks; the floors and staircases of hardwood; and the sliding windows are made of capiz shells. The house is now a museum of the late President’s memorabilia. The Malacañang of the North is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 9am to 11:30am and 1pm to 4:30pm. Entrance fees are P20 for adults and P10 for children.
About four kilometers east of Paoay church is Batac, where you'll find the Marcos Mansion and Mausoleum, where the embalmed body of Ferdinand Marcos lies in a glass coffin in an air-conditioned room, with temperature carefully controlled and monitored. Although the late president was born in Sarrat, Batac is considered to be his hometown. The mansion houses a wide array of Marcos memorabilia and collections including family photos, military awards, his writings, and his work desk. The Marcos Mansion and Mausoleum is managed by the Department of Tourism. For more information call +6377 772 1219.
On Cape Bojeador: "I don’t really know much about the heritage sites because I mostly stay in the city. But I’m sure you’ve heard of the windmills and the lighthouse Cape Bojeador that overlooks the cliffs and the rock formation and the ocean. From the lighthouse, you’ll see all the beautiful landscapes and the mountains and the sand dunes. the lighthouse is over a hundred years old. It’s a long climb up to the lighthouse on old, metal winding stairs. It’s probably about three-four-storey high. Even the walk to the base of the lighthouse is about two-three storeys. But it’s definitely worth it. It’s all glass and you can actually go up to the top where the light used to be.
"Maira-ira Cove, to me, is the cove I've been going to since I was eight. I personally don't do resorts. Whenever we go to Pagudpud, we go to Maira-ira. The first time we went there, there was nothing there. Not even a hut, not any form of shelter. That was like more than five years ago. It was really nice. I don't know how much it's changed – before, you could walk up to like 200 feet to the beach and the water would still be waist deep. It's really, sort of like, paradise. It's probably about 2km long but it has that nice cove. It has a wide beach front, about 40 to 50 feet of sand before you hit water.”
Adams is probably one of more recent nature adventure spots in Ilocos norte. Go to Bolo River and enjoy kayaking on the 5km stretch with a virgin forest right on the edge of the river.
A 30-minute motorcycle ride from Pagudpud to Adams will cost about P150 per person. Reaching the town proper in Adams, you can walk to the Bolo River, which overlooks Mt. Palemlem, said to be the highest peak in Ilocos Norte. You can hike with a mountain guide for P700, good for 5 persons.
Tourists can also hike from Bolo River to Anuplig Falls, a 25-foot waterfall with two basins, ideal for swimming.
Climb Lovers Peak, a hill located near the town proper. Once you get to the top, you can enjoy a 360-degree view of the Tinamburan mountain ranges.
Manotoc suggests trying sand boarding on the sand dunes in Paoay. According to Reny Tan, vice president of the Laoag Eco-adventure Development (LEAD) Movement, sand boarding is perfectly safe for everyone, professionals and beginners alike. For a fee of P2,500, the LEAD Movement can organize a 4x4 ride on the sand dunes, inclusive of sandboarding activities. Contact Reny Tan at +6377/ 772 0538 or +63919 873 5516, or visit LEAD Movement’s website.
Where to eat
“Whenever I visit the province, I usually do food trips. Batac is the best for food. It’s where you can get authentic Ilocos norte empanada (fried thin pastry stuffed with grated green papaya, longganisa or local sausage and egg). Go to Riverside Empanadahan in Batac for empanada. For inquiries call +63916 358 2597.
"For family gatherings I don't know why my mom likes to invite everyone to Macy’s Diner in Laoag. It's funny because when you get there, you see pictures of James Dean hanging on their walls and stuff like that – and then they serve pinakbet pizza. It's funny because it's a diner, with all that American stuff going on; but at the same time it’s really localized. For inquiries call +6377 770 3551, visit Macy’s Diner.
"Another must try in Laoag city is Saramsam Restaurant, which has developed a poque poque variant – topped with a mix of grilled eggplants, cooked omelet style with onions, tomatoes and eggs, along with their inkalti, which is essentially karioka or crisp-fried rice cooked on the table a la fondue. Located in Giron and P.Gomez St. Laoag City, tel +63917 702 6401, visit Saramsam Restaurant.
"Herencia Café in Paoay, located right across the famous church, is a good place for the original pinakbet pizza. they also have a variety of dinuguan (pig's innards in blood stew) and bagnet (crisp-fried pork). Located in McArthur St., Barangay 14, Sangladan, tel +6377 614 0214, visit Herencia Café.
"For the best pancit in the world get Pancit Cabagan, a medley of stir fried freshly made noodles mixed with chicharo, Baguio beans, cabbage and topped with boiled quail eggs and crispy lechong kawali or bagnet, at Aling Kikay’s Restaurant in Bacarra road, Cabagan."
Go to Nagbacalan, Laoag city, for Abel clothing (hand-woven cloth with leaf and floral design) made using the traditional weaving machine called pangab-lan.
For tapuey (rice wine) and bugnay (fruit wine), ask locals for Lola Ingga’s home in Adams.
Buy Ilocano t-shirts at the Museo Ilocos Norte, for about P250. Unlike the typical colorful graphic type, Manotoc says that t-shirts bought from the museum is “less touristy looking. The t-shirts are actually designed by Ilocano artists.”
The museum is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. Located at Gen. Luna corner Llanes Sts., Laoag City. For inquiries call +6377 770 4587, visit Museo Ilocos Norte.
How to get there
By land, Fariñas Bus Terminal in Quezon City has regular service to Ilocos Norte for P700 one way for regular buses and P750 one way for buses with toilet. The day trips will take roughly 10 to 12 hours and eight to nine hours for night trips. For inquiries and reservations call +632 743 8580, visit Farinas Transit.
Ilocos Norte is best explored by kalesa, the traditional horse-drawn carriage. A 30-minute tour around the city costs P200. Kalesas can seat up to five passengers. Tricycles are good for traveling short distances. If planning to go from town to town, board a mini-bus at terminals near the Provincial Capitol in Laoag City for P80.
About our Insider
Borgy Marcos Manotoc, 33, was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, where the Marcoses were once exiled following the People Power Revolution of 1986. While he has lived in London, Portugal, and New York during most of his growing up years, Manotoc settled back in Manila in 1998. He frequents Ilocos where the Marcos political heartland remains. His mother Imee Marcos has been the governor of Ilocos Norte since 2010.
Originally published for Inflight Traveller May 2010. Updated April 2016