The weather in the metro has been bipolar lately. You get all the sun and the heat in morning and then, in just one big flash, heavy rains start pouring in as if there is no tomorrow. For some, the rainy season marks their break from all the traveling as it becomes their “ipon-ipon muna” season where they save up for the next summer escape.
When some of my friends ask for my travel advice on where to go during the rainy season, I always tell them that this is the best time to explore the beautiful cities of the Philippines. This is the time when majority of our mornings are hot and dry and the afternoons are cold and wet and most of our Philippine cities have destinations and activities that are well-suited for this kind of weather.
Vigan is one city destination that can be enjoyed either hot or cold. This city located north of Manila is a popular destination known for its well-preserved Spanish-era mansions that gives you a glimpse of the country’s rich cultural and historical background. Interestingly, Vigan was once an island detached from mainland Luzon but because of the heavy siltation of the rivers that surround it, it was connected to mainland Ilocos Sur.
At present, the city is the economic and government hub of the province and is a popular destination for its rich history and appetizing gastronomic delights. Join us as we take a day trip to Vigan to experience the great Ilocano hospitality.
VIGAN’S MEZTIZO DISTRICT
The best way to experience Vigan’s historical core is by taking an early morning walk around the city. This gives you the opportunity to enjoy a leisurely stroll at a time of the day when the chances of rain is relatively lower.
Padre Burgos’ Birthplace
Built in 1788, the two-storey “bahay-na-bato” is one of the prominent heritage structures in Vigan. It is in this house where Padre Jose Burgos was born in 1837. He is one of the three martyred priests, known as GomBurZa, who were executed at Bagong Bayan (now Luneta) for mutiny.
The ancestral house is now a museum under the management of the National Museum. On display are the artifacts from the Iloco-Kankanay-Itneg culture, records and dioramas of historical events, Basi Revolt paintings of Don Villanueva, and the personal memorabilia of Padre Burgos.
Unfortunately, we were not able to check out the exhibits as it was still too early and we were also pressed for time. But checking out the exhibits in the afternoon is ideal especially when the weather gets a little wet.
Old Ilocos Sur Provincial Jail
Behind the Ilocos Provincial Capitol Building and just a few meters from the ancestral home of Padre Burgos is the old provincial jail. The former jailhouse now forms part of the museum complex as an art center of the city.
The jailhouse was built in 1657 and is a mute witness to the lives behind bars of prominent Ilocano personalities. Interestingly, the place was also the birthplace of former President Elpidio Quirino who was born on the second floor of the building in 1890 when Mariano Quirino was serving as a jail warden.
Ilocos Sur Capitol Building
Standing majestically at the city center is the Ilocos Sur Provincial Capitol Building. It is the seat of power in the region and it is one of the oldest provincial capital after it was established in 1576.
The building stands out among all structures in the area because of its American Colonial architecture and its massive size dominates the skyline of Vigan.
At the heart of the city is the famous Plaza Salcedo. It is a central piece of Vigan from the past to the present. It is also a mute witness to the city’s rich and bloody history since it was established in 1576 as Villa Fernandina.
It is historically significant as the plaza was the site where Ilocana heroine, Gabriel Silang, was publicly executed by Spanish officials as a warning to Filipinos about dissent. Apart from its rich history, the plaza also has memoriam installed around its hallowed grounds in honor of great Filipinos like President Quirino and Jose Rizal.
Salcedo Plaza is popular as an evening spot with its colourful light and water fountain show. Unfortunately, we were not able to catch the show as we opted to spend the night in Narvacan.
Arzobispado Nueva Segovia
Within the city center is an 18th century Archbishop’s residence – the Arzobispado Nueva Segovia. The residence is the only surviving Archbishop’s residence of its age. I had the chance to explore its receiving area with its massive pillars and staircases leading to the second floor. On display on its walls are historical records which also show the area that was under their jurisdiction during the Spanish times.
Apart from its religious significance, the Arzobispado also has historical significance. It once served as Emilio Aguinaldo’s headquarters in 1898 and an American Garrison in 1899.
Within its premises is a museum that houses eccelesiastical artifacts from the region.
Just right across the Arzobispado is the city’s center of Catholic faith – the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle or the Vigan Cathedral. The present church was built in 1790 to 1800 by the Agustinians.
The cathedral has an earthquake baroque architecture with large buttresses on its sides. The cream-colored façade of the church is highlighted by the image of St. Paul. Its perimeter fence are adorned by image of different saints as if guarding the hallowed structure.
The simple interior of the church complements its exterior. The church has a single nave with two side aisles flanking it. The church is highlighted by a two-tiered retablo with the Virgin Mary as its central image.
Vigan Bell Tower
Just right across the street stands the Vigan Bell Tower. This 25 meter bell tower has a weather rooster installed on its top that symbolizes St. Peter.
It is one of the bell towers in the country that stands separately from the church’s structure.
Plaza Burgos is one of the two major plazas that you will find in Vigan. The plaza is adjacent to the Vigan Bell Tower and was named in honor of the martyred priest, Padre Burgos. At the center of the plaza is a memorial in honor of Vigan’s favorite son with an image of him installed at the heart of the plaza.
Apart from the spot being a favorite afternoon spot for locals, this is where you can also find horse-drawn carriages, known as Kalesa, lined up along the side. They offer a quick tour of the Meztizo District in a more authentic feel.
Plaza Burgos is also a great place to start your food adventure with local food stalls that offer authentic Ilocano cuisines. Don’t forget to try out their empanada which is a favorite afternoon snack in Vigan.
I have been to Vigan a couple of times and a trip to this city is never complete without walking the streets of Calle Crisologo. It is the tourism icon of Vigan and it is the one responsible in putting Vigan in the country’s tourism map.
Named after a prominent Ilocano, Mena Pecson Crisologo, the street is a repository of well-preserved Spanish-era “bahay-na-bato” mansions of affluent Ilocanos. These heritage houses, complete with the street’s cobblestone floors, give you a glimpse and the feel of how it was like to walk this famed street during the Spanish colonial period.
Every now and then, a kalesa would stride by and you can close your eyes and hear the “klippity klop” sound of the horse’s shoes on the cobblestone street to get a complete Spanish-era sensory feel of Calle Crisologo.
It is a photographer’s playground. I have taken so many shots of Calle Crisologo and the place seem to not run out of angles that you can play around with. Calle Crisologo is very photogenic. It is a timeless place where you can tinker around with your creativity and imagination.
One setback though is that with the flood of tourists that swing by the street, you can expect the usual photobomber every now and then. Getting a clean shot of Calle Crisologo can be a challenge.
Here is a tip that I discovered on this trip, you can head off to the farthest end of Calle Crisologo, near Liberation Boulevard, way ahead of the other tourists. While most guests are on the starting block and flocking along the rows of souvenir shop, you will get better chances of getting a “clean” shot without the flock from this vantage point.
Another popular heritage house turned museum in Vigan is the Crisologo Museum along Liberation Boulevard. The modest “bahay-na-bato” was turned into a museum to honor the heritage of the Crisologo clan of Ilocos as it showcases the personal memorabilia of the family.
Interestingly, the man behind the conversion of the heritage house to a museum, Floro Crisologo, was a local political figure who was assassinated inside the Vigan Cathedral. His death and legacy are now immortalized in one of the corners of the house where he grew up in.
Simbaan A Bassit
Overshadowed by the Vigan Cathedral, the Simbaan a Bassit, along Liberation Boulevard, is a small church that also stands as a mute witness to Vigan’s colorful history.
Built in the 1850s, the small church was probably built as a Campo Santo where the final mass is held before the remains of the dead are interred in its final resting place. This is a common structure in century-old cemeteries similar to the ones that you find in San Joaquin in Iloilo, Roxas City, and Taguig City. So do not be surprised that the small church is surrounded by tombstones.
The church was dedicated to Apo Lakay whose image is the centrepiece of the altar. The image was saved from a Spanish Galleon that sunk near the waters of the city. It is believed that the image of the Black Nazarene saved the city from the plagues of 1756 and 1882.
One thing that stood out for me are the wall and ceiling artworks of the church – the one in the altar to be exact. I am amazed by the intricate details of the painting. It really reflects the painstaking work by the artist behind the paintings.
Beyond the Meztizo District of the city, there are a number of attractions that you can check out when you find yourself in Vigan. These notable attractions are close to the city center but one would need to hop on a tricycle to get to these destinations. With a few hours left before we headed off to nearby Narvacan, we opted to check out two familiar tourist spots around Vigan.
Some 10 to 15 minutes from the city by tricycle is a sprawling land owned by former Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson where you can enjoy close encounters with wildlife. The zoo has a variety of animals, both real and unreal, that appeals to all ages. The best part of it is that entrance to the place is free.
Guests can enjoy observing animals from different parts of the world up close. Tigers, ostrich, deer, peacock, camels, and even life-size dinosaur statues are just some of the animals under their care. Baluarte is further expanding with its Marina Point that will feature marine animal shows. It is definitely something to look forward to in the future.
Hidden Garden of Vigan
Far from the city’s buzz is a garden that has slowly claimed a spot in the tourism map of Vigan. In the past years, the Hidden Garden evolved from being hidden to a not-so-hidden tourist destination in Vigan.
Hidden Garden started out as a personal venture that later on bloomed to open its gate to tourists in 1991. From then on, the place welcomed thousands of tourists, both popular and the not-so-popular. The place will definitely appeal to those who have a green thumb as it is teeming with varieties of plants that you can’t help but admire as you walk along the garden path and under the green canopies.
Landscaped into the garden is a restaurant that has a homey atmosphere with its native Filipino design surrounded by the greens. Their menu offerings are Ilocano favorites and one thing that you should not miss out is their empanada.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
A wedding invitation gave us the opportunity to wander around Vigan, mostly on foot. Unlike my previous visits, I had more time to “read” through the colorful history of the city despite the limited time. Vigan stays true to its tourism brand promise of giving its guests a glimpse of Philippine history in the most interesting way. The city’s historical core is a delight to all the senses. It teaches the lessons of the past and the importance of understanding the value of what makes us Filipinos, through our colourful history.
A day is not enough to experience the whole of Vigan but it is enough to imbibe in one’s heart the pride of being Filipino. Vigan gives you an interesting brief of our story as Filipinos which, in the end, will make you yearn for more.
So is anyone up to head up to Vigan on a weekend?
Getting There: Heading up to Vigan is relatively easy as most bus lines to the north make a stop in Vigan. The fastest way to get a roundtrip bus ticket is through pinoytravel.com.ph. Bus fare ranges from Php580 to Php806 depending on the type of bus service that you prefer. I suggest that one takes the De Luxe buses for a more comfortable 10 hour trip. I also suggest that one takes the evening trips.
Once in Vigan, you can walk around the historical core of the city. You can take the tricycle to head up to Baluarte and Hidden Garden.
For cheaper accommodations, you can call Casa Virginia Romana at (0927) 4903895 or (0935) 2006757.
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Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.