Known as one of the oldest towns in the archipelago, Vigan -- with its dark-wood mansions, kalesa rides, antique windows, and cobblestone streets -- is the Philippine’s little Spain.
In Asia, Vigan is one of the surviving places that shows the Spanish influence in the country — a fact that earned it the UNESCO Heritage Site award. In this place, history is rich, the smell of longganisa and empanada linger everywhere, and the sunset’s dance is reflected in capiz-shell windows.
A region filled with interesting history, most of the attractions around town cater to history junkies. The Mestizo district, a prominent destination around Vigan, features grand houses decorated in Spanish and Asian architectural designs that give tourists a glimpse of Vigan’s Spanish colonial past — a setting that is a favorite among local and foreign filmmakers. Make a stop at the Baluarte, a former governor’s fortress, which features a small zoo where you can get a free ride with some of the horses. Experience local culture firsthand by trying pottery-making at Pagburnayan, or witness how an abel is made by local women. For those who want to take a leisure trip, go for a kalesa ride, or join the Heritage River Tour.
Coming from Manila, you can book a flight to Mindoro Airport, also known as Vigan Airport, via Interisland airlines. Other airline options include Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines which have daily flights from Manila to Laoag City. Laoag Airport is an hour and a half drive from Vigan.
A cheaper but less comfortable alternative is a bus ride from Manila to Vigan. The 10-hour bus ride will take you to scenic Ilocos landscapes that can be seen along the way. The fare for this option is PhP 956 (USD 19).
The generally accepted currency around Vigan is Philippine Peso (PhP) that comes in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000. Although most hotels and restaurants around town accept credit cards, cash is still king, especially in smaller establishments. Banks and ATMs are widely available around the area, and reliable money changing shops such as Western Union can be easily accessed.
On average, the weather around Vigan is warm and humid, with occasional rain showers that start on May. The warmest months are from April to May. The cold months start from November to February. The best time to explore Vigan is from January to March when the weather is relatively cooler and tolerable.
A Vigan trip is not complete without riding the kalesa — horse-drawn carriages — when you visit sites around town. A regular trip costs around PhP 10-15 (USD 0.20 to 0.30) and includes 3 to 4 passengers. A private kalesa ride costs PhP 150 (USD 3) per hour. If you’re traveling DIY, you can hire a kalesa for one day. Rates start at PhP 1000 (USD 20).
Vigan may have fancy restaurants, but when it comes to tasting authentic Vigan delicacies, Plaza Crisologo is the place to visit. Sip in some hot, comforting soup by getting Arroz Caldo (rice soup with chicken bits), Miki (flat noodles drizzled with eggs and meat), and Sinanglao (soup with innards). Stall owners selling empanada (rice flour crust with longganisa, eggs, and papaya bits) and famous Vigan longganisa will be vying for your attention and the best thing to do is to give in — you won’t regret it. Bibingka (coconut cake) and cornick (fried corn bits) are great take-home treats that you can eat while sightseeing.
Vigan is a place that has it all — scenic sights, beautiful history, friendly people, and delicious food. Roaming around Plaza Crisologo while munching some freshly fried empanadas, you’ll know why this UNESCO heritage site is such a well-loved tourist destination in the Philippines.