Vigan City in Luzon, Philippines

One of the places Pepe and I visited on our trip up northern Luzon was Vigan City. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Vigan City in the Province of Ilocos Sur, located in the northwest part of Luzon, is a beautifully preserved example of a 16th century Spanish influenced Filipino Village.

It’s a place I recommend if you want to experience true Spaniard/old-world Filipino tradition. Only about 400km or about 245mi from Manila, a bus can take you there in about 8-10hrs. There are quite a few hotels and apartments to stay overnight or several days, whatever your schedule (if you have one) allows.

It was their Annual Fest

Being spontaneous, we arrived in Vigan not realizing they were in the midst of their annual festival, and the city was full of celebrants enjoying the many festivities. Most of the hotels were fully booked, especially the larger ones in the center of town.

But with a little patience, we did find a very nice hotel that still had a few rooms available. Since it was already late with the sun setting quickly and having been driving for most of the day, we decided to just get some dinner and get some sleep. Sightseeing would wait until the morning.

After a good night’s sleep, we ventured out to find a nice place for breakfast. We found a small café that reminded me of a small room in a Spanish castle, with large stone walls and wooden tables with wood and candle chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.

Traditional sausage

We settled on a table next to a small window (without glass) that faced out onto the street and ordered our breakfast; Excellent coffee, and a traditional Filipino breakfast of garlic fried rice, fried egg, and langonisa (lahng-goh-nee’-sah), a traditional sausage of the Philippines. I had never had Vigan langonisa and was anxious to try it.

It’s quite different from the traditional langonisa I’m used to, which is a little sweet. Vigan langonisa is much smaller with a tang of vinegar. Wow! I loved it. I actually prefer it to traditional langonisa. We made sure we bought a few packages to take back home with us and stored them in our ice-packed cooler to keep fresh during the rest of our trip.

While eating breakfast, a gentleman passed by the small window next to our table, holding two live chickens in his hands looking for a buyer. He passed us, I guess he saw me and doubled back, stopping at the window trying to sell us the chickens. He really tried so hard to make a sale, even dropping the price several times. Me, I’d have bought them as pets. But alas, pet chickens were not meant to be. We took a pass on the poultry.

Horse and buggy

After breakfast, we set out to see some of the sights. Pepe decided to hire a Calesa (Kah-leh’-sah), a traditional horse and buggy, to drive us around. I’m not too keen on horses and buggies, because I feel sorry for the horses. Even in NYC, I’ve never ridden one.

But these horses all looked so well cared for, so healthy, the drivers so proud and the buggies beautiful. Convinced, Pepe hired a calesa driver and his horse, TONY. (All the calesas display the horse’s names in Vigan City. So cute.) Anyway, we climbed into the buggy, and with the video camera rolling; Tony pulled the buggy to get us going.

The little horse strained so much at the weight of Pepe and Pilar in his buggy that he took a big poop into a burlap bag hanging behind him, in his effort to get us going. A moment on video I will cherish forever. We were laughing so hard, tears were streaming down our faces.

St.Paul’s Cathedral

Once in stride, Tony and his driver took us on a ride around the city. We stopped at St.Paul’s Cathedral first. Built-in 1790 by the Augustinians, St. Paul’s Cathedral is considered one of the major Roman Catholic landmarks in the country.

Although rather plain and unassuming from the outside, it is a huge contrast to the beauty of the inner cathedral. It was like stepping into the past, as this inner sanctum is so beautifully preserved and maintained—a must-see when you visit Vigan.

Church St.Paul's Vigan City

Next, we rode past the Municipal Hall and then outside the central city to a place called the Hidden Garden, a beautiful destination to take a peaceful walk among the orchids and other exotic and native plants and foliage.

We had a nice peaceful stroll among the foliage and plants, with sheltered bamboo benches and birds chirping all along with the Garden. A beautiful botanical paradise is hidden away for us to enjoy. We noticed that many of the plants were also for sale, and wished we had a yard or garden to plant some of these treasures.

The Hidden Garden

The Hidden Garden is not only a beautiful place for a peaceful walk, but it’s also a retail store and café. We decided to stay for a little while longer and enjoy a refreshing mango shake and a snack of empanadas. The resident macaws kept us company as we took in the beauty of all the stunning foliage that surrounded us in this little café in the middle of the Gardens.

After our snack, we climbed back into the calesa, and Tony brought us back to the center of the city where our trip began. The calesa ride made this little tour all the more delightful and personal. Touring in our car wouldn’t have had the same effect.

Since the festival was still drawing the big crowds, we decided to check out of the hotel say goodbye to Vigan City, for now, vowing to return another time to see the rest of this historic city. Before we left Vigan, we visited Vigan’s famous Baluarte Zoo, approximately 10 minutes outside the city proper.

This popular zoo is privately owned by Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson, who established it in 1991, on 80 hectares (197 acres) of his private estate in Baluarte, Vigan. The zoo is free admission to all and is open daily from 7am until 6pm.

Lion Vigan city animal park

Animal Park

We walked around this large animal park, passing cages of lions and Bengal tigers. White (albino) deer were roaming freely in a large expanse and actually walked right up to us to see if we had any feed to give them. You can purchase food for them from the staff, and they will eat right out of your hand.

We also saw peacocks walking around and single hump camels among the many other animals kept in this “mini-zoo”. One of the things you should see if you are ever a visitor to this zoo is the butterfly garden. We walked through a small, enclosed garden with hundreds of butterflies all around us. Quite beautiful.

There were also monkeys, pigs, and reptiles kept in small habitats and the most beautiful exotic birds sitting on perches that you could also hand feed with purchased food from the staff. The miniature horses came right up to me and I was able to pet a few as they stood at the front of their stalls. This zoo is a definite must when you visit Vigan.

A trip to historic Vigan is a place worth seeing if you’re visiting the Philippines. The city’s history and beauty will make you want to spend a couple of days exploring, and site seeing and the friendly hospitality of the locals will make you feel right at home. We enjoyed our time in Vigan and recommend it to everyone.

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