Vigan City Guide: Traveling to The World’s Best-Preserved Spanish Colonial Town

Vigan City Guide: Traveling to The World’s Best-Preserved Spanish Colonial Town
a kalesa passing through old houses in vigan
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Heritage houses, cobblestone streets, kalesas, historic attractions, and delicious cuisine—these spell out Vigan City. 

As one of the best preserved Spanish colonial towns in the world, Vigan City has a unique charm that anyone would be attracted to. In fact, you might not see much of its classic architecture and matching cobblestoned streets elsewhere in the Philippines. Plus, there are food and attractions of interest in and around the city that surely make the 8 to 10-hour road trip so worth it.

To get to know more Vigan City, let’s take a look at this Vigan tour guide and travel back in time!

History of Vigan City

a view of the old houses in calle crisologo in vigan

Vigan was an important coastal trading post in pre-colonial times. 

Long before the Spanish galleons came, it was the Chinese junks who sailed first to Isla de Bigan through the Mestizo River. They came to barter exotic goods from Asian kingdoms in exchange for gold, beeswax and other mountain products from the Cordilleras. Most Chinese settled in Vigan, intermarried with the natives and started the multi-cultural bloodline of the Bigueños.

In 1572, King Philip II sent Captain Juan de Salcedo with about 80 soldiers to explore the coast of Los Ilocano that sailed from Manila to Vigan.

After the successful expedition and exploration of the North, Captain Juan de Salcedo founded “Villa Fernandina de Vigan” in honor of King Philip II’s son, Prince Ferdinand who died at the age of four. Because of this, he was rewarded by the King with the old province of Ylocos which then composed of the Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra, La Union and some parts of the Mountain Province as his Encomienda and was accorded the title as Justicia Mayor de esta Provincia de Ylocos.

It was believed that when Salcedo asked a native what the name of the place is in Spanish, the native could not understand a word he was saying. Salcedo then pointed on the ground and the native thought that he was actually asking for the name of the vegetation planted on the ground. So the native said “bigaa apo, bigaa apo”, referring to a tuber plant from the “gabi” or taro family. From then on the Spaniards named the place Bigan.

In the 17th century, Vigan City witnessed one of the bloodiest wars in Philippine history—the revolt by Diego and Gabriela Silang against the Spaniards.

During World War II, Vigan came close to destruction at the hands of the Japanese, if not for a priest taking in the Filipino wife and child of the city’s Japanese military commander, on the condition that Vigan be spared.

But the battles didn’t stop there because after the war, in the 1970s, the town became a battleground again but this time, between political clans vying for control of Ilocos.

The state of Vigan City then was far from the tourist destination that it is now.

Vigan City being a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Because Vigan has maintained its authenticity in its grid street pattern, historic urban layout and use of open spaces, UNESCO has inscribed it in the list of World Heritage Sites.

According to UNESCO, Vigan is the best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia. Its architecture reflects the coming together of cultural elements from elsewhere in the Philippines, from China and from Europe, resulting in a culture and townscape that have no parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia.

Places to visit in Vigan

1. Calle Crisologo

a local woan passing through a colorful souvenir shop in vigan

A trip to Vigan Philippines won’t be complete without walking along the iconic Calle Crisologo. The Spanish houses erected here by the wealthy families have been so well-maintained over the years. Tourists can ride a kalesa or simply take a fun walking Vigan tour to see the marvelous heritage houses.

2. Syquia Mansion Museum

the exquisite dining hall of the syquia mansion
Photo credits to Dan Lundberg / Flickr

Located in Quirino Boulevard, the Syquia Mansion Museum has been decorated with antique furniture, paintings, and exhibits from the time of President Elpidio Quirino, a native of Vigan. The stunning house was owned by Quirino’s wife, who belonged to the affluent Syquia family.

3. RG Jar Factory

different vases and pots in rg jar factory

After you’re done exploring the Vigan heritage village, go for a unique couple or family bonding activity in RG Jar Factory where you can make your own pot and jar. The jar makers can demo how it’s done and let you create your own clay pot or jar. The place does not have any entrance fees whatsoever but you could donate any amount, it’s up to you. 

4. Bantay Church Bell Tower

tourists climbing the bantay church bell tower

The Bantay Church Bell Tower served as the town’s watchtower in 1591. The magnificent view may have been the reason why it was supposedly “Diego and Gabriela Silang’s favorite date spot during the 17th century.”

5. Baluarte Resort

antrance at the balaurte park and zoo

Just 10 minutes away from Calle Crisologo, Baluarte Resort and Mini Zoo lets you get close to nature’s wonderful creatures from cute little birds to big cats a.k.a. tigers. It’s also dubbed as the “Home of the Big Cats in Vigan,” as it shelters Bengal tigers, white lions, and leopards.

Things to do in Vigan

1. Food trip

a kalesa passing through a vigan restaurant

Vigan Ilocos Sur is a haven for foodies! Wherever you look, you’ll find a grand restaurant, hole-in-the-wall cafes, or quaint eateries that serve oh-so-delicious food! You must try their famous Vigan longganisa and empanada! What’s even better is that the food here isn’t expensive unlike in other touristy places. 

2. Go on a weaving tour

a guy weaving abel cloth

Abel cloth is a traditional woven product in Vigan known for its unique beauty and durability. Many families hand abel cloth down to younger generations as heirlooms as this is something that represents their culture. Places you can visit are: Cristy’s Loomweaving, Rowilda’s Loomweaving, Vigan Public Market, and Calle Crisologo.

3. Make your own pot

a newly formed beautiful vase at rg jar factory

Another fun activity you can try in Vigan Ilocos Sur is pottery making! If you love planting, this might come in handy for you! You can visit RG Jar Factory and test your hand skills at pottery. If you don’t have the patience and creative “skill” for it, you can try the less graceful but possibly equally satisfying alternative: smashing jars to make clay beds for fishponds.

4. Visit the Vigan Cathedral

facade of the manila cathedral

The Vigan Cathedral, also known as the St. Paul’s Cathedral is considered a major religious landmark not only of northern Luzon but the country as well. The original structure was built in 1574 with wood and thatch. It was just a mere chapel then. It was only in 1641 when it was turned into a church and was completed in 1800. 

The St. Paul’s Cathedral follows a Baroque architectural design that has been modified by Ilocanos to strengthen the structure against earthquakes which is known as “Earthquake Baroque.”

5. Discover the Hidden Garden Vigan

Contrary to its name, Hidden Garden Vigan is not actually hidden. In fact, it’s found at the heart of Vigan City and is frequented by tourists and locals alike. Here you can shop souvenirs, clothes, and plants or dine at their garden restaurant that serve fresh food everyday after a tiring Vigan tour at the Vigan heritage village!

Must-try food in Vigan

1. Vigan longganisa

different vigan longganisa in the market

Oh dear, trust us! You can’t leave Vigan without tasting the city’s famous longganisa! Unlike the usual longganisa that’s sweet and juicy, Vigan longganisa is rich in flavor kicking your taste buds with garlic, salt, paper, and special herbs and spices! It’s kind of dry and saltier when eaten. Tourists never leave Vigan without buying this delectable treat for their family and friends back home.

2. Empanada 

vigan empanada

Photo credits to Jose Nicdao / Flickr

Another treat you shouldn’t miss when in Ilocos is the Vigan empanada! It is a deep-fried pastry stuffed with meat. But what makes Vigan empanada different from others is its stuffing. Their empanada is filled with meat, vegetables, and egg, then paired with the best vinegar sauce! While you’re eating, you can also watch the famous dancing fountain Vigan near the plaza!

3. Sinanglaw 

Sinanglaw is a soup dish made of beef and beef innards flavored with garlic, onions and ginger. Kamias gives it a distinctly sour taste with a hint of bitterness, usually a favorite pulutan (beer match). It’s been compared to the popular beer chow pinapaitan.

Best time to go to Vigan

The best time to go to Vigan is around January to May. Vigan celebrates its town fiesta every January while summertime in the Philippines is best to be spent from March to May.

How to get to Vigan

There are two ways to get to Vigan: by bus and by plane.

By bus

From Manila, you can ride a bus bound for Vigan. The travel time will take about 8 to 10 hours depending on the traffic.

By plane

From Manila, you can take a plane to Laoag City. Upon arrival, there is a lot of public transportation available in the Laoag City Airport that can take you to Vigan. Travel time is about an hour. It’s faster but it’s thrice the price of the bus fare ticket. 

For an affordable accommodation in Vigan that doesn’t sacrifice comfort and quality, make sure to check out www.zenrooms.com!

 

 

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