It’s no surprise that the Philippines is on everyone’s bucket list of must-visit countries. The country has so much to offer from pristine beaches and natural wonders to historical and cultural sites. Whether its century-old structures, breathtaking mountains, thriving coral reefs, or the UNESCO World Heritage Sites Philippines, indeed, is full of places everyone just has to see. 

The recognition greatly helps identify Filipino heritage sites that highlight our culture and the wonders of nature. But more than giving an identity, it also helps in the preservation and protection of these man-made structures and natural wonders. 

9 Must-Visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines

Here’s a list of heritage sites in the Philippines that every traveler must visit!

9. Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary 

Location: Davao Oriental

Year inscribed in UNESCO: 2014

Type: Natural

landscape view of Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

This mountain in Davao Oriental is home to 1,380 threatened and endemic species of animals and plants. One exciting thing about visiting Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary is the sightings of rare animals such as the Philippine eagle, the flying fox, tarsier, and civet. 

Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary is an important environmental treasure and the only heritage site in the region.

According to UNESCO, among the top reasons for Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary’s inclusion in the list of heritage sites in the Philippines is because it represents a complete, substantially intact, and highly diverse mountain ecosystem, in a significant biogeographic region of the Philippines.

8. Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva – Miag-ao, Iloilo

Location: Miag-ao, Iloilo

Year inscribed in UNESCO: 1993

Type: Cultural

facade of Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva
Photo source

One of the UNESCO Heritage Sites in the Philippines is the church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Miag-ao. It is among the best examples of the “fortress baroque” style in the country. Built of local yellow-orange sandstone, the church stands on the highest elevation of the town and was completed in 1797.  The church withstood typhoons and earthquakes and was burned twice: first was during the revolution against Spain in 1898 and the second was during the Philippine-American War.

ZEN Rooms Quarantine Hotels

Filipino master carvers incised the church’s entire surface. The church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva is one of the best examples of the fusion of the western Baroque style embellished with Filipino folk motifs. With that being said, it’s not surprising why this church is among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites Philippines.

7. Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion – Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur

Location: Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur

Year inscribed in UNESCO: 1993

Type: Cultural

facade of nuestra senora de la asuncion
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Another baroque church that’s among the 5 examples of tangible cultural heritage in the Philippines recognized as one of the UNESCO Heritage Sites in the Philippines is the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Ilocos Sur.

Built in 1765, the church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion exhibits a monumental brick facade and reinforced walls to protect it against earthquakes. Its appearance evokes a Mediterranean hill town, the only example of such in the Philippines.

Its key features include an 85-step stairway that leads to a carving of the Virgin Mary atop a tree, and a bell tower which was added in 1810. The power and simplicity of its geometric forms, and its location, make this UNESCO World Heritage Site Philippines an outstanding example of Peripheral Baroque architecture.

6. Paoay Church (Church of San Agustin) – Paoay, Ilocos Norte

Location: Paoay, Ilocos Norte

Year inscribed in UNESCO: 1993

Type: Cultural

facade of paoay church

Church of San Agustin or Paoay Church is known for its extravagant coral-block buttresses and ornate stone finials and is among the 5 examples of tangible cultural heritage in the Philippines. The construction of this world heritage site began in 1604 and was completed in 1710. Its coral stone bell tower, standing at some distance from the church, was finished in the second half of the 18th century. For your information, Philippine bell towers were constructed at a distance from the main church structure to avoid its falling on the church during earthquakes. Paoay Church’s bell tower was said to have been used as a Filipino watchtower during the 1898 uprising against the Spaniards.

This is one of the most notable “earthquake baroque” structures in the country where the primary concern was to design the church for earthquake protection. 

Being one of UNESCO world heritage sites in the Philippines, Paoay Church has become a top tourist destination in the region.

5. Church of San Agustin in Manila – Intramuros, Manila

Location: Intramuros, Manila

Year inscribed in UNESCO: 1993

Type: Cultural

interior of san agustin church in manila

Like the other baroque churches that are cultural heritage sites in the Philippines, San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila exhibits its remarkable features such as retablos (altars) of high Baroque style and wall buttresses separating cripto collateral chapels. What makes this world heritage site unique is its ceiling paintings in the tromp l’oeil style.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site San Agustin Church, built between 1587 and 1606, is considered the oldest and longest-standing church in the country. The church was the only structure left intact in Intramuros during World War II.

4. Historic City of Vigan 

Location: Ilocos Sur

Year inscribed in UNESCO: 1999

Type: Cultural

a kalesa passing through the cobblestone streets of vigan

Established in the 16th century, Vigan is the best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia according to UNESCO. One of the reasons for its inclusions in the cultural heritage sites in the Philippines is that 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.

Next to Manila and Cebu, Vigan was the third most important city during the height of the Spanish colonial era in the 18th and 19th centuries. Vigan was the center of Spanish colonial power in northern Luzon. The range of structures along the plazas and streets reveals the story of the town. The large buildings evoke political or religious power; grand homes speak of wealth, while others show more modest means; and cobblestones streets speak of history. This world heritage site is a living testament to the Spanish colonial era that exerts a strong cultural influence on the modern Philippine nation.

3. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park 

Location: Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Year inscribed in UNESCO: 1999

Type: Natural

a group of tourists in the boat exploring puerto princesa underground river

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is one of the world’s most impressive cave systems. What makes it to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites Philippines is its uniquely and impressive features of spectacular limestone karst landscapes, pristine natural beauty, and intact old-growth forests and distinctive wildlife.

With an underground river measuring up to 8.2 kilometers, it is said to be among the longest in the world. The highlight of the heritage site Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is that it flows directly into the sea, with its brackish lower half subjected to tidal influence, distinguishing it as a significant natural global phenomenon. 

2. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park 

Location: Palawan

Year inscribed in UNESCO: 1993, 2009

Type: Natural

divers with schools of fish in tubbataha reef

One of the most remarkable heritage sites in the Philippines is the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. Most people consider this UNESCO World Heritage Site as every diver’s dream as it covers 130,028 hectares, including the North and South Reefs. 

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is one of the Philippines’ best diving spots where you can see over 350 species of coral and almost 500 species of fish. The reserve also protects one of the few remaining colonies of breeding seabirds in the region.

1. Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras

Location: Ifugao Province

Year inscribed in UNESCO: 1995

Type: Cultural

majestic view of banaue rice terraces

Topping the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites Philippines is the Cordillera Rice Terraces. It is an outstanding example of an evolved, living cultural landscape that can be traced as far back as 2,000 years ago.

While this UNESCO World Heritage Site was built a thousand years ago, the traditional farming technique is still practiced to this day. That’s why the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras are an important part of the Philippine culture and identity. It is also a living testament to the sophistication of pre-colonial Filipinos because the Cordilleras were hardly affected by colonization.

Its beauty continues to draw attention, even the international film industry has noticed, making it a setting for the blockbuster Marvel film Avengers: Infinity War

Among the world heritage sites in the Philippines, the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras have such a powerful presence that makes them one of the most outstanding places in the country. It also shows the harmony between humankind and the environment.

If you’re planning to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Sites Philippines, we’ve got budget hotels near these areas. Make sure to book at www.zenrooms.com to enjoy a comfortable and hassle-free trip!

Frequently Asked Questions About UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines

Q: How many UNESCO World Heritage Sites are there in the Philippines?

A: There is a total of nine (9) UNESCO World Heritage Sites found in the Philippines.

Q: What are the world heritage sites found in the Philippines?

A: The nine (9) UNESCO World Heritage Sites found in the Philippines are:

  1. Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary
  2. Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva
  3. Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion
  4. Paoay Church
  5. Church of San Agustin in Manila
  6. Historic City of Vigan
  7. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park
  8. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park
  9. Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras

Q: What is important to the Filipino culture?

A: Filipinos value their strong ties to the family as part of the rich Filipino heritage. They are very hospitable, loving, and caring. They respect their elders so much and the beliefs that have been passed on to generations.

Q: Where are the Philippine rice terraces located?

A: The most popular rice terraces in the Philippines are found in Ifugao Province na isang mahalagang yaman ng Pilipinas na ginawaran ng UNESCO bilang world heritage site. But aside from this, you can also see beautiful rice terraces in the province of Bohol.

Q: Anong UNESCO sites ang makikita sa Cagayan?

A: Kung naghahanap kang world heritage sites sa Cagayan Valley, sa ngayon ay wala pang naitatala ang UNESCO Philippines na heritage site sa rehiyon. Pero ngayon ay mayroon pa lang na tentative list ang UNESCO ng Paleolithic Archaeological Sites in Cagayan Valley.

Q: Anong UNESCO sites ang makikita sa Iloilo?

A: Ang UNESCO site na makikita sa Iloilo ay Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva.

Disclaimer: ZEN Rooms claims no credit for images featured on our blog site unless otherwise noted. All visual content is copyrighted to its respectful owners. We try to link back to original sources whenever possible. If you own the rights to any of the images, and do not wish them to appear on ZEN Rooms, please contact us and they will be promptly removed. We believe in providing proper attribution to the original author, artist or photographer.

Ilocos region is one of the most beautiful places in the Philippines that is both full of magnificent natural beauty and rich preserved colonial era cultural sites. It is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites—Vigan City in Ilocos Sur and Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte.

Paoay Church, also known as San Agustin Church, is one of the top tourist destinations in the province. Its spectacular view from all angles occupies most tourists’ posts on social media, as well as postcards, books, and magazines.

What’s inside this blog?

Paoay Church Location

Simabahan ng Paoay is one of the most famous and oldest churches in the Philippines. It is located at Marcos Ave, Paoay, Ilocos Norte.

ZEN Rooms Quarantine Hotels

Paoay Church History

facade of paoay church with candy-colored sky

Ang Simbahan ng Paoay was founded by Augustinian missionaries in 1593, and was a labor of love over time and in the face of earthquakes and other disasters.

The Paoay Church history began in the 17th century. What started as Paoay Church drawing turned into reality. The construction of the Simabhan ng Paoay in Ilocos Norte was spread over a century beginning from 1604: the cornerstone of the church was laid in 1704; the convent in 1707; and the belltower in 1793. Even while still unfinished, Paoay Church was already used by parishioners. In 1896, it was finally inaugurated. But in 1706 and 1927, it was damaged by earthquakes.

Its scars made it more beautiful and worth visiting. Because of San Agustin Church Paoay’s historical and artistic significance, it was designated as a National Cultural Treasure by the Philippine government in 1973 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site among the country’s baroque churches in 1993.

Seeing it in person in Paoay Ilocos Norte, you’d think it’s like straight out from a postcard. The sky above the church is often a deep cerulean making it a photographer’s haven. 

Paoay Church Ilocos Norte, overall, is an interesting design. It is adorned with eight pilasters and 24 extravagant coral-block buttresses and ornate stone finials that hold it up and protect it against earthquake damage.

The bell tower was intended to be constructed at a distance from the church to minimize damage should it fall.

According to historians, the bell tower served as a status symbol for the locals—the bell would ring more loudly and more times during the wedding of a prominent clan than it would during the wedding of the less privileged. It was also said to have been used as a Filipino watchtower during the 1898 uprising against the Spaniards.

Photo credits to Dan Lundberg via Flickr

Its altar and retablo are of a plain design compared to others; the latter bears an only a statue of the church’s patron saint, San Agustin. Nevertheless, it doesn’t diminish the church’s beauty.

Paoay Church being one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites

In 1993, Paoay Church Ilocos Norte was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the best examples of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines. The historical church is famous for its distinct architecture highlighted by the enormous buttresses.

Portions of the church were damaged by two major earthquakes. In 1973, it was designated as a National Cultural Treasure by the Philippine government. During an excavation inside the church in 2000, a prehistoric human skeleton and fragmented ceramics were discovered and are now on display at the National Museum. 

How to get to Paoay Church

From Manila, you can go to Paoay Ilocos Norte in two ways: by plane and by bus. 

By Plane

You can book a flight from Manila to Laoag which is the gateway to Paoay, Ilocos Norte.

From the Laoag Airport, Paoay Church is 45 minutes to an hour away. Vans and tricycles are available outside of the airport.

By Bus

From Manila, ride a bus bound for Laoag. There are hourly bus rides to Laoag via Farinas, Florida and Partas. Some buses take you directly to Paoay.

Travel time from Manila to Laoag by bus  is around 10 to 12 hours. From the bus terminal, Paoay Church is 45 minutes to an hour away. Vans and tricycles are available outside of the terminal

Places you can visit near Paoay Church

After you tour Paoay Church Ilocos Norte, there are still many great places you can check out near the area. 

1. Malacañang of the North

Malacañang of the North ilocos Norte

Photo credits to Troy Alyson Espiritu via Flickr

Malacañang of the North, also known as Malacanañg ti Amianan, is a presidential museum in Paoay, Ilocos Norte. It was the residence of the family of Ferdinand Marcos when he was the President of the Philippines.

2. Paoay Sand Dunes

a lime 4x4 vehicle at paoay sand dunes

If you want an extreme and thrilling adventure while in Ilocos, make sure to visit Paoay Sand Dunes and book a 4×4 ride! Once you’ve finally decided to take the adventure, brace yourself for a bumpy but oh-so-fun ride like no other!

3. Paoay Lake

aerial view of paoay lake

Locally known as Dacquel a Danum, Paoay Lake is located in Ilocos Norte. Measuring 470 hectares, it is the largest lake in the province of Ilocos Norte and one of the largest natural lakes in the area. Paoay Lake is adjacent to the spectacular Malacañang of the North. The lake is home to almost 77 species of common, endangered, and nomadic birds. Make sure to try boating so you can explore the surrounding areas. 

San Agustin Church Paoay may have gone through devastations like wars and natural calamities. But it has stood the test of time.

Today, Paoay Church stands proud as a mighty icon of the town and the entire province and its unparalleled grandeur continues to make us fall in love with Ilocos Norte over and over again.

Frequently Asked Questions About Paoay Church

Q: Why is Paoay church famous?

A: Paoay Church is famous because of its historical significance and its baroque architecture. The historical church is famous for its distinct architecture highlighted by the enormous buttresses. Portions of the church were damaged by two major earthquakes. In 1973, it was designated as a National Cultural Treasure by the Philippine government.

Q: How old is the Paoay Church?

A: Paoay Church is more than 300 years old  already as it was built in the 17th century.

Q: What is the oldest church in the Philippines?

A: The San Agustin Church, built between 1587 and 1606, is considered the oldest and longest standing church in the country. The church was the only structure left intact in Intramuros during World War II.

Q: What are the best places to visit in Ilocos?

A: Ilocos Region is such a great place to explore. Some of the best places to visit in Ilocos are:

  1. Calle Crisologo in Vigan
  2. Vigan Church
  3. Paoay Church
  4. Baluarte Zoo
  5. Malacañang of the North
  6. Paoay Sand Dunes
  7. Paoay Lake
  8. Bantay Church Bell Tower

Q: Ano ang alamat ng Paoay?

A: Base sa alamat, ang lawa raw ng Paoay ay hindi talaga lawa kundi isang bayan na nalunod sa baha bunsod ng walang tigil na pag-ulan dahil sa kasakiman at hindi magandang pag-uugali ng mga mayayamang nakatira noon.

If you’re planning to visit Paoay Church, make sure to book the nearest and quality budget hotel in Ilocos! Check out www.zenrooms.com for more details.

Disclaimer: ZEN Rooms claims no credit for images featured on our blog site unless otherwise noted. All visual content is copyrighted to its respectful owners. We try to link back to original sources whenever possible. If you own the rights to any of the images, and do not wish them to appear on ZEN Rooms, please contact us and they will be promptly removed. We believe in providing proper attribution to the original author, artist or photographer.