Northern Luzon Circuit: Trip around Cagayan, Ilocos, and Baguio for 11 days

Last year, I went on the most butt numbing trip of my life. The experience was quite rigorous yet the rewards of visiting some of the most alluring places I’ve ever visited were also very gratifying.

It all started smoothly enough when I flew to Tuguegarao City, Cagayan Province from Manila.

It was very exciting for me since it was my first time to visit the northernmost parts of Luzon.


Tuguegarao City and Cagayan Province

I teamed up with travel buddy, Eric, to see the different attractions of Cagayan Valley and get a taste of provinces’ signature dishes: the pancit batil patong and pancit cabagan. We also had the chance to spend an afternoon in the famous church-like cavern of the Callao Cave and visit many fascinating churches in Cagayan Valley.

Arrival at the Tuguegarao Airport in Cagayan Province


Tuguegarao Cathderal

Buntun Bridge in Tuguegarao City

Pancit Batil Patong at Jomar’s Panciteria

Pancit Cabagan at Triple J Panciteria

Callao Cave in Peñablanca, Cagayan

Tumauini Church, Isabela Province

Our Lady of Piat Church in Piat, Cagayan Province


Oldest Church Bell in the Philippines at Calamaniugan Church, Cagayan

La-lo Church, Cagayan

Iguig Church, Cagayan

Cagayan Provincial Capitol

Buntun Bridge in Tuguegarao, Ilocos Norte

I was already filled with beautiful sights and delicious food in Cagayan but I still wanted to know what’s to see and experience in the northernmost tip of Luzon Island, I couldn’t resist venturing solo even further.

Ilocos Norte: Pagudpud, Laoag, and Paoay

A six hour bus ride took me to Pagudpud (Ilocos Norte), the northernmost town of mainland Luzon (not Aparri as what a local TV show in the 90s popularized). There was a lot to see in Pagudpud and nearby areas. Because of the town’s expansive white sand beaches, Pagudpud has been hailed as the “Boracay” of Northern Philippines. The raw beauty of its coastal sceneries are unlike any other place in the Philippines. I spent two days in Pagudpud, then it was time for a landtrip to Laoag City, which took the whole-day for me. A direct bus ride only takes two hours but I just had to make a few stops along the way. The vicinity of Laoag in itself is a nice place to visit. Laoag and its adjoining towns have a lot of remarkable churches and old structures such as the Paoay Church, which is included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.

Saud Beach in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

Trek to Kabigan Falls in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

Tricycle Tour to Patapat Viaduct, Pagudpud

Blue Lagoon at Maira-ira Beach, Pagudpud

Giant Windmills at Bangui, Ilocos Norte

Cape Bojoeador Lighthouse in Burgos, Ilocos Norte

Kapurpurawan White Rock in Burgos, Ilocos Norte

Sinking Bell Tower of Laoag City, Ilocos Norte

Cathedral of St. William the Hermit in Laoag City, Ilocos Sur

Marcos Museum in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte

Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte

View of Paoay Lake from the Balcony of the Malacañang of the North

Self-portait at the Malacañang of the North

Street sign at Batac City, Ilocos Norte

The bus ride to my next destination, the historic city of Vigan in Ilocos Sur, took around 3.5 hours. I was already starting to feel weary, in fact I slept right at the moment the bus left the terminal in Laoag. I usually stay awake during bus rides on the off chance I’d see interesting views.

Ilocos Sur: Vigan

Vigan is one of those places that immediately enters my mind whenever I think about “Traveling in the Philippines.” It’s sort of the pinnacle of Spanish-colonial heritage destinations in the country. In my opinion, there are grander structures elsewhere but there’s no other place in the Philippines where a considerable part of the city still has its old structures intact. Walking along the cobblestone streets of Calle Crisologo in Vigan and sleeping in an authentic Spanish-colonial house have long been a dream of mine … a wish come true for me!

Walking along Calle Crisologo in Vigan City, Ilocos Sur

Spanish-colonial Houses and Cobble Stone streets of Calle Crisologo in Vigan

Spending the sunset at Bantay Belfry Tower

Vigan Metropolitan Cathderal, Ilocos Sur

Vigan Plaza

Enroute to Santa Maria: Quirino Bridge over the Abra River

Santa Maria Church

Bagnet and Vigan Longganisa at Cafe Una, Grandpa’s Inn in Vigan

UNESCO World Heritage Marker of the “Historic Town of Vigan”

Calle Crisologo at Night

My great experience in Vigan seemed to have invigorated my spirit to continue to my last destination. It was certainly a much needed boost in order to endure the 11-hour bus ride from Vigan to Baguio City.

Baguio City and La Trinidad, Benguet

I wasn’t a total stranger to Baguio. I had the chance to visit the “City of Pines” when I was in high school during an educational tour in Luzon. It was however my first time to explore the city on my own. I’ve really loved Baguio ever since. I want to live there so I can escape the heat of living in the lowlands. Sans the rapidly increasing overpopulation problem, Baguio for me is like a big garden city perched on a throne in the highlands. The highlight of my stay in Baguio was witnessing a dramatic sunset over the city from the balcony of SM Baguio. I never expected sunsets in Baguio could be so beautiful! I also had a great time walking around Camp John Hay’s expansive manicured parks and the Strawberry Fields of La Trinidad, Benguet.

Nostalgic sight of Baguio City’s Session Road

“Pinikpikan” Dinner at Cafe by the Ruins

Chancing upon a local ritual in front of the Baguio Cathderal

Burnham Park in Baguio City

American-colonial architecture of the Baguio City Hall

Everyday scenes at the Baguio Public Market

Lunch at Little John’s in Camp John Hay, Baguio

Photo-ops at the “secret garden” of Camp John Hay

The lush greeneries at the amphitheatre of Camp John Hay

Getting away from the crowd at Wright Park, Baguio City

Dense housing almost covering entire mountain tops at Baguio City

Amazing sunset view from the balcony of SM City Baguio

Commute to the “Lion’s Head” along winding Kennon Road in Baguio

Stop-over at Bell Church before heading out to La Trinidad

Strawberry Fields of La Trinidad, Benguet

Fresh pickings at the Strawberry vendors in La Trinidad

End

There was no other (practical) way of getting back to Manila from Baguio other than by road so I had to endure one last (5-hour) bus ride. My whole trip in and around Northern Luzon took a total of 11 days across 5 provinces and 1 independent city. Although it was one of my most exhausting trips, I’d do it again if I had the chance. There’s still so much more to see in Northern Luzon and a few places I want to come back to.

Captivating sunset on the flight back home,  to Iloilo (from Manila).