Vigan, the capital of Ilocos Sur, has the distinction of being named a UNESCO World Heritage City. The city has made headlines lately as it’s currently in the running as one of the 14 official finalists in the New 7 Wonders. The city is well-known for its Spanish-era mansions, cobblestone streets and kalesas (horse-drawn carriages), which are the most popular way for tourists to go sightseeing.
A lot of the main historic tourist sights (Calle Crisologo, Vigan Museum, Vigan Cathedral, Plaza, etc.) are very near each other and easy enough to walk to. Aside from kalesas, tricycles are also an easy way to get around the city. I can imagine biking (maybe on a vintage commuter bike or a bamboo bicycle) around here would be a great way to go sightseeing as well.
During a work-related trip last year, I got to go around via my favorite mode of transport. Thanks to Ilocos Sur-based travel blogger and fellow rider Edmar of Edmaration.com, I was able to get a short but sweet motorcycle ride to visit some sights located in the vicinity of Vigan before attending activities related to the the Raniag Twilight Festival, a thanksgiving festival celebrated during the Halloween season.
We met up at at RF Aniceto Mansion, the hotel where I was checked in, just off Calle Crisologo, which is considered the most beautiful street in the Philippines. Crisologo Street is a road paved with cobblestones and flanked by Spanish ancestral houses with large wooden doors, sliding capiz shell windows and red-tiled roofs. This is where all the souvenir stores and antique shops are located. Most of the establishments here have been converted into souvenir stores, restaurants and antique furniture shops.
From Calle Crisologo, we made our way to St. Augustine Parish Church or Bantay Church in the neighboring town of Bantay. Built in 1590, Bantay Church is one of the oldest surviving churches in Ilocos Sur. The church is also known as the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity (Nuestra Señora de La Caridad) and it houses the miraculous image of Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Charity, crowned as the patroness of Ilocandia on January 12, 1956.
According to the marker on site, the church was damaged in World War II but was reconstructed in 1950. The restored facade is of Neo-Gothic design mixed with Pseduo-Romanesque elements. It is also said to incorporate the distinctively Vigan earthquake baroque in its architecture to save the structure from the destructive force of earthquakes that visit the land.
Right beside the church is a historic belfry known as the Bantay Tower, which served as a watchtower for pirates back in the Spanish colonial era. Like Bantay Church, the belfry was also originally built back in 1591 from a mixture of bricks, rocks, seashells and sugar cane.
Bantay Tower, which sits on a small hilltop, offers offers a great view of the surrounding towns, town cemetery, and mountains that reach neighboring province Abra. Apparently, scenes from the well-known Filipino film Panday were shot within and around the vicinity of the belltower.
Our next stop was the Baluarte, a mini-zoo and nature park. The complex houses a number of domestic animals like monkeys, chickens, large lizards (bayawak) and rare bird species, right inside the Baluarte forest. Originally a private rest house owned by Gov. Chavit Singson, the Baluarte is now a place where people can enjoy peace and quiet and away from the demands of a busy life and urban living.
The zoo is open daily between 7 am to 6 pm and is open to the public free of charge. Besides checking out the animals, there are different activities offered here. You can feed animals, ride a small carriage pulled by ponies, go horse-back riding, visit the Butterfly garden, or try your luck at the shooting range here.
It was getting dark when we reached our last stop. I was surprised to find out that there’s a very nice beach near Vigan known as Mindoro Beach. Located in Barangay Mindoro in West Vigan near the airport, Mindoro Beach is a simple beach resort with a few native cabanas overlooking the ocean.
While the beach is not really ideal for swimming because of the strong waves that hit the shores, it’s a scenic spot for those who prefer the outdoors to museums and churches. I really regret that I only had a short time to go sightseeing in Vigan. The place definitely warrants a longer visit.
Thanks for the tour, Edmar! 🙂