It was through Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Jose Rizal that I learned of Vigan (thanks to the Department of Education for making it a requisite for all high school students to see the film). Since then I’ve always wanted to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site and feel that old-world romance that Vigan reverberates with.
Wanting to avoid the traffic, I left Manila (onboard Partas Bus, fare Php 460) at 10 pm (I suggest taking the overnight bus, the morning bus can take as long as 13 hours – which is what we experienced going back to Manila). Six hours and five Mariah albums later (hey, I like her), I arrive at Vigan.
From the bus station (after meeting with my guide and having a bowl of 10-peso Miki), we walked for about 10-15 minutes to Calle Crisologo in the Mestizo District where the Spanish colonial houses are. I have neither booked a hotel nor prepared any itinerary; I will let Vigan’s charm direct me.
It was breaking dawn, the shops are still closed and there are very few people walking the cobble streets of Calle Crisologo. Neatly lining the side of the streets are the ancestral homes, imposing their magnificence. Various antiquities also dot the sidewalk, further immersing visitors into the grandeur of the colonial days.
After checking-in at The Cordillera Inn (Php 1500 per night with free breakfast, expect an additional 5% if paying by card), it’s time to explore! Vigan is a rather small city and most of the tourist spots are clustered around St. Paul’s Metropolitan Cathedral.
You can explore Vigan by tricycle, calesa or on foot. Commuting by tricycle may not be the most quiet or the most romantic way to go around, but it certainly is the cheapest and the fastest; Fare (to just about anywhere within Vigan) would set you back by Php 30-60.
Admission is free. Governor Singson’s Fortress. Also a mini-zoo with most animals (the friendly-herbivore ones) freely roaming the grounds. There is an animal show at 3pm.
Admission is free. You can try your hands on pottery and learn how a Burnay (clay jar) is made. Visit early as this is a private business and operates during regular work hours.
Admission is free. Home of Padre Jose Burgos, converted into a museum. Houses Ilocano artifacts, weapons, jewelries and Burgos memorabilia.
Working out an appetite after all the sightseeing, Plaza Burgos is the place to go. Php 100 would go a long way at the food stalls near the plaza; Vigan longganisa (local sausage with strong garlic flavor), okoy, barbecue and (must-try) Vigan empanada are some of the snacks being sold.
Shops at Calle Crisologo have everything from shirts to key chains to cornik (crispy fried corn) to Vigan longganisa. With tourism being one of the main source of income for the people of Vigan, most of the items, unfortunately, are steeply priced.
Several fastfood chains and highly commercial brands are now finding their way into Vigan, which I find very disheartening. I fear that this commercialization, like a raging flood, will engulf the local businesses and wash away with it the charm of Vigan; reason why I like Cafe Leona very much.
Vigan doesn’t have much to offer the nocturnal (unless you’re up for some videoke; which, thankfully, are far from Calle Crisologo). Most shops, restaurants and even hotels close up after 9 pm. I think it actually adds to the experience, though it also wouldn’t hurt to have a quiet cafe open ‘til the wee hours where you can enjoy a good book while appreciating the beauty of the city under the night sky.
One whole day (if you arrive early morn) is sufficient to see Vigan; though an overnight stay is highly encouraged, especially if you are staying in one of the hotels in Calle Crisologo (they are an attraction on their own).
Vigan is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique architecture, a fusion of Philippine and Oriental building design and construction, with colonial European architecture. It’s wonderful that this distinction necessitated the preservation of this portion of our history.
I’m glad I was able to walk the cobble stones of Calle Crisologo, see (and even stay) in one of the century-old houses and wander the wide plazas. But it’s not just the architecture that makes Vigan such a special place; it’s that feeling you get, living the splendour of the past while in the present, a sense of pride in the heritage of your people.
Travel Date: October 2011