Nestled in the north of Luzon in Ilcos Norte territory is the capitol city of Laoag. The name Laoag comes from the word “light” since the region of Ilcos Norte is one of the sunniest regions in the country! This is mighty convenient seeing as how Laoag has tons of outdoor activities, both natural and manmade for locals and visitors to enjoy.
You’ll find plenty of outdoor activities in which to partake on the beach, in the water, and on the sand dunes! There are museums galore, a wide variety of restaurants, and of course, plenty of shopping in the form of malls and handicraft markets.
From Manila, it will take you about 10 hours to reach Laoag by bus. By plane, it takes only one hour but is obviously a bit more expensive. Take your pick! Once you arrive in Laoag, consider renting a car so that you can make the most out of your time exploring. If that’s not your thing, you can certainly rely on Jeepneys to get you around.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Laoag:
1. La Paz Sand Dunes
85 square kilometers of sand dunes are waiting for you in Laoag.
Jump in a dune buggy or a 4×4 sand cruiser and tear up and down the sandy hills for a thrilling ride. From the top, you can absorb some attractive views of the water and look out onto the diverse landscape with the sand dunes bleeding into grasslands like a paiting.
Also at the dunes is the opportunity to learn how to sandboard. It’s just like surfing or snowboarding but on sand. The teachers will give you a mini lesson and then set you on your own to play around.
2. Sinking Bell Tower
This bell tower is literally sinking! Built on sandy soil back in 1612 by the Augustians, the Sinking Bell Tower has be drifting further and further into the earth ever since. Despite its disappearing act, this weathered monument still rings it’s bell every Sunday for mass.
As with most bell towers, this one is paired with a church- in this case it’s the St. William’s Cathedral, which is notably far from the bell tower (85-meters away). Once you’ve gawked at this ancient wonder for a while, mosey on over to visit it’s match.
3. Museo Ilocos Norte
Here is a museum designed to give a sense of pride to the youth of the Ilcos Norte. The exhibits and galleries in Museo Ilocos Norte focus on the cultural heritage of the people from the region and the multitude of industries that represent the area.
Exhibitions and galleries are always changing here. When you visit, you might witness the craft of hand weaving, learn about traditional drums produced specifically in this region, or see a photo series telling the story of Spanish-era Churches.
The museum is run in such an honorable manner and with such emotion that you can’t help to be totally enthralled in the experience.
4. Saramsam Ylocano
Where can you get some of the best Filipino food and some of the best pizza in Laoag? Both can be found in one restaurant called Saramsam Ylocano.
Saramsam Ylocano runs the whole gamete for Filipino dishes from the beef-based soup, Sinang-Lao, to the spicy Ilocos specialty of mixed grilled pork with chili and onions called Dinakdakan- it’s all so good.
As for pizza, they really know what they’re doing! Try the Pesto Pizza or the Longanisa Pizza, made with fresh dough! It will undoubtedly be one of the best meals you have in Laoag.
5. Santa Monica Parish Church
Built in 1779, the Santa Monica Parish Church has proven to be a significant piece of culture and history in Laoag. Used for numerous significant weddings, including the daughter of then President Marcos, the government recognized this church as a national staple and dubbed it “Important Cultural Property” to be officially entered into the National Museum of the Philippines. If it’s good enough for the president’s daughter, it’s certainly good enough to add to your holiday plans.
Come to take a tour around the property and premises and gawk at the red brick exterior and listen for the big clock tower that strikes every half an hour.
Fun fact: Santa Monica Parish Church is the biggest church in Ilocos Norte.
6. Rizal Amusement Park
Before you get your hopes up, let me break it to you gently- there aren’t any circus rides or Ferris wheels at this amusement park. However, this park does amuse people on a day-to-day basis in a more laid-back way.
Locals come here to take it easy in the park sitting in the grass or on a bench while watching the parades of busy people rushing by. There are a couple government buildings and a beautiful fountain that lights up at night. There are tons of great local restaurants and food stalls in the area. Try some homemade Empanadas, or Sinanglaw (intestine soup) if you’re up for a challenge.
Never underestimate how fun a carefree day can turn out to be in the Philippines.
7. Taoid Museum
Showcasing the Pre-Colonial roots of Ilocandia and its people, Taoid Museum is a fascinating glimpse into the cultural beginnings of an ancient civilization.
As you tour the museum, you’ll be taken on a journey through time via artifacts, clothing, tools, and replicas of the indigenous people of the region.
There are two-stories of history to be explored therefore it’s wise to block out a solid hour of time so you don’t have to rush!
8. Cuisine de Iloco
It would be a sin to visit Laoag and not stop in for a meal at Cuisine de Iloco. Not only is the food incredible, but also, the menu represents the food culture of this region! Think of it as a cultural lesson for your palate.
Have a seat at one of the cozy picnic tables out front or one of the hardwoods tables inside and prepare for a culinary adventure around the region.
Try the Grilled Pusit which is squid stuffed with a fresh salsa, the Bagnet Sinigang which is a variety of Filipino tamarind soup, or the Kare Kare which is a traditional Filipino stew in peanut sauce.
9. Blue Lagoon
Take a day trip to nearby Pagupud to spend the afternoon on the most beautiful beach in the Laoag area. Maira-ira Beach is home to the blue lagoon, a body of water so pure that it practically glows!
The landscape is unique with white sand, small mangrove trees, and peculiar coral islands that pop up out of nowhere.
The beach has lots of little restaurants where you can have a bite to eat with a cold beer. There is also a volleyball net and plenty of shade when you need a break from the sun.
10. Macy’s Diner Laoag
No, despite what the décor may tell you, you’re not in 1950’s New York. Macy’s Diner is a restaurant with a lot of character that throws tribute to the good ol’ days in America. There is a black and white poster of Elvis framed on the wall, checkered backsplash behind the counter, and even an old school jukebox where you can choose your tunes. If you have never been to a diner like this- then now is the time!
The food here is classic American with huge plates of pancakes, malt milkshakes, hamburgers, sandwiches, and more. Better yet, the servers are some of the friendliest girls on the planet! You’ll leave with a smile on your face and happiness in your belly.
11. Kabigan Falls
In the eastern part of Barangay Balaoi, you’ll find the mesmerizing Kabigan Falls.
Surrounded by lush jungle, this 80-foot tall waterfall is a pure representation of raw nature in its most exquisite form. The cool basin pool is fully surrounded by rich forests straight out of a utopian novel.
To get there, take a tricycle until you reach the beaten path where you’ll take a lazy, flip-flop friendly hike to paradise over wooden bridges and under hanging branches through the jungle. Take you time enjoying the small streams on the way, as the journey to the falls is all part of the experience!
12. Maligligay Falls
The trek to Maligligay Falls, also known as Pablo Falls, will lead you on one of the most breathtaking journeys you’ve ever experienced. It’s not quick and it’s not leisurely; this 45-minute hike will take some steady footing, agility, and coordination as you walk across riverbeds, down steep banks and over rocky paths- but it will be worth it.
After your scenic adventure, you’ll come to the falls. The falls spill off the mountain very rapidly creating a mist that fills the air. The pool at the bottom is perfect to dip your feet into and the landscape is a photographer’s dream.
13. Stay in the Town of Adams
Your hike to Maligligay Falls will take you to the sleepy little Town of Adams. It’s quite isolated in the middle of the green forests and farming plains. There are only a few houses scattered around, with some of them happily running as a homestays when guests come into town.
Get a glimpse into how an isolated culture lives and operates day to day. Your homestay will cook traditional dishes and be delighted to show you around the town. Additionally, you can visit the Tilapia farm serving fresh fish dishes!
14. Aurora Park
Aurora Park captures the essence of the city of Laoag perfectly.
The Ilcos Norte Capitol building is a beautiful piece of architecture with traditional archways and old-fashioned window fixtures. There is a beautifully designed dancing fountain surrounded by tall palm trees and old lampposts. You’ll see the Tobacco Monopoly Monument and the Marcos Hall of Justice, two more staples of the town. It all represents the history and modern charm that residents are so proud of.
15. Cockhouse Bar
If nightlife is what you’re looking for than there is only one place to go: Cockhouse Bar. Have a seat with your friends and order some cold beers and great food.
There will be live bands that put on a great show filled with cover songs, amazing instrumentals, and overall, an entertaining performance.
Prices are pretty cheap so you can afford to treat yourself. The waiters are extremely friends and prompt with their service. Cockhouse Bar has plenty of seating for you and your crew so don’t worry about needing to show up super early.