The northern area of the Philippines stays under most tourists’ radar, as they all rush to visit the more popular islands to the south. It’s really a shame that out of so many beautiful locations, only the rice terraces of Banaue are somewhat known. In this post, I’ll explain what’s so special about a vacation in the north, and how you can make the most of such a trip.
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While most tourists can only spare a few days on their vacation, there’s so much to do up north that you can easily spend 2 whole weeks there. Even if you only have a short time in The Philippines, combining one of these destinations with a trip to Boracay and Palawan is well worth it.
Doing so will allow you to get a different taste of the country, and visit a beautiful area most tourists sadly ignore. One easy way to do so is by booking a vacation package through an online agency. They will help you plan everything and find the best deals, so you have enough time to make the most out of a short visit to the north.
Even if we disregard how beautiful these places are, there are a few distinct advantages to travelling up north of the Philippines. Firstly, it’s usually much cheaper. Living costs, accommodation and travelling expenses are all lower than what it will cost you to visit the more popular islands down south, or even other spots near Manila such as Batangas, Tagaytay or Puerto Galera for example.
Secondly, it’s much easier to get there, with most destinations reachable by bus from Manila. Lastly, both the atmosphere and the landscape are unique and are unlike anything you will see anywhere else in the Philippines.
Don’t get me wrong, a white-sand island with crystal clear waters isn’t bad, and for that purpose visiting the Southern parts of the country is perfect. Mixing things up a bit, however, will allow you to get a better taste of everything the Philippines has to offer.
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So, here are the best places to visit in the North of the Philippines, along with my reasoning for choosing each, listed in no particular order:
Visiting the North of the Philippines
Starting off with this beautiful location, only a 2.5-3 hours bus drive from Manila. All buses heading out to Baguio, Sagada or Ilocos stop at Tarlac – which is where the trek to the mountain begins. This stunning volcano last erupted in 1991, the 2nd strongest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century, which changed the surrounding landscape considerably. These changes can be seen to this very day, creating one of the most picturesque and unique places in the Philippines.
The climb to the crater involves an hour-long 4×4 drive, then another 40 minutes or so of climbing by foot. It’s one of the most rewarding hikes in the country, especially considering how easy and quick it is. If you have the time, consider camping at the summit because the sunrise is absolutely spectacular. In any case, visiting Pinatubo can easily be accomplished as a day trip out of Manila, or as a 1 day stop on your way up north. You may check this cool tour for this destination.
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Sagada and the Rice Terraces
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When planning a trip to the Rice Terraces, most people head straight to Banaue and skip Sagada altogether. Personally, I think that’s a shame since Sagada offers a better taste of what the mountain province is really like. Also, hotels over there are usually better and cheaper. For that reason, my suggestion would set your base at Sagada and spend a few days exploring the whole area.
This place is perfect for nature lovers – with a huge concentration of stunning waterfalls, mountains and caves that are all great for hiking day tours. The province is also one of the best places to witness some of the Philippines oldest traditions, such as the harvest festival, as well as try out some great traditional food.
Banaue and Batad are merely an hour and a half away, and you wouldn’t want to miss those of course. The rice terraces are a UNESCO world heritage site and a true testimony to the creativity and ingenuity of ancient man. It’s a perfect place for hiking and camping, where you can marvel at the stunning view and soak in the rich culture and heritage.
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If there’s one thing the North of the Philippines lacks, it’s good beaches to visit. Sure, there is Laiya beach in Batangas or the beautiful beaches of Zambales, but none of those can really compete with the famous beaches elsewhere in the country. Luckily, there is Pagudpud which has been nicknamed as “Boracay of the north” for a reason – its stunning beaches and overall fantastic beach atmosphere which is perfect for relaxation.
Pagudpud is located at the northernmost tip of Luzon island, so getting there can be quite difficult. It’s not the best choice if you are looking for a single-destination holiday, and is best combined with other Ilocos attractions such as Vigan city for example. If you do want to visit this place by itself, consider flying to Laoag and taking a van from there, since a direct bus from Manila would take you no less than 12 hours.
The most famous beaches over there are Saud and Blue Lagoon, with the former being considered one of the most beautiful in the whole country. There are also dozens of smaller beaches you can explore, which are perfect if you are looking for a more private experience. Main attractions include surfing, diving and island hopping. The best thing about Pagudpud is the high level of resorts – you can easily find a great all-inclusive resort for only a small fraction of what you would pay anywhere else.
Vigan City is the real gem of the north of the Philippines, and if you’ll ask me to pick one destination to go to this would be it. It really amazes me this wonderful place doesn’t get more recognition from international tourists and mostly attracts only local visitors. The old city (Calle crisp logo area) has been named a UNESCO world heritage site, as well as one of the new 7 wonders cities of the world.
Vigan is truly one of the best places to explore Filipino unique history and culture. There are not many other places where the Asian-Hispanic mix is so evident. On top of that, the city offers a vibrant nightlife and high-level accommodation. There are also quite a few interesting museums to visit, showcasing Ilocano artefacts, traditions and history.
Since Vigan is quite close to Laoag and Pagudpud, it’s easy to include in any vacation in Ilocos. Combining these with a stop at Sagada would require around of week, but I would say that is probably the perfect Northern Luzon adventure. This type of vacation provides a perfect mix of history, culture and stunning nature.
I know this is just a shortlist and sadly I had to leave out a ton of amazing locations but if you are visiting other parts of the country, don’t miss these highlights of the Philippines. It was only meant to give you a taste of what the North of the Philipines has to offer. Hopefully, it will make you consider taking your next vacation there! If you have any questions or want to discuss another place I left out of this list, just leave a comment below.
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