One of the oldest and certainly one of the most well-preserved cities in the Philippines is the City of Vigan, the capital of Ilocos Sur Province in the western coast of the Island of Luzon. Vigan is known for its European infused architecture and well-preserved Hispanic colonial buildings and cobblestone streets, that it attracts visitors from all over the world and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since December 2, 1999.
Strangely though, the name Vigan is not derived from any Spanish word but is actually from the Southern Fujianese (locally referred to as Hokkien) word “Bee Gan”, which means Beautiful Shore. Confused? Well, this area, you see, was originally a settlement of Chinese traders from the Fujian Province of China and since the Castillian and Basque colonizers interchanged V and B (in reference to the sound of B) that the “Bee Gan” of the Chinese settlers was spelled as “Vigan”. This name has been retained to the present and the Chinese settlers, who would eventually be “Hispanized”, both in culture and the adoption of Hispanic names, live on in the numerous elite Chinese-Christian creole families that strive to preserve the beauty and wonder of the unique fusion culture of Vigan.
MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION:
To reach Vigan via plane, take a domestic flight from Manila going to Laoag City. From the Laoag airport, there is an hour and a half bus ride going to Vigan.
Via land, there are regular buses that go directly to Vigan from Manila. It is a scenic eight-hour ride along Manila-Ilocos Highway.
Although the best way to go around Vigan is on foot, there are public utility vehicles available like jeepneys, tricycles and the popular Calesa.
ATTRACTIONS: VIGAN HERITAGE VILLAGE. The so-called Mestizo District is, some would say, the heart of Vigan. With the romantic charm of Hispanic ancestral houses lined along the cobblestoned streets of Plaridel and Mena Crisologo, this quaint, rustic, antique locale is truly deserving of its World Heritage status. The ancestral houses of the Hispanized Chinese settlers still have their antique tiled roofs, their hardwood floorings, imposing balustrades and azoteas in a fusion of Spanish, Mexican and Chinese architectural style.
BALUARTE. Owned by one of Vigan’s most prominent people, the former Governor of Ilocos, Chavit Singson, the Baluarte is a mini-zoo in Salindeg. Open to the public for free, this interactive wildlife sanctuary houses many species of animals, including tigers and ostriches, that one can interact with (well, maybe not that much with the tigers). Dedicated to protecting and conserving endangered animals and educating people about the different animals inside, this wildlife sanctuary slash park also serves as a venue for seminars and conferences and has several souvenir shops. Located at Brgy. Tamag, Vigan City.
BANTAY BELFRY. Possibly the highest point in Vigan, Bantay Belfry offers a scenic view of Vigan. During the Spanish period, Bantay (which means to guard) Belfry served as a watchtower which alerts the people on possible enemy attacks. A ten-minute Calesa ride from the city proper, this famous tourist spot has survived numerous natural calamities.
BURNAY POTTERY. Vigan takes pride of its earthen jars or locally known as burnay. It is made of clay found in Vigan and mixed with fine sand. With the use of pottery wheel and kiln made of brick and clay, the skillful potter shapes the clay into a durable and beautiful jar. The traditional way of making these local jars dates back to pre-colonial era when Chinese immigrants started settling in Vigan. During the earlier days, these jars are used as storage for salt, water and local wine called basi. Today, tourists—mostly foreigners—buy them as souvenirs which becomes home decorations. Get to see the potters at work and visit Barangay Pagburnayan.
With about thirty nine barangays, Vigan’s historic and recreation center is situated at only a small area that one could just walk around in. From Plaza Burgos to Plaridel and Crisologo streets, the generally intact gorgeous Hispanic architecture lines up the streets to form a very beautiful, picturesque vista that one can only find in very old European towns.
Do walk around Vigan or take a Calesa (horse drawn carriage) ride around the entire town and breathe in its quite unique vibe and experience the feeling of being transported back in time. Take the time to visit the provincial tourist information office near Plaza Burgos (beside Café Leona) for maps and additional information on Vigan. There are souvenir shops in Calle Crisologo where one can purchase t-shirts, bags, and other nifty items to take back. Walking along this stretch of road with the sound of your heels and the clankety-clank of the calesas on the cobblestone steps has its own sublime mystique and unmistakable charm.
Try out the local delicacies such as the succulent, mouthwatering Vigan longaniza, which are sausages that this little hamlet is famous for. And also the Bagnet, which is pork fried twice to give it a crispy, sinfully delectable taste! Don’t miss out on the chance to savor the local cuisine which is, like the rest of Vigan, a combination of Filipino, Chinese and Spanish fare. There’s nothing quite like Vigan cooking.