In pre-colonial times, Vigan was an important trading post for Chinese junks, trading gold beeswax and other products from the central Cordilleras for exotic Asian goods. Many Chinese traders settled in the mestizo district, marrying locals and starting new bloodlines.
Vigan was captured and settled by the Spanish in 1572, and grew to become a center of Spanish political and religious power in the north of Luzon. In 1758 Vigan became the Seat of the Diocese of Nueva Segovia.
Interestingly the town was also a hotbed of anti-Spanish politics. Diego Silang was perhaps the most notable resistance leader, but was assassinated by his friends (on commission from the Spanish) in May 1763. Undeterred, Silang’s wife, Maria Josefa Gabriela Silang, assumed leadership of the uprising but was later captured by the Spanish and publicly hanged in on September 20, 1763.
Local legend has it that Vigan got its name from a simple communication breakdown. A Spaniard walking along the Metizo River apparently met a local and asked which the city’s name. Not understanding what he was being asked, but seeing that the Spaniard seemed to be pointing to a tree, replied “Bigaa Apo” (a giant Taro plant that was common in the area). It is from the word “Bigaa” that Vigan is said to have derived its name.
Vigan is in Ilocos Region, Northern Luzon. Its Spanish colonial influence in local architecture and old-world charm make it a unique city in the Philippines.Vigan is a relatively small city with two hearts: the recreational and shopping area around the adjacent Plaza Salcedo and Plaza Burgos in the north, and the commercial center around the public market in the south. The mestizo district is focused along Plaridel and Mena Crisologo Streets, running south from Plaza Burgos towards the cemetery.
There is a helpful and friendly provincial tourist information office south west of Plaza Burgos (next to Cafe Leona) that can dispense information on Vigan and the rest of Ilocos Sur. Banks with ATMs accepting foreign credit cards are dotted about the city, as are internet cafes with access from P20 per hour. Some restaurants offer Wi-Fi access.
By bus or car
It’s seven to ten hours’ drive along the scenic Ilocos Highway from Manila to Vigan. Partas Bus Co., Dominion Bus Lines, Viron Transit, and St. Joseph/Aniceto Transit have regular buses going directly to Vigan. Bus lines like Philippine Rabbit Bus Line, Farinas Transit, Maria de Leon, and RCJ Transit have regular buses plying the Manila-Laoag route, which passes by Vigan.
Interisland Airlines flies to Mindoro Airport, also known as Vigan Airport, is the airport serving the general area of Vigan City or you could go to Laoag’s airport(1.5 hours by car), the Laoag International Airport. Philippine Airlines flies to from Laoag everyday of the week from Manila. Cebu Pacific flies three times a week from Manila.
A fun throwback to colonial days are the calesa horse-drawn carriages that still clip-clop through Vigan’s streets. Rates for calesa rides should be the same as those for the many tricycles (P8-P10 within the city limits) that will undoubtedly by vying for your custom. But you could also hire a private calesa for around 150php per hour. Unless you’re absolutely sure you have a tour guide that will give you in depth information about the sites you’re visiting, A whole day calesa adventure for about 1000 (roughly 6-7 hours)would be advisable. You can take your time visiting the sites and not being rushed by a guide, as well as picking and choosing the areas you want to visit.
Places of Interest
Bantay Belfry is a ten-minute ride away from Vigan is the historic Bantay Belfry, which sits on a hill. This towering structure is one of the sights that should be visited by travelers not only because of its historical and cultural significance but also because of its commanding view of Vigan from the highest portion of it that can be climbed. Some may even claim that they can see most of Ilocos Sur from this bell tower.
It is called the Bantay Belfry because it is located in the Bantay district of Vigan along the national highway. It was said to be the people’s watchtower, part of the city’s defense that helps in alerting it against possible enemies. It was built in 1591.
To enjoy the panoramic view of the land set upon a background of white and blue skies, visitors must climb flights of stairs that can be accessed from the entrance in the tower’s base. It is guarded by a small gate which the caretakers lock when there are no visitors that request for a tour of it. During such times, birds take advantage of the absence of people to rest in the nooks and crannies of the belfry.
Calle Crisologo – Mena Crisologo Street is the major attraction of Vigan is its mestizo district which is filled with Spanish-style houses that evoke a bygone era when its people lived prosperously because of the Manila-Acapulco maritime trade.
For visitors who want to experience being transported back to this period in Philippine Spanish colonial time, a walk or a calesa ride through Vigan’s Calle Crisologo or Mena Crisologo Street is a must. You will see four blocks of cobblestone streets lined with heritage houses of the families of the Filipino-Chinese traders who rose to prominence during that time of vigorous trading in abel cloth, indigo, gold, tobacco and other goods that were transported to Vigan from all over the North.
The Mestizo District offers a wonderful glimpse into the Philippines’ colonial past. The ancestral houses were mostly built by Chinese traders using a mixture of local, Asian and Spanish architectural styles. Movie fans recognize the streets from the movie Born on the Fourth of July. If someone looks closely, there are still evidence left from the shooting, e.g. signs in Spanish but hastily and thinly painted over with white paint.
St. Paul’s Metropolitan Cathedral was built by Augustinians around 1790 and features a unique design intended to minimize earthquake damage; a style that came to be known as “earthquake baroque”. Look out for the brass communion handrails forged in China, complete with Chinese characters scrawled by its ancient installers (if you look closely). The eight-sided bell tower is just south of the cathedral. Its position was actually the safety measure of the earthquake baroque style: it was built separately from the church so that in case of earthquakes, it would not topple into the church. Its eight-sided design reflects its Chinese Feng-shui influences. One would look closely inside the cathedral and one would find the tombstone of the great Ilocano poet Leona Florentino (in the column near the entrance facing Plaza Burgos).
Just adjacent to the Cathedral is the Archbishop’s Residence, which dates back to the Spanish Era–the oldest archbishop’s residence still in use in the Philippines. Plaza Salcedo west of the cathedral features a 17th Century monument to Juan de Salcedo, and was also the site of resistance leader Gabriela Silang’s public hanging in 1763.
Plaza Burgos is a favorite hang out for locals. It is also used for staging major public events. It has also food stalls selling native snacks, notably the empanada.
The Ayala Museum used to be the home of Father Jose Burgos but now houses Ilocano artifacts, weapons, kitchen utensils, basketry, costumes, jewellery and Burgos Memorabilia. There are also some dioramas showing important events in the history of Ilocos Sur, and a mini library. Beside the museum is the Ilocos Sur Provincial Jail, where the Philippines first Ilocano president, the late Pres. Elpidio Quirino, was born.
The Crisologo Museum used to be the home of the late Congressman Floro Crisologo and wife Carmeling, former governor of Ilocos Sur. It contains memorabilia of the late Congressman.
- Take a swim at the nearby Mindoro Beach Resort.
- Visit Baluarte, the governor’s fortress. It also features a mini zoo with exotic animals and you can get a free ride with the small horses.
- Try your hand at pottery. Vigan’s Pagburnayan makes burnay jars which are made of sand and fire-blasted in a huge kiln.
- Ride a calesa, a horse-drawn carriage, around Vigan and the surrounding towns.
- Witness old women weave abel at Camangaan.
- Visit St. Augustine Church in nearby Bantay and climb up its belfry to get a breath-taking view of the town.
- Join the Viva Vigan and Binatbatan Festivals when it happens.
Vigan is known for its “burnayan” the jar making. There are also dozens of antique and souvenir shops dotted about the city, particularly on Crisologo and Plaridel Streets in the mestizo district. Although most of the antiques are only reproductions, you’ll still enjoy browsing the odd items of religious paraphernalia (look out for the toddler Jesus figurines).and some unique foods.
Popular snack stands along Plaza Burgos serve up a variety of local treats, among others, like:
- sinanglao (soup made from beef innards)
- arroz caldo (rice soup with chicken)
- miki (flat noodles in a thick soup with meat bits and sometimes drizzled with eggs)
- empanada (turnover with a filling of eggs, Vigan longganisa/sausage and vegetables wrapped in a rice flour crust/shell)
- okoy (a pancake made with local shrimp).
Nobody should leave Vigan without tasting their empanada. It is a different concoction from the flour-based empanada that one usually knows.
Royal Bibingka is very popular at Tongson’s Royal Bibingka, #8 Florentino St., Vigan City–just a street away from Plaza Burgos.
Also, one should have a try of the Vigan longganisa which is spicy unlike its Pampanga counterpart which is sweetish.
There is also a delicacy called tinubong, a sticky sweet rice cake that’s sold in bamboo tubes, and you have to break the bamboo to eat the sticky sweet rice inside. They are usually sold in the Heritage Village in bundles of three to five.
Fried tasty corn (cornick) can also be bought in the various stalls. It comes plain or flavoured.
Native sugar is also made in surrounding towns and barangays of Vigan. However, they are in the form of tagapulot (molasses) and balikutsa (a very hard sugar concoction shaped into scrolls).