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Travel Guide to Ilocos Norte: Where Sand Dunes Are Over the Moon Edit

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Michelle Tobias  • Contributor
Opinions expressed by Explora.ph Contributors are their own.

Cover photo by Peanut Dela Cruz. Graphics by Manel Solsoloy.

At a Glance

Memories of Ilocos Norte are filled with big crashing waves, strong breeze, and images of the deep blue ocean. The province features timeless sand dunes, Spanish colonial structures, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Paoay Church. Ilocos Norte is also much associated with the dictator President Ferdinand Marcos.


One of the most scenic drives in the Philippines, Ilocos Norte is a breath-taker. In Pagudpud, you’d pass by the 1.3km Patapat Viaduct, the fourth longest bridge in the Philippines. Built on the mountainside over wet crags and rocks, this winding bridge holds incredible views of the sea. Nearby are a number of beaches such as Saud Beach, Malingay Cove, Sabang Beach, and Blue Lagoon.

In the next town, Bangui, you can visit Bangui Windmills on the seaside, and get entranced by the slow spinning turbines of 20 windmills towering at 230ft each. This by far is the largest wind farm in South Asia. Close by in Burgos is Kapurpurawan Rock Formation. Nature has sculpted this white rock formation through years of strong winds and crashing ocean waves.

The southern part of Ilocos Norte is best explored for its many cultural sites and museums. In the capital city of Laoag, you can check out the largest collection of Ilocano, Igorot, and Itneg artefacts at Museo Ilocos Norte, explore the sand-grounded Sinking Bell Tower, and go sandboarding in the protected coastal desert La Paz Sand Dunes. The last covers 85 sqm of unique geological sand formation, best experienced on a 4x4 wheel drive or an all-terrain vehicle.

Just a short drive away from Laoag, the impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site St. Agustin Church (Paoay Church) is a coral brick-walled church with Baroque and Gothic elements. Paoay Sand Dunes is also a must-visit, together with Malacañang of the North, the residence mansion of the former President Marcos. End your trip with a glimpse of the the preserved remains of the dictator at the Marcos Museum and Mausoleum in Batac. Visiting these sites, you’d feel much of the political power of the Marcos family.

8 Breathtaking Reasons to Fall in Love with Ilocos Norte

Written by Colleen Cabili

Paoay Church

Also known as Saint Augustine Church, this building dates back to the late 17th century. Its unusual yet stunning design falls under “Earthquake Baroque”, which as the name suggests, made it resistant even to the most extreme natural calamities. 

Photo from philippinepicture.com

La Paz Sand Dunes

Who says surfing can only be done on water? The province of Ilocos Norte is home to a few deserts that scream for a one-of-a-kind exhilarating adventure - just take your pick between the 4x4 terrain ride and the sandboarding challenge! Better yet , try both!

Photo from instagram.com/rodelosreyes.

Kapurpurawan Rock Formation

Lining the coastline of Bangui Bay are massive limestone rocks carved by the tides and other natural forces. Each irregularly shaped boulder displays varying hues of “puraw”, which means white in Ilocano.

Photo from lifestyle.inquirer.net.

Bangui Windmills

This renowned attraction isn’t just purely aesthetics—these immaculately white tri-blades, looming at 70 meters, provide the province with an alternative source of renewable energy. Up for a challenge? Try to spot all 20 while on a plane!

Photo by Bryan Elvambuena.

Cape Bojeador Lighthouse

The Spanish Colonial Period left the country with a number of lighthouses, one of which is the still-functional Cape Bojeador Lighthouse. This cultural heritage site was built in 1892 on top of Vigia de Nagparitan to guide the galleons sailing on South China Sea.

Photo from Hannah's Beach Resort.

The Sinking Bell Tower

Did you know that we have a local version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Located in Laoag, this bell tower is considered one of the tallest in the country. It currently stands at 45 meters, although because of its hefty weight and the sandy soil it is built on, the number is expected to go lower over time. 

Photo by James Warren.

Burayoc Point

After a long and tiring day of exploring the province, head to Burayoc Point in Pagudpud before twilight. Hailed as the best place in Ilocos Norte to watch the sunset, the windmills of Bangui can be spotted lining the red-orange horizon from afar.

Photo by Froilan Romero.

Patapat Viaduct

Pagudpud’s Patapat Viaduct is known as the 4th longest bridge in the country. This concrete bridge spans 1.3 kilometers of scenic coastal and mountainside views. 

Photo by Perry Dominguez.

Where is Ilocos Norte

Ilocos Norte is located in northern Luzon, right next to Apayao and Ilocos Sur. Graphic by Manel Solsoloy.

How to get to Ilocos Norte

From Manila or Cebu, the fastest way to get to Ilocos Norte is to book with Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, or Airphil Express to Laoag International Airport. The travel time from Manila is about 45 minutes, while that from Cebu is about 3 hours. From Manila, driving to Ilocos Norte by car takes 8 to 10 hours, while traveling by bus takes 10 to 12 hours. Florida, Partas, Fariñas, and Maria De Leon are the bus companies that offer daily trips to Laoag from Manila.

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