The area of Vigan was once a settlement of traders from Fujian Province, China. At the time of Spanish colonization, the Chinese settlers, whose language was Southern Fujianese (Minnan, referred to as "Hokkien" by most Filipinos), referred to the area as "Bee Gan" (Chinese: 美岸; pinyin: Měi'àn, pe̍h-ōe-jī: Bí'gān), which means "Beautiful Shore." Since the Castillian and Basque Spanish conquistadors interchanged V and the B to refer to the B sound, they spelled the Hokkien Chinese name "Bee Gan" as "Vigan", which is the name used to this day.
In pre-colonial times, Vigan was an important trading post for Chinese merchants 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 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 what the city was named. 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 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 centre 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 located around the recreational and shopping areas and at Quezon Avenue, as are internet cafes with access that charge P20 per hour. Some restaurants offer Wi-Fi access.
By bus or car
It's seven to ten hours' drive along the scenic MacArthur Highway or Manila North Road from Manila or Quezon City to Vigan. Partas Bus Co., Dominion Bus Lines, Viron Transit, and St. Joseph/Aniceto Transit have regular trips to Vigan. Bus lines like Philippine Rabbit Bus Line, Farinas Transit, Maria de Leon, Florida, and RCJ Transit have regular trips plying the Manila-Laoag route, which passes by Vigan.
- Dominion bus lines. From Quezon City to Vigan at several times of day. P580.
Alternately, 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 daily 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 (₱8-P10 within the city limits) that will undoubtedly by vying for your custom. But you could also hire a private calesa for around ₱150 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.
The Historic Town of Vigan is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
- 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.
- 1 St. Paul's Metropolitan Cathedral. Built by Augustinians around 1790, this cathedral features a unique design intended to minimize earthquake damage, called "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 it would not topple into the church in the event of an earthquake. Its eight-sided design reflects its Chinese feng-shui influences. If you look closely inside the cathedral, you can find the tombstone of the great Ilocano poet Leona Florentino (in the column near the entrance facing Plaza Burgos). Admission free.
- Just adjacent to the Cathedral is the Archbishop's Palace of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia, which dates from the 16th century during the Spanish era - the oldest archbishop's residence still in use in the Philippines. It was completed in 1793 after 7 years of construction. It features sliding capiz windows and cut-out decorations with floral motifs. It has a back entrance that leads to the nearby Govantes Dike. The palace has a collection of priceless ecclesiastical artifacts and relics from other Ilocos churches.
- Govantes Dike is a body of water connected to the Archbishop's Palace which was once a docking port for water craft. It is currently a place for boating, similar to the lake in Burnham Park in Baguio.
- 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. Also within the site at the lagoon is the Vigan Dancing Fountain. This Korean-engineered attraction is the first of its kind in the country, and rivals the Bellagio Water Fountains in Las Vegas, Nevada.
- Plaza Burgos is a favorite hang out for locals and is also used for staging major public events. It has also food stalls selling local snacks, especially the empanada. It is next to Vigan Cathedral and dedicated to the memory of Father Jose Burgos. Depending on the weather, the streets surrounding it (except for the street adjacent to the Empanadaan) are closed off to motorized traffic every Saturday and Sunday to allow people to walk the streets freely. It is a popular skateboarding venue among the locals.
- 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.
- 2 Syquia Mansion, Quirino Boulevard, ☎ . Used to be the Vigan residence of President Elpidio Quirino. There are memorabilia inside the residence, including a campaign portrait of Quirino.
- Calle Crisologo. It is what Vigan City is known for — streets lined with Spanish Era ancestral houses (with ancient tile roofs, massive hardwood floors, balustrades and azoteas in varying Spanish, Mexican, and Chinese architectural styles) and cobblestone streets, which led to Vigan's inscription in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Tourists can buy souvenirs or even ride a calesa (horse-drawn buggy). This street is also known as Vigan Heritage Village.
- Barangay Pagpartian. Where the great conquistador Juan de Salcedo landed when he arrived in Vigan through the Mestizo River. Also the site of the city slaughterhouse, built during the Spanish Era (for which the barangay is named).
- Hidden Garden (Barrio Bulala). A wonderland of greenery, with a mini-snack bar nestled in the middle.
- Quema House. The residence of the Quema family, considered by sociologist Fernando Zialcita as most representative of 18th-century Philippine architectural style.
- Mindoro Beach. The only seaside location in the city, just adjacent to Vigan Airport.
- Simbaan A Bassit, Quezon Avenue. This cemetery chapel found at the southern end of Quezon Avenue has a bell-gable design, the only one of its kind in the Ilocos Region. The chapel's name is an Ilocano term meaning "small church."
Festivities and observances
- Vigan City Fiesta (Longganisa Festival). The Bigueños celebrate the Longganisa Festival every January 22 in accordance to the cityhood of Vigan. With a colorful street dancing competition along the Calle Crisologo, this festival features one of city's products, the very well-known Vigan longganisa. On the 25th, Vigan celebrates its town fiesta in honor to its patron saint, Saint Paul.
- Viva Vigan! 'Binatbatan' Festival of the Arts. Every first week of May, Vigan plays host to visitors for this festival featuring painting and product exhibits, a calesa parade, and other cultural activities.
- Semana Santa. St. Paul’s Metropolitan Cathedral is the venue of religious rites during Holy Week. The Good Friday procession features decorated carrozas bearing life-size statues of Spanish vintage. On Easter Sunday, the dawn celebration depicting the Resurrection of Christ, called "Sabet", is a scene to behold.
- Raniag Festival. A Halloween celebration wherein there are colorful and lighted floats paraded around the city.
- 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. It is also a popular venue for special events such as seminars and conferences. The Baluarte is owned by former Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson.
- Try your hand at pottery. Vigan's Pagburnayan makes burnay jars which are made of carabao-kneaded clay 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, Kannawidan, and Binatbatan Festivals when it happens.
- Try the Heritage River Tour, with its main base at Celedonia Garden in Beddeng Laud.
There are 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 odd items, religious paraphernalia (look out for the toddler Jesus figurines) and some unique foods. You can also buy hand-rolled cigars, sold in packs of three.
You can buy native handwoven abel cloth at the Vigan Public Market, as well as delicacies like longganisa (native pork sausages) and bagnet (deep-fried crispy pork) at its Meat Section.
- Vigan Public Market. where visitors can purchase delicacies like Vigan Longanisa (native pork sausages) and bagnet (deep-fried crispy pork); and Ilocano handwoven abel cloth.
- Puregold Supermarket, Jose Singson Street.. 8am-8pm.
Eat and drink
Popular snack stands along Plaza Burgos serve up a variety of local treats, including:
- 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 is more widely known.
Royal Bibingka is very popular at Tongson's Royal Bibingka, #8 Florentino St., Vigan City--just a street away from Plaza Burgos.
Also, try 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 flavored.
Sugar is made in surrounding towns and barangays of Vigan in the form of tagapulot (molasses) and balikutsa (a very hard sugar concoction shaped into scrolls).
Also try the Basi, a local wine (native rum) made from sugarcane.
- Vigan Empanadaan (Eastern part of Plaza Burgos). A reserved location where visitors can sample Vigan's famous empanada (a type of turnover with Spanish origins), as well as sinanglao (traditional hotpot made of beef innards).
Mid-range & splurge
- Villa Angela Heritage house, 26 Quirino Blvd (Two Streets away from Calle Crisologo), ☎ , , , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: noon. Villa Angela Heritage House is actually more like a house than a typical hotel. The owners decided to keep the house like how it was during the time of their ancestors, except that modern comforts of air-conditioning, cable TV, and en suite toilet and bath have been installed. There are only six rooms or one room of each type. Room rates during regular season are: Cuarto del Señor (Master bedroom at ₱2500/night), Cuarto de las Hijas (Girls room at ₱2800/night - has 3 large beds sufficient for 5 people), Cuarto de los Hijos (Boys room at ₱2800/night), Cuarto Pequeño (literally "small room" -- used to be the boy's study room at ₱1500/night). The rooms on the ground floor that used to be storage areas for harvest from the farms were converted into dormitory rooms to accommodate bigger groups.
Accommodation is personalized such that special requests from each guest like tours and transfers assistance, home service massage, etc are always prioritized. Villa Angela is a Wi-Fi zone. ₱1,500 and up incl breakfast.
- Gordion Hotel,V. delos Reyes corner Salcedo Sts. Manila Line: (02) 246-1502 Phone:(077)-722-2526 / 722-2565 Mobile Phone: 09088915612 / 0922-878-4657 Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org Websitehttp://www.vigangordionhotel.comCheck [dead link] in at 1PM. Checkout at noon. Room rates start at ₱2000 per night with breakfast for 2. A hotel set in and around an ancestral home. It is the only twin ancestral house with a courtyard and romantic ruins, where old touches like furnishings and memorabilia from another era perfectly complement the comfortable modern day amenities for sleeping or unwinding. Tour packages available. Affiliated with Gordion Travel and Tours.
- Hotel Salcedo De Vigan, V. de los Reyes corner General Luna Streets, ☎ , . Their air-conditioned rooms are very spacious. They have an elegant restaurant serving superb local and international cuisine. From ₱2210.
- Ciudad Fernandina Hotel, 26 Mabini St., cor. Plaridel St, ☎ . All rooms in Ciudad Fernandina Hotel are equipped with safe, cable television, air conditioning, electronic door lock, hot and cold shower. Some of its facilities are restaurant, bar and function room. From ₱2,236.
- Taj Resort, Pantay daya, Vigan, (077)722-7476.
- R.F. Anicieto Mansion Hotel, ☎ , fax: . Near Plaza Burgos.
- Vigan Plaza Hotel, Mena Crisologo Street, Brgy 2 (near Plaza Burgos), ☎ , . Showcasing Spanish-Colonial accommodations combined with modern luxury. From ₱2,300.
- Cordillera Inn, Crisologo Street, ☎ . Check-out: noon. Fan single/double rooms with own bathroom. From ₱1050.
- Nscc Plaza Hotel, Don Ale Jandro Quirolgico Caoayan. From ₱1750.
Budget under 1000
- 1 Vigan Hotel, Burgos St, ☎ . Basic hotel in an old colonial house with old-style wooden floors and furniture. The rooms are very basic but acceptable. At ₱500 for double, this is one of the few budget option. No food, breakfast or whatever. ₱500-800.
- Socio-Pastoral Center, Nueva Segovia street besides the Archbishop Palace, Dorm beds ₱250 a night. +63 77 722-2018.
- El Juliana Hotel, 5 Liberation Blvd, ☎ , . Cor Quirino Blvd. From ₱800.
- Henady Inn, National Highway zone v Banty, ☎ . Fan dorm beds with cable TV, locker & common bathroom. ₱250 per person.
- Casa Teofila Lodge, Panty Daya., ☎ . Fan rooms, a/c rooms with cable TV and WIFI. ₱500/700.
- Hem Apartelle., 32 Gov A Reyes street., ☎ , . Fan rooms with bathrooms and cable TV. From ₱600..
- Green R Hotel, Alcantara Street (next to Vigan Public Market.), ☎ . Check-out: noon. A/c double rooms with own bathroom and cable TV, free wifi. ₱750.
- Grandpas Inn, Bonifacio Street., ☎ . Fan single/double rooms with or without bathrooms. ₱730/980.