Philippine Travel Guides: Exploring Things to Do in La Union
On its 9th edition of bringing travel writers from print and online to a guided tour of Luzon, this year’s Lakbay Norte 9 journeyed to La Union and Pangasinan to highlight must-see places in the two provinces. Lakbay Norte is an annual familiarity tour organized by the North Philippines Visitors Bureau in partnership with NLEX and Victory Liner, as a way of encouraging travelers to explore deeper into Northern Luzon. And for the first part of my travel log, join me as we explore the top things to do in La Union.
Kicking off our 5-day journey was a visit at the NLEX command center in Balintawak Toll Plaza. Here, we were shown their state-of-the-art technology like their Traffic Control System. A centralized room of their CCTVs observing all the goings-on along the almost 100 km stretch of NLEX. These include accidents, traffic violations and road conditions.
We then had the chance to be part of the real action at the actual toll plazas. Afterwards, we proceeded to the surfing town of La Union. Where we discovered other things to do in La Union. Here’s a quick rundown of all the places we visited during #LakbayNorte9 in the province of La Union.
Have an Ilocano Lunch at Wel-Kambak Resto & Grill (Sto. Tomas)
After a few hours of traveling and dozing off in the bus, we were on our first stop for things to do in La Union. LUNCH! We dropped by a quaint place along the national road called Wel-Kambak Resto & Grill in Sto. Tomas, La Union.
Here, I had my first taste of an Ilocano delicacy — Kinigtot. A dish originating from Pangasinan composed of goat or beef stew with innards simmered in bile (bitter) juice and spices. It is a variety of the Ilocano dish “Papaitan“. Also part of our appetizing feast were all-time favorites pinakbet, grilled catfish and a huge bowl of bulalo with juicy bone marrow.
Visit the Basilica of our Lady of Charity (Agoo)
Better known as Agoo Basilica, this church is known for its Mexican-Baroque architectural design. Characterized by a rosette stained glass window on the center of the Basilica’s facade. There are also statues of Saint Paul and Peter near the main door adorned with carved Hebrew scripts of the Ten Commandments. The Agoo Basilica was originally built by Franciscan Friars in 1578. It has since undergone numerous re-construction due to a number of natural calamities. With the last one occurring during the 1990 Luzon earthquake.
Still, the current Basilica still evokes a century-old heritage look thanks to its architecture. The interior of the church is also impressive. Thanks to the reredos of the altar that has eight wooden panels of intricately carved flowery design, the hanging chandeliers, and the pipe organ made of mahogany. A definite must in the top things to do in La Union!
Travel hint: there is an underground crypt at the church. Just kindly ask the caretakers to take you there when you visit. A lot of the tombs are owned by prominent personalities of the town and La Union. A special collection of relics from saints can also be found in the crypt.
Explore The Heritage Town of Agoo
La Union isn’t just about the surfing town of San Juan, as it is where a number of old towns are also located. The oldest of which is Agoo.
Although the town of Agoo was founded at almost the same decade the Spanish arrived on the island of Luzon, Agoo’s history started even before that. Before the Spanish came, Agoo natives already set up a trading route with Chinese merchants as evidenced by the items excavated near Agoo Basilica comprising of pottery and porcelain from China.
Today, remnants of Agoo’s storied past can still be seen around town. Colonial houses such as Jose Aspiras ancestral home and the Lloren-Mabutas Parental House, the Museo de Iloko—where much of the excavated items before the Spanish came, are displayed, Eagle of the North Park, Plaza de la Virgen.
Other nature attractions in Agoo includes: Agoo beach, Agoo-Damortis Protected Landscape and Seascape and the San Antonio Eco-Mountain Trail.
Travel hint: The town celebrates the Dinengdeng Festival every summer—usually in April, in honor of the fish-based dish of the same name considered as the town’s heritage dish.
Go Glamping at Agoo Eco-Fun Farm
Situated in the northern part of the Agoo-Damortis Protected Landscape and Seascape, Agoo Eco-Fun Farm features a spectacular view of the surrounding nature. This is a favorite spot of the locals to go on weekend picnics. As well as couples shooting their pre-nuptial pictorials. Dotted with towering pine trees, it’s a place I instantly fell in love with. As I was telling my Lakbay Norte mates, “If we don’t have other places to go, can I just remain here and pitch a tent?”
To cap it all, there’s even a lake where you can catch the magnificent sunset and a long stilt walkway that leads to the beach. A perfect destination indeed for every nature lover. A place that deserves a spot in the top things to do in La Union. Will definitely be back for my IG-worthy glamping soon!
Grape Picking at Lomboy Grape Farm (Bauang)
Our fifth stop of things to do in La Union took us to Lomboy Grape Farm. Said to be the first grape farm in the Philippines, Lomboy Grape Farm was first established in 1972. Located in the farmlands of Bauang, visitors here can get a sense of how it’s like to pick grapes and feel like a vineyard owner at the same time.
You wonder why a grape farm exists in a sunny and warm place such as La Union? Well, it is because the common notion that grapes only grow in places with cool weather is incorrect. Grapes can also grow in a warm environment like in La Union. Thanks to its founder Avelino Lomboy nicknamed as “Philippines king of Grapes“, Filipinos now know that grapes can be cultivated and harvested in our country.
Travel hint: The best time for grape-picking is from last week of March until May.
Sip Wine at Uvas Cafe
Uvas Cafe is located inside Lomboy Grape Farm. Here, we enjoyed tasting six varieties of the wine they produced in the farm. My favorite was the best guapple which has a sweet and fruity taste.
Travel hint: Best to pair their wine with the cold cuts items they serve in the cafe.
Make a Wish at Ma-Cho Temple (Taoist Temple)
I LSS’ed on the Village People’s hit song “Macho Man” after I heard that our next destination would be a place called Macho Temple. It turns out it’s actually called Ma-Cho Temple, a Taoist place of worship dedicated to Mazu—a Chinese sea goddess. Located in San Fernando, La Union, the temple stands 7-story high and was built in 1975. The interior reminds me of similar temples I visited in Taiwan and China.
I loved how the temple is adorned with carved lions and dragons on woods and stones. It also had statues of animals and a meditation room where one can easily achieve a Zen-state of mind.
Inside, we performed a simple prayer ritual where we were asked to bow three times, draw an odd number incense sticks (usually three), ask a question, and throw 2 “rocks” to get an answer. It’s said that if both rocks are turned the same way (face up or down) then it’s a no. And if they land opposite sides (one up, one down), then it’s a yes! Don’t worry if on the first go the answer is a no, then you can still give it a second go. Just change your question. I did just that and true enough, I got a YES! Hehe.
Learn about the Turtles at SIFCare-CURMA Hatchery
When in the province, one of things to do in La Union is visit the SIFCare-CURMA Hatchery. The shores of La Union are known hatching places of sea turtles especially during the months from September to March. But because of tourism development, sea turtles have lost some of their hatching ground. Good thing, Project Curma was established in 2009 with the help of the SIFCare (Science of Identity Foundation). Today, CURMA Hatchery has successfully hatched and released more than 10,000 sea turtles to the sea since it started operation in San Juan, La Union.
If you’re lucky enough, you get to see the hatching station where the eggs of sea turtles are kept until they hatched. There weren’t any around so a nice talk and simple snacks took place instead. We learned that they train former poachers of sea turtles to become beach patrols who now search for sea turtle eggs in the shores of San Juan so they can take it to the Hatchery for proper incubation.
Travel hint: You can join Turtle Power movement by volunteering at the SIFCare-CURMA Hatchery to become beach patrols and join in the ocean cleanup activities.
Have Dinner by the Beach at Kahuna Beach Resort and Spa
Although we didn’t stay here for the night, we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner at Kahuna. Most especially because we met our hosts from the local LGU and provincial tourism office.
We capped off our day of educational exploration and wonderful discoveries with a bonfire with smores, hotdogs, beers and lively conversation. It was a wonderful opportunity to get to know more about my other Lakbay Norte travel mates—most of whom I met for the first time like Nina Fuentes, a travel blogging pioneer who writes for her own travel blog Just Wandering.
Stay for the Night at Sebay Surf Central
We ended our fruitful day of exploration with a sound sleep at our comfortable rooms at Sebay Surf Central. It’s actually one of the earliest resorts established in San Juan, La Union (now on their 25th year). Sebay Resort has become one of the top accommodations of choice in La Union.
Thanks to its homey design incorporating classic Filipino architecture and a touch of post-modern touches. It is a beachfront resort, that’s why upon waking up next morning, the first thing I did was to head straight to the restaurant and had breakfast while people watching and staring at the sea.
Surfing Lessons at Sebay Surf Central
Day 2 started quite early and for a good reason: Surfing Lessons! If you are like me—a newbie at the sport of surfing—then San Juan, La Union is the perfect place for you to learn to surf. Sadly, I did not feel I was in good condition to surf that morning so I opted to just observe my co-bloggers ride the swells of La Union.
I loved how everyone was so energetic all throughout the hour-long surfing session. That even though they fell from their surfboards more times that one can count, everyone was all smiles. And was able to pull off finishing a “long-ride” a few times. With more practice and visit to San Juan, La Union who knows I too might become a surfer girl soon.
Among everyone, I think Sandy of TheLostJuan and Marco Dennis of Pinoy Traveler were the ones who were able to surf best. Most probably because of their prior experience in surfing.
Go Off-The-Grid at Lotus Valley Farm
I so love our experience in Lotus Farm that I am inspired to write a separate article about it (watch out for it soon). Despite the farm being located off-the-grid from the other attractions in La Union (which I love), it is definitely one of the top things to do in La Union because of the sheer number of flora and faunas that the farm has.
The owner explained to us that there are 77 species of trees in the farm and more wildlife species are starting to propagate because of the organic environment of the farm. Like the dozens of migratory bird species seen all over the farm.
We then spent half an hour walking through the farm, exploring the many fresh vegetation and beautiful plants around. And it’s precisely because of all the greens that makes Lotus Valley Farm an ideal stop in La Union – the climate is at least 4-5 degrees colder than the rest of the province.
After an informative talk about plant-based diet, we then had a relaxing Acudetox and sound meditation session with SIFCare before finally having a surprisingly tummy-filling vegetarian dinner.
And since the farm is located away from civilization, our group ended up bonding over cards under the canopy of nighttime stars. The place might be completely off grid but it was totally worth it. And definitely deserves to be included in your top things to do in La Union!
Read more on Wellness of Lotus Farm in La Union
Eat Halo-Halo at Ciano Umok Art Gallery (Bauang)
Day 3. Our call time was at 6:30 AM so I hurriedly braved the cold to wash up and get ready for a long day ahead. Our last and final stop in the things to do in La Union took us to Ciano Umok Art Gallery. An old ancestral house turned into a gallery where once can appreciate art while tasting one of the best halo-halos in La Union.
Ciano Umok is located at Brgy. Palugsi, Bauang, La Union. The place is a little uphill and the road is quite narrow so best to take an SUV or park in the plaza and hire a tricycle instead.Truly a wonderful way of ending the La Union leg of our #LakbayNorte9 journey.
Read more about Where to Eat in La Union
One thought on “Top Things to Do in La Union (Lakbay Norte 9)”
What a great blog! You just inspired me. I am adding La Union to my list of places to visit someday. I want to learn how to surf.