Whenever Ilocos Sur is brought up as a travel destination, the outright attraction that come up is Vigan with its ancestral houses, and cobblestone street, and old churches. But there is more to Ilocos Sur to this world-renowned heritage city.
A little south of Vigan is a coastal town called Santiago. This small town is often unnoticed by visitors going to the Ilocandia primarily because the other tourist spots of the region are more established and has graced almost every travel magazines and ads. But if you are up for some off-beaten destinations then one should consider Santiago.
I first visited Santiago in 2011. A friend of mine suggested that I check out Sabangan Cove. So one time I was on an Ilocos Sur trip, I included this town in my itinerary. I went to first visit Pinsal Falls and Santa Maria Church in the town of Santa Maria, then I went to see Sabangan Cove.
It wasn’t love at first sight. But, I was just simply happy that I found a serene beach place back then. There weren’t too many people, only local fisherfolks and some children playing along the cove’s shore.
Fastforward: February this year (2018), during a long weekend. I decided to leave Baguio and go elsewhere that isn’t flocked by tourists. During day 1 of the 3-day long weekend, I went to San Juan, La Union. And it was a bad decision since the once quiet surf town is filled with people! So the following day, I traveled my way to Santiago.
Seven years after my first visit, I am happy that the town has made more development and has opened more places to visit. Of course, there is still Sabangan Cove, where I spent my late afternoon marveling at the spectacular sunset. This is what I have missed during my first visit.
Then there is Vitalis Villas, a Santorini-inspired resort that boasts off a breathtaking view of the sea and Sabangan cove. The blue and white colored villas constructed on the cliff are such a beauty to behold.
But the main highlight of my stay in Santiago is discovering a quainter side of this coastal town. A beach called Ambucao and a rock formation called Biak-na-Bato or Mapisi Rock. Ambucao Beach surprisingly, have a quite long stretch of white sand coastline with clear waters. Mapisi Rock, on the other hand, is comprised of huge boulder of coral rocks that looks like halved into two. It does have a cave-like structure. Atop the largest boulder are some Bangar trees (Sterculia foetida – oh how I love reminiscing Pharmacognosy with these things I get to see during travel)), a tree that is infamous for its flowers odor. These are places one would not hear about or has been flocked by visitors (both local and foreign). A certified off-beaten path. I had a great time in these places, which are total opposites of San Juan (where I first went to see).
How to Get Here:
- One may take any bus going to Vigan/ Laoag and inform the driver to drop you off at Santiago town proper. Take a tricycle and tell your driver to drop you off at Brgy. Sabangan. All 4 places (Sabangan Cove, Vitalis Villas, Ambucao Beach, Mapisi Rock) are close to each other.
Don’t be a wasted soul, be JUANderlust. Take it easy everyJuan.