Northern Luzon

Unconventional culture

Northern Luzon in this page covers the three regions Ilocos, Cordillera and Cagayan Valley.

Here, a whole other culture, or shall we say a set of cultures, awaits. From Benguet’s Kankanaey to the Ifugao and Kalinga to the Isneg in Apayao, the ethnic groups here are distinct. Each town has its own language or dialect. Baguio is the main entry point to the region, and was made famous by the American colonizers who built this city in the early 1900’s, in the Ibaloi settlement of Kafagway.

Today, the city is on everyone’s summer itinerary, making it the “Summer Capital of the Philippines.” Interested in unconventional cultural artifacts?

Check out Banaue and Kiangan to view the payo or rice terraces. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the five clusters of sculpted rice fields are just a few of the types of terraces you can explore in the Cordillera region.

Nearby is Sagada in Mountain Province. Famous for its hanging coffins and limestone caves, this town is a must destination for backpackers. Photographer Masferre’s Sagada may be a thing of the past, and gone are the days of wearing the falaka (bachelor’s basket hat) and akosan (shell belt bag), but the town retains a highland culture with a dash of worldly charm. Batanes is a less-kept secret that has been a mecca for landscape photographers for the longest time.

The Ivatan’s stone houses and culture also add to the island’s raw appeal. Divilican, Maconacon, Dinapigue and Palanan are as un-commercial as it gets. And you’re sure to learn a lot from the Dumagats, a local semi-nomadic indigenous group.

Love basking on the sand? The coast provides a colorful array of it from the greyest of grey to the white beaches of Pagudpud. There’s even one beach that is just pure pebble. Many of these beaches cater to tourists, like the surfing areas of San Juan in La Union.

But take a while to get lost, and you’ll still find hidden gems in small towns. Architectural masterpieces? There are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ilocos Sur alone. In Vigan, there are 187 documented examples of period architecture.

It’s like traveling 500 years back. And in every town, you’ll find ancient churches—even older than the Missions of California.