Fort Ilocandia, jewel of Laoag


the grandeur of an era

I first went to Fort Ilocandia a few months after it opened, nearly 30 years ago. I was in a a big group of advertising agency people who were invited by a major TV network for rest-and-recreation in this much talked about hotel – – a typical PR activity by media companies wooing advertisers’ budgets.

I have been coming to Fort Ilocandia since then.

Today, I am told the hotel is being run by foreign investors, the same group running the casino at the second level of the hotel. I have played a few games on the black jack table. I just make sure I leave my ATM cards in my rooms, so I don’t  lose more than I the little that I had budgetted for an hour or so of fun.

the grand staircase to the casino

The hotel has kept its grandeur and, in my book, is still the best hotel in Laoag. For many reasons.

Its architecture is unique. Two-storey buildings sprawling the magnificent garden facing the ocean. Bougainvillas creeping through the brick walls on the verandas, accentuating the lovely balconies of each room.

A fountain that will make you feel like you are in a European plaza.

Guests will not feel idle. They can ride horses along the shore, drive all-terrain-vehicles thru the property, practice their swing on the driving range, or do hole-in-ones in the putting green. There is an Olympic-size pool, beside another one with a cascading waterfall. Drinks can be enjoyed at the bar beside the reception, at the Sunset bar, or at the Lagoon bar, my favorite spot in the resort hotel. There are also beach huts where guests can picnic on the beach. Not to mention the slot machines and the gaming tables at the casino.

The hotel also offers package tours for groups of at least 5 persons. A half-day tour around Ilocos Norte, visitng Paoay Church and the Marcos Museum, among others, costs P750 per person. There are two whole day options. One goes south to the Vigan Heritage Village, and another goes north to Pagudpud, with stops at the beautiful Cape Bojeador lighthouse and the Bangui windmills. The whole day tours cost P900 per head.

Saud Beach, Ivory Coast, Pagudpud

Cape Bojeador lighthouse in Burgos, Ilocos Norte

Bangui windmills


I stay at Fort Ilocandia because the rooms are nice and comfortable, and all rooms have verandas.

Room rates start at P5,600 for a standard twin, to the P50,000 a day Ambassador Suite.There are also several types of suites, the Sunset Suite having been booked by me once or twice.

standard twin

huge veranda facing the ocean on the 2nd-floor Sunset Suite

Sunset Suites cost P15,400. Rooms rates are generally discounted at 30% during off peak. I have also tried, and got, the same discount rate even during peak season – – – these dates are set by the hotels. But when I notice  that occupancy rate is low, like in early January (which they classify as” peak”) I usually get the off-peak rate. Try bargaining, but be prepared to pay the full rate if they happen to be hosting a convention and only few rooms are available.

If you are not taking the tours offered by the hotel, you can do these on your own. I usually drive from the hotel to Sarrat where the biggest attraction is the Sta Monica Church where Irene Marcos and Greggy Araneta were wed.

Locals say that the whole route from Fort Ilocandia to Sarrat was planted with bougainvillas, sourced from landscape contractors throughout the country. It has been said that there were not enough flowering bougainvillas, and teachers started making paper flowers so that those without flowers also looked like they were in full bloom.

From Sarrat, you can drive to Batac to visit the Marcos Mausoleum. Observe silence while inside the air-conditioned mausoleum, viewing the preserved body of the late president.

From Batac you can drive to Paoay Church and drive on to Paoay Lake.

the belltower is an interesting and rather easy climb

After marveling at the church and having climbed the tower, have some snacks at Herencia Cafe. Try their pinakbet pizza, the only one of its kind in the world.

pinakbet pizza, anyone?

just across from the church

Hopefully, the Malacanang ti Amianan would have been open again to the public ( I have visited this beautiful mansion several times, but was told last January 5 that it was closed to the public on orders of the provincial government).

Fort Ilocandia can be booked via +(6377) 6709001, fax (+6377) 6709101, email


I spotted some resorts for low-budget travelers right beside Fort Ilocandia, sharing the same beach. Access is thru the Fort Ilocandia compound, where a driveway to the left, if you are facing the hotel, goes straight to a cluster of huts selling cheap beer, cheap meals, and inexpensive overnight accommodations.

sharing the same beach


From Manila, take the North Luzon Expressway and exit in Tarlac. Drive north passing thru Pangasinan, la Union, and Ilocos Sur. Laoag is about an hour’s drive from Vigan, Ilocos Sur.

Several bus companies ply the Manila-Laoag route. PARTAS and Farinas, are the most popular. Farinas Trans is  located in Lacson Blvd. (between Dapitan and Laon Laan Sts.) in Sampaloc, Manila.. Partas Trans has a terminal in Laon Laan, Sampaloc, Manila and in Cubao, Quezon City. (thanks to a reader for providing these details)

Travel time from Manila to Laoag is around 11-12 hours.

Currimao: Paoay, Batac, and Sarrat


Currimao came into my radar screen twice this year.

First, while on a PAL flight, reading about Sitio Remedios, a heritage village created by Dr. Joven Cuanang, Medical Director of St. Luke’s Hospital.

Second, when a good friend inquired about accommodations in Currimao.

Prior to this visit, I must have visited and toured the Ilocos Region at least 10 times in the past, when I was not yet into blogs. I talk about Paoay, the Marcos Museum, the Malacanang Ti Amianan, the Sta Monica Church, and I must have checked into Fort Ilocandia countless times, having probably checked into all types of rooms and suites of this beautiful hotel.

This time, I had to visit Currimao, stay there, not just go past it.


The biggest draw in this side of the world is the Paoay Church, a Philippine landmark that is in  the UNESCO World Heritage List. Words can not describe its beauty and magnificence, and I am not even sure that my point-and-shoot camera will do justice. But this is a most photographed church that is best appreciated by being right there.

The other famous destination in Paoay is the Malacanang ti Amianan, or Malacanang of the North. It is a mansion built by the Marcos family on a huge property facing the serene Paoay Lake, sitting next to a golf course. I remember photos of President Marcos taken while enjoying water sports on the lake.

Paoay Lake, from the main road

Malacanang of the North

grand staircase leading to the second floor ballroom

The Marcos Museum in Batac is not what it used to be.

In my previous visits, guests can enter the mansion and view Marcos memorabilia on display. Car plates from the time he was congressman to president, the barongs he wore, faded photographs of him and his family taken in different times and locations, including state visits, letters he wrote, etc. They were very interesting. Last month, I was told the mansion was closed for renovation and a photo gallery at the rear end, in another structure, was all there is to view. The mausoleum where the preserved body of the late President Marcos was laid to rest was, and is, still open to visitors.


Sarrat is a quaint little town where the late president Marcos was born. This is also the town where his mother, Dona Josefa Edralin, practiced her profession as a teacher. But for some people, Sarrat is most famous as the venue of the Philippine “wedding of the century” when Irene Marcos and Greggy Araneta were wed.

the beautiful Sta Monica church, with the longest aisle in the Ilocos region

the new Presidencia (town hall) where Irene Marcos came from for the wedding

I imagine this school to be somewhere in Europe, but it is right there in Sarrat

the Sarrat wedding reception area

cheap lunch: dinengdeng (and dinakdakan) in the public market

the very welcoming Tourism office, look for Minda Jusay

Sarrat is easily one of the most beautiful towns in Ilocos Norte, and I never fail to drop by when I am in the region. Imagine a beautiful church facing a river. Ruins right beside the church that compete well with other old structures in the country. Beautiful old houses, some of them spruced up for a period look consistent with the wedding ambience. Nice people. I even wish the town would have accommodations for overnight guests, no matter how spartan. I imagine myself having coffee or wine al fresco facing the river. And spend a day or two exploring the river and its tributaries. Sarrat has the potentials of a major tourist destination – – – as long as they don’t come in hordes, ruining its quaint little town character.

Finally, there is SITIO REMEDIOS as a reason to visit Currimao. Unfortunately, I did not pre-arrange a visit, so I will just quote verbatim the article I read in PAL’s Mabuhay in-flight magazine:

“In this day and age when most resorts are obsessed with hip designs devoid of any local character, it is refreshing to have a Filipino resort. Sitio Remedios, where guests can actually have a feel of the land. . .. the resort provides a guest not with a stay but an experience – to live in the genteel past. The resort recreates a typical 19th century Ilocano village with guesthouses built from recycled, old building materials…….. ”

I shall book a stay there one of these days.

Accommodations in Currimao

Sitio Remedios must be enough reason to go to Currimao, and therefore I say it is a must-visit-must-stay place. For the moment, all information I have in this blog post came from that one article in PAL’s in-flight magazine. Here’s a photo I took of that page:

Sitio Remedios rates start at P4,000 for double occupancy, with free Ilocano breakfast. Make your reservations by email :  or phone (+63917) 3320217  Website:

Of course other than Sitio Remedios, there are a host of resorts that travelers can choose from. I stayed at Playa tropical.

PLAYA TROPICAL is a Balinese-inspired 30-room resort hotel. The hotel has a spa, wi-fi, a game room, a kiddie playground, oicnic huts, and a souvenir shop. It has a huge infinity pool facing the famous Currimao shoreline. Upon entering the resort complex, one sees the beautiful casas, free-standing two-level villas each with a living room, dining room, and a private pool within its own backyard. Room rates start at P3,500 for regular twin rooms, with the casas at P8,000 per night for 2 persons, or P12,500 for 5-8 persons. Room rates are increased by 10% during peak seasons.

the CASA, a villa with its own living room, dining room, and a private swimming pool

Food service is good, and prices are not exactly cheap.

I was attended to by their amiable Operations Manager, Kenji Numano. To book Playa Tropical, call phone ((077) 6701211, (077) 6761001, or mobile number 0917 570 0223. Website:

There are other tourist-class resorts within the area. But I decided to look for a budget accommodation as an option for others who would want to experience Currimao and not have to spend a fortune. I found Subli Subli.

SUBLI SUBLI Beach Resort is less than a kilometer away from Playa Tropical. It seems like a regular weekend getaway for families who want to go to the beach. Until I saw some signs in Ilocano that, upon inquiry, actually meant something like “lovers can hide in this place”. There are family rooms, and garage rooms. Nothing fancy. But a good enough alternative for budget travelers.

cheap rooms

nothing fancy, might as well bring your own linen

condoms available

Subli Subli can be contacted at 0921 4657938. Look for Jackie Tinaza.

How to go to Currimao

Currimao is around 465 kilometers northwest of Manila. By private car, travel time is approximately 9 hours. Several bus companies going to Ilocos Norte from terminals in Cubao, Quezon City ply this route. Visitors can also fly to Ilocos Norte and land at the Laoag International Airport.