I recently journeyed with the best of the young travel bloggers and travel writers in the country on a 7-day North Philippines familiarization tour. I’ve been to most of them, but there were a few little secrets that I learned during that trip. Here are the top 10 secrets of North Luzon in 2010… ๐Ÿ™‚

1. The Latest Attraction Travelers are Raving About: Sandboarding in Laoag Sand Dunes!

Out of all the places we visited in North Luzon, I found Sandboarding in Laoag the most AWESOME! It is just like surfing — but on sand. You also have to conquer your fear before you can really go down the steep slope of the sand dunes. Sandboarding here is still in its infancy, and all they do is slide down the slopes — no jumps and no complicated moves yet. The adventure starts with a 4×4 drive across the sand dunes and then you will stop at one of the dunes with the steepest slope — this is where the fun activity begins. ๐Ÿ™‚

(BTW, there are two areas of sand dunes in Ilocos Norte — the one in Paoay and the one in La Paz. We tried sandboarding in the Paoay area.)

2. The Popular San Juan Surf Resort.

I’m not yet a surfer — I’ve tried twice and I still can’t stand on the board. But I always heard a lot of raves about San Juan Surf Resort, and now I know why. It is popular for three things: (1) the cool music heard all around the resort; (2) because of Luke — the #1 surfer in La Union; and (3) half-moon sightings. ๐Ÿ™‚
 (You don’t wear briefs pala when you wear board shorts. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

3. Kayaking is the #1 adventure sport in the North.

I just realized, everywhere we go, there is kayaking — from the whitewater kayaking in the Pinakanawan River in Tuguegarao, to the whitewater kayaking in Ambuklao Dam, to the island-to-island kayaking in Hundred Islands. It is good to know how to use the kayak (from picking the right kayak for you to knowing how to navigate forward and backward with it). It would be a good investment also to buy your own life jacket because it would be worth it, especially if you are an adventure junkie. ๐Ÿ™‚

4. The Wisdom of Chef Billy King.

It was in The Manor at Camp John Hay that I was able to taste the best-ever meal in our North Luzon Trip, which was prepared by Chef Billy King. Yes, I finally met the elusive chef. ๐Ÿ™‚

Apparently, he does spend most of his time in The Manor in Baguio. I had a great time talking to him as our conversation covered various topics — like how the Filipino palate degraded from the ’80s to the ’90s, and how being a Chef as a noble profession has become bastardized due to the phenomenon of “celebrity chefs” and the “factory-type manufacturing” of chefs by culinary schools. Chef Billy King is really sharp and passionate about what he does.

5. Wonder Boy is the best tour guide in the Callao Cave.

I’ve been to Callao Cave three times already, and this was the first time I really appreciated it. Thanks to Wonder Boy, Gerald Taguinod, who is no doubt the best tour guide of Callao Cave. He started when he was 8 years old and has been guiding tours for 9 years already. He shared a lot of stories and, in fact, he was the one who named most of the rock formations in the cave. Don’t ever go to Callao Cave on your own — hire him as your guide.

You can contact him through Leslie Taguinod +63905 6075450.

6. The Blue Lagoon — The Last Pristine Beach in the North.

We discovered Blue Lagoon back in December 2006, so I was sad to see that one of the resorts there was “tampering” with the place’s natural beauty. Hannah, one of the biggest resorts in the area, removed all the trees and started to build mini-“Camella-type” homes and paved the entire resort with concrete. They just bought the adjacent lot and created a convention area. The development is built very close to the beach and, sad to say, this would ruin the allure of Blue Lagoon.

If you still want to see the beauty of the Last Pristine Beach in the North, check out Blue Lagoon this year. In 10 years, I can imagine the entire place will be ruined by the uncontrolled development of resorts. It broke my heart when I saw more concrete than trees.

7. Ate Gemma is the best caterer in Hundred Islands ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ve been looking for the best caterer in Hundred Islands ever since we visited the area in May 2008. Finally, I found Ate Gemma of the KKK cooperative, who provides the best Pangasinan food catering in Quezon Island. She can reserve the best table for you in Quezon Island and prepare ribs, grilled bangus, fresh shrimps, and salad with Pangasinan’s mangga and bagoong.

Contact Ate Gemma at +63919 652 0570.

8. An Ilocos Food Trip is not complete without Saramsam Cafe.

Saramsam Cafe in Laoag City is the home of Poqui Poqui and Dinuguan Pizza. It is the sister restaurant of Herencia Cafe, where Pinakbet Pizza was invented as well. Aside from the pizza, they have a Bilo-Bilo Fondue worth checking out for dessert. The best part about Saramsam is you can reserve an adjacent room and you can karaoke the night away with your friends!

9. Baguio’s Ambuklao Dam — Even Baguio is getting into Adventure Tourism ๐Ÿ™‚

Baguio is joining the bandwagon and is marketing itself as a jump-off point for the Ambuklao Dam adventure. ๐Ÿ™‚ This is the highest dam in Luzon, located in Benguet. You can kayak in the dam itself or in the Rated 1 white waters of Agno River. 

Clint Taynan of Baguio Adventure (the official adventure tourism agency for Baguio) can arrange go-karting, kayaking and rappelling around the Ambuklao Dam area. We had a lot of misadventures during our trip here because they couldn’t handle big groups yet.

10. Subic’s the #1 Tourist Destination in 2009 with approximately 4.1 Million Visitors

Subic was the #1 Tourist Destination in 2009 because of the SCTEX (which cut down travel time to 2+ hours) and because of conventions like the Ad Congress, Couples for Christ, among others. It also helped that Subic offers three fun adventures: Zoobic, Ocean Adventure and Tree Top Adventure. We tried the mini-superman zip line in Tree Top, and it was cool, especially at night. Recently, a plan to build the longest Zip Line (1 km) in Subic was approved. Once it is built, its length will beat that of the Dahilayan Zip Line in Bukidnon.

That’s it! Let me know if you have questions, comments, and (especially) reactions to the info I shared above. ๐Ÿ™‚

Have an Awesome Trip in North Luzon!


Anton Diaz
Founder and Digital Publisher 

Mobile: +63917-LOVEOAP (5683627) 
Email: anton@diaz.ph

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P.S. I’m launching the Awesome ILOCOS™ and Awesome BAGUIO™ Tours during the travel fair this coming weekend. Please come and visit! ๐Ÿ™‚