- Day 1: Touchdown in Manila
- Day 2-3: From Laoag To Vigan
- Day 4 and 5: Make your way to Sagada by bus(es)
- Day 5 and 6: Get lost amidst the stunning rice terraces of Batad
- Day 7: Return to Manila and head east to Legazpi
- Day 8: Dive with whale sharks in Donsol
- Day 9: Surf’s up in Real Quezon
- Day 10: End your trip with fond memories of Luzon
- More information
The tropical paradise of Philippines is often associated with amazing beach resorts, lush sweltering rainforests and secluded islands. With friendly locals and a wide range of travel options catering to all budgets, this is one place that appeals to everyone.
In this itinerary, you’ll learn what to see and do in Luzon, a huge island in the north of the Philippines. Home to ancient rice terraces, colonial towns and the chaotic sprawl of Metro Manila, you’ll visit the main highlights of the island in an ambitious 10-day trip.
Day 1: Touchdown in Manila
For most travellers, Manila is often the first stop when arriving by plane. The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (known locally as NINA) is made up of 4 terminals serving both international and domestic airlines.
Getting out of NINA, there’s enough places to see in Manila for at least a day. Intramuros is a small preserved section of town that retains its Spanish architecture, albeit crumbling at some parts. You’ll find respite from the madness of downtown Manila, as you explore the small alleys and local businesses serving this small community. Walk on to the end of the town and explore Fort Santiago, which was first built by the Spanish to guard the newly established walled city of Manila.
After a few hours of walking the streets and peeking into churches, head out and visit the SM Mall of Asia. Touted as one of Asia’s largest malls, this is where you can do a spot of shopping in case you forgot to bring something, or grab a bite from one of the restaurants there. Once done, take a walk along the Roxas Boulevard, a 7.6km-long seaside promenade running along the Manila Bay. On Fridays and weekend evenings, the promenade is filled with locals chilling and digging into street food from the many vendors lining the path.
As you head back towards Intramuros, take a right at the end of the Roxas Boulevard and visit Rizal Park. As the day winds down, locals gather in force at this expansive park to picnic and people watch. Grab some food and settle down on the grass patch as well, or see if there’s a concert happening in the nearby open-air auditorium. Filipinos love their music, and regular performances happen in this venue.
End the night with excellent local cuisine and cheap beers at Hott Asia Bazaar. Popular with locals with a party atmosphere to boot, this is not on most tourist itineraries, so come prepared to make friends with Filipinos. But this is just your first day, so take stock of your alcohol intake and get ready to fly out the next day – you’ll be in the northern side of Luzon in less than 12 hours time!
If you have more than just a hurried day, check out Girl, Unspotted for some ideas on how to spend 3 days in Manila.
Where to stay in Manila?
Makati Junction Hostel offers clean and cheap dormitory beds for budget travellers. There’s also a nice common area that doubles up as a cafe, so you can chill there with fellow travellers. Check the latest rates and available rooms here.
For a nicer place to stay, the Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences offers a comfortable stay at affordable rates. Check out the latest rates and available rooms here.
Manila is a big city, and there’s many more options all over town. These are the latest deals on Booking.com:
Day 2-3: From Laoag To Vigan
Getting around Laoag
Situated in the northwest corner of Luzon, the province of Ilocos is subdivided into the north (Ilocos Norte) and south (Ilocos Sur). The capital of Ilocos Norte is Laoag, a relatively small city that’s big enough to get by as a transportation hub.
Most travellers come in by plane. From the airport, take a 15 minute tricycle to the city centre. Alternatively, overnight buses from the Cubao Bus Terminal in Manila start from 800 Pesos, and take between 10 to 13 hours for the trip. Check out Farinas, Florida and Partas for the latest schedules and fares.
Laoag is a relatively small city with a decent local market and colonial architecture. The main highlight of Ilocos Norte is outside Laoag, though. From anywhere in town, you can hail a tricycle (literally on the street) and immediately embark on a half-day tour around the region. Of course, you can also DIY it with buses, which is a lot more painful to arrange.
If you’re planning to head out to sightsee, check out:
- Pagudpud, a beach with fine white sand comparable to the more famous Boracay beach
- Bangui Windmills, which are modern ones (not the quaint Dutch type)
- Paoay, a small town famed for its church
- The Patapat Viaduct, which hugs the northern coastline
Most tricycle drivers will take you on a planned route if you can’t decide. For 600 Pesos, you can choose to travel to:
- The South Tour – Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, Kapurpurawan Rock Formation & Bangui Windmills
- The North Tour – Kabigan Falls, Bantay Abot Cave, Patapat Viaduct, Blue Lagoon Beach
Generally tricycles in the Philippines allow for 2 passengers in the carriage, although it can get a bit squeezy. A third passenger can ride as a pillion on the motorcycle. Sharing costs will bring down the price per passenger, at the expense of comfort of course.
Travelling to Vigan
Vigan is another excellent day-trip destination from Laoag. Famed for its well-preserved Spanish colonial street stretching across half a kilometer, the Calle Crisologo is flanked by a row of two storey shophouses selling mostly tourist trinkets. No vehicles are allowed on it, so you’ll only need to avoid the occasional horse-drawn cart.
To get to Vigan, regular buses leave Laoag every hour from the city bus terminal (2 hours, 130 Pesos, hourly frequency, Partas). You could spend half a day to explore Vigan, so it’s best to leave early and return to Laoag by evening to catch the Saturday market in the city centre.
Alternatively, you can try to catch an overnight bus leaving Manila to Vigan (10 hours, 750 Pesos, Partas).
For an in-depth look into what to see and do in Vigan, check out Trotterhop’s excellent Vigan Travel Guide.
Where to stay in Laoag?
Laoag is a small city with fewer accommodation options. If you’re not picky about in-room amenities, People’s Inn is newly renovated and located just 10 minutes away from the city centre. It’s also cheaper than most other accommodation options in town. Check here for latest rates and available rooms.
Visit Booking.com for more deals in Laoag and Vigan:
Day 4 and 5: Make your way to Sagada by bus(es)
Finding a direct bus route from Laoag to Sagada is almost impossible, given that there is a huge mountain range in between. Instead, you’ll first need to take an overnight bus to Baguio City (6 hours, 466 Pesos, Partas), which reaches Baguio City at 3am.
From there, take a cab and get to the GL Trans bus terminal, which connects you on the onwards journey from Baguio to Sagada (6 hours, 220 Pesos , departs hourly from 6am to 1pm, GL Trans). For the latter, you’ll need to buy tickets on the bus, as there’s no online reservation channel yet. Rest assured that at 6am, you’ll have plenty of seats to choose from. Enjoy the scenery along this leg of the journey, as you climb higher into the mountains.
Sagada is a small town that runs along an incline, so get ready to huff and puff your way around. In the centre of town, the Tourist Information Centre provides everything – from price-regulated tours to the bus and jeepney timings for outward journeys to Manila, Bantoc and Banaue. It’s well run and provides a fair means of income for a town with a heavy dependence on the tourism industry.
Most tourists take the standard walking tour to visit the hanging coffins near the town cemetery, which is usually coupled with a visit to St Mary’s Church near the town centre. Adventurous trekkers can opt for a 1.5 hour or 3 hour spelunking session in the nearby Sumaguing Caves, which promises to be a thrilling and exhausting experience for most visitors. If you’re short on time however, the Adventure Trail is the best of both worlds, as you get to see the hanging coffins, followed by a 3 hour hike to visit a small easy section of the caves, and then finish off with a cliff jump into a small waterfall.
Getting out of Sagada
While this place deserves more time, you’ll spend at least a night here before taking a scheduled jeepney to Bantoc in the late afternoon. From Bantoc, hop aboard another jeepney to get to Banaue. It sounds more complicated that it really is, so don’t worry! You’ll figure out easily when you’re there. Note that jeepneys will leave early if they fill up ahead of time, so don’t leave everything to the last minute if you’re on a tight schedule.
If you miss the last jeepney connection to Banaue at 1pm, there’s always a 2pm Coda Lines bus service that leaves Sagada for Manila, passing by Banaue en-route. You can usually buy tickets on the spot, although it’s best to reserve a seat in advance for the bus. The Coda Lines office is just a 1-minute walk up from the Tourist Office.
Where to stay in Sagada?
Sagada is a small town, and your best bet is to stay in a guesthouse. Check out Agape Log Cabin and Restaurant, located a short 10 minute walk from the Tourist Information Centre. Find the latest rates and available rooms.
You can also consider these deals from Booking.com:
Day 5 and 6: Get lost amidst the stunning rice terraces of Batad
Banaue, along with the village of Batad, boasts of some of the world’s most amazing rice terraces. The scale is at times unbelievable, as terraces cut across entire mountainsides. With a history stretching back two thousand years, rice farming is not just a touristy thing, but a way of life for the Ifugao people.
While Banaue offers easy access to these rice terraces, Batad holds an even more impressive set of terraces… if you can get there. It’s not easy though. For starters, you’ll need to take a 45 minute hair-raising tricycle ride along twisting steep roads. At certain sections, your tricycle driver will ask you to step out and walk up or down a stretch of slope for your safety.
You’ll eventually come to a point where the road stops. From here, walk in for another 20 minutes to get to the village proper. Guesthouses are scattered around town, so book one ahead or just enquire on the spot. There are no street lights or mobile phone reception in Batad, so it’s wise to get in before dark. Alternatively, engage a guide to help you. There should be plenty of local Ifugao guys on standby at the entrance of the village.
Most people stay in Batad for a day, which gives them enough time to explore the rice terraces here. Neatly carved from steep mountain slopes that slowly ease into a gentle valley, Batad offers a panoramic view of the terraces from literally anywhere in town. You should also hike down to the Tappiya Waterfall, although the steep steps might put a strain on your thigh muscles when climbing back up.
You’ll also need to deal with vertigo at certain spots where the steps descend sharply without anything to hold onto. If possible, carry a hiking stick along, and engage a guide to lead you along the right way down. It takes roughly 3-4 hours for a hike down to the waterfalls and back up, and the going rate for local guides is roughly 1,000 Pesos. There’ll always be a group of tourists who decide to go without a guide, and you can spot them wading through flooded rice fields eventually after losing sight of the trail.
There’s a lot more trekking trails to nearby villages as well, if you’re keen on exploring the area. Just make sure to engage a local guide, as the mountains can be very unforgiving if you get lost at night.
Where to stay in Batad?
As Batad is spread out on a hillside, your choice of accommodation will mean the difference in climbing 20 minutes to your guesthouse, or climbing up to 45 minutes on steep stone steps. The Batad View Inn and Restaurant promises (and delivers) an amazing view of the rice terraces from higher ground, which means an easier time getting there too. You can also choose to stay like a local in an Ifugao hut, which is an unforgettable experience for a slightly higher price. Check here for the latest prices and available rooms.
You can also search Booking.com for more accommodation options:
Day 7: Return to Manila and head east to Legazpi
From Batad, return to Banaue using the same way as you arrived (i.e. 20 minute uphill climb, followed by a 45 minute tricycle ride). Ohayami Transport runs an overnight bus service to Manila (7pm, 490 Pesos, 10 hours, Ohayami Transport), and the office is located a short uphill walk from the Tourist Office in Banaue.
You’ll reach the Sampaloc bus terminal in Manila the following morning at around 5am. If you’ve got only a week to spare, it’s time to head back home. If you can afford another couple of days, head east to Legazpi.
There are several ways to get there. If you want to save time, make a beeline to the airport and catch the earliest flight out. Alternatively, regular 10-hour bus rides depart regularly from Manila. Alas, you’ll waste a day just watching the world go by from the window of a bus.
Sightseeing in Legazpi
Generally, everything touristy in Legazpi centres around Mount Mayon, an active conical stratovolcano that erupted as recently as early 2018. Two places are especially popular for viewing the volcano – the 16th century church ruins of Cagsawa at the outskirts of the city, or from an elevated vantage point at the top of Ligñon Hill.
When the volcano is not actively erupting, there’s much more to do. If you’re looking for a thrill, you can rent an ATV and rumble up the black volcanic soil towards the mountain. Organised tours can also take you closer to the volcano, instead of just admiring it from afar.
There are also lush rice plantations and interesting villages to explore. Rent a scooter for 800 Pesos per day from Bicol Bike Rental (contact Richard at 09275505828), or hire a private driver if you can afford it. After a week of constant travelling, take some time off to relax as well.
Day 8: Dive with whale sharks in Donsol
Just one and a half hour away by car, Donsol is one of the best places in the Philippines to watch a whale shark in action. Unlike the touristy whale shark experience in Oslob, Cebu, the scene in Donsal is well regulated by the local marine authorities. They even have an office to enforce responsible whale shark tourism!
Getting from Legazpi to Donsol is relatively easy. Minivans leave for the town at regular intervals throughout the day from 6am. The last van departs at 4pm, although the last van returning from Donsol to Legazpi sets off at 1pm. If you’re intending to visit as a day trip, leave very early or stay overnight in town. Alternatively, rent a scooter (see Day 7 above) and make the journey yourself.
If you have a PADI certificate, or are planning to join a diving course, then there are several dive schools to check out. Giddy’s Place is run by a professional crew with their own equipment, so you know you’re in good hands. They also run a short discovery dive session in shallow coral reefs. Try that out if you don’t have enough time to complete a PADI course.
A full-day leisure dive will run from 6.30am to 3pm, before returning to shore just before 5pm. If you have your own transport waiting, hop onto your bike or car and return to Legazpi. Hurry and catch the last overnight bus back to Manila at 7.30pm or 8.30pm (if available). It’s might be a bit tight, but it’ll squeeze out yet another an extra day!
Where to stay in Legazpi?
As you’ll be catching a couple of buses while staying in Legazpi, it pays to be near the bus station. Lotus Blu, a newly renovated hotel sharing the same building as a shopping mall, is a full-serviced hotel with good views of Mount Mayon. More importantly, it is only a short 5 minute walk away from the bus station. Check here for the latest rates and available rooms.
You can also visit Booking.com to look for discounted deals:
Day 9: Surf’s up in Real Quezon
If you had dived the previous day, you shouldn’t take a flight for the next 24 hours. It’s good though, as you have the chance to test out your surfing skills in Real Quezon, which boasts of surf-worthy waves coming from the Pacific Ocean.
Real Quezon is at least 3 hours away from Manila by car. Buses will easily take up to 5 hours for the journey though. Raymond Transport runs this route from their bus terminal in Legarda (5 hours, 160 Pesos, hourly service with no online reservations, Raymond Transport), or check out the minivan service located nearby for a potentially faster commute (3-4 hours, 220 Pesos, vans leave when filled with passengers).
The Philippines has many more awesome surf spots. Check out the Honeymoon Backpackers’ take on the 10 best places to surf.
Where to stay in Real Quezon?
For the last leg of this trip, end it by spending the night in a campsite. By and large, the most popular place or locals to be at is the PaRK, or the Pacific Recreation Kamp.
Staying overnight at the campsite is pretty affordable. A tent rental will set you back 500 Pesos, and each person adds on another 50 Pesos. If you have your own tent and sleeping bag, it’ll be even cheaper.
Most facilities, like the bathrooms and barbeque pits, are shared. A small cafe is well stocked with cold beer, water and snacks like instant noodles. If you’re too lazy to head down to the nearby wet market, fret not. The proprietors can also prepare hot food like rice and basic Filipino cuisine. That is unlikely, however, as the smell of freshly grilled seafood will tantalise your tastebuds.
If you’re new to surfing, instructors run classes during high tide for a small fee. There’s also a nice beach to chill, mingle around a bonfire, or just soak your feet in the ocean water. It’s therefore no surprise that Real Quezon is a popular weekend getaway for city folks in Manila!
You can also check Booking.com for discounted deals:
Day 10: End your trip with fond memories of Luzon
At last, your trip across Luzon would have come to an end. It’s been a manic one and a half weeks of overnight buses and outdoor activities. While some people holiday to relax, you might actually recover from this trip by heading back to work!
Alas, Luzon has way too many interesting places to explore and 10 days is barely enough to scratch the surface. If you can spare an extra day in Laoag or Sagada or Banaue, it’ll be definitely worth your while. Otherwise, try out this itinerary and let me know how it worked out for you in the comments!
More information about travelling in Luzon and the Philippines
Is it safe to travel in the Philippines?
Luzon is very safe, and isn’t representative of the negative press coverage you read about. Outside of Manila, you’ll most likely be a victim of overpaying a tricycle driver rather than a from a mugging. Just be careful of your belongings, especially in tourist areas like Vigan and Sagada.
Also, don’t do drugs. There is currently a concerted effort by the authorities to stamp out drug abuse, and penalties are harsh. Stick to legal stuff like tobacco and alcohol when in the Philippines, please.
What should I eat in the Philippines?
If you’re seeking a local Filipino experience, you’ll need to have at least one meal at Jollibee. This ubiquitous restaurant is present in almost every street corner in Manila. Of course, Filipino food fans will be aghast at this remark, but it needs to be mentioned nonetheless.
Traditional Filipino cuisine is heavy on rice and meat. Everyone knows Lechon, which is shredded fatty slices of suckling pig. But there’s more than just that! Try pork or chicken adobo, which is shredded meat simmered in garlic, soy sauce and vinegar. Tapsilog is also a local favourite, made of sun-dried pork or beef marinated with salt and other spices, and served with garlic fried rice (sinangag).
Up north in Ilocos, try Bagnet (fried pork skin), Longganisa (pork sausage made up of ground pork fat stuffed in an intestine sausage) and Empandana (crispy fried turnover filled with cabbage, minced pork and sometimes a variety of other ingredients).
For dessert, you have to try halo halo. This sweet icy concoction comes with evaporated milk for that extra oomph. Watch the calories though, they accumulate fast if you have it every day!
Do I need to reserve bus tickets, and where can I do so?
It’s best to reserve bus tickets, but there will be many operators who still sell their tickets on the bus or at the counter only. Check Biyaheroes and PHBus for the list of operators who sell their tickets online.
What are the overnight buses like?
First Class overnight buses are not, as they suggest, first class. Forget luxury seats and onboard toilets though. Mostly it’s just a normal bus with the occasional movie screening during the day.
Every few hours, long distance buses will stop for toilet and snack breaks. Usually at around 1am or so, the lights will turn on to rouse bleary-eyed passengers. As with most buses in tropical countries, the air-conditioning is set to the lowest temperature dial. If you’re afraid of the cold, bring along a sweater, scarf or small blanket. Long pants and socks are also advisable if you’re petrified of cold temperatures.
Any tips especially for travelling in the Philippines?
- As with many Southeast and East Asian cultures, saving face is important for Filipinos. Avoid direct confrontations, as it will seldom end well for you. Work towards a win-win situation, and smile throughout your ordeal.
- Be patient, as some locals may have a different concept of time. While many service providers are reliable, they might just take more time to reply to you, or tend to your requests. You can insist on service or a response, but again, so it with a smile.
- In Manila, mass public transport like jeepneys might be cumbersome as traffic snarls will delay your commute. Use metered taxis or private car hire apps like Uber and Grab instead.
- Avoid talking about politics and policies initiated by the current government. Just enjoy the scenery and travel experiences, and leave the politicking to world leaders and internet trolls.