Field Guide to a Northern Roadtrip: 1,300+ kilometers in 5 days

To drive across Luzon up to the island of Palaui and head back to Manila via a very scenic route parallel to the West Philippine Sea—this has always been a dream, until last March when we made it a reality. It’s not exactly cheap, but if you are a group of four, the expenses can be managed at P1,200 a day for five days inclusive of gas, toll, lodging, and a few luxuries like a kalesa ride or a nice meal in a restaurant. Here is how we did it (the article is going to be long, but read on if you are interested).

What you need to cover the distance, sleep, have fun, and stay alive

  • A car. We brought a Honda City 1.5 automatic. There were many road repairs along Nueva Vizcaya but you don’t need a 4×4 to make it through alive. Please have the car checked before leaving: oil, brake, transmission fluids, tires, etc.
  • Drivers of Steel. We are four people in the group, three of are very capable drivers, and one was supposed to function as the all around entertainer.
  • Two tents, tarps, sleeping bags. We used this in Palaui.
  • Cooler. In case you like your beer cold and you need a box for the longganisa / bagnet haul.
  • Seed money. We stared out with a seed fund of Php 4,000 each, so that’s a total of P16,000.00. That’s a lot!
  • Energy. Loaded power banks.
  • Other items for personal comfort. E.g. teddy bear.

The itinerary of death: Manila – Buguey – Palaui – Pagudpud – Laoag – Vigan – La Union – Manila. An important note: we drove leisurely. It’s okay to have a driver on steroids but since this is a holiday, chill the f**k down.

Date and Time Distance – Stops – Sights Cost and Notes
1:30 PM (March 23) to 4:00 AM (March 24) Circulo Verde, Quezon City to Buguey, Cagayan Valley. Distance of approximately 600-kilometers via NLEX, Pan Pacific Highway, Santiago – Tuguegarao Road, and finally Dugo – San Vicente Road. Google Maps says it would take you 11 hours—it took us 14.

You can actually stop mid-way at Solano, Nueva Vizcaya. There are a lot of places to stay along the highway at very affordable prices e.g. 27/7 Inn at just P1,500 per night.

Gased-up two times along the way, made a couple of stops for food, water, smoke breaks, etc. Cost of gas is variable, but if we peg it at Php 37, our full tank cost was only Php 1,100.

Gas: Php 1,100 x 2 = 2,200

Toll: Approx. Php 600, depending on your route. Others: Php 1,000 for dinner, water, chips, etc.

4:00 AM to 2:30 PM (March 24) Arrival at the Crab Capital of the Philippines! Buguey, Cagayan. Snooze, bath, and baboy time at El Presidente Hotel. Remember to gas up at Tuguegarao! Lodging at Php 1,500 for a standard room. Food budget at approx. Php 1,000.
2:30 PM to 5:30 PM Travel from Buguey to Sta. Ana Pier via Dugo – San Vicente Road and then Pier to Punta Verde. San Vicente takes about one hour from Buguey. This is the time to restock before heading out for the 30-minute boat ride to Punta Verde. Boat ride is at P2,800 for Punta Verde and Anguib, inclusive of overnight fee. Php 70 / pax or Php 280 for the tourism / environmental fee for all four. Food allowance: Php 800.
5:30 PM onwards Arrival at the Punta Verde, Palaui campsite. Pitch tent and have dinner. Tell scary stories and play stupid logic games. Pitch fee: Php 500.
7:00 AM (March 25) to 11:30 AM Island hopping at Palaui. Due to the weather, we were not able to go through the planned itinerary. Entrance at Anguib: Php 100 / pax of Php 400 for the whole group.
11:30 AM to 3:30 PM Palaui – San Vicente Pier – Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte. Stop by Patapat Viaduct to admire the view. Just stay there for a bit. There are a lot of good things in life that are free, including this view.
4:30 PM onwards Very, very late lunch. Check in at Milnard’s Lodge and Restaurant. Get some rest. Php 3,500 for an airconditioned room.
6:00 AM to 12:30 PM (March 26) Breakfast at any resort along Saud Beach, then take the whole Pagudpud Southern Tour: Bangui Windmills, Kapurpurawan Rock Formation, Cape Bojeador at Burgos, Burgos Abandoned House (nobody goes to this place according to our guide, Noel). But heck, it’s beautiful. Breakfast at Php 200 each or Php 800 all in all. Tour guide: Php 600.
1:00 PM to 5:00 PM Travel from Burgos to the City of Laog, very very late lunch at La Preciousa or Saramsam Restaurant. Check out the Laoag Bell Tower. Hah! Php 1,500 for lunch because why not.
5:00 PM to 8:00 PM Travel from Laoag to Vigan. Quick stop at Batac to get some empanada. Php 80 for the empanada.
8:00 PM to 11:00 PM Arrival at Vigan. Check in at Henady Inn, take trike to Crisologo for late dinner at Café Leona. Lodging at Php 1,500. Dinner at Cafe Leona for Php 1,500.
8:00 AM to 12:00 NN (March 27) Explore Vigan more, get your stock of longganisa. Breakfast from the personal piggy bank.
12:00 NN to 4:00 PM Travel from Vigan to La Union. Late lunch at Flotsam and Jetsam Hostel, afternoon coffee at El Union. Approx. Php 300 each for the meal total of Php 1,200. Coffee and s’mores for Php 600.


4:00 PM to 10:00 PM Travel from La Union to Manila with a lot of breaks. Gas up, another full tank at Php 1,200. Toll at Php 600.

*Ultimately, we spent about Php 23,160, defintely more than the Php 16,000 seed fund. That’s about Php 5,800 per person. Can it be cheaper? Of course. If you look at the cost column you’d see how much we spent on food, a.k.a semi-expensive restaurants. Some meals were also at individual costs, because guess what, we’re pigs like that.

What to do / what we did

I would liken this road trip to a degustation–each of the places should be explored more, individually, but due to the ‘format’ of the trip we got tasting portions.

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Are you ready? No?

Buguey. It’s a small town at the edge Cagayan and they call it the Crab Capital of the Philippines, precisely because of its key industries: mud-crab, oyster, brakishwater shrimp farming, and seaweed processing. We were lucky enough to have hosts who fed us with crab and shrimp galore. I am not kidding with galore.

Buguey (2)

This is the first time we tried Jumping Salad–fresh (as in live) shrimp dipped in lime and eaten without the head. You know what they say about hipon. Hihi.

Buguey (1)

Palaui Island. A whole destination to itself–this island is huge with a number of different attractions, the most popular of which is Cape Engano (sadly, we were not able to go to because the waves were wild). There’s a dedicated camp site at Punta Verde, and it’s the only place where people are allowed to stay overnight.

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Pagudpud. I love this place to bits. People can easily spend three or four days at Papudpud just lounging. Since 2010, my guide here has always been Noel: +63 921 248 1578. The northern part covers the likes of Patapat Viaduct and Blue Lagoon, while the southern end has Saud Beach, Kapurpurawan Rock Formation, Bangui Windmills, and Cape Bojeador.

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Burgos. Cape Bojeador is actually part of this municipality, but it still has a couple of hidden surprises like an abandoned house near a rock formation. Con was gutsy enough to climb it, so I followed and this is what we found.

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Burgos Ilocos Norte (1)

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Cape Bojeador

Laoag. If you google ‘restaurants in Laoag,’ the first one you’d see is La Preciosa, which serves super-awesome poqui-poqui. Unfortunately, it was closed during our visit, so off we went to Saramsam for bagnet, fried chicken, and more poqui-poqui. Made a quick look at the bell tower then caught the sunset along Gilbert Bridge.


Vigan. Probably the most popular heritage town in the Philippines. There is no introduction needed–it’s the cobblestoned gem of the north that’s in the bucket list of every Filipino traveler.

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Vigan (1)

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La Union. The last stop on the way home was the ever so popular Flotsam and Jetsam Hostel followed by this new hip(ster) cafe called El Union, which serves some really good dirty white and s’mores.

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Got questions? If you are looking at following the itinerary, then better start planning. You can shoot me an e-mail at if you have questions. 🙂




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