Northern Luzon is noted for its colonial Spanish cities, tropical rain forest, faith healers, former-head-hunting Indian tribes, stunning rice terraces, and towering mountains. The Spanish influence in the Philippines is most noticeable in the mountainous northwestern Luzon provinces of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. Luzon is roughly the size of Kentucky. Much of mountainous areas were left relatively untouched by the Spanish because they feared the headhunting tribes that lived there. The missionaries feared them to and as a result Christianity came late and mixed with local animist religions more than it displaced them. A number of rebellions were launched here against the Spanish. The New People’s Army, a leftist insurgency, was based in the mountains here and was active for several decades and occasionally comes back to life.

The northwestern portion of the island, which encompasses most of the Ilocos Region, is characterized by a flat terrain extending east from the coastline toward the Cordillera Central mountains. The Cordillera mountain range, which feature the island's north-central section, is covered in a mixture of tropical pine forests and montane rainforests, and is the site of the island's highest mountain, Mount Pulag, rising at 2,922 meters. The range provides the upland headwaters of the Agno River, which stretches from the slopes of Mount Data, and meanders along the southern Cordillera mountains before reaching the plains of Pangasinan.

The northeastern section of Luzon is generally mountainous, with the Sierra Madre, the longest mountain range in the country, abruptly rising a few miles from the coastline. Located in between the Sierra Madre and the Cordillera Central mountain ranges is the large Cagayan Valley. This region, which is known for being the second largest producer of rice and the country's top corn-producer, serves as the basin for the Cagayan River, the longest in the Philippines. Along the southern limits of the Cordillera Central lies the lesser-known Caraballo Mountains. These mountains form a link between the Cordillera Central and the Sierra Madre mountain ranges, separating the Cagayan Valley from the Central Luzon plains.

Seven major Philippine ethnolinguistic groups predominate Luzon. Ilocanos dominate northern Luzon. Other ethnic groups lesser in population include the Igorot/Cordillerans of the Cordilleras. Due to recent migrations, populations of Chinese and Moros have also been present in urban areas. Mixed-race populations of Spanish, Americans, Japanese, Koreans, Indians, Mexicans and Arabs are also visible. The Chinese and their mixed-raced descendants are spread all across Luzon. According to old Spanish censuses, around 1/3rd of the population of Luzon are admixed with either Spanish or Latino descent (Mostly in Cavite and Manila. Koreans and Japanese have mainly settled in the major cities and towns.

Almost all of the languages of Luzon belong to the Philippine group of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family. Major regional languages include Tagalog and Ilocano. English is spoken by many inhabitants. The use of Spanish as an official language declined following the American occupation of the Philippines. Agricultural products from the region include rice, bananas, mangoes, coconuts, pineapple, and coffee. Among the other economic sectors are livestock raising, tourism, mining, and fishing.

Roads in North Luzon

The Apayao — Ilocos Norte Road is a lateral road and highway that is a significant element of the Cordillera Roads Improvement Project (CRIP), connecting Northern Cordillera to the Ilocos Region. It traverses Apayao's Kabugao and Calanasan municipalities and turns west to Ilocos Norte's Solsona. This road project was started in January 7, 2013 and will be completed around December 2020.

Many of the roads in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) are not so great According to ASIRT: 1) Road network is being upgraded, but remains one of the least extensive in the country. 2) Roads are prone to landslides, partly due to high annual rainfall and the largely mountainous terrain. 3) Road crash risk is high. Many bridges are in disrepair. 4) 41 percent of region’s 1,877 kilometers of national roads are paved. 5) Only 12 percent of CAR’s roads are in good condition. Many smaller towns and villages do not have all-weather access to the national road network. 6) Roads and pedestrian facilities are often congested in major cities. 7) Availability of public transportation is inadequate. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), PDF, 2012]

North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), also Known as Radial Road 8, is the main transportation corridor in central and Northern Luzon. According to ASIRT: 1) Begins at the intersection of Andres Bonifacio Avenue. Ends at its intersection with EDSA in Quezon City. Andres Bonifacio Avenue continues north as NLEX. Passes through Metro Manila, Bulacan and Pampanga Provinces. Ends in Mabalcat in Pampanga Province, after merging with MacArthur Highway. Radial Road 8 has two branches: the NLEX and Quirino Highway.[Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), PDF, 2012]

Number of lanes varies:
8-lane divided highway from Balintawak to Burol.
6-lane divided highway from Burol to Sta. Rita.
4-lane divided highway on the Tabang Spur, Santa Rita to Santa Ines segment.
Speed limits are strictly enforced using closed circuit TC and speed guns. Speed limit varies by segment: Balintawak to Tabang 80 km/h; Tabang Spur, 90 km/h in and Tabang to Dau, 100 km/h.

Cordillera Central and Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR)

Cordillera Central is the name of the rugged highlands in northern Luzon. It extends for about 320 kilometers and averages 65 kilometers in width. It is home to the highest mountains in the Philippines, some of which are over 2,470 meters high. It is also home to famous former headhunting tribes such as the Ifugao, Bontoc, Ilongot, Sagada Igorot, Kalingas, and Apayaos.

The southern Cordillera Central was explored by the Spanish because there were rumors of gold being found there but the northern reaches of the mountains were little explored by outsiders until the Americans arrived and even then there was not much contact until the 1970s when the Marcos regime proposed building four major dams in area on the Chico River. The local people were quite upset about the dams and the government had to send in troops to “pacify” them. Many were killed and the dam projects were “permanently postponed.”

Grand Cordillera Central stretches from Pasaleng, Ilocos Norte to the Cordillera Provinces and falls within the administrative jurisdiction of two Regions: Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) and Cagayan Valley. The heart of the mountain range is in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), which embraces s six landlocked provinces: Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga and Mountain Province. The Cordillera is home to many ethnic groups that are collectively referred to as the Igorot. They include the 1) Bontoc — Bontoc, Balangao — Natonin, Baliwon — Paracelis, Applai: Bauko, Besao, Sabangan and Sagada, in Mountain Province; 2) Ibaloi, Kankanaey, Kalanguya, Karao Tribe, in Benguet Province; and 3) Tuwali, Ayangan, Kalanguya in Ifugao Province ,

Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park

Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park in Isabela and Aurora provinces was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006. According to UNESCO: “The Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park (NSMNP) is within the Sierra Madre Biogeographic Zone (SMBGZ) which lies along the eastern side of Central Luzon. The Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park (NSMNP) is one of the ten (10) priority protected areas in the country.

“The Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park (NSMNP) is considered one of the most important of the protected areas system of the Philippines. It is the largest protected area in the country and the richest in terms of genetic, species and habitat diversity. The importance of the park is underscored by the myriad of rare and endangered species of flora and fauna that it supports. These include Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi ), Golden Crowned Flying Fox (Acerodon jubatus ), Philippine Eagle-Owl ( Bubo philippensis), Isabela Oriole (Oriolus isabellae ), Green Sea Turtle ( Chelonia mydas), Loggerhead Turtle ( Caretta caretta ), Hawksbill Turtle (Erethmochelys imbricata), Philippine Crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis ) and Dugong ( Dugong dugon ).

“The mountain range system provides the area for growth and development of unique habitats and their associated flora and fauna, e.g., grasslands to mountain forests, which is among the most unique and richest on a per area basis among the park systems in the Philippines. It is described as long mountain chain providing habitats for the numerous species of plants and animals adapted to various ecological niches.

“The NSMNP is habitat to many endemic and rare species of plants. Among the endemic plants in the park are the various species of the dipterocarp family such as Shorea spp. and Hopea spp., various orchids such as Dendrobium aclinia, the leguminous tree, Milletia longipes and a member of the citrus family, Swinglea glutinosa.


Baguio (250 kilometers north of Manila, five hours Manila by bus) is a lovely colonial town that got its start in the American period and is surrounded by pine forests and the rugged Cordillera Mountains. Situated at an elevation of 1,300 meters (5,000 feet), it has a relatively cool year round climate and is the closest thing the Philippines has to a Hill Station and is the home of the Philippines Military Academy.

Situated in Benguet Province in the Cordillera Administrative Region, Baguio sprawls over 49 square kilometers and is home to about 300,000 people. The developed portion of the city sits on a plateau that rises to an elevation of 1,400 meters. Most of it lies on the northern half of the city. About half the area of the city has a slope of 25 percent or more. The countryside here is mountainous and rugged, with scrub growth and pines covering the slopes.

Baguio is the most popular vacation spot in the Philippines, especially for families. The population can double during the peak of the annual tourist season, which peaks during the Lenten period. Baguio is eight degrees cooler pretty much the whole year than any place in the lowlands. The temperature seldom exceeds 26 degrees centigrade at its warmest. The lowest reading was 6.3 degrees centigrade, recorded in January 18, 1961. The climate varies between the dry and (very) wet seasons, each lasting about six months. The dry season begins in December and continues until June. Temperatures vary from the high 20s C (low 80s F) in the daytime to the nhigh teens C (50s and 60s F) at night. The rains are light in May, and pick up momentum through the summer. Baguio is very wet during the rainy season which extends from June to October. Baguio averages 435 centimeters (176 inches) of rainfall a year. The heaviest volume of rain measured for one year was 903.4 centimeters (355 inches); the lowest was 250 centimeters (99 inches). July and August are the rainiest months, averaging 108 centimeters (42 inches) each. The rains begin tapering off in September and are light in October and November. During the rainy season, travel to and from Baguio is interrupted by landslides on the road and poor visibility at the airport.

English is widely spoken and understood in Baguio . It is the medium of instruction in all public and private schools. The national language, Filipino, is spoken by everyone. Ilocano is also spoken by almost everybody. A popularly elected Mayor heads the city government. The major industries are tourism and education. Texas Instruments initiated the Export Processing Zone, which had a chip factory that at one time exported $600 million dollars worth of products annually.

Tourism Office, Cordillera Admin. Region, Ms. Purificacion S. Molintas, Regional Director, DOT-Tourism Complex, Gov. Pack Road, 2600 Baguio City, Tel:(6374) 442 7014 / 424 8667 Fax: (6374) 442 8848, E-Mail:,, Website:

See Faith Healers

Baguio History and Community

Baguio is situated among gorges and forests. Founded in 1905 by American expatriates as the Filipino equivalent of the Poconos, it is an American version of a hill station set up after the Spanish-American War. It has a Calvinist feel compared to British hill stations in India. In the book “Great Hill Stations of Asia,” Barbara Crossete advises checking out "the silly little Cemetery of Negatism, when earnest Americans 'buried' bad things like sloth and mendacity." For information on its history read this book.

Under the Americans, Baguio, was the "summer capital," of the Philippines. The U.S. Embassy residence in Baguio was the site of surrender ceremonies, in September 1945, of General Yamashita to the American Forces. The area, is subject to earthquakes. More than 1,600 people died during an earthquake on July 16, 1991.

For a time, poor squatters made up over 50 percent of the population. According to “Cities of the World”, “the rest are business representatives, retired families, school teachers, missionaries, and the wealthy who can afford to commute, for weekends and extended vacations, between Baguio and Manila or other large cities.

“Built primarily by the Americans in the early 1900s, Baguio is a modern and thriving small-town community which has become one of the foremost vacation spots of not only the Philippines, but also of the entire Far East. A large number of well-to-do Manilans and Philippine government officials have summer homes in Baguio. Schools, business firms, and other organizations maintain summer camps and homes here for their employees.

“The foreign colony is small, consisting mainly of Spaniards, Indians, Chinese, and Americans. The small Chinese community is complete with its own school and churches. The American/European colony consists of missionaries, business representatives, teachers, miners, and their families. The Voice of America's (VOA) Philippines Relay Station is located in Baguio. English is spoken well by 75 percent of the local population. It is estimated that more than 3,000 Americans visit Baguio each year.

“Almost all American contact with social activities are centered around the Baguio Country Club. Activities hosted at the country club and those sponsored by church and school organizations afford contact with Filipino residents, foreign nationals involved in mining, forestry, and missionary work, and Americans who have retired to Baguio.”

Transport in Baguio

According to ASIRT: 1) Major roads serving the city: Kennon Road, Naguilian Road, Aspiras Highway and recently upgraded Halsema Highway. All roads are paved. 2) Traffic is often congested. 3) Entry into Central Business District is restricted from 7:00am to 7:00pm on week days. On Mondays, vehicles with license plates ending in 1 or 2 are banned; on Tuesdays, license plates ending in 3 or 4 are banned, etc. 4) Restrictions only apply in areas surrounding Session Road, Burnham Park and Baguio City Market. Alternate routes are available. 5) Restrictions are lifted on holidays, popular festivals and during summer. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), PDF, 2012]

Getting There: Air conditioned buses provide transport between the city, Metro Manila and provinces south of the city. Buses leave hourly. Express buses to and from Manila are also available. 2) Inter-city bus transport is also available to main cities in the northern provinces and the Cordilleras. 3) Jeepneys and taxis are readily available. They provide transport in the city and nearby areas.

There are daily flights from Manila to Baguio. Loakan Airport is located five kilometers from city center on Loakan Road. Taxis provide transport to and from the airport. Flights may be canceled due to poor visibility, especially in the rainy season.

Sights in Baguio

Among the things that draw people to Baguio are its lovely colonial buildings, parks, markets, evangelical religious schools, English schools, and faith healer centers, where desperate cancer patients are treated by quack doctors who "lay hands" on a patients, pull chicken liver from their sleeve and claim it is the patient’s tumor.

Tourist sites include Wright Park, and Camp John Hay, a former U.S. military recreation station with an 18-hole gold course and numerous other recreation facilities. Good places to shop for souvenirs and wood carvings are Mines View Park, St. Louis School, Narda's Handicrafts, Baguio City Market and the Good Shepherd Convent.

The Baguio business center consists of a central market, where local produce is sold, and many small shops and restaurants which line the four main streets. Around this area are found civic buildings; the impressive cathedral; lovely Burnham Park, named for the Chicago architect who designed the city; the St. Louis School of Silver; and the Easter School of Weaving.

Burnham Park, the "Central Park" of Baguio, has sprawling lawns around a lagoon, and walks lined with agoho (Australian pine) and eucalyptus trees. There are boating facilities, a children's playground, a roller skating rink, picnic areas, bicycling, and scooter rides. A botanical garden with a natural area features a rich collection of Philippine flowers. There are some theaters showing English-language movies.

Near Baguio

Baguio City is the gateway to Northern Luzon: the beaches of La Union; the Hundred Islands of Pangasinan; the world famous Banaue Rice Terraces; old Spanish churches, colonial houses, historical and cultural relics of Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte, the Kabayan of the tribes of Benguet and the Mountain Province and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) regions, which embraces s six landlocked provinces: Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga and Mountain Province.

Around the city, in mountain villages, live the Igorots (a generic term for various tribes). Igorots are mountain tribesmen with loyalty first to their own societies. They manage to eke a scanty subsistence from the mountainsides, and to supplement this by weaving and wood carving. Their native costumes (loin cloths and jackets for the men and bright-colored straight skirts and blouses for the women) are of interest to the foreign residents and tourists.

There are good beaches at Lingayen Gulf, 32 miles from Baguio, and at Poro Point, 36 miles away. Fishing is excellent at Hundred Islands, a three-to-four-hour drive from Baguio. The Crystal Caves are about 35 miles (one hour by car) from Baguio, and face the China Sea. This area is popular among visitors.

La Union: Beaches and Surfing

La Union (six hours north of Manila, two hours northwest of Baguio) is on the northwest coast of Luzon in what has been described as the fifth longest coastline in the world. Easy to get to, it has decent accommodation and food, and offers gentle beach breaks perfect for beginners. San Juan is the gateway to the area. There are two surfing seasons: July to October and November to March. The main surfing spots are Urbiztondo Beach, Poro Point and Bacnotan. But La Union is not just a surfing spot. In some places the waters are calm and protected and many familis come here.

According to Surfing in the Philippines: Dubbed as the "Surfing Capital of the North"San Juan is a paradise for all levels may it be beginners, intermediate or advanced surfers. It has consistent surf breaks and boasts beautiful white beaches. Local and international surfers visit San Juan to participate in some of the much awaited surfing competition of the year. Strongest and highest waves start from July to October and November to March since the region is famous for having consistent quality waves that enable surfers and even beginners to enhance their skills in surfing, it features 2 best surfing seasons. [Source: Surfing in the Philippines]

“Aside from La Union surfing, there are also other water sport activities you can enjoy like: kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, skim boarding and paddle surfing. There are plenty of accommodations to choose from budget lodges or backpacker inns to average priced hotels. We have beach resorts that offer family-style rooms furnished with amenities for families and barkada sizes.

“ Rates: Board Rental Php200/hour | Instructor Php200/hour | Whole day board rental Php800 | Half-day board rental Php500 | Some surf shops / hotels offer a discounted rate of Php350 for a surfing lesson inclusive of board rental. Recommended Hotels for Lodging: Fatwave Surfing Resort, Costa Villa Beach Resort, Balay ni Elizabeth Garden, Long Beach Resort, Final Option and Seanymph Surf Cafe. Click here to view more hotels in La Union.

Getting There: There are several bus companies that provide transportation services from Manila to San Juan or you can take a private car. Travel time is approximately six or seven hours. You can reach San Juan La Union via Partas Bus with terminals in Cubao, Quezon City and Pasay. Bus fare is around Php400-500 pesos one-way. It is recommended that you travel during day and check out the beautiful scenery on the way.

Hundred Islands National Park

Hundred Islands (offshore near the towns of Alaminos and Lucapo, (250 kilometers, four to six hours north of Manila) are known for their clear waters, dynamited reefs and lack of beaches. Hundred Islands National Park is located in Pangasinan Province in the northwest Luzon. The islands, totaling 124 at low tide and 123 at high tide, are scattered in Lingayen Gulf which covers an area of 16.76 square kilometers (6.47 square miles). Only three of them have been developed for tourism: Governor Island, Quezon Island, and Children's Island.

Hundred Islands embraces 400 islands, islets, and is of particular interest to fishermen, skin divers, campers, and sightseers. The islands are comprised of limestone and are covered in lush vegetation and have secret coves, strips of white sandy beaches and sand bars as well as giant clams snorkeling areas amidst largely tranquil waters with gorgeous views of the South China Sea. Some of island are shaped like mushrooms. The islands are believed to be at least two million years old and were part of an ancient coral area that extends well inland and used to be part an ancient sea.

The most well developed island is Quezon Island (which is actually composed of three islets) which includes 2 dining pavilions, a grilling area, restrooms, nipa huts, a small white sandbar, and a giant clam garden. You can rent kayaks. A popular snack is boiled bananas! Rates on Quezon Island are as follows (subject to change without prior notice): Cottage without room (Nipa 1,2,3) –PhP 350 (day tour)/PhP 500 (overnight stay); Cottage without room (Nipa 4) –PhP 500 (day tour)/PhP 1000 (overnight); Cottage with room (Nipa A)- PhP 500 (day tour)/PhP 900 (overnight); Cottage with room (Nipa B) — PhP 600 (day tour)/PhP1,100 (overnight); and Picnic Tables & Picnic Area — PhP 200 (day tour); PhP 300 (overnight). For tent space/ pitching fee — PhP 200. These rates are of course on top of the entrance fees –PhP 20 (day tour)/ PhP 40 (overnight). Kids 5 years old below can come in for free and there is a 20% discount for Senior Citizens.

Another well-developed island would be the Governor’s Island — which was used as set for the Philippine version of the reality show- Big Brother. The island has a short stretch of white sand beach, a small cave that is home to bats and swiftlets and a view deck which offers beautiful views of the islands of the National Park. One can stay at the Big Brother House (10 pax) for PhP10,000. The island is powered by a generator from 6:00PM-6:00AM. A container of water (30 liters) would cost PhP 100 extra, for an extra person/extra bed on top of the standard 10pax is PhP200, whilst a table for rent & picnic area is PhP 200 (day tour) and PhP 300 (overnight). Bahay Kubo (Nipa Hut- 3 pax) costs PhP 1.200 (day tour) and PhP 2,000 (overnight). Tent Space/Pitching fee is at PhP 200.

Getting There: Hundred Islands National Park is accessible by land travel through Alaminos City. From Manila it can be reached through the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) connecting to Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) or the McArthur National Highway. Alaminos is 250 kilometers away from Manila — 4 hours by private vehicle, 5-6 hours by bus (Five Star Bus Inc., Victory Liner, Dagupan Bus Inc. and Philippine Rabbit Bus Inc.). If you are taking the bus, ask to be let off Alaminos City, and board a tricycle (fare is about PhP40 — not more than that) and ask to be taken to the Lucap Wharf. You may also alternatively get a map prior to your trip as well. Maps by EZ Maps found in gas stations, hotel lobbies and bookstores are very helpful.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Philippines Tourism websites, Philippines government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last Updated May 2020

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