Santiago is a seaside municipality in the province of Ilocos Sur and named after Saint James (Santiago). Today, it’s known as “The Boracay of Ilocos Sur” because of the white sands covering the kilometer-long Santiago Cove.
To get to Santiago, travelers can take a bus ride from Manila via Cubao terminals in Quezon City. It will take around 10 hours or so, but generally buses leave every hour. If you have a private vehicle, it will take around six hours to get to Santiago.
If coming from Baguio, take a Partas or Fariñas Bus going north, and tell the driver to drop you off at Santiago. It will take less than four hours to get to Santiago on a private car.
Generally, in Ilocos Sur, mini-buses, jeepneys, and tricycles are the main modes of transportation. In Santiago, because it is a small town, expect jeepneys and tricycles as your choices of public commute.
Many natural landmarks dot the coastal town. The Mapisi Rock (“broken rock”) is a large boulder made up of coral molded together over millions of years. It overlooks the beautiful blue waters of Ambucao Beach.
Santiago Cove is the province’s own “Boracay,” with its fine white sand and crystal clear waters. This area is full of small eateries with local seafood delicacies, and turns into a lively center at night, with bars opening up by sunset.
Travel further and you’ll hit the nearby town of Santa Maria, which is home to the La Asuncion de la Ñuestra Señora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in the mid-1700s, this Baroque church stands in the plaza, providing peace to its people.
Because of its location by the sea, the number one activity to do in Santiago is to swim. Santiago Cove has rather calm shallow waters; many visitors prefer to wade by the shore around sunset, when sun majestically goes down and gives off a pinkish-yellow glow before disappearing.
The second best activity to do in Santiago is eating. As the sun sets, fisher folk will come to Santiago Cove and sell the catch of the day at low prices. There are many small nameless restaurants who will gladly cook up a warm meal for you.
Santiago is developed and has some fast food chains, but these take away the charm of the seaside town. Visit Rodrigo’s, a popular restaurant in Santiago that serves roasted food in an al fresco setup. It’s worth having a romantic dinner for two overlooking the beach.
For a more local feel, visit the numerous restaurants in Santiago Cove which offer fresh fish cooked in any way you like. Most of these places are affordable and serve food with a cold bucket of beer.
Like many small municipalities throughout the country, you’re bound to bump into makeshift karaoke bars that appear suddenly at night. Santiago is no different, and for a very small price, you can sing your heart out.
There are several hostels and pension houses with vacancies in Santiago, perfect for backpackers on a budget, and weekenders who made the trip on a whim.
However, if you plan ahead and would like to have a more luxurious stay, Vitalis Villas is one of the best resorts to go to. Hailed as the “Santorini of the Philippines,” Vitalis Villas is an exclusive resort overlooking Santiago Cove.
If you prefer something in the middle, make a reservation at Ilocos Marina Beach Resort, one of the first resorts in Santiago. It comes complete with the usual amenities: Wi-Fi, shower, and cable TV. The hotel restaurant has the bestselling pinakbet pizza, sprinkled with bagnet (Ilocano deep-fried pork thigh), and overloaded with goodness.