Daraga is a quaint market town located in southeast Luzon. This rural town sits in the shadow of Mount Mayon, with Daraga Church perched dramatically on a hill overlooking the volcano. Constructed in 1773, the church was built using volcanic rock and features some intricately sculpted reliefs on its columns. Just northwest of town is Cagsawa Church, one of the region’s most iconic sites. In the early 19th century hundreds of people sought refuge in the church during a devastating eruption of Mount Mayon, but were killed when lava engulfed the building. The remains of the church look quite haunting against the backdrop of green fields and towering Mount Mayon.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Vigan is one of the oldest towns in the Philippines. Calle Crisologo, the town’s historic center, is closed to vehicular traffic. This beautifully-preserved cobbled street is lined with colonial-era merchant houses and Baroque churches. Horse-drawn carriages, called kalesa, add to the beguiling atmosphere. Most of these elegant buildings are private homes, but a few have been converted into B&Bs and museums, allowing visitors the opportunity to see their equally-stunning interiors. Established in the 16th-century, the town’s unique architecture brings together elements of local, Chinese, and European architecture. It’s considered to be Asia’s finest example of a planned Spanish colonial town.
Although Silay doesn’t initially look as lovely as the nearby provincial capital of Bacolod, it’s a city that quickly draws in those who linger long enough to discover its rich history. Once known as ‘the Paris of Negros’, Silay was at the heart of the island’s thriving sugar industry in the 19th century. During the industry’s Golden Age, the town was dotted with grand sugar mansions. A number of these historic mansions survive today, and some have been converted into interesting museums. The town is particularly wonderful to visit during the Charter-Day anniversary, which takes place each June. This colorful annual event features an exciting street dance competition.
Known as the ‘Philippine Shangri-La’, Sagada is a stunning town set 5,300 feet above sea level in north-central Philippines. The town’s landscape of caves, hiking trails, sculpted rice terraces, and lush karst mountains looks particularly stunning shrouded in the mists often present at its high altitude. According to traditional local culture, the spirits of the dead like to be close to the sky, and as a result, ancient coffins can be seen interspersed along the limestone cliffs. Established by Episcopal missionaries in the early 20th century, the town’s cooler climate is ideal for growing a variety of fruits that are challenging to grow elsewhere in the country, including lemons.
Nicknamed the ‘Summer Capital of the Philippines’, Baguio was originally designed as a vacation destination for Americans in the early 20th century. Set 5,200 feet above sea level, Baguio’s climate is distinctly cooler than most other areas of the country, making it a favorite getaway spot of both tourists and locals. Dotted with pretty parks, pine trees, and heritage buildings, the town is a pleasant place for horseback riding and hiking. It’s also an excellent shopping destination, with dozens of thrift shops (called ukay-ukay) found along Session Road, as well as handcrafted goodies available at the downtown market.