The municipality of San Juan is known as the “Surfing Capital of the Northern Philippines,” and one of the nearest beach getaway destinations from Metro Manila. Surfing lessons are very affordable in the shacks that fringe the shoreline. Swimming, kayaking, and diving are also popular in the beaches of San Juan. The town also hosts beach parties and surfing events every year.
So you’re determined to learn to surf and go an adventure (whether it be a solo trip or with your mates) and have chosen La Union as your destination. Now what? Well, depending on how long you plan on staying (and surfing), here’s a list of a few places you can stay, where to surf, what to eat, and what else you can do in good ol’ Elyu!
Manila to La Union
If you plan on heading to La Union straight from the airport, Partas Transport in Pasay City is the nearest bus terminal. take the Manila to Laoag route (Php 380 one way), with buses departing hourly from the terminal (they also have a terminal along Aurora Boulevard in Cubao), and let the bus conductor know that you want to be dropped off at Urbiztondo, San Juan, La Union. The beachfront resorts are along the road, so you can get dropped off just outside their front door. For inquiries, call +63 2 727 8278 or +63 2 724 9820.
There are a few other bus options, depending on where you’ll be coming from in Metro Manila, so you can choose from any of the air-conditioned buses bound for San Fernando, Vigan, Abra, or Laoag via Fariñas or Dominion in Cubao, Viron (with terminals in Cubao and Sampaloc), and Philippine Rabbit, with terminals along Oroquieta St., Manila and EDSA Balintawak. The bus trip will take around 5 to 8 hours, depending on how bad the traffic is getting out of Manila, and the far is a little less than Php 400 one way.
Clark to La Union
If you are coming from Clark airport in Pampanga, take a jeep going to Dau Bus Terminal located inside the airport for Php 100 and board any bus bound for San Fernando, Vigan, Abra, or Laoag.
Baguio to La Union
When coming from Bagio, you can take any of the air-conditioned buses bound for San Fernando, Vigan, Abra, or Laoag with either Partas, Fariñas, or Philippine Rabit Bus Lines located along Gov. Pack Road. Travel time is roughly 2 hours and the fare is Php 104.
Where to Stay
The most popular resort with the best surf spots in La Union is definitely San Juan Surf Resort. Affectionately referred to as Surf Camp, this is definitely where you want to be at if you’re a newbie dipping their toes in the surf and discovering La Union. Their Premium Suite for 2 starts at Php 1,980/night, and their more expensive suites come with daily breakfast. One has practically everything they need at the resort, from the best surf instructors to great grub at their restaurant, Coast Call, you hardly need to venture out once you get checked in. For inquiries or to book a room, please call +63 917 887 5470,
Popular with the party crowd, Flotsam & Jetsam Artist Beach Hostel is a well known in Elyu for their affordable dorm rooms and laid-back atmosphere. Because of the bright murals on the walls, this place attracts a creative crowd and has a very boho vibe, with everything from movie nights every now and then, artisanal cocktails, and bright, delicious makai bowls. With value for money, come through here if you’re a solo traveler wanting to make a few friends or a big group who don’t mind sharing a room. For inquiries or to book a room, please call +63 917 802 1328.
The go-to resort amongst surfers on a budget, The Circle Hostel is known for their affordable accommodations and the community vibe they foster. The hostel choose from inexpensive open air bunk beds and hammocks with kulambo or mosquito nets, with a common room with slouchy bean bags and games that make for great openers for strangers to get to know each other better. This place is definitely for the younger crowd since it can get quite crowded and noisy at night.It may also be a good idea to pack the mosquito repellent lotion. For inquiries or to book a room, please call +63 917 832 6253.
If you’re looking for a romantic spot to surf and chill with your partner, the pool with the incredible view of the sunset at Kahuna Beach Resort & Spa is definitely a good option. The staff is accommodating, the food and drinks are affordable, and they have a massage service to help nurse those sore muscles after being out in the surf all day. For inquiries or to book a room, please call +63 917 830 0363, +63 998 855 2837, or +63 72 607 1040.
If surfing is the last thing on your mind and all you want to do is get away for a romantic weekend – and okay, ‘try to surf – then the Santorini-inspired Thunderbird Resorts Poro Point might be more your jam. Each elegantly appointed suite swathes you in snug and serene comfort with modern luxuries like HD LED TVs, a pantry with coffee- and tea-making facilities, and Wi-Fi Internet access being easily accessible around the hotel. For inquiries or to book a room, please call +63 72 888 7777.
What to Do
Well, you surf! Duh. Hiring an instructor and a surf board comes down to around Php 400 an hour. This doesn’t sound like a long time, but believe me, between all the duck diving, popping up, and falling, it’ll feel like forever. There are also a few other things to do and places you can check out when you’re in the area:
- Get an adrenaline rush at Pugad Pugo Adventure in Pugo. The adventure park at the foot of the Cordilleras offers ATV rentals, ziplines, and rappelling are some of the outdoor activities one could try. They also have accommodations available for people who want to make the most of their stay.
- Visit the Ma-Cho Temple in San Fernando. Open to all religions, the temple is an impressive piece of Taoist architecture with lions and dragons adorning the pillars and arches, with gods and goddesses such as Tu Di Gong (Tho Ti Kong or God on Earth), Kuan Yi Ma (the God of Mercy,) and Mazu (the goddess of the sea) being venerated there. The temple’s other attractions include the Majestic Five Door Gate, Bamboo Garden, the Liang Thing Pagoda, 2 circular pools or ponds and the golden emblem of a dragon, the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower. Top tip: Take a visit before dusk to get the best view of the setting sun.
- Visit the Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Charity in Agoo. Better known as Agoo Basilica, you really can’t miss this, as most buses stop for toilet breaks at the Jollibee branch beside it along MacArthur Highway. It is noted for its Mexican-Baroque architectural features and amid the statues of Saints Peter and Paul statues at the main door are carved Hebrew scripts, which is a short form of the Ten Commandments.
- Take pictures of stone sculptures at the Noble Stone House in Luna. When the local and national governments banned the quarrying and exportation of the famous Luna pebbles, Vong Kim, a Korean sculptor and erstwhile exporter of pebbles from the Philippines, indulged in carving and sculpting pebbles. It was a passion that grew from pebble to stone to boulder, and then finally, a castle. Soon the artist in Kim attracted other artists and so he Dr. Edison Noble, a hobbyist-photographer. Dr. Noble and his wife Purita live in Baguio City, but he wanted a resthouse in Luna and asked Kim to design it for him. Stone by stone, Kim went to work and in 2005, it rose on the shores of Nalvo Norte – the Noble couple’s “castle of stone.”
- If the weather is nice, bike to Bacsil Ridge in San Fernando. If it isn’t too hot out and you’re looking for a challenge, try an 8km bike ride from San Fernando City Plaza to Bacsil Ridge.
- Get buzzy at La Union Honeybee Center in Bacnotan. According to provincial agriculturist Imelda Sannadan, beekeeping has always been a backyard industry in La Union but it has not really been taken advantage of, overshadowed by the more popular tobacco farms. Things are getting a lot sweeter for the province, and aside from a short tour, you can also come away with everything from pots of pollen, honey, and bars of honey soap.
- Trek to a waterfall. Any waterfall. The most popular ones being Tangadan Falls in San Gabriel, Occalong Falls in Luna, Tuddingan Falls in Naguilian and Nangalisan Falls in Bagulin.
Where to Eat
Just so ya’ll know, the food game in Elyu is all good!
In the mornings, you can choose between tucking into a carb-loaded surfers brekkie or downing a cold, healthy green green juice at Coast Call. I have just recently discovered just how awesome (and filling!) smoothie bowls are, and I highly recommend the affordable Makai Bowls at Flotsam and Jetsam and personally love their Point berry smoothie bowl made with strawberries, mangoes, papaya, banana, beets, and acai juice.
Head on over to Surf Shack for lunch, as they have a pretty extensive menu of everything from salads to pizza. Try their Mad Monkeys Burger, oozing with cheese and a thick, happy patty, or maybe a Chicken Kelaguen, a healthy grilled chicken dish common in Guam. At night share a pizza (I hear Mommy Lu’s Gourmet Tuyo pizza is a crowd favorite) and some beers with your buds, while a band keeps guests entertained. You may want to come early though, since they can get pretty packed.
For anything to do with coffee, El Union can’t be beat. and I can attest to just how awesome a big glass of Horchata is when paired with their giant Skillet Cookies.
I’ve discovered that the best Greek place in the Philippines is in La Union. Gefseis Greek Grill Restaurant, whose servers dressed in Romanesque regalia, serves up really good Mediterranean fare with a view overlooking the beach. Try the Tyrokafteri to start – an addicting cheese dip made of two kinds of feta cheese, roasted pepper, yogurt, olive oil, garlic, and a squeeze of lemon with pita bread. Their platters may seem expensive, but their portions are pretty big, you could just split their Lamb Souvlaki Platter with another person. If you’re anything like me, you’ll also get an extra order of fries along with it.
I hope you find this article helpful when planning out your La Union itinerary. If there’s anything I missed or something you’d like to recommend, let me know!