La Union is a province of the Philippines located in the Ilocos Region on the main Filipino island of Luzon. The provincial capital is San Fernando City. The province is bordered to the west by the shores of the South China Sea and comprises many towns within the Province.
Most notably is San Juan: which is considered the closest surf spot from the country’s capital, Manila. Learning to surf here is very cheap compared to other surf spots around Southeast Asia (such as Bali, for example) because the industry here is still very much run by the locals.
All in all, San Juan is a great place to relax and get some beach vibes away from the pollution and traffic of the city.
Where to Stay in San Juan La Union
There are many accommodation options in San Juan from Luxurious Villas to Homestays, all on the waterfront or close by. Some particularly great places to stay are:
You walk onto the property and can instantly feel the good vibes. Located just a short walk around the corner from the more commercial parts of San Juan beach, Flotsam and Jetsam is a relaxing oasis for a perfect beach getaway. You can either book a bed in a dorm room or a private room.
There is a fully operational bar and restaurant as well as a front yard full of cosy seating and day beds overlooking the ocean. This place fills up most of the time so definitely make your reservation before coming. Even if you don’t get a chance to stay here, definitely make it a point to stop by for dinner and drinks, or to just hang out and enjoy the good vibes.
The Circle Hostel La Union
Located in a more remote location but still close to all the surf actions, it’s rather quiet at night yet perfect for backpackers who want to meet new people and socialize. There is a cheap restaurant/ bar across the street for quick and easy eats. The hostel offers hammocks or bunk beds (depends on what you prefer), a lovely common area, wifi, showers, and toilets with bidets.
San Juan Surf Resort
Right smack in front of the ocean, this one is more modern and new. If you are looking for a cleaner and newer option to stay, this is the choice. They additionally offer large rooms that can sleep up to 10 people so this place is great to stay in if you’re going on a large group surf trip!
Things to Do in San Juan, La Union:
Hit the Beach and Surf!
For less than $10 USD you can rent a surfboard and have one hour of instruction. There are plenty of surf schools lined up along the beach and unless the beach is extremely crowded on a summer weekend you don’t need to make any sort of reservation in order to get a lesson on the day you rock up!
Another local tradition has put this place on the map: pottery. The famous ‘dalikan’ or cooking stove, created from red clay and soil, is handcrafted until this day as it’s the preferred cooking item of choice by the locals. You can learn to appreciate the local pottery skills by taking a class and learning how to do it yourself! The lesson will cost you 500,000 PHP and that includes all materials. Read reviews on TripAdvisor here.
Visit the Churches of La Union:
The leftover remains of the Spanish colonisation of the Philippines are everywhere. (And, the locals are some of the most fervent Catholics that you will ever meet!) Discover the heritage of San Juan by visiting the following noteworthy churches…
- Catherine of Alexandria Parish/Shrine of Our Lady of Namacpacan, Luna.
- San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish, Balaoan.
- William the Hermit Cathedral, San Fernando.
- Holy Guardian Angels Parish Church/Shrine of Nuestra Senora del Mar Cautiva Parish Church, Sto. Tomas.
- Basilica of Our Lady of Charity, Agoo.
The remnants of a church that was built in May 6, 1786, that symbolizes the unification of two sites, San Vicente de Blanac, a coastal village, and San Guillermo de Dalangdag, a village at the foothills of mountains, both desiring for mutual protection against their assailants, the pirates and the headhunters through Fr. Jose Torres in 1759.
How to get there?
Getting to La Union from Manila is really easy and traveller friendly. The easiest way is to take the bus from Manila to San Juan, it is a 6-7 hour ride depending on traffic and whether you leave day or night. Just hop in a cab from anywhere in Manila and go to the Partas Transportation Company Terminal located at 816 Aurora Boulevard, Cubao, Quezon City.
Partas Transport buses depart hourly 24/7 from Cubao, Manila to Laoag, a province of northern Luzon. Just tell the driver that you want to be dropped off at Urbiztondo, San Juan, La Union which is will drop you right in front of the beachfront resorts. It will cost you less than 400 pesos or about 9$.
Where to Next?
Baguio – Baguio City, is an urbanized city located in the province of Benguet located in mountainous terrain and only a short drive away from San Juan (accessible via public transport).
The temperature in the city is usually about 7-8 degrees Celsius lower compared to the average temperature in the lowland area and because of its cool climate, Baguio City was nicknamed the “Summer Capital” of the Philippines.
Panagbenga Festival is a month-long annual flower festival occurring in Baguio in the month of February. Come here for a break from the typical Filipino beach scene and enjoy a whole new landscape and atmosphere in Baguio!
Article written by Jennifer Poole:
Jenn is a free-spirited go-getter with a passion for travel and a longing for discovery. She recently graduated with two bachelor’s and an MBA, and via a quarter-life crisis decided to pack her bags and venture into the life of an international woman of mystery. Jenn has been working in Manila for the past 8 months and is excited to see where this whole journey takes her!