Friday, December 12, 2014


A tourist who toured Vigan and was not able to visit Baluaarte has not actually gone to Vigan City for reason of trip incompleteness. Besides, this attraction is just a 10-minute drive away from the city’s center. This vast 20-hectare property turned into a zoological park is owned by former Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson located in Barangay Salindeg of Vigan City. It has his monumental mansion with resort complex lying in hectares of land that stretches from the rolling plain towards the hills. On top of his mansion is a rewarding view of Vigan City and the tranquil South China Sea. Most of the animals housed in this zoo are imported from the Middle East, Africa and in some parts of Asia. It offers a free pony ride drawn in a carriage.

The vast acres of Baluarte Zoological Park

Aside from sprawling zoological park setting, most of its part have landscaped garden complete with nature pools. Visiting the place is quite engaging as there are a lot of attractions to make all guests busy like experiencing the butterfly farm like a butterfly aviary, a skeet shooting range, feeding animals like flamingos, Albino Burmese python (Scientific name: Python molorus bivittatus), monkeys, swans, ostriches, spotted deer and the one-hump camel where I found it very tamable. These animals are fenced only.

The butterfly garden contains thousands of kinds of butterflies which according to the assisting staff, are endemic to the Philippines.

Free pony ride at Baluarte Zoological Park

Like Manila Zoo, we also saw caged animals like Indian rock python (Scientific name: Geochelone elegans), Indian Star tortoise (Scientific name: Python molorus), reptiles, birds, green iguanas (Scientific name: Iguana iguana), palm civet cats (Scientific name: Paradoxurus hermaphrodites), peacocks, lions, Bengal tigers and the Philippine cloud rat which is endemic to the Philippine Cordillera region.

One of the one-hump camels in Baluarte

I remember when I had a Safari Tour in Bangkok, where the park personnel would normally have scheduled show when to introduce the animals to the guests which we experienced also in Baluarte.

Taming a one-hump camel

Near the entrance, I saw parrots, Nicobar pigeon (Scientific name: Caloenas nicobarica) and Luzon hornbill (Scientific name: Penelopides manillae) where guests can have a closer look and take pictures with. What screwed my attention was when I heard a voice saying “Pangit ka! Pangit Ka!” where when I turned my head, I was amused to find out that it was a parrot saying those words which means in English, “You are ugly! You are ugly!”

For Catholic guests, this tourist spot has a pink chapel and another added attraction is a lighthouse. Indeed, visiting this park will give a guest a complete experience.

Touring around the park through free pony ride

Guests are assured of signs posted at some points of the park that all these amenities are for free as long as Mr. Chavit Singzon can afford its maintenance. As a form of help from the tourists, they buy pet food sold inside the park. With this, the guests are helping to maintain the park for its operation.

Enjoying the cool park amenities


Take a bus from Manila via Partas, Dominion, Philippine Rabbit by 9 – 10 hours to Vigan City for a distance of 404 kilometers and another 10 minutes drive from the heart of Vigan City to Baluarte. Partas Transportation Company offers the best and comfortable ride with its air-conditioned buses equipped with only three seats across and have better reclining positions. You may check this link for Partas bus operation schedule

Alternatively, through by air which is flying from Manila to Laoag International Airport for three times a week for 70 minutes either by Cebu Pacific or Philippine Airlines. Laoag City is 2 and a half hours or 82 kilometers away from Vigan City.


The famous Bantay Church in the Municipality of Bantay is actually the Saint Augustine Parish Church which is a part of Ilocos Sur province. This church is also known as the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity or Nuestra Señora de La Caridad housing the miraculous image of Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Charity who is crowned as the patroness of Ilocandia on January 12, 1956. The church was named after its patron saint, St. Augustine of Hippo.

The historical Bantay Church Belfry

During my visit, I was more stunned with its belfry which is approximately 100 meters away from the church, a belfry-church main structure distance, almost the same with the Saint William Cathedral of Laoag City. Dating back on its history, this church’s belfry known as the Bantay Tower during the Spanish colonial era, has served as a watchtower for invading pirates who usually attack the town. It was established in 1590 for that purpose making it one of the oldest in the Ilocos Region.

Climbing through the concrete stairs of Bantay Bell Tower

Our group found it very inviting to climb the tower and accompanied by our guide, we did it. We encountered no problem till we reached its second level. However, going up to the third level may require guts since even if the wooden stairs are new, there was the rickety sound that we heard and the tall, open windows may trigger vertigo among the faint-hearted. In our group of 15, only three of us, boys dared to make it to highest level. And alas!!!! The bell tower really provided us the best overlooking scenery of the houses and town cemetery below, the underlying hills within the horizon and the mountains on the side of Abra.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Charity and the Bell Tower at the background

In addition, our guide, told us that the church bell tower did not undergo any renovation except for the repair of the stairs inside the tower. Its original building construction materials are still intact consisting of bricks, rocks, and a mixture of seashells and sugar cane where the guide called it as “apog”. Furthermore, the guide also said that the Ilocano word “bantay” means “mountain” and “guard” as the tower was built on the highest point of the town.

Bantay Bell Tower (Left) and the facade of Saint Augustine Parish Church (Right)

It is highly recommended to visit this spot late in the afternoon as photographers can get the best postcard perfect picture since the blue sky can serve as the backdrop of the tower.

The altar of Saint Augustine Parish Church

How far is Bantay from Vigan City? The answer would vary from which route you will choose coming from Vigan. If you had it Vigan City via Quirino Boulevard, it is just 2.4 kilometers for 3 minutes only. If you opt to take Vigan City via Quezon Avenue, then it would be 2.1 kilometers for 4 minutes drive and via Rizal Avenue, the same distance of 2.1 kilometers for 4 minutes drive also.