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Heritage towns in the Philippines: Worth the Visit

Those who value Filipino culture and traditions will be thankful that heritage towns in the Philippines, and even heritage houses, have endured. This is despite the continuous modernization of our society.

From clothing and music to architecture, there have been obvious transformations in people’s preferences throughout the years. Indeed, more and more homes, buildings, and other infrastructures are changing and adapting to today’s standards. But still, there are places and residences whose original beauty has been preserved and is being maintained up to now.

What are heritage towns/houses?

Heritage towns/houses are sites/buildings that were constructed in the past, conserved in the present, and passed on from one generation to another. They depict a country or a society’s traditional culture, and some even have major historical importance. 

Heritage towns/houses in the Philippines (per region)

With its long history and rich culture, the Philippines has its fair share of heritage towns/houses. They are located all over the country. If you are interested in visiting them as a local tourist, this list per region should point you to the best spots:

Region I – Ilocos Region

Vigan Historic Town

CB_Agulto | Flickr

Established in the 16th century, Vigan is one of the most well-known heritage towns in the Philippines. It also serves as the most intact example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia, according to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Its architecture reflects a beautiful fusion of cultural elements from elsewhere in the Philippines, from China, Europe, and Mexico. Details worth taking note of include the steeply pitched roofs resembling traditional Chinese architecture, the sliding window panels of Capiz shells framed in wood, the Hispanic grid pattern of the streets, and the historic urban layout.

Region II – Cagayan Valley

Camalaniugan

Allen Pascua | Flickr

Being one of the earliest towns to be established along the banks of the Cagayan River, it’s no surprise that Camalaniugan boasts centuries-old structures. One of them is the fascinating “horno” (oven/kiln) that looks like a stairway to heaven at first glance but is actually used for making bricks for construction in the past. Another treasure of this heritage town in the Philippines is the ruins of the original San Jacinto de Polonia Church located right behind the current one. The star of them all, though, is the Sancta Maria bell forged in 1595, making it the oldest church bell in Southeast Asia. It currently resides in a tower beside the new church along with other historic bells of the town.

Region III – Central Luzon

Subic, Zambales

Stan 🙂 | Flickr

The historic Spanish Gate is in Subic, Zambales. It was the entrance to the original Spanish naval station established in 1885. The Spaniards owned this base until 1898 when Filipino forces drove them away. The following year, the U.S. Navy occupied it but eventually abandoned the site in 1992 when the United States failed to renew the Military Bases Agreement. At present, anyone is free to visit the Spanish Gate and appreciate a glimpse of history with the still intact gun ports, cannons, and jailhouse.

Region IV-A – CALABARZON

Heritage Town of Taal, Batangas

mhpanganiban | Flickr

Taal, Batangas is a National Historical Landmark and one of the must-visit heritage towns in the Philippines. Other than the ancestral houses that are open to the public, there are several notable sites in Taal that make it deserving of its title. The Basilica of St. Martin de Tours or Taal Basilica, dubbed as the largest Catholic church in Asia, is found atop a hill right at the heart of Taal. The Leon and Galicano Apacible Museum and The Marcela and Felipe Agoncillo Museum are also here. The structures were the ancestral homes of Leon Apacible and the Mariño-Agoncillo family, respectively. Inside, you can learn about their lives, memories, and most importantly their role in Philippine independence.

MIMAROPA Region

Batak Tribe Village

Believed to have arrived 50,000 years ago in the Philippines, the Batak tribe is one of the indigenous peoples of the country. Although there isn’t much architecture to admire, it is the experience of mingling with the Batak in their ancestral land that you will appreciate. Becoming aware of the villager’s causes and spreading them may also help the Batak, especially since they are one of the most endangered of the three major ethnic tribes in Palawan.

Region V – Bicol Region

Ancestral Houses of Camalig, Albay

Shubert Ciencia | Flickr

You can check out several ancestral houses here by doing a walking tour around the town. They are called “bahay na bato” (brick/stone houses) in Filipino and exhibit a classic mix of Spanish and Chinese architectural influences like the “persiana” (sliding wooden storm windows), “ventanillas” (openings below the windows), and “bandejado” (decorative panels). Some of the well-known residential structures are the Nolasco House, the Jaime Moyo Ancestral House, and the Gonzales Ancestral House.

Region VI – Western Visayas

Vicente Lopez Heritage House

Hailed as Iloilo’s Queen of Heritage Houses, the Vicente Lopez Heritage House (aka Nelly Gardens) is one of the most popular sites in the district of Jaro. The combination of a vast manicured lawn and a Beaux-Arts-style white mansion makes it awe-inspiring. Currently, the house can be rented for receptions and private events.

Region VII – Central Visayas

Balay Kabilin Heritage House

Acquired in 1963, this heritage house was first owned by the Arias family. It then became an academic building for decades. After years of being abandoned, it received restoration efforts and eventually reopened its doors in 2019 as Balay Kabilin (house [of] heritage). Its architecture shows a typical example of a transitional Bohol house from 1948-1950 with its extensive use of multi-gables, wider wallboards, and glass.

Region VIII – Eastern Visayas

Oppus Ancestral House

This home officially became a heritage house through a National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) declaration in October 2005. It is now functioning as the Southern Leyte Provincial Library located in Maasin City.

 Region IX – Zamboanga Peninsula

Fort Pilar

Dazzle Labapis | Flickr

The Spanish colonial government founded La Fuerza Real de San Jose in 1635 as a military defense fortress. Now known as Fort Pilar, it serves as an open-air shrine. It houses a National Museum branch and has become a perfect symbol of Zamboanga’s cultural heritage.

Region X – Northern Mindanao

Macapagal-Macaraeg Ancestral House 

The National Historical Institute (now NHCP) officially declared the Macapagal-Macaraeg Ancestral House as a heritage house. Two of the former presidents of the country, Diosdado Macapagal and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, stayed in this simple, cream-colored house in Iligan.

Region XI – Davao Region

Oboza Heritage House

Built in 1929, the Oboza Heritage House is a perfect example of adaptive reuse. It has also been a part of the country’s history, hosting prominent public figures from all over the Philippines, serving as a hiding place for a fugitive senator during World War II, and now functioning as a restaurant that provides good food and a pleasant ambiance.

Region XII – SOCCSKSARGEN

None so far

Region XIII – Caraga

Butuan Historic City

Jacques Beaulieu | Flickr

Witnessing more than a thousand years of history, Butuan City is “The Prehistoric Destination of the Philippines,” according to historians. It is the location of Ferdinand Magellan’s landing site and features the legendary balanghai boats dated to 10 AD and many artifacts proving that Butuan had established trading relations across Asia. 

NCR – National Capital Region

Intramuros

Caryl Joan Estrosas | Flickr

Amidst the ever-changing Manila lies an unwavering place full of historical importance. Intramuros can also be considered as a heritage town in the Philippines. It is a walled city built by the Spaniards. It has the Fort Santiago, Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier, the Wall of Martyrs, and Museo ni Rizal (Museum of Rizal) among many others.

CAR – Cordillera Administrative Region

Ancestral land of Cordillera indigenous peoples 

The Cordillera indigenous peoples, known as “Igorots” (people of the mountain), own most of the land in CAR. Some of these properties have been converted into commercial spaces, but a number of them remain untouched. Surrounding the villages of Ifugao are the beautiful and panoramic rice terraces made 2,000 years ago. UNESCO has recognized five clusters as culturally and historically significant: (i) Nagacadan terrace, (ii) Hungduan terrace, (iii) central Mayoyao terrace, (iv) Bangaan terrace, and (v)Batad terrace.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re a history buff or simply a travel lover, you’ll definitely enjoy visiting these places. Who knows? You might even consider living in one of these scenic areas.

To read more on anything real estate related, bookmark our page (enta.ph/resources). If you like this article, check out our list of 10 Must-Visit Historical Sites in Intramuros.