La Union is a province in the Philippines situated on the island of Luzon about 6 hours north of Manila and the capital is the city of San Fernando.
With its beautiful botanical gardens and fine coastline that faces the South China Sea, it is nicknamed the “Garden Coast”. It is also dubbed as the “Surfing Capital of Northern Philippines” for its excellent world-class surfing breaks.
La Union was created by a Royal Decree issued by Queen Isabella of Spain in 1572 and consisted of the union of 9 towns of Pangasinan, 3 of Ilocos Sur, and the villages of Eastern Pais del Igorotes, which is where the name came from.
Well before the arrival of the Spaniards, it was already an important and bustling trading port, especially for gold, with the presence of Japanese and Chinese merchants in the area.
Since 1991, the well renowned Wallace Air Station has since been converted into an industrial and business area to facilitate the increased economic activity in the area with shipping, manufacturing, service, and agriculture spread throughout La Union.
Since then the province has experienced a major comeback with local and international surfing communities favouring it as one of the most popular surfing sites in the Philippines after Mindanao and Siargao.
Two major surfing competitions are held every December in La Union which draws top surfing talents – the Treasure of the North (Rimat Ti Amianan), and the Mabuhay Longboarding Cup.
Besides surfing, the Botanical Gardens in the capital of San Fernando City is a ten-hectare garden facility that showcases different pavilions such as the Fragrance Garden, the Palmery, the Fernery, the Sunken Garden, Arid Paradise, the Shade Garden, and the Evergreen Garden.
These beautiful gardens offer a welcome respite from the searing hot and humid weather of the province and boast indigenous fauna and flora that are unique to the Philippines only.
Another popular attraction is the Taoist Temple, Ma-Cho, situated on a hill seventy feet above the sea with stunning views of the bay.
The temple was constructed by the Chinese community in reverence of the Chinese deity, Ma-Cho who was born during the Sung Dynasty in 960 AD.
According to legend, she was an active participant in the rescue of distressed fishermen, earning her the titles of “Queen of Heaven” or Goddess of the Sea”.
Each year pilgrims and devotees of Ma-Cho gather at an annual celebration of enshrinement for a pilgrimage to Batangas and back, ending in a procession around the city centre of San Fernando.
Another place you can visit is Baguio which us less than 80kms away from San Juan, or about two hours drive.
Depending on how much time you have, you could stay one night in La Union and then one night in Baguio. This way you can get to experience the mountains and the sea.
One of the more established resorts in San Juan is the San Juan Surf Resort which is usually fully booked during weekends, so book early.
The Surfer’s Inn with its bohemian appeal is somewhat cheaper and Lola Nanny’s, middle of the road place to stay has only basic accommodation. At most resorts, there are surfboards for hire.
For those who can afford to splurge, the Thunderbird Resort in Poro Point is more upmarket with a nine-hole golf course, a casino, and Mediterranean-inspired villas in the area overlooking the South China Sea.
Traditional Ilocos dishes and fresh seafood are notable food fare in La Union served at numerous restaurants in Bauang, San Juan, and San Fernando.
There is also a fantastic Greek restaurant in San Juan called Gefseis Greek Grill which is an authentic Greek restaurant with a menu chockablock full of classic Greek dishes.