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Have You Heard of This Instagram-Worthy Island in La Union?

by Mimi Tiu
June 19, 2019

One of the oldest municipalities in La Union, Balaoan is a coastal town that’s approximately 30 minutes by car from the popular surfing district of San Juan. First-time travelers to Elyu or recurring visitors who have ticked off all the popular attractions on their list would find this peaceful district an enjoyable and less crowded alternative to San Juan.

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These days, Balaoan is slowly but surely gaining popularity due to the under-the-radar charms of Immuki Island, a picturesque spot tucked into the unassuming Barangay Paraoir. Want to discover it for yourself? Here’s what you need to know.

How to Get There

There are many north-bound bus lines that offer direct trips to Balaoan such as Sta. Lucia, Philippine Rabbit, Partas, and Viron Transit. Depending on the time you depart and which area you leave Manila from, you pay between ₱470 to ₱650, and travel between eight and a half to nine hours. It’ll be more convenient to book a seat during the wee hours of the morning, so you can sleep soundly and skip the congested roads as you pass through the different towns. Your bus will regularly stop at different stations, so that also adds up to the total travel time.

You can also bring your own car so that you can cut down the travel time to less than six hours based on how many stops you decide to make. The best route to take would be via North Luzon West Expressway/R-8 and MacArthur Highway/Manila North Road.

What to See and Do

Explore the town by car, jeepney, or pink-colored tricycles (each Elyu town has their own assigned tricycle hue). Strike a deal with your tricycle driver so he can take you to multiple spots and wait for you. Public transportation is harder to come by in the late afternoon, so it’s advisable to start early.

Immuki Island

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Located in Barangay Paraoir, Immuki Island has become a prime swimming spot amidst slightly eerie but beautiful dead corals and mangroves. Let your worries float away on emerald waters so clear that you won’t need to wear goggles to see the fish swimming right beside you, and feast your eyes on otherworldly pools and rock formations that make for the dreamiest photos. The island’s unique name was derived from the unusual shape of its main lagoon, which resembles a woman’s external genitalia when viewed from above.

After registering at the barangay hall for free (find it next to the Paraoir National High School), walk along a narrow passage and make your way toward the coast. Visitors are advised to wear thick-soled beach slippers so they can traverse the shallow, knee-deep waters and step on the sharp reefs. Slippers can also be rented from the locals for a nominal fee.

At high tide, the water can become waist-deep, so you can opt to ride a bamboo raft for ₱10 per person. Use it to reach the main area and neighboring lagoons Bimmuto and Immubet, which are also humorously named after other body parts. (Can you guess which ones?)

Planning to spend the entire day here? Take note that due to its uninhabitable nature, there are no restaurants or establishments within Immuki Island, so guests are encouraged to bring their own pre-cooked food and drinks.

DGT trivia: Actress Bela Padilla was spotted here last year!

Paraoir Beach

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Just a three-minute drive from Paraoir National High School, Paraoir Beach has a wide expanse of cream-colored shoreline that’s ideal for picnics and lounging around. The quiet seaside setting is the perfect place to just sit and watch the world go by.

San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish Church

This Roman Catholic structure can be found on MacArthur Highway, Poblacion—right in the heart of Balaoan. Built from 1821 to 1864, the parish church’s architectural design stands out from the churches of neighboring towns because of its Baroque influences. Expect to see high ceilings, gold chandeliers, and ornately designed doorframes inside.

Where to Stay

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Since Balaoan isn’t a full-fledged tourist destination yet, there are only a handful of options such as Ordoño Farm Resort (just one kilometer away from the town center) and El Navi Hotel & Restaurant. After a day of exploring Balaoan’s attractions, you might be better off staying at nearby districts Luna, Bacnotan, and San Juan so you can visit their sites as well.

In Luna, book a room at Morning Seven Resort Hotel or Pebble Beach Resort and then check out these places the next day: Bahay na Bato, Namacpacan Church, Baluarte Watch Tower, Occalong Falls, and Darigayos Beach.

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Meanwhile, if you choose to stay in Bacnotan, you can go for beachfront accommodations such as La Playa Ursula and Villa Asuncion Resort. The rustic Hillside Hostel is also a viable option for people who don’t mind sharing their sleeping and bathing quarters.

From Airbnb accommodations to quaint hostels to established hotels, you can find a plethora of choices in San Juan. Vessel Hostel is filled with vintage elements and Instagrammable nooks, while Puerto de San Juan has its own pool and can cater to bigger groups (as many as six in a room). Kahuna Hotel’s Balinese-inspired digs and lush gardens will calm the senses.

Looking for another worthwhile side trip from San Juan? Check out our San Fernando, La Union Travel Guide.

Where to Eat

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There are a couple of small eateries you can hit on MacArthur Highway and Bacnotan-Luna-Balaoan Road if you’re starving, but if you can wait it out and find your way to foodie paradise San Juan, your belly will definitely thank you!

Barefoot at Monaliza Surf Resort serves some hefty breakfast plates with their stellar homemade bread (if you love their freshly baked goodies so much, swing by Masa Bakehouse!). Situated on Manila North Road, Seewadeeka’s affordable Thai offerings will leave you wanting more. A stone’s throw away from burger joint Mad Monkeys is the recently opened Sabroso Elyu, which offers chicken inasal and liempo with rice. But if you’re aiming to try multiple dishes, The Great Northwest Philippines Travel Stop & Viewing Deck is your best bet as it houses some of the most promising options: El Union Coffee, Great Gamble Seafood Shack, and the new Tigre y Oliva dessert shop to name a few. Let this cheat sheet to the best food spots in La Union show you the way!

Headed to LU? Check out our La Union Travel Guide for tips on attractions, activities, and restaurants to try.

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About Mimi
A freelance editor based in Manila, Mimi Tiu finds pleasure in coming up with meticulously detailed travel itineraries, wearing layers in autumn, and chronicling her ice cream discoveries on Instagram at @nicetomitiu.

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