Exploring Ilocos : Baluarte Ni Chavit
After exploring the Crisologo Museum in Vigan (Check : Crisologo Museum), we dropped by at Vigan Public Market to buy some souvenirs and pasalubong. We decided to have our lunch in Hidden Garden : Lilong and Lilang Restaurant. The place was really great and everything looks festive but the crowd was equally overwhelming too. We were advised to wait for almost 2 hours just to get our turn. Of course, none of us are willing to wait for that long so we just came up with the idea t change our itinerary for a bit.
We’re afraid that finding another restaurant will only consume our time and we were all excited to try the authentic Ilocano dishes offered by this famous restaurant in Ilocos Sur. So what we did is we made a reservation so we can go back after an hour or two. So while waiting for our turn, we decided to visit another attraction in Ilocos Sur, the Baluarte of Chavit.
Baluarte Ni Chavit or the fortress of Chavit covers over 80 hectares of land that stretches from the rolling plain towards the hills where you can find his grand mansion. You can also access the so-called Safari Gallery that showcases a huge collection of preserved wild animals. Some of which are not from our country. The attraction follows a tagline “more than just a zoo” and it is indeed true! It is not a typical zoo much like the one we have in Manila (Check : Manila Zoo) or the small City Zoo we have in Cavite (Check: Cavite City Zoo) as the Baluarte has so much to offer and exploring it was such an interesting experience!
One thing that made this attraction even more interesting is the fact that it is freely accessible to everyone! Yes, there is completely NO entrance fee to Baluarte but of course, there is also a downside. It’s like a college offering free tuition fee but the student still need to shoulder the outrageous miscellaneous fees. There are so much things you can do in the Fortress. You can take a shuttle ride provided with a tour guide or photo opps with different wild animals including the Bengal Tiger but these can all be done with charges! Well, they are, however, still optional!
The first attraction that will welcome you upon entering the Baluarte is this picture worthy Baluarte sign accompanied with huge dinosaur replicas! It is located on top of a man-made pond containing various species of birds.
The huge field you can see from afar is part of the Shuttle tour where you can get a close encounter with various animals like horses, ostrich and some cattle.
If you think you have enough endurance and strength, you can take a long walk to explore all the attractions in Baluarte. You will encounter more wild animals, souvenir shops and also the Safari Gallery on top. It could be extremely hot so make sure to bring something to protect you from the scourging heat of the sun.
Some animals you will encounter along the way includes zebras, kangaroos, wild deer, peacocks, camel and more!
A tour in Baluarte ni Chavit will not be completed without witnessing at least one of his famous Bengal tigers. According to some recent interviews, Chavit kept more or less 12-16 Bengal tigers in his fortress! If you are lucky enough, you can also spot a tiger open for photoshoots (with fee applied). I spotted a couple of Bengal Tigers roaming freely in their tall cage (each cage, by the way, unlike the typical zoos is interestingly spacious)
Ducks (are they? haha)
Here’s one of their Shuttles touring the visitors around the Baluarte
One of the most interesting parts of our tour in Baluarte is the Safari Gallery! It is my personal favorite among all the attractions offered by this place. It houses an overwhelming amount of preserved animals. Take note, they are not just typical animals but wild, exotic and something you cannot see from this country. The facade of the Safari Gallery is adorned with Roman-inspired pillars with wonderfully carved mural depicting different animals from Africa.
The interior, even though crowded, is equally mesmerizing. You will be welcomed with gigantic preserved animals on display. The Safari Gallery is not a museum but a Trophy Room. It’s a term used by hunters where the trophy is the animal or part of the animal kept, and usually displayed, to represent the success of the hunt.
The ferociously-looking tall Polar Bear is quite terrifying yet also intriguing at the same time!
The walls are filled with various species of Antelopes. Take note that this is more than just a collection of preserved animals. These are not items brought from auctions or something as each of every animals displayed in this gallery is personally hunted and killed by Chavit during his hunting expeditions.
A Moose! Each preserved animal is accompanied by a picture showing Chavit and their carcass
A buffalo and a Lion
If there is one animal which will instantly grab your attention is this African Elephant! This is an African Elephant from Zimbabwe. It said that Singson spent $200,000 to hunt the elephant in Zimbabwe and another $50,000 to have it stuffed and preserved. Not to mention the cost of shipping here in the Philippines
I just hope Chavit can also import a live elephant so Mali from Manila Zoo will no longer be alone but I guess shipping live animals are way more expensive than shipping them dead.
A huge preserved crocodile
Safari Gallery is truly beyond expectations. It was a great experience but it also feels eerie and enigmatic seeing these dead animals in display. Some of them looks alive haha
You can also spot some paintings like this in the gallery!
Near the entrance, you can also have the chance to take a photo with these lovely parrots (with fees applied).
Exploring the Baluarte was quite exhausting and I think it could have made a lot easier if we avail the costly shuttle ride but generally it was time well spent. A close encounter with these wild animals and also a chance to witness those preserved animals in the Safari Gallery was truly an amazing experience. Considering that, there is no entrance fee involved, it was truly worth it!
Things You Should Know Before Visiting the Baluarte ni Chavit
►There is no entrance fee to Baluarte
►They also offer Free Rides for their donkeys
►Animal Encounter Photo Rates for Snake, Raptor, Parrots and Pony is worth Php70 (good for 2 Persons)
►Camel Ride is worth Php100/ Person
►Kalesa and Horseback Ride is Php70/person (Horseback is only for 3-10 year old kids only)
►Sealion Feeding is worth Php100 (per bucket)
►There is also a Chapel within the Baluarte
►For Tour Guide Services, there are two packages being offered: the 1,000Php (good for 7 pax) and Php 1500 (good for 12 pax)
►Both are inclusive for Park Guide and Souvenir Photo.
►The Shuttle will drive thru Avian Hi-way, Kangaroo, Taiwan Deer, Wallaby Alley and Tiger’s Ridge and it will also drop off to Zebra’s Stop, Safari Gallery, Chavit’s House, Zoovenir Shop, Animal Show, Butterfly Garden and Baluarte Mascot.
►It is going to be extremely Hot so bring a sun protection and wear something light.
►The African Elephant in Safari Gallery cost Chavit $200,000 for the hunt and $50,000 for it to be preserved.
►The facility was designed and developed by Singson himself.
►Singson intended the gallery for people of Ilocos so they could see exotic animals without going to Manila or outside the country
How to get to Vigan
►There are many bus lines from Manila that caters daily trips to Laoag which passes by Vigan. The trips usually made through North Luzon Expressway and Manila North Road passing through the provinces of Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Pangasinan and La Union
WHERE TO STAY IN VIGAN
►Since we are a huge group, we realized that it is more practical for us to get a transient house in Vigan. We stayed in Carlainton Transient House which offers a very spacious set of rooms (good enough to accommodate us all). They have an Honest Store here which is really a new experience for me. Anyway, there’s an overwhelming amount of lodges, transient houses and hotels in Vigan. If you are looking for a luxurious hotel experience, you might consider hotels like Ciudad Fernandina (Check Details Here) or the Hotel Salcedo De Vigan (Check Here). For Solo Backpackers or Couples who are in budget, you can try Balai Mestizo which is just one kilometer away from Calle Crisologo. Check the list of affordable Ilocos Sur Hotels here! (I personally prefer TravelBook Ph because of their “Pay At Hotel” service which doesn’t require any credit cards when booking).