La Union boasts of glassy waves, big enough for even beginners to start. Being just 6 hours away from Manila, many people flock to the North’s surfing capital – San Juan, La Union. Deciding on heading up? Here’s what you need to know:
- Best Season – according to Echo, my surf instructor from ELYU Classic, the best time to visit Elyu is during the North swell season. That is from October to April. The waves are expectedly bigger and consistent than seasons after or before that. It is suitable for beginners, intermediate and advanced level surfers.
- Food, Water & Sanitation – Although many bars and restaurants are open there, Elyu mostly has small eateries or carinderias where they serve home-cooked local food. If you are on a tight budget, eating at carinderias are the most practical thing to do. They serve both service and bottled water everywhere, although I suggest if you have a sensitive stomach, choose to buy bottled water instead. When I was up there November, last year, I chose to drink service water all the time, which slightly upset my stomach right after. I assume that this is because their service water comes from tap or from the faucet. Bringing your own water is handy too.
- ̆Surf Board rentals – if you plan to go without your own surfboard, fear not! For San Juan is filled with a lot of instructors and rentals. They all have a standard surf rental fee of Php 200/hr, Php 500/half day & Php 800/whole day. Even if you try to go to the farthest rental there is, they will provide you with the same amount.
If you are a beginner, surf rentals + tutorials are available for you! If you are charming enough to haggle, some instructors can give you a lower tutorial rate with the same rental value. Try looking for Echo or Chris from ELYU Classic. They are well experienced and friendly enough to make your learning to surf fun. They can also accompany you to bars like Flotsam Jetsam for booze at night with mats on the floor and candles. If you’re lucky, there could be a movie screening outdoors too!
- Nightlife – although not as extravagant as those in Boracay, several bars with live music are located in Elyu. Try Flotsam Jetsam, Isla Bonita or Surf Shack.
- Where to Stay – Elyu provides different places to stay from budgeted hostels to beach resorts. If you plan to go alone or with friends, The Circle Hostel is a pretty (and real cheap!) place to stay at. I was able to get a bunkbed (no private rooms here!) for only Php 1,100 for a 3 day/2 night accommodation.
I didn’t really mind not having my private room or toilet as I was out most of the time and only needed a place to crash at night. What’s really good about staying at this hostel is that they were able to live by their mission, “There are no strangers here.” You also aren’t provided with your own socket. The charging area is located in the common area where travelers are meant to mingle. True enough, I was able to make friends right away as soon as the bright morning came. (I arrived at 5 am, it was still pitch black). The downside of the Circle Hostel though was that you had to cross a road to get to the beach, meaning it itsn’t beach front but it shouldn’t be much of a problem since it’s only a two-minute walk from there. The place is decorated by various paintings of art and mostly quotes written by past travelers who stayed there. You can leave your own marks behind too. Cans of paint and brushes are found near the lockers. Let the art flow! If you’re looking for a relatively cheap place with your own room and toilet, Flotsam Jetsam is a good pick. They have their own bar and beach front. Feel free to research first on tripadvisor or agoda and read the reviews first before booking!
- Where to Eat – As mentioned earlier, Elyu is filled with different kinds of places to eat, from authentic Greek restaurants to simple carinderias. Although I wasn’t exactly satisfied by the food there, you may explore on your own. If do want to try a restaurant there, I highly recommend Gefseis Greek Grill.
It is an authentic Greek restaurant with really satisfying food. I recommend you order moussaka paired with a banana yogurt milkshake! For cheaper eats, you can try Tagpuan!
- What to do – Elyu is not only a place to bum in the sun or go surfing. Several activities can be done there as well including trekking and cliff diving at Tangadan falls, visit to Ma Cho Temple and Basilica Minore of our Lady of Charity. Research on what more to do especially if you’re only staying overnight to maximize your travel.
- and last but not the least: Where to drink COFFEE – to me, traveling is not enough without trying out coffee.
A coffeeplace called El Union Coffee is a must-try! They serve several handcrafted beverages, but not like your typical starbs. The interior is designed with that cozy indie vibe that will make you want to stay longer and meet new people. They serve you handbrewed coffee, special lattè art cappucinos or you can also try their horchatas. If you feel like eating, they serve oh-so-good s’mores and caserole chocolate chip cookies! Try looking for Chloe! He won’t disappoint you.
All those listed above serve only as a basic guide and suggestion on your travel to Elyu. These are only things I actually went to or did, try to befriend the locals and who knows what they can show you!
What started as a plan for four ended up as a solo travel. The first semester of school was nearly ending and so was my contract at work (I was a working student at the time.) Despite the cancellation of the other three, I decided to push through anyway. After saving my last salary, and saving a little more on my own, I booked a hostel recommended by a friend who moved there. Once that was done, it was bulletproof and I went. Here’s a suggested itinerary and budgeting of my whole 3D2N trip in Elyu:
How to get to La Union:
La Union is usually a 6 or 7 hour drive from Metro Manila. There are two terminals to get a ride depending on your location. If you’re from the South, then head to PARTAS Pasay and if you’re from the North, PARTAS Cubao is where to go.
Partas Transportation – Cubao
816 Aurora Boulevard, Cubao, Quezon City
Partas Transportation – Pasay
Tramo corner Edang St., San Roque, Pasay City
Just buy a ticket that heads to Vigan/Laoag and ask the conductor to drop you off in San Juan. Normal priced tickets are at around Php 440 but I went there last November and they honored my student ID. I was able to get a Php 100+ discount You can try to present one too, though I doubt they would honor it since it’s a summer.
Day 01 – SURFING
00:00 – ETD PARTAS Cubao (Bus, 6 hours, Php 440)
06:00 – ETA San Juan, check-in, drop off bags (Circle Hostel, paid in advance thru debit card)
07:00 – Eat free breakfast, buy taho (downstairs), socialize with newcomers, option to sleep
09:00 – Head to beach, get surfing lessons (min. 2 hours)
11:00 – Dry off, get lunch at nearby carinderia
13:00 – Head back to beach, socialize
14:00 – Head back to hostel, wash up
15:00 – Bum at Elyu Classic
17:00 – Dinner of your choice
18:00 – Sunset at the beach/Socials
19:00 – Socials at Flotsam Jetsam
22:00 – Time to sleep
Day 02 – Trek to Tangadan
06:00 – Get up, get dressed, prepare
07:00 – Breakfast
08:00 – Take jeep and buy last minute needs at bayan (market)
08:30 – ride jeep to San Gabriel
09:00 – Start trek to Tangadan Falls
11:30 – ETA Tangadan Falls, swimming in falls, enjoy Tangadan
13:00 – Departure Tangadan Falls, cliff diving
15:00 – Late Lunch of your choice
16:00 – Head back to Hostel, rest
19:00 – Dinner/socials at Flotsam Jetsam
22:00 – Sleep
Day 03 – More Surfing & Coffee
07:00 – Get up, get dressed
08:00 – Breakfast
09:00 – Morning surfing (1hr)
10:00 – Head back to beach, socials
11:00 – Lunch at Gefseis
12:00 – Pack up & check Out
13:00 – Head to Elyu Classic for more coffee
15:00 – Leave for Manila
I did not include Ma Cho Temple in the itinerary as I wasn’t able to visit it. Feel free to tweak the itinerary above, after all, it is only a suggestion.
Transportation – Php 1,000
Accomodation – Php 1,100 (one bunk bed)
Surfing – Php 1,500
Food – Php 1,500
Socials – Php 1,500 (optional)
Allowance – Php 1,000
Total: Php 6,100 (excluding socials)
- Bringing a group or a friend with you can lower your costs!
- Wear tight swimming trunks when surfing because swimming undies can be removed as you surf.
- Wear trekking sandals in case you want to go trekking, especially in Tangadan. There are a lot of slippery stones and you will encounter streams you need to cross to get to the falls. I do not recommend rubber shoes or flipflops (I was in flipflops!) as they can get really heavy or slippery.
- Bring your sunblock!
- If you do plan to stay at Circle Hostel, be wary of insects that crawl all over. Although you will have a net or kulambo over your bunk bed, they still crawl elsewhere.
- If the hostel says don’t leave food in the room, don’t leave food in the room! I accidentally left my kakanin on my bed and not more than 10 minutes after, my bed was swarming with ants! It is very important to obey the rules of the place where you stay.
- ALWAYS be courteous and considerate to everyone around you. If it is past 10 pm, die down your volume (whether voice or music), as others may already be sleeping.
- Do not be afraid to explore what is out there. There is so much to discover. You just need to look closer.
- As much as possible, disconnect from social media. I get it that you want the world to know where you are or what you are doing, but flaunting tends to take the essence out of traveling. Take pictures of things you want to remember, but keep it away for a while. You’ll be surprised by what you’ll observe by being actually in the moment rather than anticipating your next liker on instagram.