La Union hailed as the ‘surf capital of the north', is a little beach town in the Philippines that will have you coming back for more. In just a few years this unassuming town has become a haven for people trying to get a taste of the surf life. Most people head there for long weekends but sometimes all you have is 24 hours and I'm here to tell you how to make the most of it.
Before you leave
In order to maximize your time in La Union make sure to book your accommodations. To get the best La Union experience I suggest staying at a hostel. La Union solidified its place on the map with a rustic hostel named Flotsam & Jetsam. When you mention La Union to anyone, Flotsam & Jetsam is the first thing that pops into their mind. It is a beachfront hostel known for its easy-going vibe and yummy food. Since then, a number of concept hostels have popped up. You can book a bed starting at 750 pesos or 15USD. If you're going on a long weekend you have to book in advance because places fill up really fast. Other options to consider are Urbiz Gardens, Vessel, and Charlie's Surf Hangar.
The easiest way to get there is by taking a bus from Manila. It's a six-hour ride from the city. The best bus companies to take are Partas or Solid North which are both located in Cubao, Manila. You can book your tickets on their website or just buy them at the station. Tickets are 400 pesos or 8USD one way. The buses run hourly and are available 24/7. Now that we've covered the basics let's get to the real reason you're here.
12 Midnight the night before
If you are really out to make the most of your stay in La Union I recommend leaving Manila at midnight the night before. I've done it several times and it's so much easier. There aren't too many people on the night buses and you can sleep the whole ride there. By the time you wake up, you'll already be by the ocean. If safety is a concern for you, I assure you that these buses are trusted and secure. You will arrive in La Union at 6:00 AM at one of the prettiest sunrises I've ever witnessed. By then you'll see a few people jogging on the beach with their dogs and some breakfast places opening up. If you're staying at Flotsam and Jetsam, their check-in time isn't until 2:00 PM but they will gladly store your bags for you.
One of the great things about La Union is that all the hostels, restaurants, and cafes are located on one main road which is facing the ocean. All buses that travel from Manila pass through this road. Just tell the conductor where you are staying and he will drop you off right in front.
After you've found a place to drop off your bags, the first order of business is surfing. You can't go to La Union without catching some waves. This is the perfect time to do it so that you can get a good spot in the water. Most people start coming out around 8 to 9 am and by then it starts to get hotter. I do not recommend you surf around noon because the sun will be too intense by then. Surfboards can be rented for 250 pesos or 5USD per hour. On top of that, you'll even get your own instructor to guide you in the water. To make sure you are renting from reputable instructors I suggest renting from the stations by San Juan Surf Resort or in front of Flotsam and Jetsam.
8:00 AM – 9:00 AM
Surfing will work up quite the appetite so it's a good thing that by this time most establishments will be open already. Flotsam & Jetsam has some of the best local breakfast offerings. If you're in the mood for a more western breakfast I suggest you check out San Juan Surf Resort. Both are beachfront so you'll have a nice view while enjoying meals made out of the best ingredients.
9:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Next up: it's time to go chasing waterfalls. One of the most popular activities in La Union is visiting the Tangadan Falls. It's a 20-minute tricycle ride from the main road and a 1-hour hike to reach the water. It is a popular activity because the hike is relatively easy and the view is entirely worth it. Once you get there you will have to pay a fee of 500 pesos (10USD) for a guide. Please don't attempt to go without a guide for safety reasons. That fee is even more affordable if you are with a group. Once you get there you'll be greeted by clear, refreshing waters. For those of you who are more adventurous, you can even dive into the waters from a cliff.
1:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Once you get back from your waterfall adventure it'll be time to eat again! Believe me when I say you'll wish you had space for more food because La Union has so many great restaurants. A must on your itinerary is El Union Coffee. This is a fixture in La Union. They were also one of the first establishments to draw in tourists. Besides their coffee, you should give their famous grilled cheese sandwiches and smores a try. El Union is located in what is called the Great Northwest Viewing Deck which houses a number of food stalls. So if you are travelling in a group, rest assured there will be something for everyone. From Vietnamese food to acai bowls to a wine bar, your stomachs will be very satisfied.
3:00 PM – 5:00 PM
By now you can probably check into your hostel. You can also go for round two of surfing if you're up for it because the heat won't be as intense. I suggest relaxing at your hostel, getting some nice Instagram photos, and enjoying the ambience. Most people will take an afternoon siesta by this time. You can sunbathe by the beach or relax in a hammock.
5:00 PM – 6:00 PM
This year the community started organizing beach cleanups that are open to anyone who is willing to lend a hand. They like to do it later in the afternoon when everyone is more available. I recommend this activity because it always feels good to give back to the community that has so generously shared its town with you. It is also a great way to meet new people. The group usually comes together at the Great Northwest Viewing Deck. Once you're done, sit back, grab a beer, and enjoy the sunset.
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Now is the best time to explore the other neighbouring establishments. You have plenty of options for food, all of which come highly recommended. For the best burgers in town check out Mad Monkey's. It's a small stall but try to get there early as their burgers and fries sell out early in the evening. If you are craving some Pad Thai and Milk Tea just cross the road to a Thai stall named Seewadeeka.
7:00 PM – Onwards
Now it's time for some fun. La Union throws some of the best beach parties. You're lucky if you're staying at Flotsam & Jetsam because that is where most of the action happens. On weekends they usually have a DJ or live artist. If you want a table and drinks come a little early to secure a nice spot in between the bar and the beach. They have a lot of mats and bean bags that make for a more relaxed vibe. After a few drinks, you're sure to be making new friends and dancing the night away. Just don't wander onto the beach because it's not well lit and the current can be pretty strong by then.
I hope you found this guide useful. La Union is a great community of artists and nomads who will welcome you with open arms. It's the perfect surf town to take a break-in. After just one visit I'm sure you will be jumping on buses headed to LU a lot more often. Spend a few days here living in your swimsuit and reading by the beach, it will do you so much good. If you've been to La Union or enjoyed reading this itinerary, comment down below! We'd love to hear from you.