This month’s feature article is about the famous animal haven in Ilocos Sur, catering to both exotic and wild animals. It is a sure destination for anyone who is visiting Vigan, and rightfully so, as this zoo on Chavit Singson’s property is by far one of the largest you will ever see on a private property here in the Philippines and it is called Baluarte.
I have been here several times in the past, and I would be sharing my photos from the different times I have been to Baluarte, with the most recent one during Congressman Ronald Singson’s birthday weekend just last November 2015. It took my group (Ricci, Al and Philip) a total of just over 6 hours travel time (exclusive of breaks) to ride from Metro Manila all the way to Vigan, withstanding all the road repairs in La Union and Ilocos Sur to reach Vigan in what was one of my fastest paced rides ever. The interconnected highways of North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), and Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX) is a very big welcome development for riders because in effect travelling from Metro Manila to Rosario, La Union could be as short as 2 and a half hours.
Located in Barangay Salindeg, Baluarte is located just a few kilometers from Vigan town proper so it is not too difficult to find and considering its popularity, it is a guarantee that whoever you ask on directions will surely know where to lead you. Upon entering one of Vigan’s top tourist attractions, you will be greeted by a large welcome statue with different animals around it. It is a fitting welcome as you will indeed be amazed by the number of different animals free roaming inside. Owned by former Ilocos Sur Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson, this mansion and animal haven is home to exotic and rare animals imported from all over the world. Governor Chavit actually lives here, and it you will be shown how rich and how influential he is in this side of the country, as his personal resthouse is a golden-clad 9-storey Torre del Baluarte situated inside his sprawling 80 hectare property. This structure tends to depict the former Governor as a man of power yet with elegance and style. This complex lies in hectares of land that stretches from the rolling plain towards the hills, where the former governor’s multi-storey house sits with a grand view of Vigan and the West Philippine Sea.
This is a real dinosaur
There is no entrance fee for one of Vigan’s top tourist attractions although tipping is encouraged for the guide and handlers of various animals you could interact with. For me, Baluarte is one of the must-see attractions in Vigan because visitors of all ages will surely enjoy the animals and attractions of the large property. And by “must-see,” I mean it to be not just for Vigan first timers, but even for those who have visited Baluarte previously because based on my experience, this is a sprawling property that is constantly evolving and improving as the years go by. This only means that there is always something new even if you visit Vigan as often as annually.
During my last visit just very recently, I saw free roaming white deer, lions, tigers, miniature horses, and dinosaurs (really!). Baluarte also houses a collection of the common African Love Birds and the more exotic Hornbills. It also features a butterfly garden, a petting zoo and even regular live animals shows which happens three to four times per day. There is also the presence of dozens of stalls around the compound selling various Vigan memorabilia like shirts, ref magnets, key chains and the like. I guess this is also another way for the former Governor of Vigan to help out his constituents in every little way he can.
It’s an ostrich!
One of my personal favorites in Baluarte is the displayed submarine of Governor Chavit. It is said that this is not just for display but is actually his personal submarine. I asked one of the caretakers there if he actually uses this submarine and I was answered in the affirmative, going even as far as saying that their boss still uses it in his free time to search for sea treasures whenever he pleases. This submarine is of yellow color so I will not even dare ask what you think its name is.
The place also has a landscaped field which houses dozens (maybe even hundreds) of white deer roaming by the big Hollywood-esque Baluarte signage. Near the field is the fenced area which houses the monkeys, ostriches and camels. Kids may sit on top of the bigger animals or if they want to ride, the miniature horses are available for that attraction. If you want to experience feeding animals, then you can feed the birds by the entrance with seeds and fruits. One thing I noticed though is that there is a sign saying that you have to pay 20 pesos if you want to use your own camera for your photo ops with the birds.
“Hidden” beneath all the animal sanctuary façade, and what really disappointed me with this place, is the contrasting structure atop the hill, the building that the owner calls Safari Gallery. Here housed is the former Governor’s personal collection of hunted free-roaming animals, some skinned, while some are preserved. Most of them are exotic and endangered, all defenselessly killed for sport. I do not get the deliberate irony that the owner tries to show here.
Vigan is the only surviving colonial town in the Philippines and the Spanish colonial architecture present hundreds of years ago have remarkably withstood the test of time, development, and even World War II. Recognized by UNESCO by its inclusion in the World Heritage list, prepare to be amazed and astonished by the centuries-old cobblestoned paved streets (Calle Crisologo), old houses, old churches, and even of the old-school styled living for some of the locals.