San Juan is located in the La Union province of northern Luzon, Philippines. This surf town is only a few hour drive from major cities in the region, consequently making San Juan a popular weekend destination among Filipino tourists.
HOW TO GET TO SAN JUAN, LA UNION FROM MANILA
If you are coming from Manila, there are heaps of buses that will take you straight to San Juan.
And as I backpack the Philippines by bus, I’m finding out that most these long haul buses are equipped with WiFi and big screen TV – making the journey feel a lot shorter than it is!
From Manila, head over to Pasay or Cubao bus station to catch a direct bus to San Juan. Once at the station, the major bus companies that serve this route are Partas, Viron, and Dominion.
The bus fare and travel time to San Juan can very, depending on the bus company and route you take. Generally, you can expect to pay anywhere between 380 to 520 PHP, with travel time taking anywhere between 5-7 hours, depending on traffic.
I immediately fell in love with the vibe the moment I stepped foot in San Juan.
My bus dropped me off on the main strip of San Juan, and I immediately felt the ambiance and energy of the people walking around. For such a relatively tiny beach town, there was no shortage of nightlife scene with beachfront and outdoor bars all over town.
But just as you would expect from a surf town, the vibe and the people are overall chill and relax. I was able to walk around and explore the neighborhood the following day and realized that even for non-surfers, San Juan is a great place to visit just to escape and unwind AND DO NOTHING!
Additionally, San Juan has a very hipster vibe to it. This is evident with the art and murals you’ll randomly find on the streets – slight semblance to the Wynwood neighborhood in Miami.
THINGS TO DO IN LA UNION
Non-surfer or a pro, San Juan offers plenty of activities for those who are looking to take a break from surfing.
Surf in San Juan
Much of San Juan’s growing tourism revolves around surfing and the resorts that are dotting the beach fronts. The peak season goes from October until March, where the waves can challenge even the most experienced surfers.
But if you have never picked up a surfboard ever in your life like me, you’ll find a slew of instructors giving lessons to novice surfers along the beach.
Our group rented a tricycle for 500 pesos that took us from San Juan to the drop off point in San Gabriel. Since there were four of us, we paid 125 php per person, not the worst deal considering the tricycle ride was about a 45-minute drive to the drop off point.
Once we arrived in San Gabriel, we trekked for about an hour until we reached the falls. You will see some amazing sights on the trail and will be able to cool and refresh once you get to the falls!
Chill at any of the beach front bars and watch the sunset. A great way to end the day with all the activities!
WHERE TO STAY IN LA UNION
San Juan has plenty of choices in terms of accommodations for the budget-conscious and luxury travelers alike.
For those traveling solo and want to meet other travelers, consider these places:
Flotsam and Jetsam Hostel
One of the more popular hostels in San Juan, Flotsam and Jetsam is known for the energy and nightlife of the crowd that stays there.
The rooms itself are actually quite nice. The room, or “kubo”, is made out of bamboos and offers a lot of character. It is also big enough to spaciously fit eight beds, with each having their own personal light, power outlets, and personal lockers.
The Circle Hostel
The Circle is your quintessential backpacker-type accommodation. There is one big space where everyone sleeps with about 50 beds with mosquito nets stacked on top of each other. It was a definite experience.
I stayed in the Circle for a couple of nights and actually enjoyed it. They have a tree-house type lounge where everyone chills and relax – making it very easy to strike a conversation and meet other travelers alike.
I actually met a handful of travelers turned-friends here that I’ve met in other parts of my travels in the Philippines!
The Vessel Hostel
The Vessel is a unique hostel that is built from shipping containers. You will definitely notice the creative and photogenic interior the moment you walk right in. Additionally, the Vessel has a great rooftop where you can chill in between surfing or enjoy the ocean view with a few drinks.
WHERE TO EAT IN SAN JUAN
San Juan has some quirky restaurants and food stalls on the main strip of town where you can get some tasty food for cheap.
During my five-day visit, the places I kept going back to were Nak-Nak for some ridiculously tasty traditional Filipino for a great price, Beach Bum Food Park for the variety of food stalls, and Angel and Marie’s Surf Treat for their mouth-watering and very instagrammable halo-halo.