Here's Why You Need to Stop Reading and Go to Paoay Right Now

While my inclination towards travel is mostly brought about by my desire to try new kinds of food, sometimes it’s my adventurous side that dominates. A desire to try something new -- something beyond culinary discovery -- and to get out of my comfort zone. A need to cross out something off my bucket list.

As I was planning our Ilocos trip, I couldn’t take my mind off the Paoay Sand Dunes. The endless stretch of sand, desert-like, seemed to beckon me—almost hauntingly, like that boy in The Alchemist. The thought of driving atop sandy hills in a 4x4 jeep, rushing up and down in mad speeds, excited me. Immensely. There was no way I was going to Ilocos without trying it.

I remember going to Cagayan de Oro last year just to try whitewater rafting. If you knew how skillful I was in water, you’d be awed that I survived this extreme activity. It was, for me, fun on one hand, and incredibly scary on the other. The rush of the raging river both excites and frightens. Even if you’re a swimmer, you can still easily die by having one foot trapped in between rocks, and consequently, by drowning. I don’t know, maybe It’s just me being water-stupid.

But the sand dunes … this was different. It was potentially safer—there was no water involved after all, LOL! Besides, how many people have died hitting their heads on SAND? There was no special safety gear, not that any is required. I recalled going through the rocky Lumiang and Sumaguing caves in Sagada without a helmet, and felt 100% safer in an instant.

When we reached the entrance station, my excitement grew even more! I could see the hills from afar, dotted with a few greens, and marred by tracks of the 4x4. All around me, the blowing beach air. A few cars were parked, waiting to be occupied by eager thrill-seekers. Which one will be ours??

The Paoay Sand Dunes is an 88 sq. km expanse of sand adjacent to Suba Beach. A naturally-formed wonder, it’s a breathtaking site incredibly popular among tourists in Ilocos, returning visitors and newcomers alike. It’s been used as a shooting location of several Filipino movies like Panday, and stood witness to a huge Bamboo concert as well.


Don’t miss any of these posts in the Ilocos 2014 series:


Some art installation on the sand dunes.

We paid first before being ushered into our incredibly cool lime green 4x4 jeep. Honestly, the PhP2,500 fee almost talked us out from going—that was PhP1,250 for each of us, for a one-hour ride—but we figured that this Ilocos trip would be USELESS and HIGHLIGHT-LESS without this sand dunes experience. Man, I’m so glad we went on with it!

The drive started pretty smoothly—a few not-so-tall hills here and there, running through some bumpy trails—until our driver took us to a steep downhill descent that felt like a rollercoaster drop. OMG I fucking loved it!

After a few minutes of driving around, we started our sandboarding lessons. I was especially excited about this one because I’ve never tried anything like it before. It was basically like skiing, except there was no snow, and no ski poles either. All you have are a sand board, two straps to secure your feet, grease to facilitate your sliding down the slopes, and your abs to give you balance, LOL!

Notice how dark I am? LOL
I was thinking that because we were dancers and were used to balancing exercises, this would be pretty easy. However, I discovered that no amount of doing arabesques could ever prepare me for this, haha! Our tour guide taught us the correct position and posture—and I thought it was fairly easy, but not even two meters downhill, I found myself butt-first into the sand!

My friend Kat did no better, always landing on her butt, eventually giving up completely because she had eaten too much sand, hahaha! Just kidding.

I was persistent though, and told myself I wouldn’t go home without completing a descent in an upright position. After 4 failed attempts, I finally managed to complete the downhill track! Yey! I made sure it wasn’t chamba, so I did it again, this time with a video! Haha! And to prove even more that it was out of pure skill and not luck, I tried the more advanced slopes (that is, longer) and finished successfully! I was totally elated! Haha!

I must mention right now that, along with the 4x4 ride, sandboarding is another must-try activity in Paoay. Unless you have vast expanses of sand in your backyard, or you’re rich enough to go to ski resorts, then you need to try this in Ilocos. And while I’m at it, here are some tips to help you maximize this experience:

  • Avail of the PhP2,500 package. This includes a total of 1 hour 4x4 ride and sandboarding lessons combined. Take note that they also offer a PhP1,500 package, but this does not include sandboarding, and is good only for 30 minutes. The PhP1,000 difference is worth it, trust me.
  • Come in a big group. By big I mean 4-6 people. Four is ideal, but the jeep can accommodate up to six. More people means more fun, more harutan, and more of you to share the activity fee. If there are 4 of you, you only need to pay PhP625/head, whereas if you’re six, then that’s only PhP417/head. Take note though that more people means less time for each of you in the sandboarding lessons.
  • Wear slippers/comfortable sandals. No, you can’t wear shoes—as obviously they will get filled with sand. Make sure your footwear is soft enough to prevent possible injury, in case you land in an awkward position or whatever.
  • Apply layers and layers of sunblock. Unless you want to get roasted (like me), you wouldn’t forget to pack a bottle of sunblock in your bag. The strong wind will fool you into believing that it isn’t hot, but after an hour of driving around, you are about 5 shades darker. Also, direct sunlight at noontime isn’t exactly healthy, so just trust me and buy some sunscreen.
  • Bring sunglasses, caps, hats, anything that could protect you from the sun’s glare.
  • Bring water. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
  • Do your research. Another coastal desert exists in Laoag: the La Paz Sand Dunes. The tour rate is the same, but we were informed that there have been accidents there recently—caused by reckless drivers. I MUST EMPHASIZE that I’m not sure if this is true or another episode of Ilocano bad-mouthing. However, I do know that based from the internet photos, Paoay Sand Dunes looked more beautiful than La Paz. That was the deciding factor.
  • Request for Bamboo’s tour guides. Yes, the guys who toured Bamboo around. I honestly forgot their names (I think one of them is Andy), but perhaps you can mention this in the registration area. I don’t know if they would let you choose your guides, since there are a number of them around, but these two guys were incredibly cool and nice. In addition, “Andy” was an awesome photographer.
We drove around some more after the lessons—more steep slopes and rough terrain, others so bumpy we were almost tilted 90 degrees—and later on went to the beachside part of the sand dunes. It was impossible to swim there as the waves were very strong, but the scenery was beautiful. We took a lot of photos there, including these dancesport action shots with our tour guides, haha!

I absolutely loved the sand dunes experience. This was something I would go back to Ilocos for, with more friends probably, or with my crazy family. The thrill of going up and down the mounds of sand, without ever feeling like I was going to die any minute, was an exceptional feeling. Yes, it was definitely worth every centavo of the thousand pesos I paid.


Paoay Sand Dunes
Suba, Paoay, Ilocos Norte
Facebook: Paoay Sand Dunes
Rates: PhP2,500/hr – 4x4 ride + sandboarding lessons
          PhP1,500/30 minutes – 4x4 ride only

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