Jeffer's Odyssey

Road Trip Up North: The Paoay Sand Dunes of Ilocos Norte

Growing up in the highlands, I am no longer new to rough roads and rougher rides. I have had my fair share of seeing ravines, steep drops, and rocky and winding mountain roads since I was young, since those are what I had to go through in order to visit my grandmother on an almost weekly basis. Add to that some drivers (like my Dad) that seem to get a thrill out of racing through these mountain roads with the confidence of someone who knew the lay of the land like the back of their hand, then we were always in for a ride. Literally. So to say that I was looking forward to our adventure at the Suba Paoay Sand Dunes Adventures would be a major understatement.

This was one of the things that I considered to be a must in our itinerary. Like… we could miss other parts, but not this one, please. At times, I thought I was probably being too selfish, since the others in our group may not be all that interested, and some of them may not really relish the thought of being tossed out and about on the back of a roaring machine, but….

…well, somehow, some of them got hyped about it, too, and it probably became infectious, so despite some nerves, we all went for it, in the spirit of camaraderie… and perhaps a bit of curiosity as well.

So this was our first stop after leaving Saud in Pagudpud.

The Widest Sand Dunes in Ilocos Norte

The Paoay Sand Dunes in Suba barangay is not the only sand dunes adventure park in the Ilocos region. The other one is La Paz Sand Dunes in Laoag, which is also famous for its 4×4 ATV rides.

But this place has several things going on for it. As the sign indicates, this famous place happens to be the widest sand dunes in Ilocos Norte, spanning around 450 hectares of wide stretches of sand, with the blue waters of the West Philippine Sea off to one side. According to their official Facebook page, the entire Paoay Sand Dunes covers 757 hectares, and the adventure spans 450 of it.

Also, it served as the location for the filming of several Filipino films, now classics. To commemorate this, they even set up the “Himala sa Buhangin” Sculpture Park. I’ll get more into that later on in this post.

The first thing we did was to register and hire our ride. One 4×4, which can accommodate up to 6 people (or 5, not sure now), costs Php2,500.00.

Since there were eleven of us, we had to hire two vehicles, with each vehicle coming with a driver. I doubt they’d let any of the passengers take the wheel, even if you claim to have driving talents of…I dunno, F1 proportions?

We were soooo excited as we boarded each of our rides. And did you see that other machine that our second group got on? Hello Kitty vibes right there!

I pretty much kept my camera on and kept the video recording running the entire time. (I’m probably gonna be posting the video of that in the future. Hopefully.)

Predictably, it was shaky. And lots of screaming fighting with the sound of the four-wheeled machine running and the wind whipping around us. It was a very very hot day, but when you’re on the back of a 4×4 speeding on a vast expanse of sand, then you’re pretty much at the mercy of the wind.

Sharp swerves and curves, heart-stopping drops, and crazy af tilting are just several of the thrills (and chills) we experienced. During those drops, it felt like being on a roller coaster. There were several times that we thought the vehicle would tilt over to one side as it climbed slopes on an uneven forward rush.

Incidentally, this is not the first rough ride I’ve experienced.

Throwback to the time I went zipriding at Delta Discovery Park in Butuan, where we were transported to the top of the mountain where we would zip from. (Check out that post.) That was even more of a jarring ride, really, because the terrain was very unforgiving in its unevenness. We were literally being mercilessly thrown around inside the 4×4 as it climbed up and down the mountain trails. Trails, not roads, mind you.

Then there was that ride when we went to visit the Mt. Pinatubo crater lake. (It’s this post.) Compared to my other two 4×4 experiences, that was pretty sedate, but no less thrilling.

After several minutes, we came to a stop in the middle of a long flat stretch of sand, where the adventure park’s staffers beckoned us to step down for some photo fun.

And you know our crowd. We can never say no to an opportunity to snap some.

Several yards away is a wide hollow, or more like a hole, where sandboarding takes place.

Just as famous for the 4×4 experience is the sandboarding. I have never ridden a skateboard in my life, nor tried boarding of any sort. But we were game.

Also, I’ll admit that my nerves and fears were pretty much quashed by the fact that, should I fall, I’d be landing on soft sand. Tee-hee.

We all took turns, with varying results. Mostly hilarious, by the way. Some of us threw in the towel after one attempt. Some of us… (you know who) queued to go at it again. And again. XDD

My first attempt was to do it on my feet. Needless to say, as I was nearing the bottom, my legs gave out and I had an unsightly fall and roll. The second one, I tried sitting down. It was fun, but nope, I just had to try doing it again. And this time, stay on my feet the whole way.

I did it, and I was sooooooo psyched about it. Hey, I’m a girl with simple pleasures.

It. Was. Scorching. Hot.

I’ve never been to a desert, but this is probably close to what a real one is like. If you’re like me who burns easily, I suggest you slather on the sunscreen, and keep those limbs protected. It was hot, but I still wore long sleeves. Better steaming than burning, dontcha think?


After a while, we boarded our rides again and made another circuit of the other parts of the Park. This time, they brought us on a speedy run through the Suba Beach. A part of me even wished they drove right into the surf, haha!

I think this is one of the things I liked about the Suba Sand Dunes. On one side you have the sand dunes, where you see light brown sand as far as the eyes can see. Then on the other, you have the blue sea with the horizon seamlessly melting into the equally blue sky.

According to the drivers, the best time to go on a ride through the sand dunes would be early in the morning, or early in the evening, just in time for the sun to set. If we had the luxury of time, that would have been what we’d have done exactly.

Just imagine being in the middle of that place during the golden hour. Wow.


Our next stop was the location for the filming of the 1980 Filipino film Temptation Island

I admit I’ve never seen the film, not even the 2011 remake. Both films focused on a group of four young ladies stranded on a desert island. Many of the key scenes were filmed here, and they created sculptures inspired by the film.

Supposedly, these statues were made to recreate the iconic poses of the four lead actresses of the film.

And not far from here is the monument of iconic Filipino film hero, Panday (literally “blacksmith”). That is because this is also where many key scenes from the 1980 action-fantasy film Ang Pandaystarring the late Fernando Poe, Jr.

His statue stands atop a sandy knoll that you’d have to scale a bit.

The statue was carved with a bit of a likeness to the actor that played the character. And he was standing with one foot on top of his archnemesis, Lizardo who, as the name implies, took the form of a lizard.

I’m not really all that familiar with the Panday lore, but there were several movies that came after it, and several incarnations on local TV decades after, so… yeah, I’m lost.

Remember when I said something about the Suba Sand Dunes also being the place where you can find the “Himala sa Buhangin” Sculpture Park?

“Himala sa Buhangin” (“miracle in the sand”) is actually an annual festival that celebrates music and the arts in the north. This arts and music festival takes place every year in the Paoay Sand Dunes in Suba, and involves a day filled with live music performances, sand sports and activities, as well as creation and display of installations on the sand.

But what inspired it all is probably the fact that this was the location of another iconic piece of Philippine filmmaking, the 1982 film Himala, which starred superstar Nora Aunor.

Now this movie I was able to see, and although I cannot recall it in its entirety, many of its scenes are very memorable for me, and I can actually picture that scene with townspeople flocking towards the spot where the lead character stood on a raised spot in the middle of the sandy stretch.

Apparently, several Hollywood films were also filmed here, among them Born on the Fourth of July and Mad MaxCan’t say I blame them. When you’re here, it’s so easy to think and feel like you’re in another world or dimension.

Many sources say that the adventures at the sand dunes will take an hour. But I think it took us close to two hours before we got back to the registration area. Maybe because we were a large group? Or maybe because we got there on a day that did not have too many visitors? *shrugs*

I’m just glad we got to enjoy the experience. I don’t drive, and I can’t drive. And I don’t have any inclination to learn how to drive. But if I were to end up learning and driving, I’d definitely want to try doing it in a place like this. Preferably with zero traffic. Lots of soft sand to cushion any fall. And an armor for a body, just in case a fall does happen. *wink wink*

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