If you are looking to add a bit of culture to your vacations, you might want to consider visiting Iloilo – Asia’s City of Love. Iloilo is considered the gateway to Western Visayas, occupying most of the southeast part of Panay. The province was once the country’s Textile Capital of the Philippines after the Spanish rule then soon became one of the leading producers of sugar in the country. The sweet and friendly people, old buildings, and delicious local dishes are just among the long list of reasons why Iloilo is called the City of Love. In Iloilo, travelers get to see a glimpse of our Spanish-colonial past and at the same time enjoy the modern comforts of the present. There are a lot of places to go and things to do in Iloilo, but here are the top five things you could do while in the province.
Food is one of the biggest attractions in Iloilo. Travelers from all over the Philippines and the world visit Iloilo for their local dishes such as batchoy and pancit molo. If you are planning a food crawl, start at the La Paz Market. It is almost a sin not to eat batchoy when you are in Iloilo so it is best to begin your food journey at Netong’s La Paz Batchoy. Netong’s has been serving their original La Paz batchoy at the same place for ages, humbly settled in the middle of the busy marketplace. At Netong’s, you get to enjoy the view of your batchoy being prepared while you wait.
Also at the La Paz Market, you will find the Madge Cafe. This charming coffee house still uses the traditional method of brewing their signature coffee. Their coffee is a perfect match to their buttered pandeciosa. While Madge Cafe is best known for its coffee, their hot chocolate is definitely a must-try.
If bread is what you are looking for, Iloilo has a lot to offer. Panaderia de Molo and Panaderiana Pa-a have been serving freshly-baked pandesal for so many years, and many Ilonggos and tourists alike continue to patronize their baked goods. For butterscotch, barquillos, biscochos, cupcakes, cakes, and other desserts, you can visit Original Biscocho Haus, JD, Tinapayan, Dulgies, and Heavenly.
Visit century-old churches
Like most provinces and cities in the Philippines, Iloilo continues to keep its religious tradition intact. In fact, Spanish colonial church buildings are among the popular tourist sites in the province. If you believe in the superstition of making a wish in every church you visited for the first time, you could probably complete your wish list in less than a day of your stay in Iloilo.
Of all the old church buildings in the province, Miag-ao Church is the most preserved. The Aztec-Baroque inspired Miag-ao Church is currently listed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Other famous, Spanish-colonial churches you could visit in Iloilo include Jaro Cathedral, Cabatuan Church, San Jose Church, Passi City Church, Sto. Nino de Arevalo Parish, Molo Church, Guimbal Church, and Tigbauan Church. By car, most of these churches are just a few minutes’ drive away.
Traveling across Iloilo is not complete without a side trip to the island province of Guimaras. Guimaras is formerly a part of Iloilo until it became an independent province in 1992. The province is just a 15-minute boat ride from Iloilo. Guimaras is widely popular for their mangoes, which were named the sweetest mangoes in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1995. Interestingly, the island province also is a Guinness Book world record holder for having the smallest plaza. While in Guimaras, you can visit the National Mango Research and Development Center in Jordan to learn all about mangoes. Before leaving the island, be sure to stop by the Trappist Abbey for a little meditating and take a walk along the beach of Raymen Beach Resort in Alubihod.
If you are into lying on the beach and soaking up some sun, you can take a five-hour boat ride and go island hopping at Islas de Gigantes off the coast of Carles and Estancia in Iloilo. This group of islands, which includes Cabugao Gamay Islan, Pawikan Cave, Bantigue Island, and Antonia Beach, is famous for its white sands, rock formations, and clear blue water reminiscent of Boracay.
Iloilo is often dubbed as the melting pot of the past and present in terms of architecture. Driving around the city proper, you will see a number of heritage buildings that were restored to their former glory. Along the old central business district called Calle Real or the J.M. Basa Street, you will find many old Spanish houses and commercial buildings. It is apparent that Ilonggos take pride on their history and culture as they continue to preserve these structures.
One of the oldest structures found in Iloilo is Casa Mariquit in Jaro. Caretakers continue to maintain this 200-year-old house to honor former vice president Ferdinand Lopez Sr.’s wife Maria “Mariquit” Lopez. Each artefact displayed inside the house has a story to tell. Most of them are closely tied to our country’s political, cultural, and religious history.
After gallivanting all over Iloilo, you can wind down at Iloilo River Esplanade. This river park, located along the Iloilo River in Mandurriao, has become the go-to place for leisurely walks, food crawls, and recreational activities since it opened in 2012. As you walk along this landscaped park during the afternoon, you will undoubtedly witness the magnificent sunset.
Locals and tourists frequent the river esplanade to enjoy the riverside view, but many of them also hit the malls or lifestyle centers. Over the years, the province has become highly urbanized and has become a popular hub for coffee shops, restaurants, malls, and other lifestyle centers. You can go mall hopping or go dining at SM City Iloilo, Robinsons Place Iloilo, Plazuela de Iloilo, and The Shops.
These are just some of the few activities you can do to make your stay in Iloilo more memorable and enjoyable.