Where to Go in Iloilo: A First-Timer’s Guide

When it comes to tourist destinations in the Philippines, Iloilo Province is one of those the combines rustic charm and urban feel in a perfect Harmony. From scenic islands and beaches to cultural and heritage sites—not to mention extra-delicious food—you’ll get a bit of everything in Iloilo.

For first timers in the province and its capital, Iloilo City—the so-called “La Muy Leal Y Noble Ciudad” (Most Loyal and Noble City) —it’s best to go for packaged Iloilo tours for a smoother, faster, and hassle-free experience. You’re also guaranteed to get value for money! After you’ve found and booked your ideal tour, it’s time to prepare your itinerary with the help of this handy guide on where to go in Iloilo.

Calle Real and Various Heritage Sites

Calle Real or J.M. Basa Street is like Ilocos Sur’s Calle Crisologo. Instead of Spanish colonial houses and buildings, however, Calle Real features buildings with architecture dating back from the 1800s up to the Commonwealth era. These well-maintained and recently restored buildings give you a glimpse of how Ilonggos lived during those times. You can also see the same beauty in the neighboring streets, as well as in Plaza Libertad.

Other heritage sites and ancestral homes you can visit in Iloilo are the Lizares Mansion, Casa Mariquit, and Balay Camiña nga Bato. The last of these is an especially unique treat. The tour of the place includes a meal featuring authentic Ilonggo cuisine and some of the best hot chocolate you’ll ever have.

Miag-ao Church and Other Churches

The Santo Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church, more popularly known as the Miag-ao Church, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its unique yellowish-brown color is due to the combination of materials used in its construction: adobe, corals, limestone, and—believe it or not—eggs. It was completed in 1797, specifically built with thick walls to help protect against the Moros.

Being a Baroque church, the Miag-ao Church features intricate sculptures and details, including one of St. Christopher on the facade. It’s a truly unique sculpture, as it features the saint carrying the Child Jesus on his back while holding onto a coconut tree. On top of the church doors, meanwhile, is a statue of St. Thomas of Villanueva. Inside, you’ll find a beautiful gold-plated retablo and gold-and-silver tabernacle.

If you want to go church-hopping, you can also visit the militaristic-lookingSan Joaquin Church, the Molo Church, as well as the Jaro Cathedral. There are also plenty of church ruins in Iloilo, like those in Barotac Nuevo, Cabatuan, Guimbal, Pavia, and Tigbauan.

Guimaras Island

Southwest of Panay and northwest of Negros lies the home of the best mangoes in the world: Guimaras Island. Indeed, these golden fruits are part of the booming tourism industry in Guimaras. Visit the Oro Verde Mango Plantation if you want to see an orchard of healthy mango trees laden with fruits. Moreover, make sure to try the unique delicacy that is the Mango Pizza (move over, Hawaiian!).

Guimaras also has plenty of beaches where you can get your dose of sun, sand, and sea. Some of the most famous are Alubihod Beach, Guisi Beach, Tatlong Pulo, Natago Beach, and Taklong Island. For historic and cultural excursions, you can drop by Roca Encantada, the Trappist Monastery, the Balaan Bukid Shrine, the Holy Family Hills, and the Guisi Lighthouse.

Gigantes Islands

Gigantes Islands or Islas de Gigantes is a remote group of islands on the Visayan Sea, off the northeast coast of Iloilo. Island hopping is, obviously, the most famous activity here. Usually included in the tour of isles are Cabugao Gamay, Antonia Beach, Bantigue Island, and Pawikan Cave. If you travel in the off-peak season, you’re almost guaranteed to an almost exclusive experience, swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing.

For those who are a bit more adventurous, try visiting the Pawikan Cave. The locals say that the cave got its name because of the rock formations that look like turtle eggs. There’s also the Bakwitan Cave in Gigantes Norte Island, which was said to have contained huge coffins with gigantic bones inside. This, they say, is where the island chain got the name. Finally, part of the island hopping tour is the Tangke Saltwater Lagoon. This picture-perfect lagoon has majestic rock formations, as well as shallow waters that’s perfect for swimming.

Dinagyang Festival

Held every fourth Sunday of January, the Dinagyang Festival is one of the biggest, most colorful festivals in the Philippines. During the early days of the festival, it was confined to just San Jose Parish. It was meant to welcome the replica of the original image of the Santo Niño de Cebu and to celebrate the parish’s then-new devotion to the Santo Niño. Since then, it has evolved to be a celebration of the entire province’s culture, history, religion, and heritage. The Dinagyang Festival is not a place, obviously, but trust us when we say that it’s a definite must when it comes to visiting Iloilo.

Another moniker for Iloilo’s capital city is actually the City of Love. One visit and you’ll know that it’s true, not just for the city but for the whole province, in more ways than one! Book a tour now, and experience all the best that this lovely province has to offer.

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