Iloilo City is the perfect destination for those who are wanting to have a taste of the Philippines, but can only afford to stay in one place. Iloilo is recognized as the “Heart of the Philippines” with its rich history, sumptuous local food, colorful festivals, and breathtaking sceneries. It is true that the Philippines has a diverse culture - each region is a unique experience - but Iloilo is the best place to give you a sneak peek of what Filipinos are all about.
Explore historical sites
1. Calle Real
Where better can you start exploring historical sites than a street full of them? Calle Street, or officially known as J.M. Basa Street, is considered Iloilo’s historic center. This is where you can find buildings that date back to the 1800s, withstanding various natural calamities such as floods, typhoons, and earthquakes. Most of the buildings were restored recently and you can clearly see the Western influences on the buildings’ architecture in this street.
Calle Real is like a museum with the amount of history that is found there, the only difference is, it is still full of life and still functions as Iloilo’s venue for commerce and trade.
2. Camiña Balay Nga Bato: An Ilonggo heritage house
You can find plenty of ancestral houses in Iloilo City, one such house is the Camiña Balay Nga Bato, which showcases the Ilonggo Heritage. This heritage house, which was built in 1860 by Fernando Avanceña, now functions both as a museum and a house of the 6th generation of the Avanceña clan. They offer a house tour for visitors so you can see the antiques they have inside their home, including a traditional weaving loom. They also serve you local food such as their famous tsokolate (chocolate drink), and pancit molo during the tour, so that’s definitely a plus!
If you do plan to visit, reservations are required to be made a day before so that they can prepare the food.
Camiña Balay Nga Bato
Address: 20 Osmena St., Villa de Arevalo, Iloilo City
Price: from 150 PHP (3 USD) per person
Opening Hours: 8am - 6pm
Contact: Mobile: +63 9217386491/+63 9173055355 Home: +63 0333363858/+63 0333365075
Facebook: Camiña Balay Nga Bato
Try out some of the local food
3. Netong's La Paz Batchoy
One of the best ways to get to know a place and its culture is through its food. One popular dish that came from Iloilo is La Paz Batchoy, a noodle soup that uses noodles, parts of pork, beef, and chicken as its ingredients. Naturally, as La Paz Batchoy originates from Iloilo, you can find a lot of stores that serve this dish. It is debatable who pioneered this dish, but one of those claiming to be the original makers of the said dish is Netong’s Original Special La Paz Batchoy. This eatery can be found in La Paz Public Market, and they also serve other Filipino dishes other than La Paz Batchoy.
Netong's Original Special La Paz Batchoy
Address: La Paz Public Market, Luna cor. Huervana st., La Paz, Iloilo City
Opening Hours: 7am - 7pm
Facebook: Netong’s Original Special La Paz Batchoy
4. Seafood at Breakthrough Restaurant
Photo is only for illustrative purposes
Seafood dishes are definitely a must-try for an archipelago like the Philippines! One of the most popular seafood restaurants in Iloilo is the Breakthrough Restaurant, which is said to serve some of the best local seafood dishes in Iloilo. You can find aquariums and ponds inside the restaurant, where you can see where the restaurant gets its main ingredient for their dishes. Other than their food, the Breakthrough Restaurant also gives you a view of Guimaras, a neighboring island, and a dose of sea breeze since it is located near a beach.
Address: Villa Beach, Barangay Sto. Niño Sur, Arevalo, Iloilo, Philippines
Opening Hours: 9am - 9pm
Contact: +63 0333373027/ +63 0333364755
See the beaches
5. Gigantes Islands
If you will be spending a lot of time in Iloilo City, you should check out the Gigantes Islands. It is a group of islands located 5 hours away from Iloilo City, and offers its visitors breathtaking works of nature such as beaches and rock formations. If you’re looking for a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city and tourist hot spots, the untouched beauty of the beaches of Gigantes Islands is for you. The islands are only accessible by boat, with Bancal port being the fastest and most convenient jump-off point. If you do plan on traveling within the islands, it is much better to charter a boat for your use.
There are plenty of islands to explore, and here are some of them up next:
Access: Passenger boats leaving for Gigantes Norte (North) is at Bancal Port, while passenger boats leaving at 2pm daily for Gigantes Sur (South) is at Estancia Port. Another way is to rent a boat to go around the islands.
6. Cabugao Gamay Island
Cabugao Gamay Island takes on an interesting shape, with most of its area filled with vegetation and rock, and surrounded by clear waters. At its northern tip, you can find a white sandbar beach.
Cabugao Gamay Island
Address: Gigantes Islands, Carles, Iloilo
Access: 20 to 30 minute pumpboat ride from Brgy. Lantangan in Gigantes Sur.
7. Antonia Beach
Photo is only for illustrative purposes
Antonia Beach is another beach that can be found in Gigantes Islands. The waters surrounding this island are not only perfect for swimming but also give its visitors a stunning view of the the beach and the water surrounding the island. Fascinating rock formations can also be found on this beach.
Address: Gigantes Islands, Carles, Iloilo
Access: 30-minute boat ride from Brgy. Lantangan in Gigantes Sur
8. Tangke Saltwater Lagoon
Unlike the other two mentioned above, Tangke Saltwater Lagoon is a pool hidden in Isla de Gigantes Sur. It is like a hidden gem lurking among the rock formations that surround this lagoon. A short climb is required to reach the lagoon, and it is definitely worth it to feast your eyes on the beautiful, clear, shallow waters of the lagoon and the naturally-formed rock formations surrounding it.
Tangke Saltwater Lagoon
Address: Gigantes Sur, Carles, Iloilo
Access: Boat ride from Estancia Port
Experience a festival
9. Dinagyang Festival
Festivals are one of the ways Filipinos celebrate tradition and religion. One of the most famous festivals in the Philippines is the Dinagyang Festival, which is in Iloilo City. Dinagyang Festival is a thanksgiving celebration for the the child Jesus, Sto. Niño. The festival is celebrated during the fourth weekend of January, but activities are held throughout the whole month, such as the Dinagyang Ati performance, and a fluvial procession in Iloilo River.
Contact: +63 333372172
Website: Dinagyang Festival
10. Paraw Regatta Festival
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
Another festival in Iloilo is the Paraw Regatta Festival. This festival holds various activities that celebrate the Ilonggo history and culture and give tribute to the legacies of the local families of sailors and boat makers. However, the highlight of this festival is a race between seafarers, using their Paraws or sailboats in the straits between Guimaras Island and Iloilo City. This is held during the third weekend of February.
Paraw Regatta Festival
Address: Tatoy’s Manokan, Sto. Nino Sur, Villa, Iloilo City
Facebook: Paraw Regatta Festival
Immerse yourself in the culture
Iloilo City offers its visitors a dose of Filipino culture, from its history and food, to the festivals that celebrate Filipino culture and history, to its natural landscapes. Visiting Iloilo City will definitely be an immersive experience for anyone who decides to visit this heart of the Philippines.
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