I wish I was in Iloilo for Dinagyang last weekend, but that will have to wait until next year, perhaps. I was able to visit Iloilo for the first time late last year, however, and I have to say it was love at first sight! I can’t believe it was only then that I was able to visit Iloilo City, and make quick trips to the town of Dumangas and the nearby province Guimaras, which I also found beautiful (more on Guimaras on the blog soon!). But, that visit definitely will not be my last! You can be sure I’ll be frequenting Iloilo from now on. There are a lot of exciting things in store for the fast-growing city, and among them is hosting two meetings of the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit in November this year!
Our room in Amigo Terrace Hotel
My first trip to Iloilo was a quick one, but Amigo Terrace Hotel (where I stayed—watch for my review of this hotel on the blog soon, too! But click here to book now.) and their partner travel agency Panay Tours Specialists, Inc. (PTSI) made sure I will see as much of the so-called City of Love as possible. I would like to share with you my quick experience of the richly historical and cultural place that is Iloilo City, as I sit in my room, wishing I was in Dinagyang this year and that I didn’t completely miss it.
I visited Iloilo for the first time with my boyfriend, Jessie, who’s Ilonggo, so he was more than happy to join me for the tour. He hasn’t lived in Iloilo since he was 17, so he really wanted to get reacquainted with his hometown. Anthony, our awesome tour guide (comment or message me if you want to get his details and contact him for your own tour of Iloilo and Guimaras) picked us up from Amigo after lunch. (I just have to say, however, that the first thing I noticed about Iloilo is how beautiful and spacious their airport is!)
1. View from the rooftop of the New Iloilo City Hall
As we made our way down Calle Real, Muelle Loney, and Fort San Pedro (La Fuerza Real de Iloilo) in our car, Anthony pointed out historical spots, highlighting the restored glory of Ilonggo architecture and the remnants of the glorious Ilonggo past that they are slowly but surely bringing back, like the Cine Palace, now Regent Theater, which is the oldest theater in the Philippines; the first shopping center in the Philppines; and the Freedom Grandstand (which is their version of Manila’s Quirino Grandstand). I noticed how Iloilo City has a lot of wide roads and really nice sidewalks. Calle Real, in particular, has arcade-type sidewalks and is lined with old buildings that they hope to restore by 2016.
Jessie and I, wearing a Dinagyang headdress
Our first stop is the New Iloilo City Hall, reportedly the first green building in Visayas, with its eco-friendly systems, solar panels, and big windows. Iloilo representatives welcomed us and some of them took us on a quick tour. We got to visit the Iloilo City Gallery, which showcases the Ilonggos’ good governance and cultural excellence, highlighting the city’s awards, famed festivals, creative arts and crafts, and development projects. Jessie and I got to wear a Dinagyang headpiece here, too! (And that’s it for my Dinagyang experience for now.)
You can see Guimaras from the rooftop of the City Hall!
Plaza de Libertad
Then Anthony brought us to the rooftop of City Hall, where we got a 360-view of the city as well as a closer look at the Lin-ay of Iloilo: A statue of a lady with symbols for education in front (as Iloilo is the center of education in Central Visayas) and images of sugar cane, rice, and fish on the rest of the sides of her pedestal, showcasing the primary livelihood of Ilonggos. From there we also got a view of Plaza de Libertad, which was the last stand of the Spaniards, as well as the Iloilo River, which is the fourth cleanest urban river in the world (the world!) and the only one in Asia—next only to Australia, Russia, and Africa. Iloilo supposedly came from the word “irong-irong,” as the island is shaped like a nose (ilong). It can also be from “ilog-ilog,” as the water flows back and forth in the river (ilog).
2. Going around Museo Iloilo
Our next stop is Museo Iloilo, the first museum outside of Manila. Its gallery houses the works of 73 Ilonggo artists and religious and historical artifacts of the region, some dating back to Pre-Spanish era. It showcases a variety of modern and antique Ilonggo paintings, architecture, weaponry, and armory, as well as a mini library and photo gallery.
Map of the Philippines during the time of the Spanish occupation, found in Museo Iloilo.
3. Cruising down Millionaires’ Row of Jaro and Lizares Mansion
As we cruised down the streets of Iloilo City on the way to Jaro via La Paz district, Anthony pointed out some landmarks along the famous Millionaires’ Row of Jaro. We saw the grand and stately Nelly Garden, the home of one of the country’s richest families, the Lopezes. Along this famous row, there are other mansions and heritage houses like the Sanson-Montinola House and the Ledesma Mansion. Boasting of the same splendour is the Lizares Mansion in the outskirts of the plaza and now home to Angelicum School, run by the Dominicans. Anthony shared some ghost stories about the mansion that I would rather not share here (or even think about). It was made into a garrison by the Japanese during the war, but now, during Christmas, the regal mansion is turned into a spectacle of lights.
4. Exploring Casa Mariquit
Anthony took us to see the 200-year-old Casa Mariquit, the ancestral home of the wife of the former Vice President of the Philippines Fernando Lopez. It’s a beautiful house, but I must admit it is really eerie: from the bedroom that supposedly shows you the shadow of the lady of the house when you take a photo with flash; the prayer room with a strange magnetic pull; and the cold basement. (I’m a huge scaredy-cat, so I honestly don’t want to dwell on these things, but if you’re up for some thrill, I suggest you really take a tour of this place. Just thinking/writing about our visit gives me goosebumps and makes me jumpy.)
5. A visit to Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral, home of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria
For our next stop, we went to Jaro Plaza to see the 270-year-old Jaro Belfry that faces the Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral, home of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria (Our Lady of the Candles). When you’re here, make sure to light a candle and pray in front of Mary’s miraculous image. Folktale has it this statue of Mama Mary was found by fishermen in the Iloilo River but could not lift it because of its heavy weight. They were only able to do so when they decided to bring it to Jaro. Also, it didn’t use to be as big as it is now; it is said to grow over the years. It used to be inside the church, but it grew so large that they had to move it to the church’s balcony, where it is now.
Jaro Belfry in the background
6. A visit to St. Anne’s Parish Church in Molo, the Athens of the Philippines
From Jaro, we went to Molo, the Athens of the Philippines (because of all the educational institutions there during the Spanish times and because it produced a lot of great professionals, public officials, and justices), to visit another church, St. Anne’s Parish Church, called the all-women church of Iloilo, because of the life-size, all-female saints’ statues you’ll find in it. Built in 1831, it is said to be the most beautiful church in Western Visayas (I haven’t been to all provinces of Western Visayas, but I can tell you it IS pretty!), with its gothic renaissance design: red vault, pointed spires, two altars. This is also where women pray for Mr. Right, so this is definitely a must-visit for all the single ladies out there!
7. Pasalubong shopping
Anthony took us to Cafe Panay for some souvenir shopping, as it houses souvenir items from Iloilo and other Panay provinces as well as Guimaras. Here we also sampled the rich Tablea de Batirol, which was sweetened with muscovado sugar and a hint of mint, paired with Fried Ibos or sticky rice, which is not sweet on its own and makes it a great complement to the hot chocolate—a must-try! It did come with a mango puree dipping sauce, which we also enjoyed. Another must-visit place for getting pasalubong like the famous biscocho and butterscotch of Iloilo is Biscocho Haus, of course.
8. The famous La Paz Batchoy
What’s a trip to Iloilo without sampling the famous La Paz Batchoy where it came from? It originated from the public market, but Jessie took me to the dine-in branch of Ted’s Batchoy so we can sit down and enjoy a nice, quiet meal. I would have to say that savory bowl of noodles in a delicious and flavorful broth sure warmed and filled my tummy!
At Ted’s Batchoy
9. Hang out or dine in Plazuela de Iloilo
Plazuela houses several must-try restaurants, bars, and cafes, making it a great place to sample Ilonggo cuisine, have a few drinks, or just chill out at night while enjoying some entertainment. Jessie loves its sort of Vegas feel and lighting at night (which has a lot to do with this fountain, too, of course.)
By the fountain at Plazuela de Iloilo
There are A LOT of other things to see and experience in Iloilo that I haven’t listed here because, well, I haven’t had the chance to try them myself. But you can be sure you’ll read more about Iloilo on this blog! And when you do visit Iloilo and try the things on this list and more, please share your experience with me when you comment! I look forward to reading all about them, and getting ideas for my trip to Iloilo soon!