Tourism and economy in Iloilo City are on the rise, and the city is now touted as a force to be reckoned with in the business and leisure sectors of not just the Western Visayas region but the entire Philippines.
There are a lot of exciting things in store for the fast-growing city, with new establishments opening left and right. The beautiful, modern, and spacious airport alone—arguably the best provincial airport in the country—will impress you upon arrival. Iloilo City has a lot of wide roads and really nice sidewalks.
But before it was even considered a fast-developing cosmopolitan, it’s known for being a richly historical and cultural place. Here are some of the spots, both old and new, that you must experience when you visit the city. Read on for our suggestions for where to eat and stay when in Iloilo.
Public transport and taxis abound in Iloilo City. If you have the Grab mobile app, their GrabTaxi service is available in Iloilo.
WHERE TO GO
1. “Old Iloilo”
Calle Real, Muelle Loney, and Fort San Pedro make up the “Old Iloilo,” which was the center of activity in Iloilo City back in the day and continues to be a busy area for the locals. Calle Real is characterized by arcade-type sidewalks lined with old buildings the city hopes to restore soon. Rich with historical spots, highlights of “Old Iloilo” include the restored glory of Ilonggo architecture and the remnants of the glorious Ilonggo past that they are slowly but surely bringing back. There’s the Cine Palace, now Regent Theater, which is the oldest theater in the Philippines; the first shopping center in the Philippines; and the Freedom Grandstand, which is the center of the annual Dinagyang Festival activities.
2. The rooftop of the New Iloilo City Hall and Plaza Libertad
Reportedly the first green building in Visayas, the New Iloilo City Hall boasts of eco-friendly systems, solar panels, and big windows. Visitors are welcome to go on a quick tour, starting with 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. Take a pic wearing a Dinagyang headpiece here!
Then you can go up to the rooftop of City Hall, where you’ll get 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 Western 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 here you can also view Plaza de Libertad, which was the last stand of the Spaniards.
3. Museo Iloilo
Museo Iloilo is reportedly 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-Hispanic era. It showcases a variety of modern and antique Ilonggo paintings, architecture, weaponry, and armory, as well as a mini library and photo gallery.
4. Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art (ILOMOCA)
Located at Casa de Emperador Building of Festive Walk Parade in Iloilo Business Park, Mandurriao, Iloilo City, this newly opened three-storey museum with 3,000sqm of space features five exhibit rooms and a merchandise shop. The first floor houses The Hulot Exhibit, dedicated to exhibitions of local and international artists. On the second level is The Gallery, which is allocated for rotating shows, like exhibits highlighting the Ilonggo art scene, Filipino sculpture, and influential international artists. Located on the third floor is the Adoracion Valencia Gallery which features the personal collection of ILOMOCA’s primary donor, Edwin Valencia, named after his mother who influenced his love for the arts. Besides the spaces devoted to visual arts, ILOMOCA also has a space for performance art, theater productions, and workshops, called The Box, a blackbox theater that can accommodate up to 60 people.
ILOMOCA is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10AM to 7PM. Admission is P100 for regular visitors, P80 for seniors, and P50 for students.
5. Casa Mariquit
Besides museums, you can learn about history, urban legends, and pretty much how rich Ilonggos lived back in the day by visiting old mansions like 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 what usually attracts visitors to it is its eerie vibe. If you’re up for some thrill, take a tour of this place and look for the photos whose subjects’ eyes follow you wherever you are in the room, 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 chilly basement.
6. Millionaires’ Row of Jaro and Lizares Mansion
Iloilo City boasts of a lot of old mansions similar to Casa Mariquit, although not all are open to the public. Some are no longer inhabited, a number have been turned into museums, restaurants, or souvenir shops, while others have been turned into schools. A lot of these mansions and heritage houses are now considered landmarks along the famous Millionaires’ Row of Jaro.
One of them is the grand and stately Nelly Garden, the home of one of the country’s richest families, the Lopezes. It’s open to visitors, provided a reservation was made in advance. Another is the Sanson-Montinola House and the Ledesma Mansion. Boasting of the same splendor is the Lizares Mansion in the outskirts of the plaza and now home to Angelicum School, run by the Dominicans. The latter is also plagued with urban legends and ghost stories that locals like to tell visitors for a scare, primarily because it was made into a garrison by the Japanese during the war.
7. Jaro Cathedral, home of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria
Jaro Plaza is marked by the 270-year-old Jaro Belfry that faces the Jaro Cathedral, home of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria (Our Lady of the Candles). Folktale has it this miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary was found by fishermen in the Iloilo River but they 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 reportedly used to be inside the cathedral, but it grew so large that they had to move it to the cathedral’s balcony, where you will now find it.
8. St. Anne’s Parish Church in Molo
Molo was dubbed 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. Visitors come here to see another famous church in Iloilo, 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 with its gothic renaissance design: red vault, pointed spires, and two altars. This is also supposedly where women pray for Mr. Right, so it’s a must-visit for single ladies looking for a partner.
9. Iloilo River Esplanade & Riverside Boardwalk
Ilonggos are proud of this new spot in the city, frequented by visitors and locals alike: a landscaped path that goes around a portion of the Iloilo River that’s great for walking, jogging, and public recreation, witch a great view of the river and mangroves at the riverbank. The Iloilo River is reportedly the fourth cleanest urban river in the world and the only one in Asia—next only to Australia, Russia, and Africa.
There are several other activities you can try in the vicinity of the Iloilo River Esplanade, like the pedal boat that takes you around a portion of the river. There’s also Jetlag by the Play Hub, the first indoor trampoline and indoor play park with function rooms, located beside Avana Garden Cafe, where adults can sit back and enjoy delicious food and drinks while the kids play.
WHERE TO STAY
Courtyard By Marriott Iloilo
Megaworld Boulevard, Iloilo Business Park, Mandurriao, Iloilo City
Call (033) 330-7600
Whether traveling for business or pleasure, the newly opened Courtyard By Marriott Iloilo offers guests access to the city’s top tourist destinations and best commercial and business areas. The 326-room hotel is owned by Megaworld Corporation and managed by Marriott International. It’s the first international hotel brand in Western Visayas. The 15-story hotel features an outdoor swimming pool with a grill and pool bar, an Executive Lounge, the in-house restaurant Runway Kitchen, a lobby bar, and an innovative lobby space.
Richmonde Hotel Iloilo
Megaworld Boulevard cor. Enterprise Road, Iloilo Business Park, Mandurriao, Iloilo City
Call (033) 328-7888 or email email@example.com
The 149-room Richmonde Hotel Iloilo boasts of elegant interiors, modern conveniences, and proximity to BPO buildings, posh shopping complexes, and a world-class convention center. It is the first of its kind in Iloilo City to provide discriminating travelers quality service and facilities that can rival those of deluxe brands at more affordable rates.
The hotel’s lobby, guest rooms, restaurant outlets, and other public areas were designed by Getty’s, an internationally renowned design company of popular 5-star hospitality brands. The well-appointed and spacious guest rooms come complete with first-class amenities and 24-hour auxiliary services. Satisfying gastronomic cravings and entertainment requisites of in-house guests and Ilonggos are the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant, The Granary, and its lounge, BizBar, both located at the lobby level. The hotel also has a well-equipped Fitness Center and outdoor swimming pool.
Injap Tower Hotel
West Diversion Road, Mandurriao, Iloilo
Call (033) 330-7111
Situated right across one of the biggest malls in Iloilo, SM City, Injap Tower Hotel’s location is one of the best since it’s close to all the conveniences you need. It’s also within walking distance to one of the city landmarks, Plazuela de Iloilo, which houses several must-try restaurants and shops. It boasts of spectacular views of Iloilo City, be it from your room, the penthouse-level restaurant, or the pool deck, which offers an almost 360-degree look at the surrounding neighborhood. The hotel also has an in-house spa and gym.
The rooms aren’t big, but they are cozy and make good use of the space—fitting a HUGE flat-screen TV and two beds (one single and one twin-size bed). Their bright and clean rooms are equipped with all the basics you need for a comfortable stay in the city, from an oven to a water heater for making coffee, a mini refrigerator, a desk, safe, ample closet space, and complete toiletries.
Amigo Terrace Hotel
Iznart corner Delgado Streets, Iloilo City
Contact (033) 335-0908, Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Located in the heart of the city, the Amigo Terrace Hotel was recently renovated to get a chic look and feel. It’s just a few steps away from Iloilo’s homegrown shops and restaurants and tourist spots listed here, especially Old Iloilo.
San Rafael, Mandurriao, Iloilo City
Contact: (033) 506-8888, Email: email@example.com
Situated at Atria Park District, right by the shopping center that boasts of shops, restaurants, cafes, and even a large supermarket (Metro), this modern hotel is a top choice for business and family trips. Smallville, Iloilo City’s popular night spot that draws locals and tourists alike even on weeknights, is a short walk away.
WHERE TO EAT
A trip to Iloilo will not be complete without sampling the famous La Paz Batchoy where it came from: the public market. If you’re not up for some gastronomic adventure among stalls selling raw meet and vegetables, there are several restaurants around the city offering this warm savory noodle dish with a delicious and flavorful broth, like Ted’s Batchoy, Deco’s, and Netong’s, where you can sit down and enjoy a nice, quiet meal.
Cafe Panay at Festive Walk Parade in Iloilo Business Park is known not just for their Ilonggo delicacy offerings but as a great spot for some souvenir shopping, as it houses souvenir items from Iloilo and other Panay provinces as well as Guimaras. Try the rich Tablea de Batirol, sweetened with muscovado sugar, paired with Fried Ibos or sticky rice, which is not sweet on its own and makes a great complement to the hot chocolate. It also comes with a mango puree dipping sauce.
Another must-visit place for local delicacies like the famous biscocho, pinasugbo, barquillos, and butterscotch of Iloilo is Biscocho Haus, which has various branches across the city.
For other great restaurants offering local and international cuisine around Iloilo City, visit our previous story here [ADD LINK TO ILOILO RESTAURANTS ARTICLE].