Iloilo City: Travel Tips When Visiting The City of Love
Out of all the cities I've visited in the Philippines, Iloilo City has got to be one of my favorites so far. Well for obvious reasons, it's a huge city but they still keep that laid back, small town vibe. There are several modern establishments already but they preserve their heritage sites very well. These are some of the reasons why I booked those promo plane tickets last year.
Iloilo City is located in the Panay Island which is on the western side of Visayas (source). Every January, they celebrate one of the country's biggest and colorful festivals, the Dinagyang Festival. The locals are called "Ilonggos" and they speak Hiligaynon or commonly knownd as simply Ilonggo. And most of the locals that I've met during my visit were friendly.
The city is also a gateway to several of the Philippine's best beaches. You can take a bus or van from Iloilo City, ride a ferry, and you'll reach Boracay Island already. If Boracay isn't your pick, you can ride a bus or van to Isla de Gigantes or ride a boat from the Ortiz Wharf in Iloilo City and you'll reach Guimaras Island.
So if you're thinking of visiting a different city that oozes both a modern and "chill" vibe or you simply want a good place to go for a side trip (if you're heading to one of those beautiful beaches mentioned above), Iloilo City is your place.
How To Get There
There are direct flights from other major cities in the Philippines offered by both Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines. Keep an eye out for those coveted promo fares! If you're flying from a different country, Manila or Cebu is probably going to be your jump-off point. It's best to check out sites like Skyscanner or Rome2Rio to find out what are the cheapest and fastest routes you can take.
If you're travelling from neighboring places like Bacolod City or Cebu City, you can ride a ship to Iloilo. Transasia and Cokaliong Shipping Lines offer trips to the City of Love from selected places in the country like Cebu, Bacolod, Cagayan de Oro, and I think even from Dumaguete or Dapitan City. Check out their websites for the latest rates and schedules.
For me and my siblings, we flew from Cebu City. It was a promo roundtrip fare that I booked last year as a treat to them. It was good route for us because we were able to visit some of our relatives in Cebu before flying out to Iloilo.
Where To Stay
Depending on your budget, there are tons of options on where to stay in the city. If you're in Iloilo not just for exploring but for a complete rest and relaxation, hotels like the Sheridan Boutique Resort and Anhawan Beach Resort and Spa are places you can try.
Do you need to stick to a budget? No worries because there are places like Harbor Town Hotel, GO Hotel, and Amigo Terrace Hotel that won't hurt your wallet so much. Be sure to read reviews, research their rates, and contact them. Also, secure a booking in advance! Don't be too confident like us haha.
When we arrived in Iloilo City, we took a taxi from the airport (wrong move since there are vans that offer fares from 200 to 150 pesos per person - much cheaper than a 450-peso fixed fare for the taxi) to the GO Hotel in Robinsons Iloilo. I didn't book a room there in advance because I was too confident that there won't be a lot of tourists staying there. Turns out, they were fully booked and we had to ask two other hotels if they have vacancies before we settled with Iloilo Midtown Hotel. It's another hotel you can check if you want to stay in the city center. They have spacious rooms and a stable wifi (I was able to work with their wifi 😉).
What To Do
Tour around heritage sites
As I've said before, Iloilo City has tons of well-preserved heritage sites. Places like Casa Mariquit, the Molo Mansion, Lizares Mansion, and the Nelly Garden are something you wouldn't want to miss. The Camina Balay na Bato is also a beautiful heritage house that has been converted into a museum and a cafe. Cap your tour around the house by indulging in some tsokolate batirol!
Visit the old churches
Iloilo boasts many different churches. Some of them are already century old and are still well taken care of by the government. In the city alone, there are about 4 of them that you can visit. The Jaro Cathedral and the St. Anne's Parish (Molo Church) are must-visits. You can also see the San Jose Placer Parish Church and the Our Lady of Fatima Parish Church — both beautiful churches.
If we stayed in the city longer, we could've gone to the Miag-Ao Church and the Guimbal Church but they are located outside the city and required a long travel time. For a complete list of churches that you can visit, head on to this site: IloiloGov.ph
Check out other hard-to-miss spots
If touring heritage sites and visiting old churches aren't your thing or you want to see and experience more, take a cab or jeepney to see Calle Real, the "Escolta of Iloilo" (source). Photographers will love the place because you can take amazing street shots with old colonial buildings. Other places you can visit are Plazuela de Iloilo, Madge Cafe (if you're up for coffee poured and prepared in a traditional way), Museo Iloilo, Iloilo River Esplanade, and Casa Real (Provincial Capitol of Iloilo).
End the day of exploring with a bowl of batchoy that will warm not only your tummy but also your soul haha. Ted's Oldtimer Lapaz Batchoy is a popular restaurant to go to but there are other places that serve them too. They're almost everywhere! If you're visiting the Madge Cafe inside the La Paz Public Market, enjoy a bowl of batchoy while you're there. "Eating Lapaz Batchoy in La Paz" — awesome!
Go on a side trip to Guimaras Island
Guimaras Island is literally 15-20 minutes away from Iloilo City. Set aside a morning or even a day in your trip to see what the island has to offer. From the Ortiz Wharf in Iloilo City, secure a boat ticket for only 15 pesos per person. There are a lot of motorized bancas leaving and coming back like they were jeepneys! The trips run daily from (I think) 5AM until 6PM. From the wharf, the drop-off point in Guimaras is in the municipality of Jordan. There's also a small port in the municipality of Buenavista. Head to the Parola Wharf in Iloilo City and there'll be tons of boats going to Buenavista (Thanks Michael for clearing this up! :D)
To get around the island, you can ride a jeepney or hire a tricycle to take you to the tourist spots for 1000 pesos. We did this instead of riding a jeep because the tricycle driver that we hired said we could go to the spots, stop by Alubihod beach for a quick swim and lunch, and then go back to the port in Jordan. It was already a reasonable price because when we went to the Guisi Lighthouse, the travel time took like 45 minutes to an hour. It was that far.
Aside from the Guisi Lighthouse, you can go to the Smallest Plaza, the Museo de Guimaras, and the Trappist Monastery (check out this list by TripZilla for more deets!). After exploring some of the spots on the island, head to Alubihod Beach to get sunkissed even more! There are several beach resorts in Alubihod but the one we went to was Raymen Beach Resort. The seaside was clean and the water was a beautiful hue of blue. You can hop to neighboring islands and islets like the Turtle Island, Ave Maria Islet, and Fairy Castle. Most of the beach resorts offer island hopping tours.
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To sum it up, our weekend stay in Iloilo City was nothing short of awesome. Never have I been so in awe of a big city that maintains the cleanliness and orderliness of the place. I'll be coming back for sure because I haven't been to the other heritage sites and churches. Maybe I'll bump into one of you there soon? Hehe. I hope this guide will help you plan your trip to the City of Love! 😍