Iloilo

Iloilo is the chief city of the Visayan Islands. Visit its fine old buildings and churches influenced by a Spanish colonial heritage.

Iloilo is the chief city on the large Visayan island of Panay, and blends Spanish colonial heritage with that of the local Ilongo population. The city grew up around its port, which has been open to international shipping since 1855. Hearing of Iloilo’s ideal harbour, the Spanish conquistador Legazpi went there from Cebu in 1569 and made Iloilo his base for explorations northward to Manila.

Today the city of 418,000 people attracts visitors who come to see its fine old buildings in the historic downtown area, as well as several Catholic churches just outside the urban core. Much of the food, such as batchoy noodles, is distinctly local. The centrally located Smallville restaurant-bar district pulsates with nightlife, while giant malls sell just about anything you could possibly need.

January is a good time to visit as you'll be likely to catch one of three lively festivals, most notably the series of street dances and performances known as Dinagyang. A range of hotels, from coastal resort to in-town budget inn, gives travellers ample choices.

 

When to go

The Philippines is a year-round destination, but rain is least likely from December through April. The best festivals take place in the first half of the year.

Visa requirements

Singaporean nationals can visit any part of the Philippines visa-free for 30 days.

Money

The peso (P) is the monetary unit and there are 100 centavos to one peso. Currency exchange kiosks at the airport and at major banks accept Singapore currency. ATMs are open 24 hours and international credit cards are widely accepted. 

Transport

International flights to Iloilo are via Manila and Cebu. Iloilo Airport is about 19km (12 miles) from the city centre. Ferries from the city port reach Manila, Cebu, two points in Mindanao and two tourist hotspots: Boracay and Puerto Princesa. You can reach the centre of town by taxi or, more cheaply, by van. In town, taxis can be flagged down in the street or called for pickup.

Health and safety tips

Whilst crime has fallen in recent years, Iloilo is a nexus for drug running and the odd violent crime is still reported. Food sanitation is always questionable, so unless your stomach has a proven record for handling street food, eat in restaurants. For emergency medical help go to The Medical City-Iloilo on Locsin Street in the Tap-oc district (Tel: (63) 33 338 1505). 

Emergency details

The nearest embassy is in Manila at No. 505, Rizal Drive (corner of 5th Avenue), Bonifacio Global City, 1634 Taguig City (www.mfa.gov.sg/manila, tel: (632) 856 9922).
 

In an emergency, dial 166.

Basic greetings
English Filipino
Hello Helló
How are you? Kumustá kayó?
Fine, thanks Mabúti namán, salámat
Goodbye Paálam
Excuse-me! (to get attention) Mawaláng gálang nga pô!
Thank you Salámat
Yes Óo
No Hindî
How much? Magkáno?
What's your name? Anó ang inyóng pangálan?
My name is… …ang pangálan ko
Nice to meet you Ikinagágalák kong makilála kayó
Are you on Facebook/Twitter? Nasa Facebook/Twitter ka ba?
Where’s an internet café? Saán may ínternet café?
Where can I get a taxi? Saán akó makákabilí ng tíket?
Where is the bus/train station? Saán ang estasyón ng bus/tren?
A one-way/return ticket to… Isáng óne-way/round-trip tíket sa…
Do you have a room for one/two? Méron ba kayóng kuwárto pára sa isá/dalawá?
When's check out? Kailán ang check-out?
Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar? Pwéde ba kayóng magrékomendá ng magandáng réstorán/bar?
A table for two, please Mésa pára sa isá/dalawá, please
A menu, please Menú, please
The bill, please Ang bill, please
Where's the toilet? Saán ang CR?
Help! Saklólo!

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Arroyo Fountain

JM Basa Street rotunda

Philippine tourism authorities call the Arroya Fountain 'kilometer zero' for all of Panay Island. It serves as a convergence of major city streets, including the historic JM Basa Street (also known as Calle Real). Take a stroll along here to see older buildings and local people out shopping. The fountain is also in walking distance of the Freedom Grandstand, venue of the city’s Dinagyang Festival.

Fort San Pedro

San Pedro Drive, near domestic port

Originally constructed in 1616 with earthworks and wooden palisades, Fort San Pedro was transformed in 1738 into a stone enclosure. It is quadrilateral with a bastion at each corner, and at the time it was defended by 50 guns. In 1937, Fort San Pedro became the quarters for the Philippine Army. The barracks was eventually removed and the fort turned into a promenade area, and is now a popular gathering point in the early evening.

Museo ng Iloilo

Bonifacio Drive, beside Iloilo Provincial Capitol

The Museo ng Iloilo (Iloilo Museum; Mon–Fri 9am–5pm) showcases prehistoric artefacts from the many burial sites excavated on surrounding Panay Island, including gold-leaf masks for the dead, seashell jewellery, and other ornaments worn by pre-Spanish islanders. Also interesting is the cargo recovered from a British ship that sank off Guimaras Island in the 19th century. Victorian chinaware, port wine, and Glasgow beer are among the shipwreck’s treasures.

Smallville Entertainment District

Glicerio Pison Street area

A row of bars and restaurants near the Iloilo Business Hotel has mushroomed into a full-on F&B; complex that locals and visitors now consider a prime party spot. The Smallville Entertainment District is where you'll find a great choice of restaurants and cafés, clubs and hotels. Late-night clubbers could try the MO2 Resto-bar, Club21 or B Place.

Spanish churches

Pavia Municipality, Cabatuan Municipality

Several historic Spanish churches stand outside central Iloilo. They are testament to the regard that Spanish colonisers had for Iloilo as a religious and commercial centre for the region. Some 13km (18 miles) north of Iloilo lies the Renaissance-inspired Pavia Church, with red brick walls and window frames of coral rock. At Km 25 on the same road is Cabatuan Church, also of neoclassical style and built in the early 1880s. The neoclassical Santa Barbara Church, where locals first gathered to declare the revolution against the Spanish rulers, is also nearby.

Shop

Iloilo Scuba Dive Center

Guanco Street

The PADI-certified Iloilo Scuba Dive Center rents equipment for recreational diving in the Philippines and organises trips into the deep sea around Panay Island. Visitors can also get trained here to dive as well as snorkel, likewise drop in to have their equipment repaired. More interested in land adventures? This is also the place to ask.

Budget $$$

Rex Book Store

75 Barangay San Isidro, Lopez Jaena, Jaro

Part of a Manila-based nationwide chain, the Rex Book Store sells unique English-language titles on a range of topics. Rex, also a publisher, carries a huge range of books, including reference (especially law, education, tourism and business), plus glossy coffee-table books and a range of children's books.

Budget $$

Robinson Department Store

Ledesma de Leon Street

This link in a popular nationwide department store chain specialises in mainstream clothes for men, women, children and teens. Robinson’s fashionista bloggers will tell you online what’s hot. There’s also a good selection of homewares. Visit the adjacent Robinson’s Supermarket for an international food shopping experience.

Budget $$$

SM City Iloilo

Benigno Aquino Avenue

SM City Iloilo, part of a major national chain, is the biggest shopping mall in the western Visayan Islands. Shops in the giant indoor complex sell pretty much anything you might desire. After shopping, you could take in a movie, a game of 10-pin bowling or a whirl on the skating rink.

Budget $$

Dine

Afrique's

3 Valeria Street

Afrique's, an expanding homegrown restaurant, makes its own pizza as well as a Sicilian-style pasta, steaks, a mushroom cheeseburger and garlic parmesan wings, alongside its special homemade tomato sauce. Free Wi-fi available. This branch is one of five in Iloilo.

Budget $$

Bauhinia

The Avenue Complex, Smallville, Glicerio Pison Avenue

Bauhinia mixes its upscale dining environment with original recipes of traditional Filipino meals.  Consider the tuna kinilaw (marinated raw fish), a salmon-veggie soup and la pinay

Budget $$$

Breakthrough Restaurant

Santo Niño Sur

This coastal seafood restaurant with banquet halls and coastal views prepares grilled canlay, buttered garlic scallops and its own adobo dish. Breakthrough Restaurant started from scratch, hence its name, and now thrives on a massive landscaped complex that makes it  popular for catered events.

Budget $$$

Green Mango

Nelly’s Garden, SM City, Valeria Street, others

Green Mango is a locally owned Filipino fast food restaurant with a clean, modern dining ambience. Its five Iloilo locations serve typical local breakfasts, fried chicken and noodles such as pancit palabok. For dessert, there’s the colourful Fiesta Halo Halo ice dish. Prices are kept low to compete with the city’s other fast food operators.

Budget $

Ted's Oldtimer Lapaz Batchoy

Benigno Aquino Ave, Lungsod

Part of a small chain, Ted's serves batchoy, a Filipino noodle soup made with pork organs, pork cracklings and beef loin. Noodle soups are common throughout Asia, but this recipe comes from Iloilo. Ted’s is one of the more commercialized batchoy spots.

Budget $$

Stay

Circle Inn Hotel & Suites

Iznart Street, Maria Clara

Travellers stay at the Circle Inn for its bright lighting and sea views. Nightly rates for basic rooms start at P1,080. Hotel amenities include parking, an outdoor swimming pool and shuttle service to or from the Iloilo airport.

Budget $$

Iloilo Business Hotel

Glicerio Pison Street, corner Benigno Aquino Avenue

This modern, well-appointed hotel in the Smallville entertainment district has 60 non-smoking rooms, with air-con, Wi-fi and 32-inch TVs. As you would expect, Iloilo Business Hotel features conference space for business travellers. A restaurant and bar is also on the premises. Another unusual perk is the massage service.

Budget $$$

Ong Bun Pension House

Ong Bun Building, near Quezon-Ledesma intersection

Centrally located with Wi-fi throughout the premises, the Ong Bun Pension House is super-budget. Tiny fan-equipped rooms start from P150 per night. A deluxe air-con room goes for as high as P720. Get your Filipino rice, sausage and egg breakfast at the fourth-floor resto-bar. There’s 24-hour security and a backup generator in case of power outages.

Budget $

Riverside Inn

Times Square Building, General Luna Street

This central hotel offers five types of rooms for P695–1,675 per night. All rooms are air-conditioned and have cable TV. There’s 24-hour security and hot showers. The Riverside Inn also rents out university dorm rooms at rates starting from P7,500 per month for longer stays.

Budget $

Sarabia Manor Hotel and Convention Center

101 General Luna Street

A pool, eight restaurants and ten conference venues are among the facilities at the Sarabia Manor Hotel and Convention Center. Nightly rates for the 187 air-conditioned rooms range from P825 to P6,990. Restaurants serve Japanese, American, Italian and Korean food. There’s also an executive KTV bar. Sarabia Manor exchanges foreign currency and arranges rides to the airport.

Budget $$

Binanog Festival

Second week of January

The Municipality of Lambunao gets up and dances to celebrate the origins of its local culture and, as in much of the country, to honour the Santo Niño.  Courtship dancing depicts the movement of a bird called the banog.  A food fair and sporting contests are all part of the fun.


Carabao Carroza Race

3 May

Every year in the town of Pavia, cow-like carabaos race one another to entertain human spectators. The event highlight is a 400-metre race where carabaos pull carrozas, colourfully festooned carts.


Dinagyang Festival

24-26 January

Iloilo's most famous festival is a colourful blend of religious ceremonies, a parade, drumming and the coronation of a Dinagyang queen. Dances by participating tribes distinguish this event from others like it around the country in January. Book well in advance if you want a hotel room with a balcony.


Fireworks display and contest

Date varies in January

If you like fireworks, you'll love this! Fireworks makers and designers compete to fill the night sky with blinding flashes and deafening bangs every year in Arevalo, part of Iloilo. Prizes go to the loudest fireworks, to those that shoot off balls or stars of fire or that simply explode highest in the air. The event isn't just about entertainment: it's also a way to ward off bad luck.


Katagman Festival

28 April

This weeklong event in Oton plays up cultural themes related to the town’s history as far back as the 13th century. The celebration features an agricultural trade and garden show and a food festival along with the appearance of a replica of a golden mask found in 1973. Also check out the sand-sculpting contest and motorboat race at Flores Beach.


Salakayan Festival

First week of February

Salakayan events in the town of Miag-ao showcase its top food, including pastries, along with other farm products. There's plenty more to enjoy, including a trade fair, a fashion show and a photo exhibit of the town’s culture and history, plus live performance art and sports competitions. One highlight of the weeklong event: a parade depicting an old battle between Muslim pirates and the local tribes. A festival queen is crowned on the last day.


Culture

Iloilo blends a local indigenous culture, that of people known as Ilongos, with the profound influence of Spanish colonists. A careful look at the city and its environs reveals both sides.

 

To get a feel for Ilongo culture, stop by the Iloilo Museum on Bonifacio Drive for a look at prehistoric artefacts from around Panay Island, such as seashell jewellery, gold-leaf masks for the dead and other ornaments worn by pre-Spanish islanders. If you're in town in the first half of the year, particularly January, the Dinagyang Festival or Binanog Festival will give you a vivid insight onto the past and present of the local people.

 

For a locals’ lunch, try Ted's Oldtimer Lapaz Batchoy for the pork noodle dish that by all accounts originated around Iloilo. 

 

Turning to Spain in the afternoon, take a jeepney or taxi north of town to see several historic churches, elegant symbols of the Spanish colonial years. Some 13km (18 miles) north of Iloilo stands the Renaissance-inspired Pavia Church, with red brick walls and window frames made from coral rock. Cabatuan Church appears near kilometre marker 25. It’s also of neoclassical style and was built in the early 1880s.

 

Finish your day with a stroll along Calle Real, a nickname for JM Basa Street and its surroundings. Here you'll discover old low-rise European and American-style architecture such as the Cine Palace, Masonic Temple, Lacson Ancestral House and the Iglesia de San Jose de Placer.

Places to visit:
Iloilo Museum, Ted's Oldtimer Lapaz Batchoy, Pavia Church, Cabatuan Church, Calle Real.

Foodie

Spend the later part of a day, perhaps far into the night, in the Iloilo bar and restaurant quarter known informally as Smallville. This district along Glicerio Pison Street that began with a small restaurant-bar complex has grown to a nightlife hub for locals as well as travellers.

 

Start with dinner in one of Smallville’s mall-like clusters such as the Avenue Complex, Riverside Boardwalk or the MO2 Complex. Many of the restaurants have a modern ambience with outdoor seating. Smallville’s premier Filipino food restaurant is the Bauhinia. American-style eats are served at the likes of Bourbon Street and the Mohave Grill and Steakhouse. For an after-dinner boost, try a brew at Coffee Break or something sugary from Nothing But Desserts.

 

Later, if you're still wide awake, try KTV at MO2 Annex or Smallville21. Go for more drinks at B Place, G Lounge or Club 21, or there's drinks and dancing at MO2 Ice. If you're on a budget, get beers instead at Go Mart or Tuki, which are stores with tables out front. For a nautical motif, stop by at the Shipwreck Restaurant and Pirates Bar, where the hull of a wooden ship dominates the façade. If you're in the mood for some live music, proceed to JAQ’s. The club’s band plays rock music nightly.

 

For a low-key end to your evening, head to a bar in one of Smallville's hotels. Try the Smallville 21 Hotel on Boardwalk Avenue or the Iloilo Business Hotel, one of the district’s original institutions.

Places to visit:
Smallville restaurants and bars