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.
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.
Singaporean nationals can visit any part of the Philippines visa-free for 30 days.
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.
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.
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).
|How are you?||Kumustá kayó?|
|Fine, thanks||Mabúti namán, salámat|
|Excuse-me! (to get attention)||Mawaláng gálang nga pô!|
|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?|
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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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Iloilo Museum, Ted's Oldtimer Lapaz Batchoy, Pavia Church, Cabatuan Church, Calle Real.
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.
Smallville restaurants and bars