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Perhaps one of the most underrated destinations in the Philippines, Iloilo City beckons history lovers and foodies alike. A small city with a college-town charm, Iloilo provides a great contrast to busy urban destinations in the country. But what to do when in Iloilo? Here are just some options.
With its deep Catholic faith intertwined with its Spanish colonial past, colonial churches have become key attractions and landmarks in many areas in the Philippines. Iloilo is home to Jaro Cathedral, with its detached belfry and the Gothic Saint Anne Church in Molo, famous for its all-women saint statues.
The sugar industry gave rise to more wealthy families in Iloilo and, in turn, built homes that outlived generations and survived WWII. Impressively, many of these grand ancestral homes are still owned by the families, and it’s hard not to give a second look at them when you get a chance to pass by. Of the many mansions in Iloilo, visitors can visit Casa Mariquit and Nelly Garden and learn about the lifestyles of Iloilo’s elite. Most of these mansions, like Villa Lizares and the Antillan House, are located in Iloilo’s Jaro district, a rich residential enclave back in the day.
Iloilo may be a heritage city but Illoilo Business Park brings the future in the city. Built on what used to be former local airport of the Iloilo (its main street used to be the airport runway), Iloilo Business Park is developing the city’s condominium buildings, offices, mall, and a wide array of restaurants.
From local flavors to international dishes, enjoy dining in Iloilo’s top restaurants. Must-tries when in Iloilo includes batchoy, molo soup, and seafood. Local restaurants offer modern takes on local dishes and offer relaxing views and ambiance. The best part of dining in Iloilo is that eating out in this city won’t wear out your pockets.
After giving in to your glutton side with Iloilo’s sumptuous and affordable food, you’ll enjoy the Esplanade. Running along the Iloilo River, the first Esplanade spans three quarters of a mile, and, with its success as an urban open space, it has been extended to reach near its port area. At the other side, Esplanade 2 was also built. With its brick pathways, enjoy walking or jogging along the placid Iloilo River.
Though not as grand as the other mansions in the city, Camiña Balay na Bato (Camiña Family’s Stone House) let its visitors experience what it’s like to live in a traditional Filipino trader’s home with its sliding capiz windows, tiled floors, and local Filipino decor. Camiña Balay na Bato provides a short video of the history of the house and a quick tour that ends with a nice serving of local biscuits and a small cup of tskolate ( chocolate) — the right way is to dip the biscuits into the chocolate first and drink what’s left of the chocolate. The in-house shop lets visitors shops for products like antique pieces and local fabrics.
Because Philippines is known for its white-sand beaches, hop on a motorboat to the island of Guimaras. This small island province is home to one of the country’s many off-the-beaten path beaches . Head to Alobijod Cove and enjoy this small white-sand beach or go island hopping. Before going back to Iloilo, drop by at Trappist Monastery for mango products like dried mangoes and jellies.
For those who have more time, travel 2 hours to the northern towns and enjoy Iloilo’s best beaches. The islands in Ajuy and Concepcion provides a castaway experience. Visit the mystical Isla Gigantes “Islands of the Giants,” with its saltwater lagoon called Tangke (Tank) and unlimited scallops.
Most visitors who want to enjoy out-of-town excursions travel south of the city. An hour away from Iloilo is the town of Miag-ao, home to a UNESCO heritage church. This Baroque-style church, made of limestone, has an impressive facade of St. Christopher carrying baby Jesus on his back. Its intricate details, like the papaya tree, makes Miag-ao Church one of the most beautiful churches in the Philippines.
After a day or two enjoying what the city and its neighbors has to offer, rejuvenate your tired body with a soothing gayuma massage from Spa Riviera, Iloilo’s premier spa serving locals and tourists for the past 17 years. Gayuma means, “love potion,” but don’t worry, the only potion they include is relaxation.
A unique Filipino culture, buy your pasalubong or souvenir gifts at Molo Mansion fronting Molo Church. One of the restored and preserved mansions in the city, it has been converted into a souvenir shop where visitors can buy not just Iloilo souvenirs but Filipino crafts and other items like pearls and even local cigar. After shopping, try the blue ice cream (made from blue ternate flowers) sold within the Mansion premises.