Spend a weekend and go back in time in Iloilo City. Immerse yourself in its rich historical past, its days when it was once called the “Queen City of the South.” Experience the well-kept heritage of the city’s illustrious and charming years. Awaken your taste buds to savor the bold and rich flavors of authentic Ilonggo cuisine.
Here’s a suggested itinerary:
Day 1 (Friday night): Unwind and indulge
Feast on big meals at the restaurants in Plazuela
Have your pick among Steps of Rome, Red Corner, Hamada Japanese Restaurant, Ponsyon by Breakthrough, and Maridel’s Cake Shop, which are conveniently located inside a Spanish-Italian inspired building. With its number of food options, beautiful architecture and colorful gardens, Plazuela De Iloilo is a great place to begin your experience of the city.
Getting There: Plazuela is situated beside SM Mandurriao. You can easily hail a cab and ask them to take you to Plazuela. Another alternative is to take the jeepney (fare is P8 or US $.18). Look for those with the signage “SM City Mandurriao” and tell the driver to drop you off at Plazuela.
Stroll along the Iloilo Esplanade
Stretching from Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. Avenue (Diversion Road) to the Carpenter’s Bridge, the 1.2 kilometer esplanade overlooking the Iloilo River is perfect for an evening stroll. Intentionally designed to be a linear park, the Esplanade is lined with palms, vibrant flowers, shrubs, and vines.
Getting There: You can ride a jeepney marked “SM City Mandurriao” and tell the driver to drop you at Iloilo Esplanade. If coming from Tabucan side, take a “Molo Mandurriao” jeepney and head over to the opposite end of Esplanade, in front of Zyron’s.
Day 2: Tour the beautiful city and admire the beautiful architecture
Be amazed by Miag-ao Church’s artistry and history
Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993, the Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church (Miag-ao Church) is known for its very visible and artistically carved sculptures on its facade. Completed in 1797, the Roman Catholic parish once served as a fortress against Muslim raiders.
The church is one of the only four UNESCO World Heritage-recognized Baroque Spanish-era Churches in the country. The others are San Agustin Church in Manila, Nuestra Senñora de la Asuncion Church in Ilocos Sur, and San Agustin Church in Ilocos Norte.
Getting There: The town of Miag-ao is a few kilometers away from San Joaquin, the last municipality of Iloilo Province. From San Joaquin, you can take a “San Joaquin” jeepney (going back to the city) and tell the driver that you’re headed to Miag-ao Church. Fare is P15 (US $.33). You will be dropped off at the church grounds. Alternatively, if coming from the city, you can ride a “Miag-ao” jeepney from the Mohon Terminal.
Tip: To make the south countryside trip worth your while, you have the option to go to the farthest municipality (San Joaquin) and make a few stops on the churches on your way back to Iloilo City. San Joaquin, Miag-ao, Guimbal, Tigbauan, Oton, Villa, and Molo, respectively.
Marvel at San Joaquin Church and Campo Santo de San Joaquin
Intricately carved on the facade of the Church of San Joaquin (1869) is a military-themed sculpture depicting the victory of the Spaniards over the Moroccans during the Battle of Tetuan. The main church in the small town of San Joaquin is listed by the National Historical Institute as a National Cultural Treasure.
Meanwhile, the San Joaquin Cemetery is just along the main highway. It is famous for its Baroque-designed mortuary chapel standing in the middle of the cemetery.
Getting There: The town of San Joaquin is around 45 minutes away from the city. You can take a “San Joaquin” jeepney from the Mohon Terminal. Tell the conductor that you’ll be dropped off at the Campo Santo. From there, you can walk to the San Joaquin Church which is just a block away. Jeepney fare is P50 (US $1.11). Alternatively, you can ride a van or bus from Molo Terminal. Fare ranges from P50-70 (US $1.56).
Stand in awe at the Church of Guimbal
Over a century-old Spanish colonial church made of yellow-colored limestone blocks and coral stones, the St. Nicholas of Tolentino Parish (Guimbal Church) is one of the oldest churches in the country.
Getting There: Take the Miag-ao to Guimbal jeepney and get off at Guimbal Plaza.
Check out Tigbauan Church’s carvings
Built in 1575, the San Juan Sahagun Parish (Tigbauan Church) is known for its elaborate stone carvings on its facade, decorated with florals and cherubs facing the plaza.
Getting There: Follow the Guimbal to Tigbauan jeepney route and get off at the plaza.
Visit the third oldest Sto. Niño in the Philippines in Villa
Said to have been brought by the Augustinians during the establishment of La Villa Rica de Arevalo in 1581, the image of Sto. Niño de Arevalo is considered the third oldest in the Philippines.
Getting There: Take the Tigbauan-Villa route and go to the Arevalo Plaza
Admire Molo Church’s beauty
The St. Anne Parish Church in Molo is the only Gothic church in the country that is outside Manila. Built in 1831, Molo Church is considered to be one of the most attractive churches in the whole Philippines because of its impressive design and interiors. In 1992, the National Historical Institute declared the church a national landmark.
Getting There: From the city proper, you can hail a cab going to St. Anne Parish Church or take a “Molo” or “Villa” jeepney. Request to be dropped off at the plaza of Molo.
Discover Ilonggo roots at Museo de Iloilo
Iloilo and Panay’s rich culture and history are well-preserved in Museo de Iloilo. Built in 1971, the museum is home to Panay’s cultural artifacts like weapons and armors used in the 1800s.
Located along Bonifacio Drive, sandwiched between the Region VI Department of Tourism Office and the new Iloilo Provincial Capitol Building, Museo de Iloilo is open every day (Monday to Saturday at 9am-5pm and Sunday at 10am-6pm). Admission fee is P15 (US $.33) for students and P50 (US $1.11) for adults.
Getting There: “Jaro CPU” and “Jaro Liko” jeepneys pass by Museo de Iloilo.
Jaro Cathedral and Belfry
The Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria church (Jaro Cathedral) is a historical landmark declared in 1976 by the National Historical Institute. Built in 1874, the church now holds the image of the Lady of Candles, known to be the Western Visayas’ Patroness carrying a child in her left hand and a candle on her right, in its facade.
The cathedral is where Filipino journalist, Graciano Lopez Jaena, known as the editor of La Solidaridad, was baptized.
Getting There: Ride a “Jaro CPU” or “Jaro Liko” jeepney and request to be dropped off at Jaro Plaza or in front of the cathedral.
Visit Casa Mariquit
A 200-year-old red brick house behind the huge balete tree brings back that Spanish charm as Casa Mariquit remains an epitome of Jaro’s rich culture and history.
The humble stone and wood mansion is now a museum for everyone to experience Iloilo’s heritage. Entrance fee is at P50 (US $1.11).
Getting There: Casa Mariquit in Democracia, Jaro, is situated behind the Shell gasoline station across the PRC building. From the Jaro Plaza, you may consider walking as it is only a block away.
A blend of American and Spanish architecture, the Lizares Mansion is still considered to be one of the most elegant structures in the city of Iloilo. The mansion was built in 1937 and during the Second World War, the place became a Japanese army headquarter.
Getting There: From Jaro Plaza, ride a “Tabuc Suba” jeepney along Andok’s and get off at Angelicum School.
Saturday night life at Smallville
Whether to relax or to party, the Smallville complex is the place to be during weekends. An array of restaurant options to choose from, coffee shops, and dance clubs will liven up your night after a full day of Iloilo history and architecture immersion.
Getting There: Ride any “SM Mandurriao” jeepney and get off at Smallville Complex.
Day 3 (Sunday): WALK AND TRAVEL BACK IN TIME
Be captivated by Calle Real
Already declared a heritage site, the Downtown Iloilo City Heritage District is where you will find old buildings that were built during the Commonwealth Era along J.M. Basa St., Iznart St., Aldeguer St., and Guanco St.
Calle Real (formerly known as J.M. Basa St.) is also called “Escolta,” similar to the historic street of commerce in Manila’s Escolta. Dubbed the “Royal Street,” Calle Real stretches from Plaza Libertad going to the Plazoleta Gay and Iloilo Provincial Capitol, and going to the city’s elite residences.
Getting There: Ride any “Jaro Liko” or “Jaro CPU” jeepney and get off anywhere along J.M. Basa St. Calle Real is best enjoyed by walking.
Unveil the secrets of Plaza Libertad
During the surrender of Gen. Diego de los Rios to the troops of Gen. Martin Delgado in 1898 marked the end of the 333-year-old Spanish colonization of the country. Plaza Alfonso XII (Plaza Libertad) is where the revolutionaries raised the flag of the first Philippine Republic in Iloilo City, the last citadel of Spanish reign in the country.
Iloilo was made the last capital of Spain in the Philippines after being defeated in Manila in 1898.
Getting There: Ride any “Jaro Liko” or “Jaro CPU” jeepney and alight at Plaza Libertad. Also, the plaza can be reached easily by walking a few blocks away from Calle Real.
Get to Know Muelle Loney
Iloilo was given the title “Queen City of the South” because she was the most prosperous province outside the Philippine capital, Manila. Through Nicholas Loney, British businessman and Vice Consul in the country, Iloilo encouraged trade in sugar between Negros and Panay by importing from Europe modern machineries in 1855. The increase in development and trade in the wharf transformed Iloilo port into a business seaport.
The river wharf was named after Loney for his contribution to the development of Iloilo. Recognized as the “Father of the Philippine Sugar Industry,” his statue stands in Muelle Loney Street.
Getting There: Take a trisikad ride from Plaza Libertad (P10 or US $ .22). Muelle Loney is a block away and can be reached by walking.
If you have more time…
Guimaras is known for its sweetest mangoes and paradise beaches. If you have time to spare, you could go island-hopping in Alubijod, sight-seeing in Guisi, Nueva Valencia, and visit the Trappist Monastery before the day ends.
Getting There: Guimaras is only 15-20 minutes away from Iloilo City. Depart from the Parola Wharf and arrive in Jordan Wharf. Boat fare is only P18. From there, ride an “Alubijod” jeepney and be dropped off at the crossing of Alubijod (P25 or US $ .56). You can take a tricycle ride from the crossing to the beach for P15 (US $.33). If you feel like island-hopping, they charge P450 (US $10.02) for the first 3 hours. You can also hire a tricycle to take you from Alubijod to Guisi.
Don’t forget: Savor the original La Paz Batchoy inside La Paz Market
The aroma of peppered broth from the popular noodle soup in a small district in Iloilo fills the atmosphere of the quiet La Paz Market. Highly regarded as a famous Filipino noodle soup, the original La Paz Batchoy, concocted in the early 1940s, is famous for its rich and delicious flavor made with round noodles “miki,” beef loin, pork organs, chicken stock, and topped off with crushed pork cracklings “chicharon.” (READ: Rundown: La Paz Batchoy, Pancit Molo, and the iconic Iloilo eats)
There are three well-known batchoy shops at La Paz Market: Ted’s Oldtimer Lapaz Batchoy and Deco’s Original Batchoy are found in stalls outside the market, while Netong’s is located inside. Prices range from P55 (US $1.23) – P85 (US $1.89).
Getting There: Take a “La Paz,” “Jaro CPU,” or “Jaro Liko” jeepney going to Lapaz Market.
So, one of these weekends, why not come and immerse yourself in Iloilo’s rich and charming past and indulge on its popular cuisine?
Regine Garcia is a registered nurse and a web and graphic designer who frequently goes island-hopping around the Philippines. She is the author of Between Coordinates, a travel collection of her essays on the road. When not designing or traveling, she spends most of her time painting and volunteering in Medical Surgical Missions.
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