Iloilo, located on Panay Island has a lot to offer for nature lovers, there are a lot of mountains to climb, treks to take on and also many wonderful islands sparkled along the coastline. It’s also a good place to admire the many churches and ruins of the Spanish era.
Here is what to do in Iloilo:
Iloilo City in itself have not much to offer, you can check out the old Jaro Cathedral and Molo Church. The city center has some nice restored heritage buildings and houses to see, a good example of the Spanish architecture, you will find most of them along Calle Real. The city also offers a busy nightlife with a lot of nice restaurants, malls, bars, and cafés. Iloilo is a great place for seafood lovers with a lot of restaurant serving fresh oysters, scallops and other delicious treats all over the island, and for really cheap.
Island hopping in Concepcion
The tourist office in Concepcion offers a day trip to visit the neighboring islands. You’ll pay 2500 pesos for the boat, good for 10. They will take you to the sandbar on Bag-o Isi Island, during low tide you can even cross to the neighboring island. Then you’ll go to Dunao island where you can enjoy the beach or do some water activities. It’s a really remote fisherman island but the beach is nice and someone built some bungalows there so you can stay overnight. It’s also worth exploring the island and the rocky beach on the other side of the island.
Other nice islands include Pan de Azucar, easily spotted thanks to its tall and steep Mount Manaphag, this mount is the steepest in the Philippines and the tallest peak in Panay. Agho Island is also worth a stop, perfect for watching the sunset, you’ll also find a sandbar here, a superb coral garden and magnificent white-sand beaches.
You can arrange with the tourist office to visit more islands if you’d like. They are very accommodating and super friendly. Don’t forget to bring plenty of water, you can also buy some food and have it cooked at the resort.
Island hopping in Isla Gigantes
Probably one of the main attraction in Iloilo, Isla Gigantes is really famous among local tourists. Its crystal clear water and white-sand beaches make it a perfect paradise. The islands there are really remote, they only got electricity last year, and they mostly live from fishing. It’s also famous for its really cheap seafood. You can organize a day trip at the tourist office in Carles or opt for a package tour with one or two nights on the island.
Visiting Heaven in Garin Farm
Garin Farm is owned by a Filipino politician who “loves” animals so he opened a farm/resort. Seeing the small space available for the chicken I’m not sure animal well being really is his first concern. Anyway, the best thing about the place is that you can get a glimpse of heaven! Yes heaven, at least if you picture heaven as a tacky place playing “Hallelujah” over and over again.
So before reaching heaven, you’ll have to take on a pilgrimage. You’ll first pass under an arch low enough so you have to bow to the Lord, then you’ll have to climb about 400 steps (really doable). Along the way, you’ll find scenes representing the life of Jesus. For the ones who don’t feel like sweating for God, you can be driven directly to the top. When you reach the top, take the time to admire the view, then you’ll enter a dark corridor where you should meditate and think of god. When you are spiritually ready you can enter heaven, it’s really white with many angels statues and as I said, loud music playing Hallelujah. This place is probably the most kitsch thing I’ve seen in Asia so far, and believe me I’ve seen many, many tacky places, but this is the pinnacle.
Irony apart, (I mean no offense to people who take this seriously), the place is nice, the view is amazing and the experience is memorable. When you get down, try their home-made ice cream, the milk one is a must-try.
Visit Miag-Ao Church
Built in 1797, the Church of Saint Thomas of Villanova is one of the oldest church in the Philippines. It has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1993 as one of the best baroque church in the Philippines and his known for its impressive stone carvings done at the front of the church. It’s one of the nicest church I’ve visited so far in the Philippines. The carvings are really well preserved and the design is pretty unique.
One of the main carvings represents Saint Christopher carrying baby Jesus surrounded by papaya, guava and coconut trees. Above the door, you’ll see Saint Thomas of Villanueva, the parish’s patron saint, a sculpture of the pope and one of Saint Henry. The church mixes the traditional Spanish style adapted to indigenous taste, with a touch of Chinese and Muslim influence.
In Iloilo, you’ll find plenty of old churches such as the ones in Guimbal, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara, Alimodian, Duenas, Passi (from 1584), Tigbauan, Cabatuan, Calinog, Lambunao, Barotac, Dingle, Leon, Janiuay, and Cabatuan. Enough to keep you busy for a few days! You can also take a look at San Joaquin Cemetery and at the one in Janiuay if you’re a fan of old Spanish architecture. There are also three watchtowers, Guimbal Moro, from the 17th century, in southern Iloilo. They were built by the locals in order to protect themselves against Moro pirates who kidnapped and sold them as slaves. You can also visit the Taytay Boni, a Spanish arch bridge, in Miagao.
Join a festival
During the Santo Nino celebrations (3rd and 4th week of January) each major city as its own festival going on. It’s the perfect time to see traditional costumes and dances and to hear traditional music. In most places, the organization is tuned to a minimum, so it’s a happy mess, everyone can parade in the street and join the groups. The most famous one is the Dinagyang in Iloilo City, this one is really well organized, if you want to see anything you’ll have to buy a ticket.
During the first week of February, Miagao held its Salakayan festival. A lot of events are going on during the week: food festival, trade fair, fluvial parade, music contest, fashion shows… The culmination point is on Sunday during the street dance-drama, depicting the traditional life of the people and their fight against the Muslim marauders in the 18th century, Salakay meaning “to attack”.
During the fourth week of April, Concepcion held its Tampisaw festival on Pan de Azucar Island. The three days festival is dedicated to celebrating our planet earth, activities are organized to teach people about protecting natural resources. They held fairs, parades, contest and a boat race.
Every 4th week of October, Tigbauan host the Saludan festival where traditions and culture are put forward. They celebrate by dancing and playing music, showcasing their traditional outfits and instruments. They also held a tribe competition, each village nearby sends a delegation to perform.
1 – Tinagong Dagat
This three-hectare lake is ideal for trekkers and campers. It’s a 10 hours walk through scenic views and lush forests, you’ll have to bring your camping gear and plenty of food and water. The starting point is in Bagongbong, the lake is located at the foot of Mount Apog-Apog, in the Cabatangan Plateau. Only for the adventurous and fit.
2 – Mount Napulak
Also called the nipple mountain because of its breast-like shape, it’s a nice spot to watch the sunset and get an amazing view all over Iloilo and Antique, on clear days you can also see Mount Kanlaon in Negros. The trek is between 4 to 8 hours, depending on your pace and the route you choose, you’ll have to bring your own camping equipment to spend the night on top.
3 – Bulabog Putian National Park
A protected rainforest area, famous for its many caves and its numerous wildlife species. The caves have an important historical value as they served as a hide-out for revolutionary forces during the Spanish occupation. There are plenty of easy treks to do, you can hire a guide for 180 pesos and the entrance fee is 80 pesos per head. You can reach the park by jeepney from Iloilo city.
4 – Nadsadjan Falls
Located in Igbaras, this 100 feet high waterfall is famous for its cool and crystal clear water. You don’t have to trek to get to it, you can drive or take a tricycle all the way.
5 – Bucari Pine Forest and Waterfalls
Bucari, called the little Baguio of Iloilo, is known for its cool climate and its verdant nature. You’ll find plenty of treks to do and many waterfalls to refresh in.
6 – Mariit Conservation Park
Located in Jayubo, this park is the biggest hornbill breeding facility in the world. They are also trying to breed other critically endangered species such as the Visayan Wild Boar and the Visayan Spotted Deer. Breeding Hornbills is really hard, the first successful breeding took place in 2005, ten years after the opening of the facility.
In Iloilo? Check out nearby Guimaras.
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