The province of Iloilo is known for its rich heritage and vibrant festivals like the nationally acclaimed Dinagyang Festival celebrated every January. But even if it isn’t festival season, this charming province is worth a visit any time of the year. Iloilo City, the capital is a major urban center in the Philippines, and a gateway to Panay in Western Visayas.
In a media tour organized by AirAsia Philippines to celebrate its inaugural flight to Iloilo, selected media and bloggers experienced what makes Iloilo special. For fist-time visitors planning their itinerary, here are five things you can do there.
1. Visit a UNESCO heritage church
Iloilo is known for being home to many beautiful and historic churches, the most famous of which is the iconic Church of Sto. Tomas de Villanueva or Miag-ao Church. Considered one of the four baroque churches in the Philippines and inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this beautiful church is a top tourist attraction in the province.
Aside from Miag-ao Church, there are many other notable churches worth visiting including the Jaro Cathedral with its free-standing belfry; St. Anne’s Molo Church, which pays tribute to all-female saints; and the San Joaquin Parish Church, which is largely known for its intricate pediment featuring a military scene. Miag-ao Church. Photo by author
2. Climb a stairway to heaven
Have you ever wanted to experience Heaven on Earth? Take a road trip to the town of San Joaquin and visit the Garin Farm, a 14-hectare inland resort that integrates agriculture, leisure and pilgrimage all in one place. The farm offers leisure activities like horseback rides, kayaking, pedal boats and ziplines.
However, the main attraction here is their pilgrimage site with 480 steps leading up to a huge Divine Mercy Cross. After passing a dark tunnel of meditation, you reach a blinding white area with a depiction of Heaven’s gate complete with statues of angels blowing trumpets and angelic music. It’s a pretty surreal sight that has become popular with tourists for the photo-ops. Garin Farm's pilgrimage site. Photo by author
3. Chow down on fresh oysters and Ilonggo favorites
Iloilo is known for Ilonggo dishes like La Paz batchoy and pancit Molo, which are popular everwhere in the country, but best enjoyed in their place of origin. The two most popular Ilonggo restaurants are Breakthrough (for fresh seafood) and Tatoy’s Manokan & Seafoods which specializes in lechon manok, baked talaba, kinilaw tangigue, grilled pantat, lechon and more. Baked oysters at Tatoy’s Manokan & Seafoods. Photo by author
Looking for a new dining destination? Farm-to-Table, a lifestyle restaurant serves local, seasonal and fresh farm products daily. Chef Pauline Gorriceta-Banusing serves twists on Ilonggo cuisine and seafood with dishes like Shrimp Coconut Soft Taco, Coconut Fish Balls, Eggplant Truffle Lasagna and organic batchoy with fresh egg noodles and a broth base of organic beef and pork ribs.
Farm-to-Table also serves organic coffee, handcrafted beers (Juan Brew, Joe’s Brew, Great Islands Craft Brewing, etc.) and the largest selection of local and international wines you can find in Iloilo. Farm-to-Table Iloilo is currently offering a Sunday lunch and dinner buffet (with fresh oysters, cold cuts, carving stations, a salad and soup bar and various viands) with a promo rate of just P399 per head extended until October! Shrimp Coconut Taco at Farm-to-Table. Photo by author
4. Chill out with a beach vibe right in the city
For beach bums who have more time to spare, Iloilo serves as the gateway to nearby provinces including the unspoiled beaches of Antique, Capiz, Aklan and Guimaras, just a 15-minute ride by boat. A rising eco-tourism gem is Las Islas de Gigantes, a remote group of islands located off the coast of Carles and Estancia towns in northeastern Iloilo, which is roughly five hours away from the city proper. Island hopping in Guimaras. Photo by author
For tourists who want to get that fun beach vibe but have limited time, boutique resort Urban Sands offers the perfect getaway. Located along M. H. del Pilar Street in Molo, close enough to metropolitan Iloilo City, Urban Sands exudes the vibe of a seaside resort with its native style huts and bamboo covered walls surrounding a swimming pool. When you step inside the resort, you really feel like you’re at the beach. But right outside is the highway, giving you easy access to city comforts like trendy restaurants, shopping malls, grocery stores, and other top establishments in the city. Urban Sands Hotel. Photo by author
5. Drink Dinagyang Beer and more at Brewery Gastropub
For beer-lovers looking for a good place to get some quality brews, Brewery Gastropub along Pison Avenue gives diners a chance to enjoy good gourmet food paired with around 100 beer choices from around the world! Brewery Gastropub carries a wide range of handcrafted beers made with natural ingredients from both local and international microbreweries. You can find a variety of bottled beers from Japan, Australia, California and New Orleans here.
They also carry local brews like Guimaras Gose (a tart beer brewed with Guimaras mangoes) by The Cebruery; Guava Ale by Fat Pauly’s from Mindanao as well as in-house brews like the sweet Iloilo Pale Ale (inspired by Ilonggo friendliness and hospitality) and Dinagyang Pale Ale, a fruity, easy-to-drink beer ideal for lazy afternoons or casual nights out with friends.
For the cheapeast fares to Iloilo, book your trips via AirAsia, which now services Manila to Iloilo with three flights daily. Promo fares for Manila to Iloilo from as low as P990 all-in are now available for booking at airasia.com until October 15 and valid for travel starting October 9, 2017 to March 31, 2018. Iloilo Pale Ale at Brewery Gastropub. Photo by author