Iloilo City Travel Guide and Itinerary

San Jose Church, Iloilo (Photo: Lester Ledesma)

The Iloilo River winds through the city and splits it in two: South of the river are remnants of its Spanish colonial past while to the north are fast-rising buildings reaching toward the future.  

About Iloilo City 

Iloilo City, the capital of Iloilo province, lies just about at the geographic heart of the Philippines — on the southeastern tip of Panay Island in the Western Visayas (Region VI). Within easy reach of both the Iloilo Strait and, further east, the Guimaras Strait, the city has been a vital trading hub since the Spanish era.  

The Iloilo River snakes through the city center, with the River Esplanade alongside it a popular spot among locals. Visitors can find glimpses of the city’s colonial past south of the river, while to the north lie modern buildings and a frenzy of construction. 


Highlights for the Traveler 

You can start your Iloilo City immersion by traveling 21km from the Iloilo International Airport and strolling down JM Basa Street (formerly Calle Real) to soak up the colonial-era buildings-turned-retail centers. There, you can shop for local products like indigenous textiles or snack on the famous Queen Siopao at Roberto’s. The Chinese restaurant is hard to miss, with its bright red signage jutting out against a series of traditional arches. (Chinese influences, brought on by settlers in the Molo district, can also be seen — and tasted — in the local La Paz Batchoy, a soup with round noodles and a hearty mixture of meats and a rich stock, all topped with pork cracklings. It’s best enjoyed at the La Paz Public Market, about 1.8km away.)  


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Continue south along JM Basa Street and you’ll find the historic Plaza Libertad, where the Philippine flag was raised after the Spanish surrendered Iloilo. It lies right in front of the San Jose Church, established in the 1600s. From there, it’s a quick walk to the city’s other landmarks, such as Iloilo City Hall and the Lacson ancestral house, one of the many heritage houses scattered around the city. A short jeepney ride will take you to Jaro Cathedral, a magnificent 19th-century Baroque church. Cap a day of sightseeing by the sea, feasting on the freshest oysters, kilawin and roasted native chicken (known as daraag) while watching the sunset over Iloilo Strait and Guimaras Island beyond.  

While the enduring Spanish-era structures give a peek into the past, the Mandurriao district north of the Iloilo River give a glimpse into the future. What once were just expansive fields and marshlands have morphed into a space of sustainable modern living.  

Business is booming in the Iloilo Business Park, shops and restaurants are flourishing at the Festive Walk Parade, and the art scene is thriving at the Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art. There’s a healthy nightlife too – the many bars, clubs and restaurants in Smallville Complex and Plazuela de Iloilo pulse with music and promise a good time lasting until sunrise. Ilonggos are on peak party mode on the fourth Sunday of January, when they celebrate the annual Dinagyang Festival, which honors the Santo Niño with thunderous drumbeats, choreographed dances and colourful warrior costumes in the city center.  


Getting Around Iloilo City 

Jeepneys abound and it’s fairly easy to hail a cab here; ride-hailing services are available too. A sure sign of progress: In recent years, the local government has made strides to turn Iloilo into a bike-friendly city. A 25km network of bike lanes line some of the busiest roads, making Iloilo City safe and easy to navigate on two wheels. 


Just Outside Iloilo City 

Take a trip to nearby Guimaras Island, a 15-minute boat ride away, across Iloilo Strait. Stay a night or two and explore its paddy fields and islets, visit a wind farm as well as the smallest plaza in the country, take photos at the lighthouse and taste the sweetest mangoes in the world.  


By Olivier Togonon and Hannah Dormido, as of January 2020.

Recommendations to be updated.

Recommendations to be updated.

Recommendations to be updated.

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