Iloilo City is and always will be home. It has the vibe of a laid back town that can get up and party when needed, or if it wants to. Turn of the century buildings and graceful Spanish mansions stand elbow to elbow with new infrastructure, and old jeeps share the road with brandspanking new shiny cars. Pedestrians and bikers have also been given beautifully paved and landscaped walkways that protect them from vehicular traffic. Iloilo serves as the gateway to the best beaches in the country–Guimaras, Boracay, Islas de Gigantes. But if you want a quick fix of the beach, 20 minutes of driving will take you to Oton, Guimbal or Tigbauan where sandy shores also await. If you love seafood, the freshest and most luscious dishes can be had here without putting a dent on your wallet.
Guimaras and Dumangas are minutes away from the city if you want your fix of the sea and sand
As a kid in the early 1990s, i remember the pain and embarassment of learning that the city was awarded as the dirtiest city in the entire country. But a change of administration and good governance over the past few years has tidied up messes, restored significant buildings and brought in new investors. Old rotting ships in the Iloilo River have been taken out, and an Esplanade built in its place. So what was once an eyesore and an abominably odorous harbour, has given way to a lovely walkway where people can convene and enjoy nature. The beautification of the city has brought in a lot of investors and the influx of cash has made for some interesting developments, as well as sustainable jobs for its people. It was like having a make-over for a seemingly ugly lady only to discover her stunning beauty underneath.
The best things about this city are:
You will never meet a friendlier bunch than the ilonggos. Naturally charming and affable to a fault, they will make you feel right at home. They will even go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. A couple of French friends I have who also love to travel once told me that the Ilonggos have spoiled them. Traveling to other countries made them miss the sweet and ready smiles, as well as the natural vivacity of the people in this city. Just be ready however to observe someone giving you directions by pursing his lips and flipping his head in the general area where you wanna go to show you where it is. I’ve seen bikers do that when signalling a turn instead just putting their arm out to show where they’re going. It’s one of our quirks.
When I was studying in Manila during college, i desperately missed all the delicious food Iloilo had to offer. My mother would courier me siopao from Roberto’s or Kong Kee, Biscocho and Butterscotch from Biscocho House, and even take out an entire roasted native chicken from Tatoy’s. I’d gain weight everytime I came home for vacations. My friends from Manila would also beg me to pack food for them when I went back. Today, there are a hundred different places you could go to to satisfy your cravings. Old ilonggo institutions like Roberto’s, Tatoy’s, Breakthrough and Lapaz Batchoy still stand unparalleled. But newer restaurants have sprouted up, leaving you spoilt for choice. One thing though, it will definitely fill your belly but it won’t break the bank.
Bounteous seafood and foreign cuisine make Iloilo a Gastronomic delight
Old graceful Spanish houses reminiscent of better days gone by still dot the landscape of Iloilo. Churches and old restored office buildings on the Calle Real from the turn of the century add to the vibrant architecture. Among my favorites are:
The Casa Real.
This building was renovated in the early 2000s. It used to be the Capitol of the Province of Iloilo. But as development paved way to a bigger, better office spaces, this structure was renovated to serve as a function room for various events. Art work by locals grace its walls.And it exudes the elegance and style that Ilonggos are used to.
A view of the Casa Real and New Capitol Building
The Old Customs Building.
This grand old building dates back to the time of American occupation in the Philippines. It stands on the banks of the Iloilo River waiting for whatever merchandise the ships would bring. Today it houses the Department of Quarantine. It is best viewed at sunset.
The Customs Building at Sunset
The New Iloilo City Hall.
Just behind the Customs buildings stands a gleaming white edifice guarding the City. It used to be a ramshackle, wooden fire hazard that eventually got a make over and has become the beauty that it is today. It has museums and viewing decks. And at its pinnacle stands a sculpture of Lin-ay (ilonggo for maiden) by national artist Ed Defensor.
The Lizares mansion (Angelicum School).
This old ancestral home of the Lizareses in Jaro hides a lot of magnificent and horrifying stories. It was said to have been sequestered by the Japanese during World War II, and unspeakable things have happened under its roof during their reign of terror. When we were kids studying here, we used to search for ghosts or hunt vestiges of the treasure left behind by the family.
The Iloilo Esplanade.
While technically not a building, it is one of my favorite structures in the entire city. It is a linear park spanning the banks of the Iloilo River where people come to walk, jog, run or simply chill out after a long day. It’s also my favorite shortcut when I need to do rounds from one hospital to another. It saves me the effort of moving my car, looking for a new parking space and dealing with traffic. There are beautiful and well maintained gardens along its path, and there are pockets of spaces where people can practice dancing, exercise or simply just get together with friends. Fire trees also line the path and provide a spectacular view when they bloom in summer.
The Iloilo Esplanade at Dusk and with the Fire tree in Bloom
Wherever you may be in Iloilo or whatever your purpose is, find time to look around and immerse yourself in a culture of hospitality. We guarantee fun.