Exploring Iloilo: Wandering the Western Visayas in the Philippines

Iloilo
Iloilo Dinagyang Warrior statue along the Iloilo Esplanade

After taking the ferry from Manila to Iloilo, I was now ready to start exploring Iloilo. The province of Iloilo is located in the Western Visayas in the Philippines, approximately 409 miles southeast of Manila. Including Iloilo City, Iloilo had a population in 2015 of just over 2.3 million residents.

While smaller than Manila, I found it to be more contemporary in many ways with modern buildings and architecture, businesses, and just an overall more modern feel. Come with me and see what I discovered while exploring Iloilo.

Jaro Cathedral

Iloilo
Inside Jaro Cathedral

As a huge fan of cathedrals, churches, and other places of worship, I knew I had to stop in at Jaro Cathedral in Iloilo. Originally built in 1864, Jaro Cathedral is one of the largest churches in all of the Philippines.

Iloilo
Our Lady of the Candles at Jaro Cathedral

Located on the second level at the front of Jaro Cathedral is a shrine featuring a statue of Our Lady of the Candles. To get to this level, you need to climb a set of stairs to the top. Once here, you’ll see the only Marian statue in the Philippines that’s been crowned by the pope himself.

TSG Tip: I didn’t know about the Marian order, but now I know so of course I want to go anywhere I can see my name. 🙂

Iloilo
Belfry across the street from Jaro Cathedral

What makes Jaro Cathedral a little unusual is that the belfry is located across the street from the church. After an earthquake destroyed the church in January of 1948, the church was rebuilt in its current location across the street in 1956.

Jaro Cathedral is a definite must see site while visiting Iloilo. Go in, light a candle, say a prayer, or just admire the church for its architectural beauty.

Jaro Cathedral
Jaro, Iloilo City, 5000 Iloilo

Bearland Paradise Resort

Iloilo
Bearland Paradise Resort

Sometimes I just want to get away from it all, relax, and unwind and I certainly did when I visited Bearland Paradise Resort in Iloilo. Whether you go for a few days, an overnight, or just the day like I did, you are bound to have a good time. I must admit, I simply don’t connect polar bears with the Philippines as this country is just so hot.

Iloilo
The beach at Bearland Paradise Resort

For a mere 250 PHP (about $4.66 USD) per person, you can enjoy a day pass here with access to the pools and resort. While the beach isn’t exactly a swimmable beachfront, it still makes for a great view and pics.

Iloilo
Bearland Paradise Resort

On the day I visited, the breeze was strong and it was actually a little chilly. I went in the water once and sat back and relaxed with a cold pineapple juice. Nothing beats relaxing to the sound of crashing waves. If it was only a little warmer, I would’ve spent the day at the pool’s swim up bar. That or I might’ve enjoyed watching more people singing videoke. 🙂

Bearland Paradise Resort
Brgy. Tanpael, Tigbauan, Iloilo, Philippines

Iloilo Central Market

Iloilo
Food cooking at the wet market

There’s no way I could continue exploring Iloilo without visiting a wet market. What exactly is a wet market? Whereas a dry market sells dry goods like clothing and electronics, a wet market sells fresh meat and produce and is usually an important business center in any town or city.

Iloilo
Oysters at the wet market

At the Iloilo Central Market, not only can you buy food to take home and prepare, but there’s also food that can be prepared for you on the spot, like oysters.

Oysters

Iloilo
Oysters at the wet market

For example, each bowl of oysters here cost all of 30 PHP or about $0.56 USD. Pay the man and he will hand you the raw oysters or he will cook them for you for the same price. After payment, he places the oyster in a bag and dunks them in a hot pot of seasoned water and within minutes, you have a fresh, hot, steaming bag of oysters ready to eat.

Iloilo
Oysters at the wet market

While in Bohol a few days later, I walked along Alona Beach and the same size bowl of oysters cost 300 PHP or about $5.59 USD. While that definitely seems like a steal of a price to any Westerner, knowing the Iloilo price made me realize that Iloilo is the place to go if you love seafood.

Meat

Iloilo
Grilling at the wet market

Not into seafood? How about some pork or hot dogs? In the Philippines I can guarantee you that someone, somewhere is grilling up some meat for you so you won’t ever go hungry. Now if you’re a vegan like I am, it might be a little more difficult for you, but that’s an entirely different story.

TSG Tip: There are many butchers and fishmongers here like in any wet market. However, I saw a stall with live chickens stacked one on top of the other. Apparently, people will buy their chickens live to take home and butcher at home. I considered freeing the chickens and telling them to run for their lives, but didn’t think they’d get very far.

Vegetables

Veggies at the wet market

The veggies were plentiful here and I loved how they had some chopped, prepared, and all ready to go.

Iloilo
Wet market
Iloilo
Veggies at the wet market

TSG Tip: The Filipino diet is primarily meat and rice with a little vegetable, if any at all. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that the price of vegetables can be cost prohibitive for most families. The news is always reporting on the price of vegetables skyrocketing, which makes a healthy and balanced diet here, I would think, far more difficult than I would’ve ever expected.

Fish

I wish I could insert 'smell-o-vision' into this post so you could experience the overwhelming and all engulfing smell that I experienced. Click To Tweet
Iloilo
Dried fish at the wet market

I wish I could insert “smell-o-vision” into this post so you could experience the overwhelming and all engulfing smell that I experienced. Yes, dried fish, fish paste, shrimp paste, and the like at a wet market is some seriously strong smelling stuff. (How’s that for alliteration?)

Iloilo
Dried fish at the wet market

It’s the kind of smell that goes so far deep into your lungs and nose that you can’t possibly escape it. The only thing that’s harder for me to manage is the smell of dried fish fried in oil early in the morning. That will wake you up out of a sound sleep and have you running for the hills.

Iloilo
Shrimp paste at the wet market

Speaking of shrimp paste, it comes in different colors and amounts, but it’s definitely a popular item in the Philippines.

TSG Tip: You’ll see street vendors selling green mango slices with shrimp paste, which is apparently a very tasty snack.

Iloilo Central Market
Rizal St, Iloilo City Proper, Iloilo City, 5000 Iloilo

Iloilo Nightlife

Iloilo
Garaje Food District in Iloilo

What do most people want when they go out for a drink? They want something to nibble on so they can continue to enjoy the night. These pop up food courts that also serve drinks are a genius way to offer both and are an alternative to the overdone and overcrowded nightclubs of the past. Come as you are, bring your friends, and enjoy the night. That’s what a good night out is all about.

Iloilo
Inside Garaje Food District

I took these pictures while passing through Iloilo. It was a quiet moment without the crowds I would encounter later that evening. When I returned with my friends, we were fortunate enough to score a few seats at a table and continue drinking.

TSG Tip: On any given night in the Philippines, someone will most likely be drinking Red Horse Beer, Emperador, or a Smirnoff Mule. I highly recommend not mixing these as the outcome will not be good. One of my friends arrived late and tried to make up for his late arrival by trying to catch up. He did ok until he started drinking Smirnoff Mule and then it all went terribly wrong after that. Now I understand why there are signs all over bars showing “vomit fines.” Yeah — it’s no fun at all when one of you can’t keep it down.

Iloilo
Wash basin in Garaje Food District

If you have to use the toilet, check out the funky wash basin at the Garaje Food District.

Garaje Food District
Tabuc Suba, Jaro
Iloilo City, Philippines

Tambayan

'Tambayan' means hangout and anyone will tell you that a tambayan is always more fun than a club. Click To Tweet

Another cool concept I’ve seen while exploring Iloilo is along the lines of the food district, but is all bars. Think parking lot turned open air bar district. No frills, just drinks, and fun. One of my friends, Ryan, owns the bar Checkpoint located within El Amigo Estambayan Food Park & Car Wash in San Rafael Mandurriao. Inside the food park you’ll find several outside tambayan bars from which to choose. Not only can you drink, you can also get your car washed at the same time. Now that’s what I call multi-tasking.

Checkpoint at El Amigo Estambayan Food Park & Car Wash
Brgy. San Rafael
5000 Iloilo City, Philippines

TSG Tip: “Tambayan” means hangout and anyone will tell you that a tambayan is always more fun than a club. It’s like hanging out at your home or a friend’s house. Completely unpretentious, uncomplicated, and affordable.

Passi City

Iloilo
Pineapple public toilet in Passi City

Located about 90 minutes north of Iloilo City is Passi City to the north in the province of Iloilo. Known for its pineapple, rice, and sugar production, Passi’s slogan is “The Sweet City at the Heart of Panay.” As the pineapple capital in the province, it only seems fitting to have a huge pineapple public restroom, don’t you think?

Iloilo
Bananas at a banana plantation

While in Passi, I visited a sprawling banana plantation where I was able to seek refuge under the banana leaves from the intense sun. There’s nothing better than fresh bananas. Well, maybe fresh pineapples or mangoes, but they’re all so good.

TSG Tip: Filipinos are superstitious by nature and I saw an example of this as I entered the plantation. There was a large mound of dirt that I was told to walk around not to disturb. This was not created by the plantation owner or workers and had crept up all on its own. As I passed it, I was told to say the following, “tabi-tabi po,” which means “excuse me.” The reason for this is that they believe that there are some “elements” living there and we don’t want to disturb them.

My Thoughts on Iloilo

Overall, I really enjoyed my time in Iloilo and would definitely return again for a longer visit. Don’t forget to hit up Biscocho Haus, home to fresh candies and cookies from the region. Next up, I’m headed to Bohol for a few days for some more fun in the Philippines.

Have you visited Iloilo? Can you suggest other destinations in the Philippines that you found equally exciting? Leave your comments below. Discover some other great destinations and travel ideas here on the Travel Shop Girl website .

On my new SPONTANEOUS TRAVEL SCALE of 1-5, with 1 being super easy and spontaneous and 5 being you better plan far in advance, Iloilo scores a 1 for spontaneous travel. With an abundance of buses, ferries, and air service to this area, getting here and having fun is easy to accomplish at a super affordable price.  

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