The capital of the province of Iloilo and the regional center of the Western Visayas Region, Iloilo City is an interesting place to explore especially if you are after delectable cuisines as well as arts, heritage and culture. Various kinds of businesses and residential buildings are popping all over the city and even the outskirts therefore making it a great place to hunt for a job and eventually retire. Additionally, the city is a jump off point to some of the best beaches and islands in the province and region including Isla de Gigantes, Boracay Island, and of course the province of Guimaras which is also known for its beautiful beaches and sweet mangoes.
To avoid confusion, understand that this guide focuses on Iloilo City alone, not the whole Iloilo province.
This brief guide to Iloilo City will let you know how to get there, what to do, eat, and drink, where to stay, and must-see spots.
Best Time to Visit
It’s best to visit the Philippines during the dry season. Dry season in the Philippines spans from November through April. These are the summer months in this country.
Be aware that temperatures and humidity levels are particularly high in April and May.
The best time to be a beach bum and explore the islands is from March to May.
TIP: This guide recommends that booking for Iloilo City summer trips should be done as early as possible, at least a month before your travel dates, since resorts get fully booked early.
The period from June to October is the rainy (wet) season and is best avoided due to the high possibility of typhoons. The typhoons can not only be destructive, but most tours and activities are cancelled under such circumstances. Transportation via plane and boat is also seriously impacted as well. This happens frequently so beware!
This guide recommends traveling to Iloilo City in April-May or in November-December, just before and just after the rainy season. This will likely bring fewer crowds, yet pleasant weather, and is also a great time to score a travel deal.
Plug commonly used is Type A but Types B and C are used as well. Bring A to B adapter(s).
Iloilo Central Line Bus & Jeepney Terminal
Molo Transport Terminal
Tagbak Bus Terminal
There are many ways to get here depending on your starting point. This guide recommends using the following online tools to identify all the available options and cost for each while in Iloilo City: Rome2Rio and PHBUS. The following are the major ports of entry for this destination.
The following are the modes of transportation available in Iloilo City …
SEE & DO
The following is your guide to places to see and activities to enjoy while in Iloilo City.
1 | Wander around Calle Real Heritage Zone
If Manila has Escolta, Iloilo City has Calle Real. It is an old business district that boasts of Spanish and American era structures with neoclassical, beaux-arts, and art deco style. While it’s no longer the area people, particularly the new generation, favored when it comes to shopping or dining, efforts have been done by the government and other concerned groups to preserve and restore the historic buildings. Big events such as the Dinagyang Festival highlights take place in this area.
2 | See all the historical churches
Being one of the oldest cities in the country, Iloilo City is home to old churches built as early as 1600s. San Jose Church across Plaza Libertad in the city proper with its Byzantine Neo-classic design is the oldest. Molo Church, known as a feminist church due to all the female saints standing on each pillar, features Gothic and Romanesque architectural styles. While Jaro Cathedral, the national shrine of Our Lady of the Candles, is of Romanesque Revival style. The opposite of Molo Church, Jaro Cathedral has all male saints standing on each pillar.
3 | Walk along Iloilo Esplanade
The Iloilo River used to be a squatters area until it was rehabilitated and opened in 2012. Now, not only it is free of illegal settlers but it also has become a favorite park and premier tourist attraction in the city. Originally only 1.2 kilometers in length, it now measures 10 kilometers making it the longest linear park in the country. The landmark I am ILOILO standee is found in Esplanade 1 near the Carpenter Bridge.
4 | Visit heritage houses and mansions
There are over 200 mansions in the city and around 30 of which are grand and built by sugar barons and elite families during the Spanish and American colonial era. Considering the number of mansions, the city earned the moniker City of Mansions with Nelly Garden (also known as Lopez Mansion) as the most grandiose and considered the Queen of all Heritage Houses in Iloilo. Several of the mansions and houses have been converted into museums and shops such as Molo Mansion (also called Yusay-Consing Mansion), Casa Mariquit, Lizares Mansion (now Angelicum School Iloilo), and Camiña Balay nga Bato among others.
5 | Go on a food tour
Iloilo may not be the Culinary Capital of the Philippines but a few dishes originated in the city have gained national popularity. La Paz Batchoy, named after its birthplace La Paz, is one of the country’s most popular noodle soup dishes. Famous batchoy houses in the city include Ted’s, Deco’s, and Netong’s. Other local dishes to try are pancit molo, KBL (kadios, baboy, langka), and chicken binakol. Also, don’t miss seafoods and Ilonggo sweets and desserts such as biscocho, barquillos, pinasugbo, baye-baye, and bandi.
6 | Go inside museums and art galleries
With its other moniker as Museum City of the Philippines, Iloilo City has a number of museums and art galleries with focus that ranges from history, culture, science, and contemporary art. The National Museum of the Philippines has its Western Visayas Regional Museum and a satellite office for Western Visayas housed as the restored former Iloilo Rehabilitation Center and old Jaro Municipal Hall, respectively. Other museums and galleries to consider are Museo Iloilo, Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art, UPV Art Gallery, Henry Luce III Library (Central Philippines University Library), and University of San Agustin Museum among others.
7 | Explore the city in a bicycle
Iloilo City is one of the few cities in the country known to be bike-friendly. After all, it has a network of nearly 100 kilometers of bike lanes and even earned the reputation as the Bicycling Capital of the Philippines. You can find bike rentals in the city, particularly in the Diversion Road (now Sen. Benigno Aquino Avenue) area.
8 | Witness the events and festivals
In addition to the famous Dinagyang Festival every January, there are a few more events and festivals to watch out for in the city. Fiesta de Candelaria, also known as Jaro Fiesta, is one of the largest Philippine marian festivities. Schools in Jaro and nearby areas even declare holiday since roads are closed to accommodate the day’s activities. Other events to look forward to in the city include Paraw Regatta, the oldest traditional boat sailing event in Asia, the annual Chinese New Year, the largest Chinese New Year outside Binondo, Manila, and the Iloilo Bike Festival.
9 | Side trip destinations
Considering that Iloilo City is the regional center of Western Visayas, it is also a good jump off point to neighboring towns and provinces. From the city, you can take a 15-minute boat ride to the province of Guimaras. You can also take a bus ride to Antique, Roxas, and Aklan where the world famous Boracay is located. Isla de Gigantes is located in Carles in the province of Iloilo so a trip there isn’t far off.
NOTE: The Dinagyang Festival occurs annually in Iloilo City every 4th Sunday of January. Paraw Regatta is also a festival in Arevalo (city’s district) and celebrated every February.
EAT & DRINK
The following is your guide to the flavorful food to enjoy and restaurants to try while in Iloilo City.
1 | Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street is the go-to place for good old American style barbecue ribs. Located at Smallville Complex, one of the nightlife spots in the city, Bourbon Street boasts of its real American Bourbon BBQ ribs, Square Mushroom Pizza, and Cheeseburger. The price range is a bit high for some but the quality of food is worth it.
2 | Breakthrough Restaurant Iloilo
Satisfy your seafood cravings at Breakthrough Restaurant. At the restaurant, you get to enjoy them fresh and even have the chance to choose from the live seafood on display in the aquariums and have them cooked the way you want it. Their best sellers include baked scallops and oysters, kinilaw (ceviche), spicy crabs, and of course grilled fish. The restaurant is located along Villa Beach in Arevalo district but it has a branch in Plazuela Iloilo called Ponsyon by Breakthrough.
3 | Deco’s
Deco’s is one of the famous batchoy houses in the city. You can find a branch in almost every mall and business district in the city therefore making it convenient for everyone to enjoy the famous noodle soup. Their first restaurant which is operating up to this day is located in La Paz Market, the place where the dish originated.
4 | DoVa Brunch Cafe
With its elegant and cozy ambience, DoVa Brunch Cafe is more than just brunch or waffles, bacon, and fresh salad. You’d get to enjoy other offerings such as pizza, pasta, back ribs, pan seared salmon, and others. The price is a bit higher but considering its generous servings, the quality of food, good service, and great ambience, the place is surely worth it.
5 | Madge Café
Popular coffee chains such as Starbucks and Coffeebreak may be popping in the city but Madge Café remains to be a favorite among locals including some big names in the area such as politicians and media personalities. It is located in La Paz market where it has been standing since its early days. The cafe is known for its native Arabica coffee brewed traditionally using a coffee pot and a strainer. With coffee which costs less than $1 USD a cup and friendly atmosphere, Madge Café is a must-visit for those who love authentic and great coffee.
6 | Netong’s Original Special La Paz Batchoy
Netong’s is one of the pioneers and most recommended in the savory world of batchoy. Like Deco’s, it’s first eatery located in La Paz still operates up to this day however it has opened branches in newer business areas and more convenient locations such as Atria Park in Mandurriao. Your Iloilo food tour isn’t complete without a trip to Netong’s so make sure to drop by next time you’re in the city.
7 | Punot
This restaurant overlooking Iloilo River and Iloilo Esplanade is a great spot in the city to enjoy fresh seafoods and various Ilonggo dishes with a twist. People rave about their native chicken adobo and binakol, pomelo balingon salad, and sisig. The restaurant is quite large and offers a lovely view of the area from the second floor. While the price is a bit higher for local standards, the quality of food along with great service is a great value for money.
8 | Roberto’s
Located in Calle Real, Roberto’s is already an icon of Iloilo. It’s best known for tasty siopao oozing with filling in four variants; regular (roberto), jumbo (Chinese sausage, chicken pork adobo and egg), queen (bacon, Chinese sausage, chicken pork adobo and egg), and king (ham, Chinese sausage, chicken pork adobo and egg). Aside from siopao, their lumpiang shanghai, lomi, pancit canton, and sotanghon guisado are good too. The space is really small and is always full but it’s worth it.
9 | Tatoy’s Manokan and Seafoods
The top restaurant in the city based on reviews, Tatoy’s Manokan and Seafoods was made famous by their litson manok (roasted native chicken) although their menu now includes other chicken dishes, grilled and steamed seafood, ceviche (kinilaw), and pork dishes. They take pride in using fresh and basic local ingredients such as local lime, coconut vinegar, and other spices to achieve that signature flavor. The restaurant started out with only three tables in the 1970s but now has two branches in Atria Park and near the Iloilo Airport.
10 | The Mango Tree
Located in the less busy part of Mandurriao district, The Mango Tree is known for its elegant and cozy ambience which offers both indoor and al fresco dining under a mango tree where the restaurant got its name from. The restaurant has wooden interiors and warm lighting which makes it a lovely spot for romantic dinners. Serving good foods with reasonable prices, The Mango Tree is also a popular venue for parties such as birthdays and weddings. Must try dishes include chop suey, pepper steak, seafood paella, and sizzling bulalo.
KNOWN FOR: La Paz Batchoy, a noodle soup composed of round noodles, meat stock, sliced pork, pig innards, topped with garlic bits, crushed pork cracklings (chicharon) and spring onions.
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WHERE TO STAY
There are many different types of accommodations available in this destination ranging from hostels to luxurious resorts. The following is your guide to our top choices for each range in Iloilo City.
1 | Diversion 21 Hotel (Budget)
2 | Seda Atria (Mid-Range)
3 | Richmonde Hotel Iloilo (Luxury | Resort)
This guide recommends using the following sites to conduct research online of where to stay in Iloilo City or for a specific destination:
Book your room with these trusted online booking sites. Booking online in the Philippines almost always guarantees the best price and a room when you arrive. We use these sites frequently to get the best prices and enjoy convenient bookings. Click each of the buttons below to find the best place for you at the lowest rates:
TIP: Diversion 21 Hotel is best property to experience this destination.
Use the chart below to get an idea of how much to budget daily. Actual amounts will depend on YOUR travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages … some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less. Prices are in USD.
A bed in a hostel dorm costs from 350 PHP ($7 USD), but smaller dorms can cost from 500 PHP ($10 USD). For a private double, prices start around 700 PHP ($14 USD).
Most budget hotels begin at 700 PHP ($14 USD) per night for a double room and usually include free wifi and breakfast. For a three-star hotel, prices begin around 1,400 PHP ($28 USD) per night. AirBnB is also widespread throughout the country, with private rooms starting from as little as 500 PHP ($10 USD) per night. For entire apartments, expect to pay at least 1,400 PHP ($28 USD) per night.
Resorts and luxury accommodations vary greatly from 1,400 PHP ($28 USD) to 5,000+ PHP ($100+ USD). However, there are some really nice resorts and luxury accommodations which are surprisingly affordable.
Local food is extremely cheap, with street food costing under 50 PHP ($1USD). For an inexpensive meal at a local restaurant, prices start around 100 PHP ($2 USD). For a meal at a mid-range restaurant with drinks and table service, expect to pay from 200 PHP ($4 USD). Knowing that their target customers are primarily tourists, Western food venues can be pricey compared to Filipino food. Also, some of the ingredients need to be imported, which contributes to the higher cost. Western food (burgers, pizza, pasta, etc.) is much more expensive but is still relatively affordable at around 200 PHP ($4 USD) for a meal and drink.
Fast food like McDonalds will cost around 200 PHP ($4 USD). A beer at the bar will cost around 50-100 PHP ($1–2 USD).
A week’s worth of groceries will cost between 300-600 PHP ($6-12 USD) per person. However, food in this country is so inexpensive, and kitchens & refrigerators are hard to come by, I don’t recommend cooking your meals here since there is plenty of delicious street food to eat at very cheap prices. You won’t make it as good as they do and the food is too delicious to miss!
There are many modes of transportation available in the Philippines and each varies greatly.
Public Transportation is cheap. Bus services on the islands are inexpensive. Local buses (called jeepneys) are the most common type of transportation in towns and cities. The fare is usually between 7-25 PHP ($.20–.50 USD).
On islands without a bus system, a taxi or tricycle is the only form of transport with fares starting at 50-500 PHP ($1-$10) USD for short trips.
Taxis are everywhere, and they’re very cheap. Most fares shouldn’t cost you more than 500 PHP ($10 USD) around town.
To get between islands, you’ll need to take a boat or to fly. There are ferries that connect the island together since they aren’t too far apart but, generally speaking, flights are the most realistic option.
Flights between islands usually cost about 2,000-3500 PHP ($40-70 USD). However, this isn’t the cheapest way to travel. It’s only recommended if you have limited time.
Attractions & Activities
Most attractions and activities in the Philippines are pretty cheap. Most attractions throughout the area are FREE to enter, though some of the more well known and popular ones cost 5-100 PHP ($.10-$2 USD) to enter.
Depending on the activity, most day tours only cost around 1,000-1,500 PHP ($20-30 USD), oftentimes less. You have more bargaining power if you go with a group. If you are expecting to do some climbing, remember to pack some warm layers. It gets cold at the top!
Other activities such as Island Hopping, scuba diving, helmet diving, swimming with whale sharks, jungle trekking, canyoning, ATVs, jet skis, wakeboarding, cruises, parasailing, horseback riding, cultural experiences, and tours can cost as much as 1,250-5,000+ PHP ($25-100+ USD).
The Philippines is one of the least expensive places to learn how to scuba dive. Learning to scuba dive usually costs about 15,000-20,000 PHP ($300-400 USD), but often includes FREE accommodation for the duration of the course, which lasts three or four days.
Always book your tours and activities when you arrive. Stick to travel agents who are selling on the ground. If a travel agent won’t negotiate with you, move on to the next until you find one that will. Booking tours online is almost always more expensive.
Typical Costs in Iloilo City in 2021:
- Hostel Dorm Bed: 250-350 PHP ($5–7 USD) night
- Budget Hotel: 700 PHP ($14 USD) night
- Mid-Range Hotel: 1500 PHP ($31 USD) night
- Street Food: 50-150 PHP ($1–3 USD) meal
- Restaurant Meals: 200-300 PHP ($4–6 USD) meal
- Local Beer: 50-100 PHP ($1–2 USD) bottle
- 1.5L Bottle of Water: 38 PHP ($.75 USD) bottle
- Jeepney Ride: 7-25 PHP ($.20–.50 USD) ride
- Tricycle Ride: 20-100 PHP ($.5-2 USD) ride
- Taxi: 75-500 PHP ($1.50-10 USD) ride – use GrabTaxi app
- Long-Distance Bus Ride: 400-500 PHP ($8–10 USD) ride
- Public Ferry Ride: 200-300 PHP ($4–6 USD) ride
- Domestic Flight: 2,000-3,500 PHP ($40–70 USD) flight
- Island-Hopping: 1,000-1,500 PHP ($20-30 USD) trip
The following is some of our best advice on traveling to Iloilo City. Learn what you need to know BEFORE you go!
Tips & Hacks
he following are our Top 10 Tips when visiting this destination in the Philippines:
- Be aware that a tourist VISA is only 30 days. You can extend it upon arrival, or within the first 30 days, for an additional 30 days for a fee of approximately 3,000 pesos.
- Don’t buy into the fear factor. The Philippines has an unjustified reputation of being a dangerous place. It’s true there are security guards everywhere, but that is to deter theft.
- Manila is NOT the Philippines. Get outside of the cities to see the real Philippines.
- Don’t over plan. Boats, buses, and even airplane schedules are notoriously unreliable. Be flexible.
- Check the weather. The weather varies greatly throughout the Philippines daily.
- Typhoons can have a huge impact on your plans. Account for this when planning your trip.
- It’s not cool to raise your voice or show outward frustration in public.
- Be polite at all times. Realize that your country’s sense of humor may be different from Filipino humor and take this into account when interacting with Filipinos and while in public places.
- Things move at a slower pace. Accept it … don’t get frustrated … but do account for it.
- Don’t drink the tap water… but stay hydrated! Save money by buying large bottles (6-10 liters) of water and using it to fill your water bottle or hydration bladder in your backpack.
For a complete list of our travel tips & hacks, check out the following guide and be sure to download a FREE copy for yourself.
The Philippines has its own currency called the Philippine Peso. Banks, ATMs, and money-changers can be found on the island. If you are exploring the neighboring islands or provinces, make sure to bring enough cash that will last until the next time you get to an ATM or bank since most tours, transportation, and budget accommodations only accept cash.
Health & Safety
While overall the Philippines is a safe country to visit, as is Iloilo City, you need to use common sense just as you would in any country, especially when traveling, and in a city, town, or area you are unfamiliar with.
Consult your hotel or resort front desk as they are more likely to give you reliable information than a random stranger on the street. Be careful when approaching strangers and selective about who you approach. Always pay attention to your gut feeling and follow it.
There are many things to consider when traveling in order to stay safe … things that we may not be accustomed to during our normal everyday lives. The following are articles about tips on how to stay safe while traveling in the Philippines:
- 6 Common Accidents to Avoid
- How to Beat the Heat in the Philippines
- Taxi Safety Tips: Dos and Don’ts
- Motorbike Safety Tips
- Beach & Ocean Safety Tips
- Sun Safety Tips
Staying fit & healthy can be challenging when traveling in the Philippines.
The tropical Philippines climate requires you to prepare for illnesses that you may not normally be accustomed to.
The following are our Top 10 Tips for Staying Healthy while Traveling in the Philippines:
- Maintain a Balanced Diet
- Stay Hydrated but Only Drink Bottled Water
- Get Plenty of Rest
- Allow Your Body Time to Adjust
- Keep Active
- Sanitize Often
- Be Aware of Food Safety Concerns
- Take Your Vitamins
- Practice Safe Sex
- Be Prepared Should You Get Sick
You need to have a local-based SIM card in order to stay connected when in the Philippines. Network giants such as Globe and Smart have SIM cards you can use to make calls, send text messages, and also to connect to the Internet. A SIM card costs around 50 PHP ($1 USD) and usually comes with a FREE load worth 50 PHP ($1 USD). You can buy a card containing a code you can enter on your phone to replenish your load or buy an electronic load that is available almost anywhere in the city.
While you may not have problems with signal strength when in the city, it is not always the case when on islands or in remote areas of a province. So when arranging for transportation pick up, say when renting a boat to take you to and pick you up from the island, it would be best that you make it clear what time you need to be picked up before the boatman leaves.
Recommended Travel Apps
Apps for smartphones and tablets can be useful both before you leave and while you’re traveling. Most are available for iPhones and Android phones.
- Grab (taxis/ride shares)
- Angkas (motorbike ride-hailing)
- WhatsApp (phone calls)
- Skyscanner (flights)
- Rome2Rio (transportation)
- Agoda (accomodations)
- Booking.com (accomodations)
- AirBnB (accomodations)
- Traveloka (flights, accomodations, activities)
- Klook (attractions & activities )
Be certain to download and set up apps BEFORE leaving on your trip to make certain each is installed and working properly.
For our complete list of travel apps that we use and recommend while traveling in the Philippines, checkout our checklist below. Download a FREE copy for yourself as a PDF.
Trying to decide what to do when traveling to a destination for the first time can be a bit overwhelming given your lack of familiarity with the place along with all of the available options.
We’ve created the following itinerary to help simplify the process and ensure that you get the most out of your trip. Although we provide a 7 day itinerary for this destination, it can always be adjusted to fit the length of your trip.
The secret to a successful and stress-free trip is to start by using a packing list. This will reduce anxiety from the start and ensure that nothing important is forgotten when packing. To make this process easy for you, we’ve created a detailed packing list. Click the link below to download it for FREE now.
Carrying your checklist with you during your travels can be useful when repacking, by helping to ensure that you do not leave anything behind.
Things to Remember
This guide recommends to take note of the following while traveling in Iloilo City or in the Philippines in general.
There is a nationwide ban which prohibits smoking in public places including indoors, the streets, on sidewalks, in restaurants , and on public transportation, requiring smokers to use designated smoking areas. Selling tobacco to and purchasing from or for minors is also prohibited. Violators are subject to fines (up to 5,000 PHP | $100 USD) and even 4 months in prison.
The minimum legal drinking age is 18. Alcohol such as beer and hard drinks can easily be bought in grocery and convenience stores. The most common alcoholic beverage is beer, generally served cold. Local alcoholic drinks include tuba (coconut wine which is usually very strong) and potent moonshine-like clear liquors made from sugar or fruit. Imported beer, wine, and name brand hard alcohol are available but expensive.
Drugs are illegal in the Philippines. Don’t use, buy, or sell any non-prescription drugs while in the Philippines … not even marijuana. It is considered an especially heinous crime to buy from, for, or sell drugs to children. The penalties are severe … up to and including death.
Public nudity is illegal in the Philippines and is not tolerated. Most locals consider it offensive. There are laws which prohibit provocative and erotic clothing and swimwear, therefore carefully consider your clothings and swimwear choices to make certain they are not too revealing.
Foreigners & Expats
If you are not a Filipino citizen, remember that you are a guest when visiting this country … be certain to act accordingly. Respect the people, their customs, and the environment and wlidlife. You can be deported and banned … so behave … but have fun and enjoy all that this wonderful destination has to offer.
Cover Photo Credit: Iloilo City Government
Don’t Forget …
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