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The Ultimate Ati-Atihan Festival Guide

Known as “The Mother of All Festivals in the Philippines,” the Ati-Atihan festival is responsible for kickstarting and inspiring other colorful festivals dedicated to the Santo Niño.

The annual festival is celebrated every January and concludes on the third Sunday of the month.

The name Ati-Atihan means “to be like Atis” or “To mimic the Ati tribe.” “Ati” is the local name for the Aeta natives who first settled on the island and other parts of the archipelago.

Guests from all over visit the island of Kalibo to witness the beautiful display of the indigenous culture. Tribal music, dances, bright costumes, and parades are some of the things you’ll see during Ati-Atihan. Though the parades are scattered amongst the surrounding towns, most of them make their way to the plaza in the end.

Here’s all that you can do, see and eat while celebrating the Ati-Atihan:
 

HOW TO GET THERE

If you’re planning to join in on the festivities, make sure to book your flight months ahead. Last minute tickets to Kalibo can get expensive due to peak season rates.

Flights from Manila only take a little over an hour, while some airlines fly more than five times a day.

Check cheap flights to Kalibo now!

If you will be coming from Iloilo City via bus, travel time can take up 3 to 4 hours. Impatient? Do not ride buses from 10am – 12nn. The drivers will most likely have their lunch breaks, thereby extending the trip.

There are vans and multicabs, too, which can be a bit faster. Ceres Bus Liner departs every 30 mins; fare is P240.

There is no port or wharf in Kalibo, but if you insist on taking the road (or waters?) less traveled, you can choose between the Caticlan, Dumaguit and New Washington Ports for your destination.

The sea trip can last up from 12 to 17 hours from Manila North Harbor. MBRS Shipping Lines leave the harbor every MWF.
 

WHAT TO EXPECT

The three week long celebration consists of multiple events that happen in various parts of Kalibo. No matter what time you decide to venture out, you’ll never run out of things to do. From solemn masses to loud marching bands, Ati-Atihan has all kinds of events.

The event begins with a mass for the Santo Niño to emphasize the religious significance of the event.

Magsaysay Park is a key attraction during the festival as a party and “snake dance”  happens every night. Handmade traditional-style floats are also included in the parade.

One of the most awaited events in the festival is the whole day Ati-Atihan street dancing event which is called “Sadsad Pagpasaeamat”. Hundreds of Ati-Atihan groups parade in different colorful versions of the Aeta costume covered in black soot and paint all over their bodies.


Photo by Mike141213 via Flickr.com

To immortalize your festival experience, it’s always great to bring home a souvenir from the Ati-Atihan Bazaar in Veterans Avenue.
 

WHAT TO EAT

Of course, along with the merry-making, prepare yourself for a never ending feast. It’s not a complete festival experience without great food, and Kalibo does not disappoint.

Included in Ati-Atihan’s daily events is the Food festival at Pastrana Park. Here, festival-goers can enjoy a wide range of local delicacies, street food, and fast food favorites.


Photo from Facebook.com/saylo.kalibo

Right when you arrive, don’t miss out on SAYLO, a hip Aklanon restaurant just a few meters from the airport. Try the traditional dishes such as Inubarang Manok (native chicken and ubad cooked in coconut milk and lemongrass) and Linapay (P70), pounded fresh-water shrimp wrapped in taro leaves.

Ramboy’s is the go-to restaurant for liempo (approx. P300 for 3 pax). The cuts here are meatier, juicier, and have crunchier skin than the liempo we’re used to from Manila.

A good stopover during the Ati-atihan festivities is the iconic Bread & Butter, the most popular bakery in Kalibo. Bread & butter is known for their siopao, but you should also try their cheese burger which is reminiscent of the famous chori burger from Boracay.
 

Tips while attending Ati-atihan Festival

  • The day before the third Sunday might be the best time to take photos, when the costumes are still at their best (and still in one piece!) Take as many instagrammable photos as you can. The locals will happily oblige.
  • Wear anything comfortable and you’re willing to soil.
  • Gadgets (GoPro, DSLR, camera phones) for mementos. Mind your valuables. Though the crowd is controllable (yes, despite the booze), their motives are not.
  • Bring lots of energy as there will be endless dancing and partying!

 

Experience the best of Philippine festivals and find a place to stay during the Ati-Atihan festival here.

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