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13 Awesome Things to Do in Iloilo for First-Timers

Iloilo is a unique haven west of Visayas. Bordered by the Visayan Sea, the Guimaras Strait, Iloilo Strait, and the Panay Gulf, it features some of the best beaches in the Philippines, highlighted by the famous Islas de Gigantes. Then in the city, Iloilo offers the most happening party places in Visayas, as well as the well-maintained parks and hangout spots for locals and tourists.

A perfect mix of the urban and rustic lifestyle, Iloilo has anything a tourist would want to see, eat and do. Because there are so many things to do in Iloilo, you’ll be sure your trip will be jampacked with great experiences.

While you’re here, make sure you don’t miss these top spots within the city!

 

1. Enjoy a bowl of the original La Paz Batchoy

Iloilo is a haven of great food, but one special dish stands out from all the rest — the ultra Filipino La Paz Batchoy. The noodle soup with egg, beef loin, crispy pork cracklings (crushed chicharon), spring onions, and garlic originated from the La Paz district of the province and has since been a favorite among Filipinos.

Locals and tourists can find an authentic bowl of this mouthwatering dish at La Paz Public Market, where Netong’s Original La Paz Batchoy is located.

  • Location: La Paz Public Market, Luna cor. Huervana st., La Paz, Iloilo City
  • Operation Hours: 7am to 7pm
  • Best For: Foodies, Families, Barkadas
  • Highlight: There’s no other highlight on this trip than a steaming bowl of the delicious, original La Paz Batchoy.
  • Activity Tips:
    – There are several other Batchoy restaurants in the area, however, people claim Netong’s originated the dish. Regardless if it did or didn’t, the taste will make you come back for more!
    – Queues may start around lunch and dinner time, best to come a bit earlier.
  • Insider Info: The restaurants are located at the heart of the public market, but don’t fret. The place is clean and well-maintained, with air conditioning.
  • Contact Details:
    Netong’s Original Special La Paz Batchoy
    Phone: (033) 396 9449, (033) 396 2189
    Email/ Site: [email protected]
    Facebook: @netongslapaz.batchoy

 

2. Tour old Iloilo

Calle Real

Iloilo City continues to preserve its old city charm by restoring some of its oldest buildings from the Commonwealth era. Some even date back to the 1800s. Walking down Calle Real, also known as JM Basa Street, and along Plaza Libertad, you’ll get a sense of how Ilonggos lived back in the day — clean and stress-free. The retro feel of the area recaptures the old glory of what is heritage district of the province.

  • Location: JM Basa Street, Iloilo City and Plaza Libertad, Zamora St., Iloilo City
  • Fee(s): FREE
  • Best For: History lovers, Photographers, Barkadas
  • Highlights:
    – You’ll find a stretch of old buildings along Calle Real, transporting you back to old Iloilo circa 1950s. Almost all establishments in this place follow the retro-theme of the area.
    – At Plaza Libertad, you’ll find more establishments that feature old Manila architecture. The Iloilo City Hall and the San Jose Church are sights to behold.
  • Activity Tips:
    – Old Iloilo has this old city charm that a mere stroll along its streets is enough to make you feel right at home. The buildings’ facades along Calle Real are striking, while Plaza Libertad offers that community park warmth.
    – Make sure you visit the preserved Panay Railways train displayed at Plaza Libertad. It’s perfect for an Instagram photoshoot.
  • Insider Info: Most buildings along Calle Real have dates imposed on them, telling the year the buildings were established.
  • Contact Details:
    Email/ Site: exploreiloilo.com

 

3. Take a stroll along the Iloilo River Esplanade

Iloilo River Esplanade

Early mornings and late afternoons are best spent walking along the Iloilo River Esplanade. The open area is perfect for recreational activities such as jogging, biking, or just taking a stroll along the river to unwind. Most locals also spend their afternoons hanging out with friends and family members, sipping a cup of coffee in one of the cafes near the area while kids play in the open space. The serene waters and the sunrise or sunset complete the calming mood in this tourist spot.

  • Location: Mandurriao, Iloilo City
  • Fee(s): FREE
  • Operation Hours: 24 hours
  • Best For: Families, Barkadas, Health buffs
  • Highlights:
    – The view of the sunset shining over the Iloilo River is a sight to behold.
    – The afternoon breeze coupled with the park’s amenities and the nearby cafes and restaurants will make any tourist fall in love with Iloilo.
  • Activity Tips:
    – Take a stroll along the esplanade with the cool breeze brushing through your hair as the sun bids its farewell.
    – Join recreational activities held at the park, or go for a jog or a bike ride along the river.
  • Insider Info: There are restaurants and commercial establishments within walking distance from the Iloilo River Esplanade.

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4. Party the night away at Smallville Complex

Provinces aren’t usually synonymous with a good night out, dancing and drinking with friends. However, in Iloilo, the club scene is booming! Smallville Complex in Iloilo City is the hippest spot for a weekend out to have a good time over a couple of beers. The place has a string of dance clubs, bars, KTVs, and restaurants that cater to younger party animals as well as the older, more sophisticated crowd. If you’re looking to have a good time after touring Iloilo tourist spots, head over to Smallville!

  • Location: Smallville Complex, Diversion Rd, Mandurriao, Iloilo City
  • Best For: Barkadas, Partygoers
  • Highlights:
    – Smallville puts you at the heart of the party! The strip of restaurants, clubs, bars, and cafes make everything within reach.
    – Smallville is close to hotels, so getting rest after a full night of partying is as easy as a few steps.
  • Activity Tips:
    – You can dance the night away, have a drink with friends, or sing your lungs out to your favorite tune. Everything’s here!
    – During daytime, Smallville is also a great place to dine with your family. A string of restaurants offering different cuisines to settle your grumbling tummies.
  • Insider Info: There are convenient stores near the area and coffee shops to help you get off that hangover.
  • Contact Details:
    Smallville Complex Iloilo
    Phone: 0918 453 7928, (033) 501 6821

 

5. Join the Dinagyang Festival

Dinagyang Festival

One of the biggest festivals in the Philippines, Dinagyang is a celebration of religion and culture of Ilonggos, as well as the colorful history and rich heritage of the province. Highlighted by spirited performances, outrageous costumes, and heart-pounding drumbeats, Dinagyang is a huge spectacle of color and entertainment.

  • Location: The parade and performance stages are scattered around Iloilo City.
  • Fee(s): Parade (FREE), Other performances (P800 to P1,200)
  • Time: The festival is held every fourth Sunday of January, lasting for over two weeks.
  • Best For: Everyone!
  • Highlights: The Dinagyang Festival is best known for the street performances and the vibrant costumes. The parade’s energy will make you want to jump right into the scene!
  • Activity Tips:
    – Join in the fun! Watch the grand parade and every other event throughout the weeks-long celebration. There’s something to look forward to every day — from dance contests to beauty pageants, fashion shows to celebrity meet and greets.
    – Make sure you snap photos of the festivities!
  • Insider Info: Hotels may be fully booked during festival dates. Make sure you reserve your accommodations early.
  • Contact Details:
    Iloilo Dinagyang Foundation Incorporated
    Phone: (033) 337 2172
    Email/ Site: [email protected], [email protected], dinagyangsailoilo.com
    Facebook: @dinagyangsailoilofestival

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If you have more time on your hands, venture out of the city and try these awesome activities you’ll find in other parts of Iloilo.

6. Bask in the beauty of Islas de Gigantes

There are a ton of places to visit and things to do in Iloilo, but visiting Islas de Gigantes is up there on the list. Gigantes Islands is getting more recognition for being one of the most beautiful, underdeveloped beaches in the country.

If you’re looking for white sand beaches, clear blue waters, majestic rock formations, mystic caves, a lagoon, and possibly everything the spells paradise, then Islas de Gigantes is a must visit for you!

  • Location: Carles, Iloilo
  • Operation Hours: Ferry ride from Carles Bancal Port to Gigantes Norte will take around 1.5 hours. Commuter boats leave the port around 10am
  • Best For: Nature lovers, Beach bums
  • Highlights:
    – The white sand beach and the clear blue waters are what brings tourists to Gigantes Islands all year round. When we say “this is paradise”, we sincerely mean every single word.
    – Tangke Lagoon is a must visit. The saltwater lagoon hidden in the steep rock formations and cliffs of Islas de Gigantes. The view is stunning, and swimming in it makes for a one-of-a-kind experience.
  • Activity Tips:
    – For groups, it’s best to rent a boat so you can visit all the beautiful spots of the islands — from the lagoon to the beaches.
    – Note that electricity in the island is not available 24/7. Depending on your hotel, they may shut down the power at night until early morning.
  • Insider Info: Pack the necessities before traveling to the islands as there aren’t many stores to buy stuff from. Small sari-sari stores are available in certain areas only.
  • Contact Details:
    Rosewood Place Resort (Boat Rental, Accommodations, etc)
    Phone: 0929 483 5305, 0907 955 1099, 0910 710 1595
    Facebook: @Rosewood-Place-Resort

 

7. Visit a UNESCO World Heritage site

Miagao Church

Part of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines, Miagao Church in Iloilo has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its history and ornately decorated facade. Completed in 1797, the church was built with thick walls to serve as protection from the Moro invaders. Although it has been severely damaged by natural disasters, it has been restored several times with its structure standing strong today.

  • Location: Zulueta Ave, Miagao, Iloilo
  • Fee(s): FREE
  • Operation Hours: Daily mass starts at 5:30am while the last mass is at 6pm.
  • Best For: Art lovers, History fans, Religious
  • Highlights:
    – It’s intricately sculptured facade features St. Christopher holding onto a coconut tree with the Child Jesus on his back. A stone statue of St. Thomas of Villanueva is situated on top of the church doors, as well as other intricate designs.
    – Inside the church is a gold-plated retablo with the tabernacle being finished in 98% gold and silver.
  • Activity Tip: Stroll along the church grounds. You’ll find a historical marker that details the history of Miagao Church and at the rear side of the church, you’ll find the original image of St. Thomas of Villanova from the 1790s.
  • Insider Info: The yellowish-brown color of the church comes from the mixture of materials used to build it — adobe, eggs, corals, and limestone.

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8. Go island hopping at Concepcion

If we talk about Iloilo and beaches, people will probably have Islas de Gigantes at the top of their minds. However, there are more beaches in Iloilo than one might think. Aside from Gigantes Islands, Northern Iloilo has much to boast. Concepcion group of islands is just as magnificent!

Divided into 16 white sand islands, these patches of paradise are connected by the clear blue waters of the Visayan Sea. The area is also spotted with green hilltops and mountains half-drowned in the azul waters, as colorful marine life decorate the seas.

  • Location: Concepcion, Iloilo
  • Best For: Beach bums, Barkadas
  • Highlights:
    – The beautiful islands of Concepcion all have white sandbars, clear blue waters, and a landscape like no other. Imagine basking in the sun with a mountain range as your backdrop. It’s a true piece of paradise!
    – Aside from the beautiful beaches, the marine life in the waters of Concepcion is majestic. You’ll find a lot of impressive coral reefs and colorful fish species.
  • Activity Tips:
    – One of the best things to do in Iloilo is to go island hopping in Concepcion! Rent a boat with your friends and visit the beautiful Concepcion islands to see what each beach shore has to offer!
    – Go snorkeling! When the white sand shore and the clear waters aren’t enough, bring the party under water. Just don’t forget to bring your own gear.
  • Insider Info: Bulubadiangan Island is most popular among tourists, with budget accommodations available. Note though that electricity on the island is only available until 9pm.
  • Contact Details:
    Sandbar Island Beach Resort
    Phone: 0910 578 8323, 0995 667 1872
    Facebook: @SandBarIslandBeach

 

9. Appreciate the well-preserved marine life at San Joaquin

Located on the southern tip of Iloilo, San Joaquin boasts of rich marine life. Facing the Panay Gulf, which is considered Marine Protected Areas, San Joaquin offers great scuba diving spots that tourists will enjoy.

  • Location: San Joaquin, Iloilo
  • Fee(s): Diving rates range from PHP20,000 to 25,000 inclusive of equipment, training and boat transfers.
  • Operation Hours: Shop hours 9am to 7:45pm
  • Best For: Scuba divers, Adventurous
  • Highlights:
    – The marine life in San Joaquin is one of a kind. Since these are preserved and protected areas, you’ll find some of the most beautiful coral reefs and sea creatures in the area.
    – Given the rich marine life, seafood in this area is just as good! Expect to get delicious, fresh seafood on a budget in San Joaquin.
  • Activity Tips:
    – Go scuba diving! It’s the best thing to do in the area, as well as snorkeling.
    – Try shrimp catching! Ask one of the local fishermen to teach you how to catch shrimp, then have them for lunch — the best part!
  • Insider Info: Aside from the waters, you can also try visiting the San Joaquin Catholic Church and the San Joaquin Cemetery for a more historical trip.
  • Contact Details:
    Iloilo Scuba Dive Center
    Phone: 0928 997 3225
    Email/ Site: diveiloilo.com
    Facebook: @iloiloscubadivecenter

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10. Go hiking at Bucari Pine Forest

Bucari Pine Forest

Known as Iloilo’s “Little Baguio”, Bucari in the town of Leon offers a shift from the usual warm, sunny climate of the province. The colder weather and highland attractions, make this place a popular among tourists. Especially those looking for an adventure. Hike and bike trails are available in the area, and the views from the top are worth the trek up!

  • Location: Bucari, Leon, Iloilo
  • Operation Hours: Jeepney rides from Iloilo City to Leon Town Plaza run from 7am and the last trip back to town is at 2pm.
  • Best For: Nature lovers, Adventurous
  • Highlights:
    – The cool climate in Bucari is what brings tourists to the area! Already dubbed as the Summer Capital of Iloilo, the pine trees and cold weather make tourists and locals feel like they’re in Baguio.
    – The view from the top of the Mansiga Viewing Deck is just breathtaking, you’ll forget how tired you are from the hike up.
  • Activity Tips:
    – Going on a hike/ trek up the mountains of Bucari is one of the best things to do in Iloilo. At least on this side of the province. Visit Puting Bato too, which offers some of the best views of the area.
    – Swim in the waters of Imoy Falls. On your down from the hike, pass by this series of small waterfalls and be rejuvenated after a long tiring adventure.
  • Insider Info: To complete your outdoor adventure, pitch a tent at the campsite and stay the night underneath the twinkling stars. You can even join the other campers over a bonfire.
  • Contact Details:
    Iloilo Tourism Office
    Phone: (033) 337 2172, (033) 336 7572
    Email/ Site: [email protected]
    Facebook: @bucarileon

 

11. Go spelunking at Pawikan Cave

Cave exploring is one of the more adventurous things to do in Iloilo and no better place to do it than Pawikan Cave. This Iloilo tourist spot gets its name from the large egg-shaped rock found at the bottom of the cave, resembling a giant turtle’s eggs.

It is also best known for several more rock formations found at the heart of the cave. Chambers make the adventure more exciting, especially since only rays of little light from creases hundreds of feet up the cave opening light the area.

  • Location: Gigantes, Northern Iloilo
  • Fee(s): P500
  • Best For: Adventurous, Nature lovers
  • Highlights:
    – The rock formations inside this wide cave are stunning.
    – The history of the cave makes the trip even more interesting. From being home to ancestral spirits to the resting place of the Yamashita treasure, many tales have been said about the area. Ask your guide about these stories.
  • Activity Tips:
    – Make sure you wear the right outfit and shoes. The climb up the cave entrance is very steep, so make sure you’re dressed appropriately.
    – If you are suffering from health problems or have issues with cardio and stamina, think twice before going on the trip.
  • Insider Info: Many believe the Japanese Army kept their treasures in the cave, using the egg-shaped rock as a marker of where they left their treasure.
  • Contact Details:
    Iloilo Tourism Office
    Phone: (033) 337 2172, (033) 336 7572

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12. Swim in a natural saltwater lagoon

Tangke Lagoon

A hidden patch of paradise within paradise, this is what Tangke Lagoon is. It’s a natural saltwater pool hidden in the cliffs of Gigantes Island. The clear, blue-green waters are almost unrealistic and the rock formations, majestic — it’s like a scene of the movie “The Beach.”

  • Location: Isla Gigantes Sur, Carles, Iloilo
  • Fee(s): P100 (entrance fee), P1,500 (tour package starting price)
  • Best For: Nature lovers, Adventurous
  • Highlights:
    – The view from the top of the limestone cliffs that surround the waters is breathtaking! The blue-green-ish waters and the limestone formations that surround it make the perfect postcard photo of your Iloilo trip.
    – You’d need to trek the limestone walls a bit to reach the top and be able to enter the lagoon. Don’t worry though, your guide/ boat men should be able to help you out.
  • Activity Tips:
    – Swim in the clear waters of the lagoon! Relax and appreciate the beauty of nature.
    – Go cliff diving! Conquer your fears and take the great leap. Be it inside the lagoon (during high tide) or into the sea, it will be an experience you’d never forget!
  • Insider Info: The water’s color is a unique blue-green and changes hue depth depending on the tide.
  • Contact Details:
    The Gigantes Experience Tour Agency
    Facebook: @GigantesExperienceTour

 

13. Celebrate Christmas at Pototan’s Iwag Festival of Lights

Dubbed as the “Christmas Capital of Western Visayas”, the Pototan Plaza is turned into a village of lights during the holidays. The most spacious plaza in Iloilo is glittered with Christmas lights, decorations, and banderitas. The Iwag Festival of Lights also highlights the plaza’s features including the mahogany trees, man-made lagoon, the gazebo, and the Pototan Coliseum.

  • Location: Pototan, Iloilo
  • Fee(s): FREE
  • Operation Hours: 24 hours
  • Best For: Families, Barkadas
  • Highlight: During the Iwag Festival of Lights, the plaza turns into a Christmas village with lights and decors adorning the area!
  • Activity Tips:
    – Best to visit this area during the holiday season, when the plaza is adorned with Christmas lights at every corner.
    – Several markers and monuments are found in the plaza celebrating the history of Pototan and their struggle for freedom from the hands of the Spanish and Americans.
  • Insider Info: Senor San Juan Parish in Pototan is one of the most beautiful churches in Iloilo. While it doesn’t look like a preserved heritage site, the church features a well-maintained facade and interiors.
  • Contact Details:
    Municipality of Pototan
    Phone: (033) 357 1323, (033) 529 7333
    Email/ Site: [email protected]

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Enjoy a fun experience and check out other tourist spots to visit, restaurants to try and more in Iloilo City. Discover cheap hotel deals and cheap flights from carriers like Philippine Airlines, AirAsia, and more with Traveloka!

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