Iloilo, the City of Love

Iloilo province has seen immigrants even before Hispanic conquest. It is said, although no written documents exist, that Indonesians and also South Indian kings had once ruled this region.

A panoramic view of the city of Iloilo from the Mayor office terrace
A panoramic view of the “City of Love” , Iloilo from the Mayor office terrace

However eventually Spanish conqueror Legazpi succeeded in taking over this island. From then the Hispanics ruled over for over 300 years. These and many more facts and history was running through my head as we landed in the small airport of Iloilo city.

First thing that surprised me was, that the airport was empty, empty of any airplane except ours. Apparently not many flights that day. This was the new airport, some distance away from the city. It took half an hour or so to reach my hotel, one of the comfortable boutique hotels in Iloilo. I was told that the hotel and the surrounding glitzy buildings were all built on the old airport land and the main street was in fact the old runway! Well, that’s the speed with which Iloilo is growing. 😀

Here I write my experiences in Iloilo city.

things to do Iloilo city, Western Visayas, Camiña Balay nga Bato in Arevalo
Elaborate buffet at Camiña Balay nga Bato in Arevalo. Mme. Camiña explaining the various preparations

Camiña Balay nga Bato in Arevalo. It may read and sound archaic, but when we reached there after a short rest at the hotel, I found that it was the most interesting house. Built in 1865, the house was a veritable museum of sorts and it was home to one of the oldest and richest Ilonggo families. Mme Camiña hosted an elaborate buffet of Ilonggo cuisine which served the palate of even me, a vegetarian. I finished the lunch while a local singer crooned love songs. 🙂
The lunch ended with a slurpy tsokolate (hot chocolate). If you are a foodie then this place is a must. Don’t forget to call in advance and reserve.

things to do Iloilo city, Western Visayas, ilonggo cuisine
Ampalaya or Bitter Gourd or Karela in Hindi. Philippines is the only place outside of Indian Sub-continent, I have seen its use.
things to do Iloilo city, Western Visayas, Camiña Balay nga Bato in Arevalo
Crooner of Ilonggo love songs. She made our lunch even more tastier at Camiña Balay nga Bato

The house had pillars made of tree trunks. The more such pillars, the richer one is. In Camiña Balay, there were 24 pillars! The ground floor also has a curio shop and a couple of weaving machines amongst other antiques.

things to do Iloilo city, Western Visayas, barquillos
Skilled Barquillo maker managing two stations

De Ocampo’s Barquillos. Continuing with the food theme, I reached Ocampo’s where I had my fill of barquillos, a tube or roll made of wafer. The skilled barquillo maker was managing two stoves and the speed with which he made them was faster than I could eat! Concentration is the key and start with the right consistency of the batter. Too light, it burns easily while too thick, it sticks to the surface.

things to do Iloilo city, Western Visayas, Jaro Cathedral
Jaro Cathedral and National Shrine of Our lady of candles

National Shrine of Our lady of candles. Have a wish? Light a candle. Also known as the Jaro Cathedral, was the first one to be built in the Panay Island. The belief is you light a coloured candle as per your wish and it will come true. Remember red candle is for good luck, pink for love, green for hope and blue for career! I saw a few people buy a bunch of all colours. How greedy can people get! Ha Ha Ha. 😀

things to do Iloilo city, Western Visayas, Jaro Cathedral
Candles and rosaries sellers at Jaro Cathedral

I felt that the design was quite unique in that, the belfry was detached from the main church building and located across the street. Later I was told that it was not by design. There was another Church next to the bell tower that collapsed during an earthquake. This cathedral has been graced by Pope John Paul II, during his visit to the Philippines in 1981 and canonized the image of Mary.

things to do Iloilo city, Western Visayas, Jaro Bell tower
Detached belfry opposite Jaro Cathedral

The new Capitol building. There is a small museum and a video show on the ground floor that talks about the festival of Dinagyang, religious and cultural festival, held in January. Several schools and groups participate in this festival. The highlight is the view from its terrace! One can have a 360-degree view of the city of Iloilo. If you are lucky you could meet the mayor too!

things to do Iloilo city, Western Visayas, Molo Mansion
Molo Mansion, A finest example of architecture of that period

Molo Mansion is a perfect example of a Spanish house and is now maintained in mint condition. Situated right opposite Molo Cathedral,  a private builder acquired it and turned it around into a heritage museum and a souvenir shop. In its heyday it was the residence of one the influential families of Molo province.

things to do Iloilo city, Western Visayas, Molo Church
Molo Church opposite Molo Mansion

Molo Church, also called St Anne Parish church is located across the street. It is one of the largest church buildings in this region and is still active. Another uniqueness about this Church is that, it is “all women” meaning there are 16 statues of women saints along the aisle.

things to do Iloilo city, Western Visayas, Molo Church,
Aisle and altar of Molo church. The pillars are adorned with women saints’ statues.

Heritage streets and buildings. One can observe several historic Luxury buildings of American influence on Calle Real or the Royal street or J.M. Basa Street. One can also view the original Ilonggo affluent family homes on the Millionaires row. A jaunt in the market street and china town could be a wonderful experience to soak in the culture and eat good food. Some of the colonial houses in the outskirts are just awe inspiring.

things to do Iloilo city, Western Visayas, Nellies Garden, Spanish house , Vicente Lopez Heritage House
Nellie’s Garden , a sprawling Spanish colonial house in Iloilo City. It is also called Vicente Lopez Heritage House

 

things to do Iloilo city, Western Visayas, Iloilo River Esplanade
Starting point of the riverfront promenade

Iloilo River Esplanade is a waterfront Promenade. A 1.2 KM walk along the river amidst evening walkers and joggers is a perfect way to wind down a hectic day. At places there are heady but nice smells of flowers. I am sure one Cestrum Nocturnum or “Raat ki Rani” as we call it in India.

things to do Iloilo city, Western Visayas, Iloilo River Esplanade
A view of the mayor residence at the opposite bank of Iloilo River

If you think you have “done” Philippines, then here’s another place to go. Let us hear your experience!

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43 thoughts on “Iloilo, the City of Love

  1. Nice read Vasu, didn’t know Iloilo city has so much to offer! Was under the impression that these were small little towns with hardly any stories.

  2. I have never heard of that city before but it looks very interesting that I have to visit it. I particularly like the architecture.

  3. Iloilo City looks like a great place to explore! I would love to check out Molo Church–the design is so pretty. All the food you mentioned sounds delicious, too. I’ll have to add this to my list for when we visit Philippines!

  4. I wouldn’t have guessed Iloilo was in the Philippines. Looking at the photos, I would have said Portugal or Spain or South America. Looks like a great spot for history lovers.

  5. I have never heard of Iloilo until I came to the Philippines. I’m a heritage and history buff, so Iloilo will be an interesting place for me to explore the next time I visit this lovely country ???? Great post!

  6. My family and I have recently spent some time in our birth country, The Philippines. We didn’t get a chance to visit Iloilo, although from your photos and description, we should have. I love the photo of the candle ladies and I would probably also buy all the colors, why not? Great story.

  7. I had never heard of Iloilo City but I’d love to visit! All of the architecture looks really nice, especially that of Molo Church. And your description of the food made me want to visit even more!

    1. Yes Ajay. Yes I agree, there is a lot of history to Cebu, considering Cebu is where Spaniards first set their foot , converting the then Rajah Humabon to Christianity. This region is steeped in history and culture. I have yet to write about Guimaras and Bacalod. They are equally interesting, if not more.

  8. My knowledge of phillipines majorly includes to Manila, Boracay, Cebu and couple of smaller beach destinations. Thanks to you, now I have first hand knowledge of Iloilo city. What an intersting post, got me hooked with the Bittergourd Ampalaya. Did u taste it?

    1. Thanks. Yes of course I tasted it. It tasted good. The preparation is more like raw pieces are soaked in salt water and the fried garnish of garlic , onions etc are added. Well thats what I think anyway 🙂

  9. I’m missing the Philippines while reading your article. Iloilo is really a lovely city. Just this year I attended a beach wedding in the nearby island called Guimaras. That was the best beach wedding I ever I attended. Have you been to Guimaras too? Your photos give justice to the old buildings of IloIlo city. Hope you enjoy your stay in our country.

  10. I already heard that the Philippines has so many beautiful attraction so I wondered if it’s true and it’s even more than what I expected, unfortunately, I’ve never visited that place. Looking forward visiting again.

  11. You mean Ilo Ilo in the Philippines? I’ve heard about that city during my vacation in Boracay. Coincidentally, I have a friend who lived there unfortunately, I’ve never taken a glimpse of the city because of my hectic time. I’ll never miss Ilo Ilo the next time I visit the Philippines. Thanks for the post. Love to read it.

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