Iloilo City

Travel to Iloilo City and explore its many historical, cultural landmarks, and natural wonders. What are the top attractions that you should add in your Iloilo itinerary? Where can you eat the best cuisine and freshest seafood? If you’re planning the ultimate getaway to this province, this article has everything you need to know.

When you look at the map, you’ll see that the province of Iloilo is located in the middle of the Philippine archipelago. Because of its location and rich cultural heritage, it is given the nickname The Heart Of The Philippines. Its capital city, Iloilo City, was dubbed as Luy muy leal y noble Ciudad (the most loyal and gentle city) by Queen Maria Cristina of Spain.

The province is blessed with unbelievable islands and islets that could rival the famous Boracay Island anytime. There are hidden caves and lagoons, majestic mountains and falls, and a full lineup of heritage homes and century old churches that stand today as living museums.

A vacation in Iloilo City and its neighboring towns will give you a glimpse of the province’s natural beauty as well as the opulence of its heritage homes. Here are the best experiences you can have that you should add to your Iloilo tour itinerary.



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1. Explore Islas de Gigantes

iloilo gigantes island

Your trip to Iloilo won’t be complete without a trip to the Gigantes Islands in Carles. Also called Islas de Gigantes, it is perhaps the most famous Iloilo tourist spot with its secret caves and lagoons, fantastic beaches, and gastronomic seafood lunch buffets! Here are the top activities you should add to your itinerary:

  • Cabugao Gamay Island - ​This island is perhaps one of the most recognizable in Gigantes Island because of its widely shared photos in social media. The Cabugao Gamay Island is famous not just for its beauty but also for its peculiar, elongated shape. From above, one end of the island is covered with thick flora while the other end features some rock formation. In between is a beautiful white sandbar while emerald green waters surrounding the island. The beach is filled with piles of zen stones, that recently became an unexpected tourist attraction on Cabugao Gamay Island.

  • Bantigue Island - Head to the surreal Bantigue Island and its amazingly long sandbar. How the sandbar looks depends on the current, so better check the local weather before you go. If you want to camp out on an island, you can do it on Bantigue Island; imagine how perfect the sunrise and sunsets would be. Apart from swimming and camping, one of the best things to do here is to feast on scallops!

  • Antonia Beach - This beach in Iloilo has vast boulders on its shores. If you look a little closer, you’ll see the boulders’ erosion lines that make them look like sandwiches piled on top of each other. That’s why the island is also called The Sandwich Island, but there’s more! Antonia Beach is often the recommended lunch stopover for the island hopping tours.

  • Tinagong Dagat - It used to be called Isla Bonita, but it was changed to Tinagong Dagat, which means “hidden beach.” This secluded beach is dubbed as the Little Boracay of Iloilo since Boracay Island is the most famous white-sand island beach destination in the Philippines. Tinagong Dagat is a secluded beach with fine, powdery, white sand, crystal clear waters, and big stones that are perfect for small cliff jumping.

  • Tangke Saltwater Lagoon - This is another social media-famous Iloilo tourist spot. The word tangke means tank. The locals call it such because of the gap between two large boulders, which form an opening during low tide. You can visit this hidden, natural saltwater lagoon and swim in its clear, shallow waters. Locals believe that the deep pool is the home of engkantos (mythical environmental spirits). Tourists are often told to keep the noise level and activities at minimum to not disturb the minds.

  • Pawikan Cave - After all that island-hopping, swimming, and feasting on scallops and oysters, do something that’s more physically challenging: explore the Pawikan Cave! No, it’s not a secret hiding place for the pawikan (sea turtles). The cave got its name because of the massive rock formations here that look like eggs. From the jump-off point in Barangay Lantanga, the trek takes about 1 hour to the cave’s entrance. From there, you’re greeted with unbelievable rock formations and brightly lit atriums. It’s a bit eerie for some people. Tour guides advise keeping the noise level down so you won't disturb the elements or spirits that are said to be living there.

  • North Gigantes Island Lighthouse - The original, Spanish-built lighthouse is gone. The one you’ll see here is the more modern one that was built by the Japanese. Still, the views from the top of the Gigantes Island Lighthouse is one of the best there is. Going here is like a trip back in time. There’s the abandoned, old Spanish building and the vines that have taken on the ruins. It’s dramatic and nostalgic at the same time, definitely a must-visit during your Gigantes Islands tour.

2. Go on a Pilgrimage at Garin Farm

Garin Farm in San Joaquin is another well-photographed Iloilo tourist spot. It's an in-land resort that uniquely combines recreational, religion, and agriculture. You can kayak, swim, fish, and ride the zipline here.

You can check out the pilgrimage site where you’ll see nine biblical scenes, including Noah’s Ark and the Garden of Eden, depicted as life-size dioramas. To reach the majestic white cross that stands atop a hill, you need to climb the 456-step staircase. The summit is a great place to reflect and pray. At the summit, you’ll find the entrance to the Divine Mercy Dark Meditation Tunnel that leads to what is probably the most photographed part of Garin Farm: the so-called Heaven On Earth.

The dark tunnel symbolizes one’s challenges while on Earth, and the all-white and blindingly bright Heaven On Earth represents a person’s ascent to heaven after cleansing. There are many tours you can get to maximize your trip to Garin Farm. The place is accessible via both private and public transportation. The best time to go here is either very early in the morning or just before sunset.

3. Visit Molo Church

iloilo molo mansion

The province of Iloilo is filled with historical and ancestral homes that show travelers a glimpse of how the wealthy families lived back then as well as centuries-old churches that survived natural and human-made disasters. Today, you can visit these ancestral homes and churches and learn more about the Ilonggo heritage.

If you want to see statues of Greek gods and goddesses across a Catholic church, visit the Molo Church along San Pedro Street in Molo, Iloilo City. This so-called “female church” dates back to 1831. The exterior walls are made of white coral rock In 1992, Molo Church officially became a national landmark.

Interestingly, you’ll find statues of Greek deities at the Molo Plaza, which is right across this Spanish-colonial Catholic Church. Both the Molo Church and Molo Plaza are top Iloilo tourist spots today.

To get to Molo Church, hop on a jeepney with Arevalo or Molo routes. The best time to visit Molo Church is during sunset, followed by a stroll at Molo Plaza.

4. Pray at Jaro Cathedral

iloilo jaro cathedral

The Jaro Cathedral is one of Iloilo's oldest churches with a long, colorful history. Also known as the Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary and National Shrine of Our Lady of the Candles, locals lovingly call it merely as Jaro Cathedral.

It first started as a small parish back in 1587. As the years went by, it became a cathedral, and today, it is a national shrine that serves as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Jaro. The church was destroyed by an earthquake back in 1948 and was rebuilt in 1956. In 1976, the Jaro Cathedral was declared a historical landmark.

Interestingly, the Jaro Cathedral is called the “male church,” while the Molo Church, which is also in Iloilo, is called the “female church.” The churches got their nicknames because of the saints displayed there. Jaro Cathedral has male saints standing inside the church pillars while Molo Church features female saints. Many people, especially locals, believe that the church's 400-year-old image of Mother and Child is miraculous.

You can find the Jaro Cathedral along the busy Plaza Rizal Street in Jaro. The best time to visit is early in the morning or just before evening as the town winds down. While you’re there, do check out the nearby bell tower called the Campanario de Jaro, which is another famous Iloilo landmark.

5. Try La Paz Batchoy

Top 24 Iloilo Tourist Spots You Need to Add in Your Itinerary

The province of Iloilo is famous as the home of La Paz Batchoy, a clear noodle soup with pork cracklings, beef, chicken stock, and round noodles. The most popular places to eat batchoy are Netong's, Deco’s, Ted's, and Inggo’s. You may go on an Iloilo food trip and judge for yourself which among them serves the tastiest.

Batchoy's side dishes are pandesal (a Filipino bread) and puto (steamed rice cake). You can buy them or dip them in the broth. If you want, you can order more side dishes at a minimum cost. Add a little pepper and soy sauce to the soup, mix well and enjoy. You can ask for a refill if you finish your soup quickly.

6. Pray at Miagao Church

Top 24 Iloilo Tourist Spots You Need to Add in Your Itinerary

Miagao Church along Zulueta Avenue in Miagao is probably the most visually appealing, age-old church in the province of Iloilo. Also known as the Church of Saint Thomas of Villanova, its construction was completed in 1797. Today, it is one of the most unique Iloilo tourist spots and is a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, listed as one of the top examples of a Baroque-style church.

It is also famous for the detailed, artistic sculptures that adorn its facade, showcasing a unique mix of Spanish, Muslim, and Chinese traditions, influence, and elements. The image of the town's patron saint, St. Thomas of Villanueva, can be seen above its ornate wooden doors.

Getting to Miagao Church is pretty straightforward. Take a jeepney bound for Miagao from Iloilo City. The church is about 45 minutes away from the city proper. You can also join a guided tour that will bring you to this destination, among many others.

7. Enjoy the Nightlife at Smallville

Smallville is the nightlife capital of Iloilo City filled with dining and entertainment options for locals and tourists. It’s connected to the Iloilo River Esplanade and easily accessible from many Iloilo hotels. You can find Smallville Complex along Diversion Road.

Smallville started out as a complex with a casino, bar, and club next to Iloilo Business Hotel. If people mention Smallville" they usually mean the larger area that stretches from the initial Commercial Complex of Smallville to the Iloilo River Esplanade.

There are many trendy Iloilo restaurants and bars here serving local, fusion, and international cuisines. Grab a drink at some of the most hip bars, go clubbing, or watch a live band and experience the nightlife in the city.

8. Buy Souvenirs at Biscocho Haus

If you’re looking for the best pasalubong (food souvenir) to bring home, head to Biscocho Haus and get some of their famous Biscocho, a type of toasted bread with butter and sugar. It's best eaten as a snack with coffee or Pancit Molo. Operated from 6 am to 8 pm every day, in the roads of Lopez Jaena St., Don Aguedo Del Rosario house, near Jaro Square, the Original Biscocho House has served patrons for more than four decades.

They are experts in producing biscocho, the twice-baked, butter-coated, sugar-coated small loaves of bread. It's great to tickle the palate with coffee in the afternoon, or even with a bowl of hot soup. Because of its long tradition of being a favorite snack for generations, Filipinos also relate this pastry to their loved ones' fond memories.

Also, the original Biscocho Haus offers a variety of pasalubong products such as butterscotch, which is another best seller. There are also various types of fruit tarts, assorted slices of bread, banana chips, muscovado pieces of bread, tableas, and even numerous chicharon variants.

9. Visit Molo Mansion

Top 24 Iloilo Tourist Spots You Need to Add in Your Itinerary

This prominent mansion belonged to a noble and wealthy family in Iloilo. Built-in the 1920s, the Yusay-Consing Mansion, which is commonly known as the Molo Mansion, was once thought to be beyond repair. But today, it’s open to the public as a heritage attraction. Spend an afternoon here and marvel at the details of Filipino colonial architecture. There are several stores here selling export quality Philippines souvenirs and clothing, particularly those featuring the Ilonggo heritage.

After a short tour, you can head to the Molo Mansion Café, located behind the mansion, and enjoy local Ilonggo dishes like Pancit Molo with kinihad (toasted bread). Do try the intriguing buko ternate shake, a blue drink made with coconut meat and juice, and served in a green coconut shell. Its signature blue color comes from the bluish ternate flower.

The historic Molo Mansion stands just across the St. Anne Parish or Molo Church and town plaza in Molo. You can join a tour to maximize your time here, or you can hop on a jeepney bound for Molo or Arevalo.

10. Eat Pancit Molo

This local dish is a must-try in Iloilo. Pancit Molo is a meat-filled wonton with a hearty broth. The piping hot soup is ladled into bowls and garnished with green onions and fried garlic.

It originated from the seaport in the Philippine town of Molo. The Chinese tradesmen introduced wonton soup to the area, and local people started to call them Pancit Molo, perhaps because of a lack of a word for wonton that they instead likened it to pancit (noodles).

Tita Paz House of Pancit Molo is said to be the source of the famous soup. The restaurant shares a room with the Molo County Bakeshop, where residents can also buy gifts from Iloilo. Kap Ising Pancit Molo is also one spot that locals love going to. Kap Ising's is said to have Pancit Molo's most exquisite taste in the region.

11. Have a Food Trip at Tatoy’s Manokan

One of Iloilo's best restaurants is Tatoy's Manokan. This popular restaurant was founded in the 1970s and was originally a three table nipa shack. Tatoy was a fisherman, but he had the skills to cook them into tasty dishes. 

Tatoy’s is best known for their lechon manok (roasted chicken). Tatoy's chicken is marinated in native vinegar and calamansi with stuffed tamarind leaves and lemongrass. It has a rich, juicy, and savoy flavor that needs no sauce. 

Tatoy's also offer a wide variety of delicious seafood dishes. They have fresh scallops cooked with butter and garlic, grilled fish, kinilaw (ceviche), and stuffed squid. There’s a large glass-covered table where a selection of mouthwatering meals are presented. They provide fresh mango, coconut shake, and coconut juice.

12. Take a Dip at Sicogon Island

A high-end resort called Sicogon Island made this part of Iloilo famous during the 70s and 80s. Today, the luxurious resort is no longer in operation. However, the island is still a popular Iloilo tourist spot because of its forests, mountains, and beaches where the sand has a light yellow or orange tone.

The Barangay Buaya Beach is believed to be the best swimming spot on the entire island. Teeming with nipa huts and tall coconut trees, it’s one of the best Iloilo beaches where you can unwind in peace. If you want to snorkel, head to Tumaguin Island, but if you're going to do some hiking, you can take on the 1-2 hour hike towards the summit of Mount Opao. Near the central part of the beach are some cottages that are available for tourists who plan to stay overnight. 

13. Appreciate Heritage at Camiña Balay nga Bato

Camiña Balay nga Bato is one of Iloilo’s most prominent landmarks. The complex is still home to the 4th generation Melocoton-Avancena family. When visiting the old house, visitors are also welcome to visit the Antiques and Souvenir Shop named the Lola Rufina Heritage Curio Shop.

Saint figures crafted in red bricks, pictures, and textiles are just some of the rarer objects here. The wide staircase reveals a century-old Spanish style, where visitors are told to ascend sideways. When guests reach the second floor, you’ll see the Oratorio or prayer room, the Grand Sala, and the restaurant. 

In their bright, balcony dining room and casual dining-room, Camiña Balay nga Bato serves you Iloilo's finest Pancit Molo and hot chocolate. The Pancit Molo dish originated from the kitchen of the local legend Kapitan Ising. Every dumpling has a smooth tasty broth and rich filling of pork, chicken, and shrimp. 

14. Unwind at Iloilo River Esplanade

iloilo river esplanade

Go here if you want to see Iloilo City’s effort to protect the Iloilo River and promote a healthier, active lifestyle among its people. The Iloilo River Esplanade is where you can find the big “I Am Iloilo” signage. It’s both a lively and peaceful spot to jog, stroll, or take in the view.

Locals sometimes call it merely the Esplanade, and it’s easily accessible by both jeepneys and taxis. It’s the best starting point to kick off your walking tours because it’s nearby many Iloilo tourist spots like the Molo Church and Molo Plaza. The best time to go here are early morning and early evening.

The Esplanade stretches from Diversion Road to Carpenter's Bridge, linking Molo and Mandurriao neighborhoods. The Esplanade is a great place to visit, providing entertainment and pleasant places, amazing views of the Iloilo River and the sunset.

15. Explore Casa Mariquit

Casa Mariquit is a must-see well-preserved historic house in Iloilo. The house has been passed down through generations. It became the residence of Mariquit Javellana Lopez, the granddaughter of banker Ramón Javellana, and her husband Fernando Lopez Sr., the former Vice President of the Philippines. 

The word “mariquit” comes from the Tagalog word marikit which means beautiful, most likely referring to both the lady of the house and the house itself. The Casa Mariquit tours will take you around the property: the master bedroom, the former bank vault that Ramon Javellana used during his banker days, and the many furniture and memorabilia that belongs to the family spanning generations.

Unlike other ancestral homes in Iloilo, Casa Mariquit doesn't have sprawling lawns. It's also not as grand as it looks. But the furniture and political campaign paraphernalia here speak volumes about its history. You can find Casa Mariquit along Santa Isabel Street in Jaro.

16. Drink Coffee at Madge Café

The fresh coffee is the thing that distinguishes Madge from other coffee shops. The coffee beans come from the north and provinces of Iloilo and Guimaras. In comparison with traditional coffee shops, the brew here is produced using a flavor sieve at Madge's, which keeps coffee beans and helps the savors to grow with any additional layer of grain. 

Madge Café is one of the oldest coffee shops in Iloilo. It was founded in 1951 by Vicente De la Cruz. Initially, the shop sold halo-halo. Once Vicente knew realized that demand was seasonal, he chose to focus on coffee that was first and foremost his passion. Vicente and his wife Magdalena managed the business until they passed it onto their son, Gerardo. Along with his wife Julieta, they managed the cafe until he passed away. The family business was then passed down to Peter De la Cruz, his son. 

Customers can choose what kind of coffee they like best. There are choices for strong coffee at a very affordable price with and without milk. A different process appears to exist for each type, but only Madge's barista knows the secret. The coffee is best served in combination with puto (steamed rice cake).

17. Visit Lopez Heritage House

Top 24 Iloilo Tourist Spots You Need to Add in Your Itinerary

There are many heritage homes in Iloilo, and if you want to see the so-called Queen of Heritage Houses in Iloilo, head to Jaro and go on a tour inside the Vicente Lopez Heritage House. It is also known as Mansion de Lopez or Nelly’s Gardens and dates back to 1928.

The house was named after Nelly Lopez y Hofileña, the eldest daughter of the local couple Don Vicente Lopez and Doña Elena Hofileña. Its aristocratic roots are evident in its grand architecture, and because of its beauty and history, it was declared as a National Historic Landmark. It’s easily accessible by riding taxicabs or jeepneys. You can also join a guided tour for a hassle-free trip to this heritage house.

18. Explore Calle Real

Calle Real is one of Iloilo’s busiest and most iconic streets. It’s a highly photographed historic building in the city of Iloilo, and you’ve probably seen it in some travel magazines. Also known as J.M. Basa Street, here you’ll find a lineup of Spanish-era and Commonwealth buildings with some dating back to the 1800s.

People sometimes call it Heritage Street because the province's elite families once inhabited most of the buildings and homes here. It is easily accessible by jeepneys, and the majority of the tours in Iloilo include this stopover. Many structures are built on one or two levels. On the first level you can find shops, and on the second floor you can find the residences of Iloilo’s elite families. 

In 2000, the municipal government adopted the regional Cultural Preservation Ordinance to protect and prevent any harm to the structures. Now, many buildings have already been repaired and beautified due to the contributions of the local government and private sectors.

19. Head to Lizares Mansion

The striking Lizares Mansion in Tabuc Suba, Jaro, has witnessed a series of tragic events, including the torture of Filipinos during World War II. If you want to see how the noble and wealthy families of Iloilo lived during the colonial times, don’t miss this beautiful but also a sad reminder of the province’s past.

Filipino sugar baron Don Emiliano Lizares built the 3-story mansion in 1937 for his wife, Conchita Gamboa. During the war, the Lizares family fled to hide at Pototan, Iloilo. The Japanese imperial army used the mansion as headquarters and its basement as a torture ground. After the war, the Lizares family moved back, but the once beautiful villa became a living reminder of tragic times.

When the patriarch died, the mansion was transformed into a casino before it was sold to the Dominicans in 1962. After its renovation, the Lizares Mansion now serves as the church of the Angelicum School Iloilo that also stands inside the Lizares compound.

When you’re in Iloilo, you ride a taxicab or a jeepney, which is an accessible mode of public transportation in the Philippines, and see the white mansion along McArthur Drive in Tabuc Suba, Jaro. Tourists can join tours and see the intricate rooms and details of its rich past. The best time to visit is during the Christmas season when the whole mansion is adorned with holiday lights.

20. Go on an Adventure at Concepcion Island

iloilo pan de acuzar

The town of Concepcion is blessed with one of the most scenic seascapes in the whole Province of Iloilo. Forming a safe, natural harbor for Concepcion Bay are 16 islands connected by azure waters and abundant marine life.

It’s not as popular as Gigantes Islands, but the islands, islets, and beaches here are just as beautiful. You can go island-hopping or beach-hopping between Malangabang Island and Sandbar, Agho Island, Bulubadiangan Island, and Sipol Island.

You can swim, snorkel, free dive, and scuba dive at the beaches in Concepcion Islands. You can trek Mt. Pan de Acuzar, which is also called Mt. Manaphag, Panay’s tallest peak. Consider this as a challenge because Pan de Acuzar is the Philippines’ steepest mountain! After your trek, you can visit the Concepcion Island’s Spanish-style lighthouse that goes back to the colonial era on Calabaza Island.

21. Discover Kuliatan Marine Sanctuary

This tourist spot in San Joaquin, Iloilo, is a far cry from the shores of the Gigantes Islands. Instead of powdery white sand, the sand in the 2-hectare Kuliatan Marine Sanctuary is dark and mostly made up of crushed corals. But what makes this beach truly special is what you can see under the waters.

As the name suggests, it is a marine sanctuary. Snorkel here and discover the many corals and sea creatures swimming under the sea. You can also enjoy the beach facilities aside from the marine sanctuary. You can also stay at one of the cottages or huts overnight.

Make sure to bring enough food and beverages when you plan on staying overnight as most small restaurants within the area are closed during off-peak hours. Most of all, keep the area clean and dispose garbage properly.

22. Plunge Into Nadsadjan Falls

If you want to take a break from the back-to-back Iloilo beaches and island-hopping tours, you can swim in the calm waters of Nadsadjan Falls in Igbaras, Iloilo. At 100-feet tall, the rains fall beautifully to the natural swimming pool below. It’s one of the most relaxing tourist spots in Iloilo.

There are different types and sizes of trees and rocks along the path. Some stones are higher than usual, rough and hard, so be careful when trekking. The Nadsadjan Falls is accessible by public transport, typically via a jeepney bound for Igbaras from Iloilo City. From the town proper, you need to take another jeepney to Barangay Passi. After a 45-minute trek, you’ll be rewarded with the majestic waters of the Nadsadjan Falls.

23. Try Roberto’s Siopao

One of the must-try food in Iloilo is Roberto’s Siopao. This household name is only available in Calle Real’s heritage district, and cannot be bought anywhere else. The flavors of their siopao is so exceptional, it smells and tastes incredibly good without any sauce. 

Their bestselling siopao, Queen Siopao is a mixture of pork adobo, bacon, chinese sausage and egg. It gets sold out fast, which is why most of its patronizers line up early in the morning. King Siopao is also a crowd-favorite because of its hefty servings of pork adobo, egg, chicken and chinese sausage. You may also try their regular and jumbo servings! It’s a great pasalubong for your friends and family back home.

24. Camp Out at Bucari Pine Forest

iloilo bucari pine forest

Bucari is known as the “Little Baguio” of Iloilo. Many tourists go here to cool off during the dry and summer season in the Philippines. Among its many highlands attractions, the Bucari Pine Forest and Campsite is a top favorite. Surrounded by towering pine trees, people go here to have picnics and enjoy the fresh mountain breeze.

When you see the mountain views, all your concerns will surely be forgotten. Drink a cup of coffee and appreciate the scenery with your friends and family. In the evening, you can watch fireflies, providing a magical moment in addition to the chilly weather. If you plan to stay overnight, make sure to have your warm clothes ready and have an insect repellent ready to prevent mosquito bites. 

Plan Your Ultimate Iloilo Trip Today!

There is more to see and do in Iloilo than just island-hopping and tasting authentic La Paz Batchoy. Add these activities in your Iloilo itinerary and experience the best of the province’s unique culture, rich history, and pristine tropical island paradise!

Check out Iloilo tours and activities that can help you maximize your stay in the province and its unbelievable islands.