ILOILO : A Quick Taste and Tour of the City

Calle Real

Inside the pink S. Villanueva Building: Iloilo’s famous Calle Real at night in J.M. Basa Street

What things to do if you only have a few days to explore the province of Iloilo? Can Iloilo satisfy your wondering sight and taste buds in just 2 1/2 days? Find out how my friends and I took advantage of our trip (in between attending a friend’s Romanian/Filipino wedding) as we got a quick but fulfilling taste of what this growing city is all about!

Location: Western Visayas

Distance from Manila: 290 Miles / 251.3 Nautical Miles

Flight Duration: 1 hr. and 5 mins.

Our ITINERARY (with rough estimated time):

*Influenced by some research, suggestions from friends, motivation from our tummies and inspiration through a good balance of planning and spontaneity. Thanks to our travel writer friend Anson Yu and to the reliable website of another friend Mr. Anton Diaz.

DAY 1

Airport traffic

It was “traffic” even at the airport ground, which caused our delayed arrival.

2ish in the afternoon: Arrival at Iloilo Airport

Our first reaction about their airport was “wow” for a provincial airport. It was impressive to know that this city has their own Iloilo International Airport or Cabatuan Airport, which can now accommodate flights to Hong Kong and Singapore (for now).

Upon our arrival, we were also blessed that our bride-to-be friend Lorie and her fiancé Cipp were the ones who fetched us from the airport. So when we met Cipp for the first time and saw Lorie after a long time, we couldn’t resist but ask about the details of their love story. 😉

3ish in the afternoon: Check-in at Smallville21 Hotel and late lunch at Ocean City

The best part about living in Smallville21 is the convenience of having a lot of options for restaurants and cafés, and even for some activities. It’s like Iloilo’s Bonifacio Global City in Taguig. Right across our hotel was a convenience store and just close to the complex are the city’s Esplanade and a number of present and future developments from Ayala Land’s Atria, Megaworld and other emerging structures.

This area is known as the city’s central part for entertainment and nightlife. So if you’re looking for a temporary abode in Iloilo that is totally peaceful and quiet then this area may not be for you. Our hotel has fast wifi but we also experienced some occasional and short brownouts at night. But if you’ll ask us, the location and nightly rate for this hotel was perfect for us and our budget.

Ocean City Late Lunch

Since we live close to the restaurants, it gave us some pretty good options where to try our first set of seafood dishes. The first restaurant that we chose was Ocean City Seafood and Restaurant.

You can tell that we were very famished but we’re still patient to wait for more than 30 minutes for our orders to arrive. I think most of you can relate that when you’re hungry every thing is just good! Our share for our late lunch (for 4 pax) was about Php 280 each.

close to 5 p.m. in the afternoon: A jeepney ride to Calle Real

After getting some needed energy, we enthusiastically took a jeepney ride going to Calle Real. Every one was helpful in Iloilo whenever we asked for directions. We somewhat got lost a bit (or so we thought) when we arrived in J.M. Basa Street. We didn’t know that the strip was already the historic Calle Real. We just needed to find the old buildings. :p

Good thing out of our curiosity, we crossed the street and went inside one of the S. Villanueva buildings – the pink one. 😉 Some locals helped us and one of them, Kuya Sid, even showed us the second floor of the building where we saw the strip of the whole Calle Real in J.M. Basa Street.

The view was gorgeous! It was like living in the 1930’s when the same street served as the city’s shopping and entertainment district. It actually looked like an old and cleaner version of Recto or Old Manila. Kuya Sid also mentioned that some of the buildings were influenced by Art Deco architecture.

Calle Real

The pink S. Villanueva Building where we met Kuya Sid and the lamp post where J.M. Basa street was. My friends were trying to take a photo of me with the “J.M.” Street sign. This trip would have been more complete if I also got a picture at the de la Rama street. :p Maybe next time!

After Kuya Sid directed us to some of Calle Real’s old buildings we went around the city to take a stroll. It was extremely hot that we ended up eating some ice cream while looking for Roberto’s Siopao. 

730ish in the evening: Roberto’s Siopao

A few steps took us to Iloilo’s “best siopao” at Roberto’s. It was highly recommended by some bloggers and friends. But since we weren’t that hungry yet, we just ordered one siopao to share just to have a taste of it. (Thanks to the motherly love of Tanya for “finger-slicing” the siopao into 4 equal parts!)

I forgot the kind of siopao that we ordered but the majority’s reaction was “it was okay”. Maybe we have to order the Queen Siopao?

Roberto's Siopao

Roberto’s Siopao Php 45

What kind of siopao do you recommend at Roberto’s?

Anyway, I thought that the bun was soft and nice. 😉

8ish in the evening: Mango Tree Bar and Restaurant

After trying Roberto’s Siopao, we took a cab going to Mango Tree Bar and Restaurant in Guzman Street. I think this place is perfect if you want to end the night with a nice ambience, chill out with friends, hold an intimate event, or have a romantic dinner with your loveydovey. (Across our table was actually a couple who were dating with matching bouquet of flowers from the guy. Chismosa lang ang peg.)

Mango Tree

Mango Tree’s ambience and bestsellers Sizzling Gambas at Php 215 and Sizzling Bulalo at Php 205

Special thanks to our Ilonggo friends Jon and Yas for recommending their personal favorites! We were able to try two out of three dishes that they suggested. Their Sizzling Gambas and Sizzling Bulalo are really a must-try! The gambas was hot and good and the beef was so rich and tender! I think it was quite bitin for the four of us as it was that delicious! But hey we said we’re just there for a “light meal”.

A visit to Mango Tree was a nice end to our first day. :)

DAY 2

More about this on my post tomorrow (with video)

8ish in the morning: Camiña Balay nga Bato

After grabbing some quick breakfast at our hotel, we took a jeepney ride going to Camiña Balay nga Bato in Osmeña Street. I can say that this place was one of the highlights of our trip and my personal favorite. I also enjoyed the all-you-can-drink native tsokolate that we had at this lovely heritage home. So many good things to share about this place and the effects of sugar high.

(I’m dedicating a separate article for this one since I love it so much! We had a hard time leaving the place.)

11ish in the morning: Lunch at Breakthrough Restaurant

Breakthrough

Spotted!

It was just an easy tricycle ride from Camiña Balay nga Bato to Breakthrough Restaurant. Got so excited to try some of the city’s freshest seafood here!

Order

To order, one should make “turo-turo” or “point-point” the dishes that they like.

Seafood Issues:I took an allergy test years ago and my allergologist told me that I was allergic to (if not all then most) seafoods, banana and chocolates. How weird! Banana?! Chocolates?! I didn’t want that test to keep me from living life to the fullest (which includes eating what I want to eat). So I started praying for healing and thankfully, with moderate and disciplined eating, I never had any wild allergic reactions from seafood. 

What we enjoyed during our lunch were these fresh feast of seafood:

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Scallops (baked with butter and garlic): Php 195

soft shell

“Eat-everything” Soft Shell Crabs (served with fresh tomatoes, red onions and some sea veggies): Php 200

I find this seafood dish too salty for me but it was really good with rice… lots of rice! I was happy to eat E V E R Y T H I N G on those crabs too.

ok

Baked Oysters (with cheese and toasted garlic bits): Php 120

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Steamed Oysters: Php 60

And last and ze best…the winner…the star of all shellfish…

The pure heavenly goodness and highly seasonal… DIWAL! (Applause)

We were so happy that they have this! Thank you, Lord! :p

ok

Php 36.25/piece or Php 290 for 1 order (8 pieces)

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They are or were the angels of the sea!

This angel will really make your palate soar with pure happiness and sheer joy with its unique and distinct sweet and divine taste! A taste of heaven in every shell. It was so pure! We love it! And we all agreed that, “IT WAS GOOD”.

I think if there’s one food that I can pick to describe the Ilonggos it would be this diwal or “angel wings” clam – they’re known to be sweet, gentle and kind. Naks! 

This is surely a must-try when you’re in this part of the country. To know more about this heaven-sent seafood (couldn’t resist the puns), read this.

buko

Drinks: Fresh Buko Php 55, Mango Shake Php 60

Visiting Breakthrough was nice. We had a tranquil view of the beach while we enjoyed our seafood dishes partnered with either fresh coconut juice or mango shake. (Take advantage of all the mangoes here. So good!)

(I’ve read mixed reviews about this restaurant especially with their service. What do you guys think about this place? Can you recommend other good or even better and cheaper seafood restaurants in Iloilo City?)

3ish in the afternoon: Wedding of Ciprian & Lorie

With just roughly an hour to prepare for the main reason why we were in Iloilo, we hurriedly got back to our hotel to get ready for Cipp and Lorie’s wedding at Alicia’s Garden.

From our hotel, it took us about 20 minutes to arrive at the wedding venue. We even experienced a short delay when one of the tires of our taxi fell into an open manhole. We got another taxi and lo and behold we were so close to the location!

wedding

In the photo: At the wedding reception with my travel friends Tanya and Len and the bride’s lovely twin Lili. The other photo was with the new couple Cipp and Lorie and their friends from “Every Nation” (that was us including Isabella, hihi).

Thankful for God’s protection and for the wedding of Cipp and Lorie. Without their wedding, we wouldn’t hear and witness another wonderfully written and inspiring love story, discover a bit about Romanian culture, and explore the beautiful city of Iloilo.

The wedding’s message from the officiating pastor: Love, Friendship and Fidelity

After the wedding, we had a short walk around Smallville, had some evening snacks and bought some food for our early trip to Guimaras the next day.

DAY 3

Will post more about our trip here on Thursday

8ish in the morning: Travel to Guimaras Island

We were planning to wake up at 5 a.m. so we can leave early and do more in Guimaras. But I woke up eeek late around 6ish! Nevertheless, we were grateful to see this spectacular island and to taste the sweetest mangoes in the world!

My friend was right, there are so many islands to see in Iloilo (including the Gigantes Islands) but we shouldn’t leave Iloilo without traveling to Guimaras.

This and the “three dramas” to be featured on a separate article.

2 in the afternoon: Wash, pack and check-out 

We extended at our hotel a bit more so we could have extra time to wash, pack and check-out after our trip to Guimaras. But our trip to Iloilo definitely didn’t end here.

After checking out we met our friend’s brother-in-law Jason at our hotel’s lobby. We appreciate that despite Jason’s busy schedule from all his community projects, he still took time to show us around. What was good about having a tour with a local and public servant like Jason was how he was able to share not just some history and background about each place that we went to but also his passion and love about his city.

Our city ride with Jason lead us to our first stop where one of the gastronomic icons of Iloilo originated from… the La Paz Public Market.

3:30ish in the afternoon: Netong’s La Paz Batchoy and Iloilo City Tour

A few hours before our flight to Manila, Jason made our city tour worthwhile. Here are the places that we visited:

1. NETONG’S ORIGINAL SPECIAL LA PAZ BATCHOY

Netongs

Special Batchoy Php 55

(Original na, special pa. San ka pa?) Netong’s got me with the words ORIGINAL and SPECIAL. And just like any other legends, there are also a lot of versions where this Iloilo specialty started from. Some say it was Ted’s and some Deco’s.

Whether it’s Netong’s, Ted’s or Deco’s, I’m just glad to try this local specialty from a real bowl! (The last time I ate La Paz Batchoy was when I was in college in the form of an instant cup noodles.) So despite the fact that I’m getting rid of pork (as much as I can) and barely drink sodas, I had both as what was suggested as a “good combination” and some puto.

So, was the deadly combination of pork intestines and liver, bone marrow, chicharon, carbonated drink and maybe some MSG worth it? For the experience, I would say yes.

(For more information about Netong’s La Paz Batchoy read it straight from Our Awesome Planet.)

missed madge

What we missed: Madge Cafe and some good PANCIT MOLO

Whenever you travel, do you visit the city’s market (just like Jason)? I think it’s a brilliant idea to include the public market on your itinerary. By doing so, you get to taste real local food, hear interesting stories and experience what the city and its people are really all about.

2. A VIEW OF ILOILO’S WATERFRONT

Promenade

Some dramatic view here.

I’m not sure if this area is what you call Fort San Pedro Promenade? But I read an article written last 2008 here where I saw what this place looked like 7 years ago (almost unrecognizable). But look at how beautiful this promenade is now?

It’s admirable to see how this city keeps on building and rebuilding to its old grandeur and charm. Something worth emulating by other cities in our country.

With the construction of this city’s very own Iloilo Convention Center in time for APEC and other developments, I’m looking forward to hear more great news about this city and its inevitable impact to our nation.

3. HERITAGE HOUSES

heritage houses

Stylish Mansions/ Houses: Nelly Gardens, Joaquin Ledesma House, Sanson y Montinola Ancestral House, Lizaras Mansion.

Jason also drove us around Iloilo’s Heritage Mansions, which Len and I enjoyed. We both love old architecture and the stories behind each structure. The way that each houses were designed clearly speaks about this city’s rich history. We hope that they would be preserved.

4. JARO CATHEDRAL 

Jaro Cathedral

Jaro Cathedral

Another structure that we quickly visited was Jaro Cathedral.

Have you ever seen a church that has a separate bell tower? Well, here it is the only one of its kind (I think). There were also no female saints here, this church only houses male saints (as shown on the picture above). Interesting? Strange? Yes! And there are more interesting churches to visit in Iloilo if you like to include them on your itinerary.

5. ILOILO RIVER ESPLANADE 

Esplanade

At your service: Borrowed the segway of these Ilonggo policemen

One of the places where we enjoyed walking while watching the old and new parts of Iloilo was at this Esplanade. Across the Esplanade, we saw old structures of Iloilo, houses, and the river that reminded us about Europe. There are also a lot of new buildings around like hospitals, hotels, universities, dining and shopping centers.

kids

Close to the Esplanade was this complex for kids. I think this place was smartly built and Iloilo is one of the cities to watch out for in our country.

With every thing that we saw, we also realized that Ilonggos are health-conscious people (that or Iloilo wants to promote it and balance the health of its people from all the Batchoy being eaten in the city). We discovered from Jason the surprising number of fun runs being organized in their area and saw their impressive Sports Complex too.

With this Esplanade, it definitely promotes not just for people to be more active and healthy but for them to also spend more quality time with their family and people that they love.

THE LAST HURRAH

6ish in the evening: End of city tour with Jason, luggage pick-up and Tatoy’s before heading to the airport

If you think our Iloilo experience ended at the Esplanade then no. :) One cannot leave Iloilo without having a taste of Tatoy’s best manok and seafood! Before heading to the airport, we were able to manage to drop by at Tatoy’s (which was very near the airport) and asked our taxi driver to wait for us as we buy our first Ilonggo listong manok!

tatoy's

Our driver was kind enough to wait for us as we ordered our last authentic Ilonggo meal at Tatoy’s. After ordering our dinner to-go, we went to the airport for our flight back to Manila. (You need to pay a terminal fee of Php 200 at the airport).

We were planning to have Tatoy’s as our dinner inside the plane but thank goodness our 8:45 p.m. flight was delayed! God with his infinite wisdom knew that we might start a commotion with just the smell of our freshly baked oysters and roasted native chicken inside the aircraft!

Tatoy's

Had Tatoy’s at Coffeebreak inside the airport :) We just had half of our chicken in this photo and kept the other half. We though it was enough for us but we were wrong, we ended up finishing the whole thing!

Our delayed flight meant one thing – we can now freely enjoy Tatoy’s with our hands! We were able to enjoy our Tatoy’s at a cafe inside the airport called Coffeebreak (thanks for the correction from one of the readers) while waiting for our boarding. The baked oysters were fresh and yummy and the litsong manok was so tasty!

Good thing they didn’t sell us just half an order (thinking a whole chicken might be too much for us). Tatoy’s whole chicken was just enough for two hungry ladies!

What makes Tatoy’s chicken so good?

Besides the chicken being thin (because it’s native and organic) and long-legged like me (I wish), they only use “Darag” (what they call their native chicken), which they marinade in native vinegar, calamansi, salt and stuffed with tamarind leaves (which I saw on my chicken) and lemongrass. This litsong manok is also charcoal-roasted (complete with its head, don’t look into the poor thing’s eyes) while smothered with achuete or annatto oil.

This recipe and the amazing story of its owner Mang Tatoy, makes it one of the best and healthiest chicken in the country! It’s aromatic, the meat is left very tasty with enough crisp skin on it, and it’s made with love. And since they use organic chicken, it means it has less fat but high in protein and rich in potassium. (Just like me again – less fat, high in energy and rich in love. :p) 

Eating Tatoy’s at the airport as our last hurrah was definitely a perfect way to end our memorable trip to Iloilo. It was a satisfying trip with every thing that I enjoy – history, architecture, food, great friendships and a love story that are all worth the visit and experience in this progressive city.

Iloilo City Philippines Sunset Travel Tour

From Iloilo’s Esplanade, we saw this breathtaking view of the peaceful river and the beautifully painted sky that served as a dramatic backdrop to the old and charming structure of the city – the silhouette of MOLO CHURCH, the counterpart of JARO CHURCH that houses female saints only (thanks to one of our readers Glenn for this info).  It reminded us of Europe. Len said it looks like some place like Hungary. But nope this was Iloilo. The growing but still charming city of love.

Thank you ILOILO for the experience, heritage and culinary taste and tour of your city. We were truly satisfied with our 2 1/2 days of knowing you.

Keep on thriving and growing while keeping that old charm of yours. :)


 

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17 Comments

  • June 4, 2015

    cmgarrido

    Great photos… as always. Makes me want to hop on a ferry and walk through the streets of Iloilo.

    Visit Bacolod next time.

    • June 4, 2015

      Joanne-Marie

      Thank you! :) Would like to see Bacolod next time.

      • June 5, 2015

        sugarbowl

        yah Bacolod is the most progressive and largest highly urbanized city in Western Visayas, The leading city in WV in terms of economy and industry… Home of CNN and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC renowned Masskara Festival.. BPO capital of western visayas… Football city of the RP… Only provincial capital to be leveled with regional capitals… A true haven… Best Place to live in the Philippines…sana maka visit ka rin sa city namin

        • June 5, 2015

          Joanne-Marie

          For sure your city would also be worth visiting! I have some friends from Bacolod too and heard so many nice things about it. I’m just happy how each part of our country are moving forward in such growth and progress! I hope we’ll all continue to inspire and encourage each other. :) Yes, I’m really hoping na madami pa ako maexplore na places in our country including Bacolod. :)

          • June 6, 2015

            sugarbowl

            oo naman marami talaga pwedi pasyalan dito sa bacolod..lalo na ang mga naglalakihang malls namin..yong SM city po namin ay biggest sa buong region 6 kami lang po ang may ayala mall sa buong region 6 may robinsons din and soon ayala regional mall..kung may esplanade po ang Iloilo may baywalk naman kami na mas maganda ang view lalo na sa sunset maganda mag pa picture doon..siguro dahil negros island region na kami at hindi na kami napa belong sa region 6 sure ako sisigla pa economy namin at lalo pa dadami mga malls na maganda pasyalan talaga,sana sa madaling panahon makapunta kana dito mas masarap po yong chicken inasal namin

  • June 5, 2015

    Cafe Ilonggo

    There’s more to explore in Iloilo when you come back po. If you’re into adventure try the waterfalls at Bucari, Leon (our Summer Capital), Isla Gigantes and other seafood haven of North Iloilo, Bulabog Putian Park’s caves & forest and the churches down south from Molo, Guimbal, Tigbauan, Miag-ao to San Joaquin & don’t forget the Camposanto Heritage staircase & cemetery.

    There’s definitely more to experience in Iloilo City & Province. But in fairness, sa 2 days nyo pa lang po bongga na ang nabisita nyo. hehehe. Thanks also to sir Anson Yu! 😀

    • June 5, 2015

      Joanne-Marie

      Hi Cafe Ilonggo! Thank you for your suggestions. Definitely those are something that I’ll be putting on my list (especially the adventure part) when I get the chance to visit your city again. You have such a beautiful place and a weekend was really not enough. But at least nagkapreview ako how “rich” Iloilo is!

      I also saw your FB page. Do you conduct food trips in your city? :)

      • June 5, 2015

        Cafe Ilonggo

        I’m not into food trips pa for all since I have a job in the City Gov’t. But kung babalik kau pwedeng pwede hehehehe!

        • June 5, 2015

          Joanne-Marie

          Talaga? Haha maybe you should start introducing your own FOOD tour in your city (perfect for your job in the city gov’t too). Just in case, it would be like a weekend food/ historical tour. :)

  • June 5, 2015

    bluestain

    You didn’t visit our ancestral house ( Lopez-Vito Mansion)! haha! I miss IloIlo! Too many good memories growing up, visiting my abuelitos house in Jaro and Lapaz. And oh, I love Tatoys!

    • June 5, 2015

      Joanne-Marie

      Oh my I didn’t know!!! :p Now I have a major reason to go back to Iloilo! Tour us there! :p We drove around Jaro Plaza and missed your place! Boo-hoo!!! 😀 Yes the unforgettable Tatoy’s! I’ve been craving for some since I got back to Manila haha.

  • June 5, 2015

    Agustin H. Cartagena

    Hello JM thank you for this very entertaining :) blog about our beloved Iloilo City. It is good to know that you did enjoy and make the most of your short stay. I’ve got to read the rest of your stories. Ciao

    • June 5, 2015

      Joanne-Marie

      The pleasure is mine, Agustin! So glad to know that you find it entertaining. Will post another one soon! Ciao! :)

  • June 5, 2015

    Glenn Anthony

    Very nice article about Iloilo City. Btw, yung church sa last photo mo is the Molo Church. Parang counterpart yan ng Jaro Cathedral. Puro babae yung saints na nakalagay diyan. :)

    • June 5, 2015

      Joanne-Marie

      Hi Glenn! Thank you and thanks for letting me know about Molo Church. Will update that part! :)

  • June 5, 2015

    Michael John Sabido

    Thanks for this wonderful article about our city! :) I really enjoy reading blog posts like this because I’m very interested to know what visitors/tourists think of Iloilo. I’m glad you enjoyed your stay here and I hope you could go back and visit Iloilo again in the future. You’ve managed to squeeze all those things in just a short period of time. I’m impressed! Haha.

    Anyway, Fort San Pedro really looks different now compared to what it looked like before. Recently, the National Museum announced its plan to reconstruct the fort. This is just one of the historical/heritage sites that they are planning to restore. The Santa Barbara Church and Old Iloilo Provincial Capitol were recently restored just in time for this year’s Philippine Independence Day Celebration. Restoration of the other buildings in Calle Real, Jaro Belfy, Jaro Plaza, Old Jaro City Hall and Old Iloilo Provincial Jail are already in the pipeline :) Iloilo truly holds true to its slogan ‘Where past is always present’

    …and oh by the way, you take beautiful photos! 😀

    • June 5, 2015

      Joanne-Marie

      Hi Michael! Thanks for that. Talking about GRACE of time, that was really a hectic but fun trip.

      I was actually surprised to see old photos of Fort San Pedro and how it was transformed now. Great to hear about the plans of National Museum and all the restorations that are in line. I hope this could also be duplicated to other parts of the Philippines. I’m looking forward to see the Philippines progress while still preserving our heritage and unique identity as a country. :)