2 weeks into my backpacking trip round The Philippines, I headed out on our Tale of Two Spanish Cities FAM Trip. Our first destination was the educational and business centre of Panay Island – Iloilo.
How Many Islands in the Philippines?
In actual fact, if you ask a Filipino how many islands in the Philippines, he may respond with another questions: High tide or low tide?!
From Cebu, the Spanish colonizers sailed to Iloilo for supplies. The name Panay Island actually comes from the word bread! It is abundant in agricultural resources. After Iloilo, the Spaniards then went on to build Luzon with Manila as the capital, and so Iloilo is seen as one of the oldest cities in the Philippines.
If the Spaniards colonized The Philippines, then why don’t many Filipino’s speak Spanish as a second language? The answer is simple – The Americans! They came for around 48 years and English was adopted as their second language. The Japanese came after that, but only for the short period of 5 years. Now, the interesting thing about Iloilo is that many people do read and write fluently in Spanish, and the reason is that Iloilo was an international trading post.
Flying Manila to Iloilo with Cebu Pacific
The flight with Cebu Pacific from Manila to Iloilo was extremely comfortable and just 1 hour and 20 mins. It’s a cheap airline and you can book online with Opodo. Just make sure that you carry some cash with you, as food and drinks on board are not free. There’s also a guess the object or activity quiz on board and you can win Cebu Pacific goodies – I guess that’s the in flight entertainment!
I am Iloilo
As well as there being 7107 islands in the Philippines (not sure whether that’s high or low tide!) there are also 72 dialects. In Iloilo they speak Ilongu, so if you learnt any Filipino in Manila, it may not work here. However, English is widely understood, and I have found the Philippines to be the easiest place to travel in Asia in that respect.
You can guess what the first thing I noticed in Iloilo was?! Yup – the Jeepneys! My new obsession! They aren’t like the ones in Manila. Iloilo Jeepneys are like SUV’s at the front! Another great thing about Iloilo is that they are building cycle paths and they have the longest in the Philippines. If they continue to extend this all the way to the airport as planned, it will be the longest cycle path in Asia!
The city of Iloilo is investing 1 billion dollars in the old airport area and turning it into a business park – mega world. Basically, the runway was too small for the bigger planes. But as Iloilo was growing in business and IT, it was decided that this would make a great business development area.
The city is called Iloilo because of the shape the river – it bends like a nose! They have created esplanades around the river that serve as a buffer zone. Exercise is an important part of Iloilo culture, and many people walk and jog along the esplanade every morning. The also have outdoor morning Zumba! There are 22 species of mangroves along the river. The two esplanades either side of the river are connected by bridges, and the river has been voted one of the cleanest urban rivers in the world. This will soon have water taxis, and will be the first of its kind to use a solar powered boat! Wow!
‘I am Iloilo’ is the concept that the residents have of feeling like part of the city. There is an intense community vibe and sense of pride. We were greeted by a wonderful ‘I am Iloilo’ sign at the start of our esplanade walk.
During our traditional lunch, we were serenaded by a singer, singing traditional lullabys and songs in Ilongu. Philippino food is so diverse, offering Filipino, Spanish, Japanese and American influences.
We were then taken to see them make traditional barqillos. These crunchy wafers can be made with an added flavour – we tried some gorgeous mango ones. The practice originated from the Church. This guy has been practicing for 15 years and makes 2000 Baquillos a day! Believe me, you won’t go hungry in the Philippines!
Top attractions in Iloilo on TripAdvisor
Churches and Cathedrals of Iloilo
We visited the Cathedral of Iloilo (Jaro Cathedral) which was built in 1864 and finished in 1874 (it usually takes 10 years to build a Church in the Philippines!). In 1981 Pope John Paul II visited Iloilo and they made some aditions, Jaro Cathedral contains the shrine of our lady of candles, where you can light different coloured candles for different things (e.g. love, family, health, wealth, career).
We also visited the beautiful Spanish colonial Molo Church. This stands out from other Catholic Churches of the region, because most Saints are usually male, but the Molo Church displays female Saints.
From the rooftop of the Town Hall, we could see the San Jose de Placer Parish Church.
This used to be the original Cathedral, but it was moved to the Jaro Cathedral further inland to protect it from Moro attacks by sea.
Visiting Points of Interest in Iloilo with TBEX Bloggers
The first millionaires row in the Philippines was in Iloilo, and this was as a result of the growing sugar industry. This is in the district of Jaro. Drive or walk through and you will see numerous colonial mansions, some of which have been converted into museums.
The City Hall offers a spectacular display of the annual Dinagyang festival which occurs from January 20th – 22nd. During the festival, the streets are filled with 100 drummers and 100 dancers who display rhythm, discipline, endurance and creativity through their performance.
We even got to try on the head dresses of previous festivals – damn – that thing was heavy, how the hell do they dance in that?!?!
If you can, get up to the rooftop terrace for a phenomenal view of the city. As we were classed as ‘VIP’s’ in the Philppines, we were lucky enough to meet the Mayor!
The area of Molo is the educational centre, home to 4 universities. In the 17th Century, the literacy rate of Iloilo was even higher than that of Europe.
Oh, and we have now progressed beyond the police escorts of Manila – hell, we even have our own SWAT team! Deborah from 101 Colored Doors has a bit of a thing about them, so Deborah, here’s a shout out to you! Hope you marry a SWAT officer one day!
Top attractions in Iloilo on TripAdvisor
Where to stay in Iloilo – Richmonde Hotel
We were well and truly spoilt at the Richmonde Hotel in Iloilo. The rooms were so luxurious, with international plug sockets to charge our gadgets.
To add to our VIP treatment, we were left a beautiful gift from the hotel manager. It was a local cake perfectly wrapped, and enclosed with a note to thank us for our visit.
There is a fantastic rooftop bar and pool at the Richmonde Hotel Iloilo – here I am enjoying it with Carlo from Travelosyo.
A photo posted by Amy Trumpeter (@amytrumpeter) on
It’s just a couple of kilometres outside of the city (in the new Mega business park. There is a phenomenal breakfast which will probably mean that you don’t even need lunch! I highly recommend it.
*Many thanks to my sponsors Cebu Pacific, The Philippines Tourism Promotions board and It’s More Fun in the Philippines. Thank you for making this happen! This blog post may also contain affiliate links, which help me to keep travelling and get this information to you for free.