We came to Iloilo a week before the annual Dinagyang Festival just before the festivities were bout to begin, but that did not stop us from having the best time during our stay. There are lots of things to do in Iloilo! Sadly, my friend and I only had a day to explore as much as we can. By the end of the day, we were all smiles as we pat ourselves on the shoulder for a job well done.
Our productive day tour at Iloilo was made possible by our tour guide/driver Kuya Kenneth from Urban Inn, a budget friendly hotel where we checked in. We booked a tour from the hotel the night before so it was all set the next morning.
(1) BREAKFAST AT MADGE CAFE
The following morning, my friend and I decided to skip the hotel breakfast and walked a few blocks to La Paz Public Market to find two things: Madge Cafe and authentic La Paz Batchoy. After a few turns around the market, we first spotted the iconic Madge Cafe.
Madge Cafe has been featured countless times on television and it’s easy to see why. It has been a popular place for locals and tourists alike because of the good food they serve here – especially the COFFEE. Every cup of their signature kape is made the old fashion way, by hand. Their unique way of brewing their coffee gives it a distinct strong taste. Even their hot chocolate was thick and luscious. They also offer affordable breakfast meals, bread and native snacks.
I ordered the black coffee with toasted pan de sal and butter on top. As a coffee lover, I enjoyed the strong flavor of their coffee – pretty legit if you ask me.
The cozy ambiance inside the cafe instantly made me feel at home. The homemade goodness of each food served as well as the warm smiles of the people having their breakfast added an undeniable charisma to the place. People from different walks of life go here every morning to start their day and who wouldn’t want a taste of the exquisite coffee here.
*The food here is affordable. For less than 100 pesos, I got my cup of black coffee and buttered pan de sal.
(2) BREAKFAST PART 2 AT NETONG’S LA PAZ BATCHOY
So we got our fill at Madge Cafe, but we won’t pass the opportunity to taste authentic La Paz Batchoy from its birthplace at a corner eatery in La Paz Public Market. NETONG’S LA PAZ BATCHOY is one of the pioneers in serving this famous local noodle dish. I’ve always known the taste of La Paz Batchoy in instant cup noodles. After a few more turns, we located the stall at the corner of the market. Finally, I got to sample this comfort dish.
Nothing beats the original! I gotta admit, no Pinoy noodle soup dish even comes close to the flavors of La Paz Batchoy. Every bowl is a complete meal on its own. I ordered the basic one on their menu which was the Super Special bowl which was packed with freshly cooked noodles in a bed of hot soup and topped with anything from innards, pork crackling, meat and spring onions. What makes this special is the distinct garlic taste on the soup. And this was only the Super Special Bowl. I wonder what the EXTRA SPECIAL BOWL and the MEGA BOWL would look like!
*The Super Special bowl sells for 90 pesos. You can customize your bowl by adding egg or extra noodles.
(3) JOURNEY TO GARIN FARM
After that double breakfast feast, we headed back to Urban Inn to start our day tour. Kuya Kenneth suggested that we start at Garin Farm because early morning was the best time to visit. It was about an hour and a half drive from Iloilo City all the way to district 1 in San Joaquin. Though it was a long drive, there was never a dull moment during the trip. Kuya Kenneth was giving tidbits along the way. He was enthusiastic and engaging.
After almost seeing half of the province, we finally reached our destination. A large white gate with a huge sign of Garin Farm welcomed us with the words AGRICULTURE, LEISURE AND PILGRIMAGE
Different crops like local vegetables were planted all over the farm area and animals like chickens, turkey, buffalo among many others were raised.
A quick walk on a cemented pathway pass the farm was a beautiful scenery. There was a view dock with a restaurant overlooking what seemed to be a man-made lake with a small island and gazebo at the center. The green trees at the background added a calm aura to the place. There were only few people that morning so it was a perfect day for some peace and quiet with nature surrounding me.
When I thought I was enjoying the best view of Garin Farm, I spotted the entrance to the Pilgrimage site. Kuya Kenneth could not stop gushing about the ‘surprise’ that was in store for me at the end of the journey. This place is usually crowded during weekends and especially during Holy Week where people come to pay pilgrimage.
A huge staircase with 456 steps is what separated me from a gigantic Divine Mercy Cross at the top. I tried to count the steps for myself but I was sidetrack by the breathtaking view of the entire farm as I climbed up. Lifesize images of the stations of the cross in every certain corners of the staircase gave pilgrims opportunities to recite the Way of the Cross.
It was a long way up the Cross but it was worth it. There was a tunnel at the side of the cross with a surprise waiting for me. I have to stop writing about it here. I would not want to spoil the surprise. It was the highlight of my Garin Farm trip.
(4) MIAGAO CHURCH
My tour of Iloilo would not be complete without visiting a local church. Apparently, the Miagao Church I was about to visit was no ordinary one. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 together with three other churches in the Philippines.
(5) SNACKS AT CAMINA BALAY NA BATO
Not far from the Miagao Church was an ancestral house not only famous for it’s historical roots, but also for their food. CAMINA BALAY NA BATO is a well preserved stone house that exhibits the type of living of Illustrados (rich people) during the Spanish era. Everything from the walls, floors, ceiling, furniture and cutlery are preserved with the utmost of care by its 4th generation owners. To keep the traditional Filipino hospitality alive, the house accepts lunch and dinner reservations for guests who want to try sumptous local food and experience dinning in this historical house.
The very accomodating staff gave us a tour of the house, guiding us in every room and providing us trivias along the way. At the end of the tour, we got to sit down on one of the dinning tables and try their signature TSOKOLATE DE BATIROL (hot chocolate) which they served in dainty cups and paired with cookies and bread. The staff even taught us the correct way Illustrados had their hot chocolate – always carry the cup with your pink up. Well that was an interesting way to hold a small cup!
The hot chocolate was rich, thick and flavoful. The crunchy bread was perfect for dipping since it soaked up the chocolate well. It was nice to just sit there, have a cup of hot chocolate while admiring the house. It was the best way to end the tour of the balay! But the best part though was free hot chocolate refills! I just had to ring the bell and a woman comes to refill my cup!
The house also patronizes their local products. The entrance of the balay doubles as a souvenir shop where local goods such as traditional textile weaving, chocolate tablea, local spiced vinegar and delicacies are sold.
We were lucky enough to see how traditional textile weaving was done! Right outside the house, a woman was busy weaving using a wooden contraption. It was a meticulous task that requires concentration and dexterity.
(6) DESSERT AT MOLO MANSION
Next stop was another ancestral house called the Molo Mansion. Once an abandoned house due for demolition, it was renovated by a private company and converted into a function hall, restaurant and souvenir shop. The classical white design of the building attracts tourists to its magnificent charm. I’m glad this house was saved. At least its historical and cultural significance was preserved.
The second floor of the house is reserved for special events, but the first floor is open to the public as it was turned into a souvenir shop.
Behind the Molo House is Table Matters, an outdoor restaurant that serves an array of dishes including artisinal ice cream flavored by the Blue Ternate Flower, which gives it a vibrant blue color and subtle floral taste.
(7) ILOILO BUSINESS PARK
As we drove back to the city, we stopped by at the Iloilo Business Park. Once an airport, it was converted into a premier financial district where new buildings house BPO offices, shopping center, residential condominiums and the state-of-the-art Iloilo Convention Center.
The Iloilo Convention Center is a modern architectural masterpiece that would definitely make the province proud.
(8) ILOILO RIVER ESPLANADE
We took a quick stop at the Iloilo River Esplanade, a great place for recreational activities. The developed riverbank stretches for 1.2 kilometers complete with paved pathways suitable for walking or jogging. Street lights also light the pathways at night for a romantic ambiance overlooking the Iloilo river. I wish I had more time to spend here. Maybe go for a jog next time!
(9) JARO CATHEDRAL
Another beautiful cultural and religious destination is the Jaro Cathedral which was built in 1874. A unique part of the Church is a staircase located at the facade. It leads to the shrine of Our Lady of Candles. The inage of the lady is encased in a glass box (pretty odd for an image to be displayed outside of the church). Devotees climb up the stairs and say their petitions to Our Lady
The last heritage house in our itenerary was the Casa Mariquit owned by the family of former Vice President of the Philippines Fernando Lopez. The house was named after his wife who’s nickname was Mariquit.
There were no entrance fees at Casa Mariquit, however, donations are highly encouraged. The caretaker of the house single-handedly curated and arranged the family memorabilia as well as made repairs on the entire house. He also acts as a highly entertaining tour guide for guests.
(11) BONUS DESTINATION: PROVINCIAL CAPITOL
Since we were back at the city, we decided to end the tour by exporing the provincial capitol. The restoration of this building was amazing. The interior was white and classic. It looked more like a hotel rather than a government building. I was pretty impressed by the aesthetics of it.
We did our pasalubong shopping before our return flight back to Manila. We booked a van transfer from Urban Inn to to airport and Kuya Kenneth was accomodating enough to take us to The Original Biscocho Haus and Deocampo’s Barquillos.
Unfortunately the Iloilo Museum was closed when I got there. It was a little disappointing that I haven’t got a chance to see what was inside. But hey, I’ll surely be back to see it next time!
As for food, I will definitely return to try Roberto’s Siopao and Pancit Molo!
Our tour started at around 7:30am and ended at about 4pm. With all the places we’ve visited, I could not believe that we packed those in one day! I did not even feel tired since the surprises kept on going. Kuya Kenneth was a great host and guide. He’s been doing his job for many years now but the enthusiasm he had in everything he did was consistent. He made the trip extra special. I named him ‘walking encyclopedia’ as he was pitching us with historical facts and trivias. I know he had been doing it for quite a while but I felt his passion as he guided us to each stop. Great Job Kuya Kenneth!
*If you ever check in at Urban Inn Iloilo, I highly recommend booking a tour with their resident driver Kuya Kenneth. Tour prices start at 2000 pesos plus gas for about 200 pesos and you have the entire van to yourselves. You get to tour and experience all the stops that I wrote in this article.
OFF TO GUIMARAS
After a long day of adventure around Iloilo, we had to take a quick bite at Frank’s Famous BBQ, a homegrown restaurant that serves affordable grilled meat choices, plus unlimited Java Rice. I gotta admit, their pork barbeque was picture-perfect! The meat meat was like thick ribbon carefully laced on skewers. Tasty and tender too!