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Locals Know Best: Iloilo Edition

by Trixie Reyna

We’ve already equipped you with the most detailed guides to making the most of your trip to the City of Love and the rest of Iloilo Province, including its beautiful hidden destinations and must-try delicacies.

But because there’s always more to discover about Iloilo, we asked the locals themselves to share the best spots, their favorite meals, and tons of valuable insider travel tips. Plus, we got local wedding suppliers to share why more couples are choosing to celebrate their big day in Iloilo!

"I moved back to Iloilo from Canada in 2014 to be with my family and to start my business. I saw that there’s growth, progress, and great business potential here.

INSTAGRAM: imvincellaguno

"Tourists shouldn’t hesitate to ask locals for food and travel recommendations. I personally recommend staying at Courtyard by Marriott or Richmonde Hotel Iloilo for their proximity to new developments in Iloilo. They’re modern, comfortable, and relaxing. The service is professional, too. I also recommend Skinetics if you want to just relax and stay in a spa in the city with your wife or girlfriend; it’s more romantic.

INSTAGRAM: lizleism

"For restaurants, try Avana Garden where you can enjoy Ilonggo food like their must-try Pancit Molo after a nice walk along Iloilo River Esplanade, which is also your view. Go to Barrio Inasal for a quick inasal and spareribs fix.

"For drinks, go to Straight Up at Seda with friends because it’s quiet and has a great view of Iloilo, plus they offer free pica-pica buffet for every order of booze from 6 PM to 8 PM.” - Jessie Espinosa Benedicto III, Construction Supply & Quarry Business Owner

INSTAGRAM: heymoneigh

"For first time visitors, I suggest they drive out of town and explore the countryside, and try all the exciting food that many restaurants and street vendors have to offer. I go to Tatoy’s for lechon manok and Kinilaw na Tanigue, and Farm To Table for Chicken Binakol and Nachos with Spinach Dip. I like pulot—a kind of dessert—sold by Villa Beach vendors, as well as the native coconut bibingka sold outside Jaro Cathedral or Molo Church. I love Puto Lanson, Steamed Maka, and Bicho-Bicho from the Central Market of Iloilo (available from 2 PM to 4 PM). There’s also Iloilo’s famous Joan’s fish balls. When driving out of town, keep an eye out for vendors selling fresh fruits and veggies.

INSTAGRAM: jemaimahs_pares

"For comfort food, I will always crave Kadios, Baboy, at Langka (KBL). It’s a soup and main dish all in one. Ilonggos love soupy dishes, and we eat this dish with rice. It’s made of black beans, jackfruit, and either pata leg slices or pork belly, then it’s soured using Batuan seeds—it’s like sampalok.” - Pauline Gorriceta Banusing, Owns and Manages Farm to Table, Home Town Buffet by Freska, Al Dente Italiano Ristorante, and Brewery Gastropub

INSTAGRAM: trickhster

"For first-time guests, I would suggest a good van tour of downtown Iloilo City with someone who knows the city well. Some of the ancestral houses, like the Lopezes’ Nelly Garden that shows the lineage of those who built Meralco and Rockwell, offer short tours for a fee. You'll see just how rich Iloilo's history is.

"For a night out, one of my favorites is Courtyard by Marriott. It’s a little expensive but the feel of the place will always put you in a good mood. Also, if you have a favorite cocktail that isn't on the menu, they can make it for you.

"And if you’re considering Iloilo for your destination wedding, ponder on the Iloilo culture—what works in other cities may work differently in Iloilo. Even if it’s laid-back, it’s a booming city, so most of the facilities are new and equipped for events.” - Aiza de Leon, Businesswoman, Wedding Planner and Owner of Not Just A Box Events

INSTAGRAM: wordhadit

“When I want to chill and hang out with my friends at night, I go to Smallville Complex. Bars, restaurants, KTV bars, restobars—it's all there. You can go from a bar to a KTV to a restaurant in a few steps. But my favorite restaurant would have to be Breakthrough in Villa—I love eating by the sea! They offer a lot of choices if you love seafood.

INSTAGRAM: cartorangegallarate

"The best time to go to Iloilo is definitely during Dinagyang, celebrated on the 4th Sunday of January.” - Philip Doromal, Government Employee

INSTAGRAM: francinealessandra17

“My favorite meal in Iloilo is Bird’s Nest at Ocean City. It’s a simple, homey soup made with chicken broth, quail eggs, and bits of chicken that I enjoy eating when I’m feeling under the weather. I'd also recommend Maridel’s for dessert. Another spot is Buho Bakery, a hole-in-the-wall located near the University of Iloilo that sells really good bread.

INSTAGRAM: jamesjambaro

"I highly recommend visiting Bucari, Leon, known as Little Baguio. It has a very chill and relaxing vibe—a good choice if you want to get away from the busy city. I love the cool weather there. It’s on top of my list of places for couples who want to do their prenup shoot in Iloilo. But if the couple is more outdoorsy or adventurous, a road trip shoot from Villa to Miagao would be very pretty.” - Marga Koopmans, Head Director of Amady by Mayad

INSTAGRAM: lovetrainstudios

I think Iloilo is one of the best places to get married in, be it a church wedding or a beach wedding, because it has one of the lowest rates for wedding suppliers. We at Love Train Studios cover a lot of destination weddings since it’s much cheaper for couples to fly us rather than get a supplier in their area. There are also a lot of picturesque attractions and beaches here. For church weddings, we have some of the Philippines’ oldest and most beautiful churches.” - Justin Go, Iloilo & Boracay Wedding Photographer at Love Train Studios

“Go up north to visit Isla de Gigantes and the islands of Concepcion. Bucari in Leon is also gaining popularity as Iloilo’s Little Baguio. For those who want to de-stress and go on a quick retreat, go camping under the pine trees or check in at Pineridge Bucari Mountain Resort. For another place outside the city where you can relax and chill, drive down south for about 50 minutes to reach Sol Y Mar Iloilo. Visit on a weekday and you’ll probably have the whole resort to yourself! Aside from the beach they also have an eco farm where you can get fresh produce. It could be the perfect place for those seeking inspiration.” - Cea Bacolor-Palmaira, Photographer at Love Train Studios and Web Designer at Platypusdesign.ph

INSTAGRAM: beybeiibea

“I currently stay in Villa, Iloilo City and I would consider this my favorite place. It’s a bit far from the city proper but I find it peaceful and accessible with 24-hour jeepney service. I feel safe even when I go home late at night. I love eating shrimps and crabs especially if they're fresh, and we can have them any time we want since there are a lot of affordable seafood restaurants here.

"I think Iloilo is the best place for weddings because it’s still cheaper to get married here compared to other cities. The prices for good quality hotel, food, decorations, and styling are not that high. It isn’t crowded and churches are very close to the wedding reception venues.” - Jerly Julao, Wedding Coordinator at Not Just A Box Events

INSTAGRAM: rubencastorraninimages

Experience Iloilo in December with its colorful lights display around the city, January for Dinagyang Festival, and February for Jaro Fiesta and Paraw Regatta (annual colorful boat race).

"When in Iloilo, try fresh fish tinola—go to Iloilo Fish Port from 1 AM to 4 AM for the freshest catch! You can buy fish as the boats are docking and have them cook it for you there. After a long night of work or partying, this comforting fish soup is your best bet to feel revitalized. And if you’re craving Chinese food, go to Roberto’s. Nothing compares to the taste of their siopao, burger, and meatballs.

"If you’re considering Iloilo for your wedding, Richmonde Hotel, Courtyard by Marriott, and Grand Xing are my top 3 places for accommodations and wedding preps; St. Clément’s Church in La Paz and Jaro Cathedral for the church ceremony; and Iloilo Convention Center and Diversion 21 ballroom for the reception.” - Imer Cedric Borda, Film Editor at Mayad Post Production and Director at Amady by Mayad

INSTAGRAM: mignac_

"My top three restaurants in Iloilo are Nicolette Bakery+Cafe in SM City Iloilo, Tatoy’s, and Breakthrough—which includes Ponsyon because they generally offer the same food. Nicolette’s offers tasty food, good ambience, and great value for money. Try the osso buco gremolata, all’amatriciana, and pork steak. All breads are handmade—the walnut and cheese loaf is great with hot chocolate. At Breakthrough/Ponsyon, get steamed alimango, abalone with gata, angel wing’s (diwal), steamed (or baked) talaba, managat, and kanlai. (Managat and kanlai are offered only in Villa.)

INSTAGRAM: glowfeel23

"Another little-known must-visit spot is Mango Tree, a hidden restaurant in Mandurriao. We love their caramel cheese sticks, bulalo, and frozen mango iced tea. Fort San Pedro's Inasal is relatively old, but the food is still yummy. It's near the sea so it's pretty chill.

"For pasalubong, make sure to visit Sinamay House in Villa for hand-made products like jusi and pinya.

"I love Iloilo road trips with my family. We go to different old churches, like Miagao Church, Leganes Church, Tigbauan Church, and San Jose Church (its statues are all male saints), among others. For transportation, it’s best to take Light of Glory. You can call for a cab at (0917) 620 8208.” - Danya J. Leandicho, Operates a Vet Clinic

INSTAGRAM: znnhmercurio

"First-timers in Iloilo should go to Villa for Mat-Mat’s Talabahan. The best baked talaba (oyster) can only be found at Mat-Mat's Talabahan, promise!

"For a night out, go to Lanai Sports Bar and Grill at Festive Walk Iloilo. They serve different kinds of cocktails and beers, and are open 24/7. If you just want to chill, the place to be is either Bourbon Street or Bull & Barrel, where they serve all kinds of drinks and the ambience is great. If you want to party, go to Stockroom in La Paz or Empire at Grand Xing Hotel. They have the most popular and coolest DJs in town, and the crowd is amazing.

"For accommodations, I recommend J7, a small hotel in Bolilao, Manduriao near SM City Iloilo. It’s small but you’ll be surprised how classy and comfy the rooms are, plus the people working there are very accommodating and polite.

"There are many shopping choices—so many malls are opening in the area—but my favorite is still Plazuela. They have like a mini Baclaran, those stores in tents. They sell cute dresses you can get for a steal!” - Jackie Francia, Call Center Operations Manager

INSTAGRAM: ms.viyaya

The city is relatively safe for local and foreign tourists. When asking for directions, just be courteous and polite and you might even get someone to give you a little more help than you expected.

INSTAGRAM: mrc_aquino

"There are many good hotels in Iloilo City. To be close to restaurants and drinking spots, Seda Hotel is next to Shops At Atria, and is also walking distance from Smallville, Riverside Boardwalk, and the pubs and restaurants lining Donato Pison Avenue. A cheaper but acceptable option would be District 21 Hotel along the same street. To get easy access to SM City Iloilo, Injap Tower is right in front of it, with a covered overpass for pedestrians to easily cross the busy highway. They also have a restaurant on the 21st floor overlooking the city.

INSTAGRAM: faquee

"My personal favorite place to have drinks and just chill is at Brewery Gastropub along Donato Pison Avenue. Other than their endless list of beer choices from all over the world, they occasionally offer their own home-brewed beer and enticing food deals. I also like going to Midway Restaurant in Passi City for their hearty meals prepared from freshly harvested produce, served in a calm, quaint farm atmosphere—definitely worth the long drive.” - Kristina Pecaoco, Architect

INSTAGRAM: wimadventures

“First-time visitors should go to ILOMOCA (Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Arts) and Galerie de Arsie. Both house personal collections of two Ilonggo art patrons, Edwin Valencia and Arsenio Rafael III.

"For a budget stay in Iloilo, I suggest my friend's B&B in Villa for only ₱600. It’s comfy, artsy, and super chill. Check out Home of the Lost Soles on Facebook.

INSTAGRAM: feb_tronzon

"My favorite restaurants in Iloilo City are Tonino's and Salt. Both fusion restos serve scrumptious food. But my go-to place for comfort food is Popoy's La Paz Batchoy in Central Market. Their caldo (soup stock) is the best—at only ₱60 for mega-size! I also love Jo-ann's freshly made fish balls at Molo Plaza, which opens daily at 4 PM, and steamed oysters along Coastal Road for only ₱35 per order. For drinks, I like Bottle Ground in Festive Walk Parade, away from the maddening crowd.

"More than the food and art scene, what I love about Iloilo is the people. Their sweet-sounding voice matches their demeanor. Ask them for directions, and not only will they teach you how to get there, they might even accompany you. Cab drivers give you exact change.” - Pam Reyes, Full-time Visual Artist & Contented Iloilo Migrant

Planning a trip to the City of Love? Find travel inspiration in our Iloilo travel guide. Enjoy your stay in the city when you buy exclusives from our partners in Iloilo.

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About Trixie
Trixie Reyna-Benedicto is a born and bred Manila girl, lifestyle blogger, and content expert who moved to Iloilo when she married her Ilonggo sweetheart. When she’s not writing for magazines and websites or updating trixiereyna.com, she enjoys exploring new locales and trying restaurants and bars around the Philippines and abroad.

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