Every year I always travel alone at least once so in 2019, I decided to do something different and go somewhere in the Philippines I don’t know. Not literally knowing where my booked flight is sounded crazy but I wanted a trip that will put me outside my comfort zone so when I found out about Experience Philippines, by startup travel company founders Gian Gallegos and Jeffrey Patrick Lui, I decided to book myself a surprise trip for one person for three days and two nights.
The catch is you can’t know where they will book you and you’ll only find out a day or two days before you’re flight. I know, I know, you may think your anxiety cannot bear it but it’s all part of the fun experience I was ready to take after all didn’t I tell myself I need to get out of my comfort zone to jumpstart my year? And so I did! He sent me a package box full of surprises filled with my plane tickets, itinerary, and lots of goodies to bring with me during my flight.
I kept guessing weeks before where Gian could book me on my next travel but never did I guess it would be in Guimaras Island and Iloilo City! It wasn’t easy packing days ahead, mind you, not knowing whether to bring my swimsuits or jackets.
I’ve been to Guimaras Island and Iloilo City before but it was probably in 2009 or 2010 with my family and I haven’t been back for more than a decade. It was great that I have another chance to revisit the province known for its sweet mangoes and la paz batchoy!
When I landed at Iloilo City airport, en route by taxi to my hotel, I was so surprised how the provincial city has changed over the years. 10 years ago there weren’t many buildings along the main road but now it’s full of huge buildings, condominiums, and malls. A completely transformed town, far from what it used to be before.
My hotel was in a good area near the port where you can easily take a boat to Guimaras, right smack in the middle of downtown where you can find the best la paz batchoy in Iloilo City. The itinerary said I have to hop on the boat to Guimaras Island right on the first day after landing, but since I was quite tired from the flight, I decided to switch Day 1 and Day 2 itineraries so I stayed on my first day in the city to explore after resting for awhile.
Every time I have to visit a tourist spot, Jeffrey messages me to check on me. They made the trip more fun as if chatting with old friends and asking how your vacation is going. You also have to tag them in photos and videos for each stop you make so they can share it on their Instagram account.
What to see in Iloilo City?
I rode the jeepney to go to the first place I visited, which is one of the famous landmarks in Iloilo, the Molo Mansion. Its glorious historic facade houses a souvenir shop and a Kultura stall on the ground floor and a painting exhibit on the second floor. I don’t buy any more souvenirs from places I go to after traveling for decades but I love seeing the beautiful interiors of the old mansion with its wooden, polished floors and old artifacts.
In front of the Molo Mansion is a huge Iloilo signage on its sprawling grounds where you can have your photo taken. Across the lot is the Molo Plaza so you can’t miss where you’re going if you’re visiting this place.
Another historical must-see place to visit is the Molo Church (also known as Saint Anne’s Parish). The old church built in 1831 has an all-women ensemble of saints which has 16 statues perched on the pillars. Molo Church was built using white coral rocks and egg whites, one would be amazed how it withstands hundreds of years and calamities such as typhoons or earthquakes!
Next stop is the Museo Iloilo, a building designed by Ilonggo architect Sergio Penasales. It houses the province’s cultural heritage such as stone age native and trade pottery from China, fossils, old jewelry, and even burial sites as well as vintage photos. You can also see here war relics; a British sunken ship; Filipino sculpture done during the Spanish era, and contemporary art made by Ilonggo artists and craftsmen.
While taking a walking tour, I saw the Iloilo City Hall so I decided to walk in to see what the inside looks like since usually provinces have beautiful government offices and to my surprise, they also have a small museum worth visiting where you can see more artifacts about the Iloilo.
Since you’re already in the city center, enjoy walking along the historic Calle Real where you’ll see the old buildings that survived World War II. Some of them were turned into shopping centers and residences for locals. It’s a perfect street to take some memorable photos of your trip. Check out also Iloilo Provincial Capitol where you can go inside and see its atrium garden.
It was already almost sunset when I finished my walking tour of Iloilo City and I was at the perfect spot to enjoy the view of the Iloilo River Esplanade with the sun setting in the backdrop. The government has rehabilitated the Iloilo River and added an eco-park where can do jogging and have a recreational venue for locals – which until now I wish Manila, can do the same to the Pasig River.
Last stop for the day was a nice dinner of la paz batchoy, a must-try food in Iloilo. Have an authentic bowl of local goodness for a cheap price at the wet market downtown instead of dining at the popular fast foods in the province. It was the perfect way to end my first day in Iloilo City before I head back to my hotel to rest and cap the day.
Stay tuned for the second part of my Iloilo trip as I visit Guimaras Island on The HodgePodge Lifestyle!