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Published May 28th 2015
The Spanish Queen of the South
In its glory days, Iloilo City was known as the Queen City of the South. With a long and distinguished Spanish heritage, Iloilo was the last Spanish colonial capital of the Philippines when Manila surrendered to the United States of America. Today Iloilo is a modern city with often busting and chaotic main streets. Mixed within that hustle and bustle, the splendid past remains and I have identified what I believe are the top 7 things to see when visiting Iloilo.
The original Jaro Cathedral was built in 1874 but was destroyed by an earthquake in 1948. Needing a new cathedral but having to deal with a long demolition was not easy, so a new Jaro Cathedral was built over the road from the demolished one. However as part of the demolition, it was determined that the old bell tower was largely intact, so the historic bell tower was retained on the eastern side of the road, while the new cathedral stands stall on the western side.
In January 2012, the cathedral was approved as the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Candles. This was to become only the second national shrine in the Visayas. Today the cathedral is still in use, and the large Catholic community of Iloilo attend regularly with Sundays being particularly busy with masses, markets and other activities all happening in and around.
A short ferry ride from the Iloilo ferry terminal will take you to the small but beautiful Guimaras Island. Arriving at the small Port of Jordan, it is immediately obvious that you are at a tourist destination by the large collection of transportation options. Buses, jeepneys. tricycles, bicycles and motorbikes are all available to take you to any one of the numerous beach resorts on the island, where you can put your feet up and admire the views.
One of the more popular activities to do on Guimaras Island is the Island Hopping Tour. Hopping on board a small motorised paraw, your crew will take you for a 1, 2 or 3 hour trip to many smaller and beautiful islands, beaches and resorts. Numerous boats leave Raymens Beach Resort from 6am daily, and are often happy to tailor the tour to your specific needs.
City rivers are often maligned in some countries, but not in this case. The Iloilo City Council have done a great job in cleaning up the river and the surrounds, and now have in place a 2km walking path that stretches between the two main bridges in town. The path is also monitored at irregular intervals by a security guard on a Segway.
The walking path is in between a housing estate on the north, and some delicately maintained mangroves on the south, and features several seats and photo points. Numerous local flowers adorn the route, and provide great colour while viewing the slow moving river.
The classic Baroque architectural design of St. Anne's Parish (Molo Church) reflects the dominant influence of Catholicism in Iloilo. From an early history as being part of a Chinese Ghetto to the seat of Spanish authority in the south western side of Iloilo, St Anne's Parish is a strong feature amongst the heritage of Iloilo City. With a large garden and assembly area at the front of the Church, and numerous small detailed particulars on the buildings themselves, this Church takes some time to see and admire all of its grandeur.
Calle Real is the main downtown area of Iloilo City and best represents and demonstrates the true colours of the Spanish history. Bright yellow, blue and white paint adorns most of the buildings, and highlights some of the brilliant architecture that has stood the test of time.
Within the facades are a range of bazaars and shops and malls, many which resemble those of the old entrepreneurial Chinese families. Bartering is expected, albeit at some of the prices on offer, it is difficult to go much lower. At the end of your tour, you can expect to have bought yourself a new wardrobe of clothes, and probably a set of the latest DVD's on offer.
Scattered throughout the city, and along a number of the main thoroughfares are a series of old Spanish Houses. These houses belonged to the "illustrados" (the rich Spanish families) with many of them built over a century ago. Best streets to view these houses include in and around Plaza Libertad and also JM Basa St.
And if all else fails you, then why not walk the streets of Iloilo. Alongside the magnificent buildings of the last 200 years, there are some bazaars, eating houses and some magnificent Filipino people. Maybe it is the western photographer that attracts their attention, but it is the smile on their faces which attracts mine.
Whether they are kids enjoying their morning wash, or families heading out on an excursion, the smile on their faces is real and is captivating. It is more than enough to make you leave happy, and to come back again.
To get to Iloilo City from Manila, both Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines run regular shuttles, both taking around an hour. Iloilo Regional Airport is around 30 minutes taxi ride from the centre of Iloilo City. There is plenty of accommodation options in Iloilo, with most of the larger travel websites having specials on the local hotels.