ILOILO BUDGET TRAVEL GUIDE (with itinerary, top attractions, tips and how to get there)

Summary: This blog details a comprehensive budget travel guide for Iloilo which includes a sample DIY itinerary good for 3 to 5 days; estimated budget is P4,634+ per person which covers expenses for entrance, food and transportation only. It also enumerates some of Iloilo’s best tourist attractions, top things to do, travel tips, and a list of recommended budget-friendly accommodations. All needed details for each top attraction are laid out in the post including operating hours, entrance fee, location and information on how to get there. Further, this Iloilo blog is intended for first time travelers either solo, family or traveling in group.

ILOILO AT A GLANCE

The Fun-sized Traveller at Garin Farm.
The Fun-sized Traveller at Garin Farm.

Situated at the southeast part of Panay Island in the Visayas, ILOILO is yet another top destination in the Philippines. As its locals claim, it is simply the very representation of what the archipelago can offer, a synergy of steps wrapped of natural wonders in culture and topography in the bigness of a dance that is the Philippines.

At Molo church with the sun at its zenith. This was hot!
At Molo church with the sun at its zenith. This was hot!

While here, spend an extravagant amount of time wandering through its age-defining mansions and churches that are dated as far back as the Spanish era. Taste a plethora of delectable cuisine that is uniquely Filipino, from pancit Molo, chicken inasal to La Paz batchoy. Soak up in the presence of a stronghold of Catholicism as you take part in Dinagyang festival, a religious dance in honor of the young image of Jesus Christ. And, wonder at the staggering work of nature that stretches from the outskirts of the city to the edges of Islas de Gigantes.

Visit Iloilo and discover what makes the province the indefinite beating heart of the Philippines.

QUICK TIPS AND FACTS ABOUT ILOILO

  • Iloilo people are called Ilonggos who are known to talk in a sing-song tone. They are generally soft-spoken, sweet, frugal and charming people.
  • During its heyday, Iloilo was hailed as the city after Manila and given the title “Queen City of the South”, a moniker appropriated to Cebu nowadays.
  • Iloilo city was awarded “the most-bike friendly city” in 2018 and continuously promotes the use of bike through its well-allocated bike lanes that extend from the Diversion road to the University areas.
  • Iloilo is a year-round destination, but if you plan to include Gigantes Islands, the best time to visit is during summer from late February to May when the seas are at peace and the skies are clear. If it’s a bargain, you can also visit the province during Dinagyang festival which happens on a 4th Sunday in January, a week after the celebration of Sinulog festival in Cebu.
  • Heritage mansions and old churches are the usual tourist attraction around Iloilo city.
Dinagyang Festival

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HOW TO GET TO ILOILO

Getting to Iloilo By Plane, Iloilo serves direct flight from major Philippine cities listed below and outside the country from Hong Kong and Singapore to Iloilo International airport, located 30 minutes away from the city proper by van.

  • Cagayan de Oro
  • Cebu
  • Davao
  • General Santos
  • Manila
  • Puerto Princesa

From Iloilo International airport, you may reach the city proper by taking a van outside the arrival area to SM City Iloilo. Fare is P50, travel time is roughly 30 minutes. There is a P50 charge for each baggage deposited at the trunk of the van. The same van in SM City Iloilo will take you back to the airport.

Sunset at Gigantes Norte, the most inhabited island among the clustered islands of Gigantes.
Sunset at Gigantes Norte, the most inhabited island among the clustered islands of Gigantes.

Getting to Iloilo By Ferry, Iloilo can be accessed from the following major Philippine destinations through each assigned port located within the city.

  • Bacolod, 1 hour away (fast craft at Iloilo River Wharf)
  • Cagayan de Oro, 14 hours away (at Iloilo Domestic Port)
  • Cebu, 13 hours away (at Iloilo Domestic Port)
  • General Santos City, 5 hours away (at Iloilo Domestic Port)
  • Guimaras, 15 minutes away (pumpboat ferry at Guimaras-Iloilo Ferry Terminal)
  • Manila, 25 hours away (at Iloilo Domestic Port)
  • Zamboanga City, 14 hours away (at Iloilo Domestic Port

Book your trip from these shipping lines:

Freshly cooked scallops sold for P1 per piece at Gigantes Islands.
Freshly cooked scallops sold for P1 per piece at Gigantes Islands.

Getting to Iloilo By Land: Iloilo can be reached by bus or van at Tagbak terminal in Jaro, Iloilo City from the other three provinces in Panay island, namely Antique, Aklan, and Capiz.

2019 TOP ATTRACTIONS IN ILOILO

The following top attractions in Iloilo is listed based on their distance from SM City Iloilo.

JARO CHURCH & BELFRY

Jaro church

The Baroque style church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary or Jaro Church was built in 1864 and was recognized as the first and only cathedral in all of Panay Island. The church is notable for having the Lady of Candles statue, the only female among a collection of male statues that align the walls inside the cathedral. The Lady of Candles was declared the Patroness of Western Visayas by blessed Pope John Paul II during his visit in 1981.

Jaro church and belfry is a 19-minute walk from SM City Iloilo. To get there, take a jeepney with a “Jaro CPU” sign. Travel time is around 7 minutes, fare is P8.

Rating: 3/5

LA PAZ PUBLIC MARKET

Ted's Oldtimer Lapaz Batchoy located just outside La Paz Public market.
Ted’s Oldtimer Lapaz Batchoy located just outside La Paz Public market.

Whether for its batchoy in its old eateries: Deco, Netong and Ted, or for its brewed coffee in Madge Cafe, La Paz Public Market has been a favorite stopover for tourists wanting to chill and get a taste of Iloilo city.

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At Madge cafe located inside La Paz Public market.
At Madge cafe located inside La Paz Public market.

The batchoy eateries and Madge Cafe started during 1940s and continued to share its traditional way of serving batchoy and coffee up to the present. Deco and Ted’s batchoy are located at the front area of the market next to where the vehicles are parked, while Netong’s batchoy and Madge Cafe are tucked inside the market.

Arroz caldo and La Paz batchoy sold at Netong's batchoy for P30 and P110 respectively.
Arroz caldo and La Paz batchoy sold at Netong’s batchoy for P30 and P110 respectively.

To get to La Paz Public Market from Jaro Church, take a jeepney with a “La Paz” or “Jaro CPU” sign. Fare is P8, travel time is 8 minutes; from SM City IloIlo, take two jeepneys: first to Iloilo Supermarket in Lapuz. At your stop, cross the street then take another jeepney with “Jaro CPU” sign. Travel time is close to 10 minutes, total fare is P16.

Rating: 3/5

ARROYO FOUNTAIN

Arroyo Fountain with the old "Casa Real" at its background.
Arroyo Fountain with the old “Casa Real” at its background.

The very landmark at the heart of Iloilo City, Arroyo Fountain at the junction of Iznart and General Luna street is a Baroque-inspired sculpture that represents Ilonggos splendor and rich history. The four muses that make up the fountain were originally naked but were later on re-modelled with clothes on due to the request of the Catholic church.

The fountain marks kilometer zero, which is used to measure the distance of any place to Iloilo City. At the back of the landmark is the old Provincial Capitol, formerly “Casa Real” and a few steps to the left facing the fountain is Museo Iloilo. To get to Arroyo Fountain, take a jeepney with a “Jaro” signboard.

Rating: 3/5

MUSEO ILOILO

Museo Iloilo, the first ever museum commissioned by the government outside Manila, displays the vibrant cultural history of Western Visayas, through its wide array of relics that include stone age native pottery and war armaments. The most notable item in the exhibit is the dead Christ or Santo Entiero that looks like a preserved body of a dead person at a distance.

Some of the collections inside Museo Iloilo.

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The museum collects P15 for entrance fee and is open every Monday to Saturday from 9AM to 5PM, and Sunday from 10AM to 6PM. The museum is a glance away from Arroyo Fountain. To get there, take a jeepney with a “Jaro”signboard.

Rating: 3/5

MOLO CHURCH & MUSEUM

Molo church
Molo church

Molo Church or the St. Anne Parish church is hailed as one of the most beautiful in the Philippines and the only Gothic church in the country outside Manila. The church was built in 1831 and was declared a national landmark in 1992 for its masterly designed interior.

Molo Mansion
Molo Mansion

In front of the church is the Molo Mansion, another heritage site in the city that serves as a museum showcasing an art exhibit from some of the best artists in Iloilo. The museum is free of admission. To get to Molo Church and Mansion, take a jeepney with a “Villa Arevalo” or “Molo” sign.

Rating: 3/5

Inside Molo Mansion. The art exhibit is on the second floor.
Inside Molo Mansion. The art exhibit is on the second floor.

MIAGAO CHURCH

The uneven belfries on both sides of Miagao church.
The uneven belfries on both sides of Miagao church.

The Santo Tomas de Villanueva Parish or Miagao church is a UNESCO World Heritage site, known for its strikingly unique facade that comprises of a well-elaborated bas relief that features a mix of medieval Spanish, Chinese, Muslim and traditional local elements.

Miagao church on broad day light.
Miagao church on broad day light.

The church is attached to two massive belfries at its both ends that are unequal in size, which serve as watchtowers. The ochre color that blankets the church is produced by the limestone, coral, egg and adobe materials that make up the entire structure.

A closer look at Miagao church's facade.
A closer look at Miagao church’s facade.

To get to Miagao church from Molo, ride on a jeepney with a “Miagao” sign. Fare is P50, travel time is close to 1 hour.

Rating: 4/5

GARIN FARM PILGRIMAGE RESORT

The very known replica of "heaven" at the hilltop of Garin Farm Pilgrimage resort.
The very known replica of “heaven” at the hilltop of Garin Farm Pilgrimage resort.

The sought-after Garin Farm that has made a buzz on the net for its blinding replica of heaven is located at the southernmost town of Iloilo, at San Joaquin. It is a functional farm that doubles as a pilgrimage site. As such, while here, visitors are expected to be taken into a journey both on real-life farming and in spiritual life.

A panoramic shot of the lake inside Garin farm.
A panoramic shot of the lake inside Garin farm.

More than the beautiful lake that welcomes visitors and the fresh produce that are sold on site, it is the Pilgrimage hill that really takes visitors in awe. To get to the hill, you will go inside a canopy of vines and climb up a 456-step stairs where you will be greeted by compositions of some biblical scenes, from the Ark of Noah at its foot to the Nativity and the Last Supper at the sides of the stairs. The steps end with a life-size, Divine Mercy image of Jesus Christ, which leads to a dark tunnel with another Divine Mercy image on one route (but a lot brighter with full lights on), and the blindingly white Pilgrimage Hill on the other. Going inside the tunnel is a hair-raising experience that you cannot simply miss, take my word for it.

A canopy of vines at Garin farm that serves as walkway to the hilltop.
A canopy of vines at Garin farm that serves as walkway to the hilltop.

Garin Farm also performs as a resort and a recreational site. Some of its activities are as follows:

Hilltop Swimming Pool: P80
Hilltop Fishing: P30 per kilo
Hilltop Horseback Riding: P60
300-meter Zipline: P250 for a sitting position, P350 for Superman
Kayak: P40 (single), P90 (double)
Pedal Boat: P90 for 2 pax, Rubber Boat: P120 (4 pax), P240 (8 pax)

The Divine Mercy image at the end of the 456-step stairs. Another image on full lights can be found inside the dark tunnel, which leads to the blindingly, white replica of the “Ascension.”

If you prefer to ride going to the hilltop than walking through 456 steps, you may avail of the Golf cart service. Rates are as follows:

Gate to Pavilion – P60 (one way trip, with 4-person capacity)
Pavilion to Cross – P60 (one way trip, with 4-person capacity)

Here are air-conditioned cottage rates. For more inquiries, contact Garin Farm at (033) 314 7555, +63 916 667 6581.

Single Room: P1,500
Standard Room: P2,500
Family Room: P3,500

The end of the tunnel. From here, prepare to be awed by an all-white composition of the “heaven’s replica.”

Entrance Fee to Garin Farm is P150 per person. For day-use visitors, operating hours is from 8:00AM to 6:00PM. To get there, take a San Joaquin jeepney at Mohon terminal. Fare is P50, travel time is close to 2 hours. You may also take a van or bus at Molo terminal, fare is P70 and travel time is around 1 hour and 30 minutes. If you are already at Miagao church, catch the San Joaquin jeepney at the left side of the church. Fare is P25, travel time is 30 minutes. All of these vehicles stop at the junction to Garin Farm. From there, you will need to charter a tricycle to get to the site. One way trip is P50, travel time is around 10 minutes.

The Fun-sized Traveller at the "Ascension" in Garin Farm.
The Fun-sized Traveller at the “Ascension.”

To get back to Iloilo City, take a tricycle back to the junction at the main road, which are parked just outside Garin Farm. Fare is still P50 per trip. At the main road, hail a van or bus back to the city. Fare is P70.

Rating: 4/5

A flock of doves by the lake of Garin Farm. These birds are fed in the afternoon, at 5PM. You would know it's feeding time when the caretaker ring's the bell and the doves start to land one by one on this area.
A flock of doves by the lake of Garin Farm. These birds are fed in the afternoon, at 5PM. You would know it’s feeding time when the caretaker rings the bell and the doves start to land one by one on this area.

ISLAS DE GIGANTES

Cabugao Gamay of Gigantes Islands.
Cabugao Gamay of Gigantes Islands.

Gigantes Islands or Islas de Gigantes is a chain of ten islands that are spread out at around 2 to 10 minutes away from each other by an outrigger boat at the coastal town of Carles, at the northernmost part of Iloilo. The two largest islands: Gigantes Norte and Gigantes Sur, are the most inhabited and where most resorts are situated.

Tinagong Dagat or "Little Boracay" of Antonia Island at Gigantes.
Tinagong Dagat or “Little Boracay” of Antonia Island at Gigantes.

The cluster of islets were initially spotted during the aerial patrol at the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda and since then was slowly explored by the travel community until it became the off-the-grid destination it is recognized nowadays.

Tangke Lagoon of Gigantes Islands
Tangke Lagoon of Gigantes Islands

To get to Gigantes Islands from Iloilo City, catch a van or bus at Tagbak terminal bound for Carles or Estancia. Travel time is close to 4 hours. Daily trips start at 5AM, travel fare is P210. Vans stop at Bancal port in Carles while buses arrive at Balasan terminal in Estancia which requires another trip via tricycle to Bancal port for P50 for around 30 minutes and to Estancia port for P10 for about 10 minutes.

Bantigue Sandbar of Gigantes Islands.
Bantigue Sandbar of Gigantes Islands.

There is only one trip per day for regular boat from both ports. Every 10:00AM at Bancal port (fare is P100, travel time is one hour) and every 1:00PM at Estancia port (fare is P80, travel time is close to 2 hours). If you miss the trip, there are shuttle express at Bancal port for P300 which takes trips to Gigantes Norte at these intervals from Monday to Thursday at 7:00AM, 10:00AM, 3:00PM and 4:30PM, and additional intervals from Friday to Sunday at 8:30AM and 12:30PM.

For more details, read the separate blog I created for Gigantes Islands: Gigantes Islands Budget Travel Guide.

Rating: 4/5

2019 TOP THINGS TO DO IN ILOILO

There are lot of things you can do while around Iloilo. The foremost is a Visita Iglesia at its century-old churches, from Molo and Jaro church to Miagao and San Joaquin. A tour around the city on a bike is also a top activity you can work out as the locals vigorously promote an environment-friendly and healthy lifestyle. Take your bike around Calle Real, the Esplanade River and to the university areas.

The old street, Calle Real.

How about taking a food trip to some of Iloilo’s favorite eateries and food houses? Be delighted at best with the sumptuous batchoy at La Paz Market, pancit at Molo, brewed coffee at Madge cafe, dragon fruit ice cream at Molo Mansion, and the baked breads of the original Biscocho Haus.

Some of the best delicacies in Iloilo.
Some of the best delicacies in Iloilo.

Of course, a visit to Garin Farm is the one you can’t possibly bail out. Soak up in a spiritual feel or just enjoy a flash of beautiful scenery at its hilltop. Or better yet, spend a 2-day vacation at Gigantes Islands with its variety of offering from each islet. A sun, sand and sea combination is what we all need for summer and on our downtime moments. I feel you!

ILOILO SAMPLE ITINERARY

To fully experience the beauty of Iloilo, allot a travel itinerary for at least 3 days, just as I did. Spend the first day exploring the city and Garin Farm, and on the second to third day, head out to Gigantes Islands for an overnight stay. You may extend your travel period however you like especially on Gigantes islands where there is so much to explore.

Some of the art pieces showcased at Molo Mansion.
Some of the art pieces showcased at Molo Mansion.

The proposed itinerary assumes a party of two and will set back an amount of P4,634+ or USD89 per person, P934 (USD18) on the first day and P3,700 (USD71) on the second and third day at Gigantes Islands. The allocated budget per activity includes expenses for food, transportation, and entrance fee and does not cover expenses for accommodation, souvenir and other incidentals.

DAY ONE

ActivityScheduleBudget
ETA Iloilo City05:00AM
Breakfast at La Paz Market07:00AMP200
Jaro Church and Belfry08:00AMP8
Check in at La Fiesta Hotel09:00AMP8
Settle Down10:00AM
Arroyo Fountain11:00AMP8
Museo Iloilo11:30AMP15
Lunch at Molo Mansion Café12:30PMP200
Molo Museum1:30PM
Molo Church 2:00PM
Miagao Church3:30PMP50
Garin Farm4:00PMP175
Back to Iloilo City6:00PMP70
Dinner8:00PMP200
Lights Out10:00PM

DAY TWO and THREE

The remaining 2 days are spent on Islas de Gigantes. Please check this separate blog for the details: GIGANTES ISLANDS BUDGET TRAVEL GUIDE.

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WHERE TO STAY IN ILOILO

Here are few of the recommended accommodations in Iloilo for both locations: Iloilo City and Gigantes Islands.

Goldberry Lite hotel is a top-value accommodation at the heart of Iloilo City. Click the photo for rate and availability.
Century 21 hotel in Iloilo city is well suited for traveling family. Click the photo for rate and availability.

Iloilo City

Gigantes Islands

  • Hideaway Resort at Gigantes Norte book here
  • Se-San Beach Resort at Gigantes Sur book here
  • Chateau de Aow at Carles (mainland) book here
  • Solina Beach and Nature Resort at Carles (mainland) book here
  • Balay Kogon at Carles (mainland) book here
The interior of Molo church.
The interior of Molo church.

USEFUL PHRASES

Like in any parts of the Philippines, the locals can speak and understand English in Iloilo. However, here are some good phrases that might prove useful when you find yourself endearing with them.

English to Hiligaynon (the most prevalent language among the locals in Iloilo)
Thank you – Salamat
Good morning – Ma-ayong aga
Good afternoon – Ma-ayong hapon
Good evening – Ma-ayong gab-i
How much is… – Pila ini…
Do you speak English?- Makahambal ka sang Ingles?

EXTEND YOUR TRIP

Visit other top tourist spots in Visayas:

Or visit some of the top destinations in Luzon:

Balabac Travel guide with top things to do, travel itinerary and sample expenses.
How about extending your trip to Balabac at the southmost part of Palawan. Personally, Balabac group of islands is the best place Palawan can offer. Plus, it’s not touristy. Check out this link for details: Balabac budget travel guide.
Tour around the city of Puerto Princesa on a budget tour. Click the link for details.
After Puerto Princesa, El Nido is always the next stop over. Check out this El Nido Budget Travel Guide to know more about this top tourist destination.
San Vicente Palawan is four hours away from Puerto Princesa. Check out the San Vicente Budget Travel Guide which includes a travel itinerary to Port Barton, its most visited barangay, and learn few things about this laidback municipality. And oh, did I mention that San Vicente has the longest beach in the Philippines? Just look at the photo.

Go to the surfing capital of the Philippines – Siargao! Budget Travel Guide here.

Or visit other countries in Asia using these budget travel guides:

Spend one day in Bangkok by going around its most-visited temples in a DIY style. Click the link for details.
Singapore is cheap if you know the ways to get around. Check out my Singapore Budget Travel Guide to learn some tips.

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