|Balay Kogon in Sicogon, Iloilo.|
The revelry of Iloilo City’s Dinagyang Festival might have died down, but the excitement of discovering Iloilo Province has just begun. With 42 towns and two cities connected by a good road system and a rural panorama, here are some of the must-sees and must-dos in this idyllic driving destination.
Century-old Churches. The province’s notable houses of worship which are built in Neo-Gothic architectural style are the churches of Pavia, Cabatuan, Leon, Guimbal, Dueñas, San Joaquin, Lambunao, Dueñas, Passi, Alimodian, Dumangas and Banate. Not to be missed are the Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Church in Miagao, a massive Baroque-Romanesque “fortress church” which is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and the Sta. Barbara Church, where the Philippine flag was raised for the first time outside Luzon when the Filipinos declared independence from Spain in 1898.
Farm Tourism Sites. Rediscover the farmer in you at the farm resorts offering quaint but quality lodging and farm-to-table food to visitors. Among these are Ephrathah Farm in Badiangan, Damires Hills in Janiuay, and Garin Farm Pilgrimage Resortin San Joaquin, which has an interesting pilgrimage section which features life-size Biblical sculptures, and the 480-step Stations of the Cross which is like the proverbial “stairway to heaven”.
|Ephrathah Farms in Badiangan.|
Island Hopping. The northeastern coast is dotted with charming under-the-radar and less-crowded islands with powdery beach. Concepcion is home to Pan de Azucar, which is so-called because of its sugar-like beach, and Bulubadiangan, which was named as among the archipelago’s top 9 most amazing sandbars by online travel site Skyscanner. Gigantes in Carles is an island chain composed of the Instagrammable Cabugao Gamay, Tangke saltwater lagoon, Antonia Island, Bantigue Sandbar and Sitio Pulupandan. Sicogon Island,a poster image in the 1990s, will soon open a luxury tourism estate and airport under Ayala Land Inc.
|Agho Island in Concepcion.|
|Gigantes Island in Carles.|
Native crafts. Admire the hand-woven sinamay cloth at the weaving rooms in Miagao, the signature fabric of Panay, whose finished products are the exquisite women’s patadyong and men’s barong. For ethnic weaves, visit the School of Living Traditions of the Pan-ay Bukidnon tribe in upland Calinog.
|Sinamay hand-woven cloth in Miagao.|
Nature getaways. Mari-it Wildlife Conservation Park, located inside the Western Visayas State University in Lambunao, is the habitat to rare animal species such as hornbills and deer. Nearby are Montillano and Inas Falls, and more than a dozen icy waterfalls. Bucari, an upland ecotourism area in Leon, is regarded as Iloilo’s “Summer Capital” because of its cool climate and rich biodiversity of flora and fauna, waterfalls, springs, streams.
|Pan-ay Bukidnon tribe in upland Calinog.|
Casa Fiammeta in Barotac Nuevo is an equestrian school and resort which also offers kayaking at the nearby Jalaud River. Meanwhile, Igbaras town has a protected area with a flourishing zoological and botanical landscape, the 100-foot high Nadsadjan Falls, Guiritsan Falls, Igcabugao Falls, Rafflesia Garden and Mt. Napulak.
|Casa Fiammeta equestrian school in Barotac Nuevo.|
Catholic Cemeteries. These may be morbid spots to visit, but the ornate sculptures in the 19th-century Gothic-style mortuary chapels in the towns of San Joaquin, Cabatuan and Janiuay will make you take a second look at them. These Spanish-era structures have notable funerary art where final rituals are done before the dead are laid to their final resting place.
|San Joaquin Cemetery Mortuary Chapel.|
Where to stay: Park Inn by Radisson in Iloilo City, a mid-priced accommodation within SM City, a transport hub to the airport and other key points in the province. In the north, there is Solina Beach and Nature Resort which boasts of duplex villas, pods, glamping facilities, native-themed restaurants, swimming pools, and offers island-hopping tours around Carles.
|Solina Beach and Nature Resort in Carles.|
|Park Inn by Radisson pool side.|
If not driving your vehicles, Iloilo also has a good public transport system of Ceres aircon buses to nearly all points of the province. There are also various vans, and rent-a-car services available.