Whether you’re a born Ilonggo or one in spirit, you can’t deny that the City of Love is full of hidden and not-so-hidden wonders. Now that we’re entering the summer season, you’re probably itching to hit the beach for some down time. As our city slowly recovers from the pandemic that has changed world history, local tourism is also a great way to jumpstart our recovery. 

Word of caution–when planning to go to these summer spots, please remember to observe public health advisory regarding COVID-19 protocols. Some of these places may have changed their operating hours and maximum guest capacity. To avoid hassle, try to call and arrange for a booking if possible. On another note, check out all of the coolest places to visit this summer in, around, and near Iloilo City.

Sicogon Island

Named after a type of grass called cogon that is abundant in the island, Sicogon Island was a famous luxury resort in the ‘70s. When Martial Law was declared in the country, its popularity dwindled because of a nearby competitor, the island of Boracay. Fortunately, Sicogon’s local government unit asked the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) of Iloilo Province to recognize the island as a tourist destination, pushing open its gates to tourists from all over the country and the world.

Sicogon’s nature reserves span the entire island. Lush forests, daunting mountains, and crystal clear waters with light yellow sands will welcome you with open arms. Once you’re there, don’t forget to take a swim in Barangay Buaya Beach, snorkel at Tamaguin Island, and hike at Mount Opao. 

Bucari Pine Forest

Bucari Pine Forest may not exactly be a “new” place, with all the coverage from major media outlets, but this “Little Baguio” is still worth the trip. Nestled atop the mountains of Leon, Bucari is a highland attraction with thousands of pine trees and a campsite where you can enjoy the cool weather during the country’s dry, summer months.

You can find small stalls that sell fresh fruits and vegetables harvested from the area’s rich land. If you are planning to stay overnight, be sure to bring extra warm clothes and blankets for the wintry night. This is a great place to spend a family vacation. Don’t forget your furry babies; this place is pet friendly!

Miag-ao Church

Right in the middle of Zulueta Avenue in Miagao, some 45 minutes away from Iloilo City, you will see one of the oldest churches in the country. Still standing in all its majestic, archaic beauty, this 224-year-old structure has been rebuilt three times. It first served as the highest point of the town to guard against invaders. Now, it is considered a national shrine through Presidential Decree No. 260 and is a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.

If you are a history buff, this place should definitely be on your bucket list. Here you will see the diversity that is ever-present in the country – the influence of Spanish, Chinese, and Muslim traditions even in our architecture. The church continues to serve its intended purpose for the people of Miag-ao as its town parish. It is also close to the campus of the University of the Philippines Visayas, home to many brilliant Iskos and Iskas. 

Before you leave, don’t forget to stop by the many quaint cafes around town. Beans and Bubbles, Daray-ahan Cafe, Into D’ Woods, Vince Tapsi, and Vineyard are some of the iconic places locals and students love to frequent. They serve all kinds of dishes that will surely please your palettes and leave you wanting more. Perfect for summer road trips and hanging out with friends over Miag-ao’s iconic sunsets.

Calle Real Iloilo

If you’re a local who loves to frequent the downtown area of Iloilo, you are most likely familiar with the iconic Calle Real (translated to Royal Street) or JM Basa Street. It is one of the busiest streets in the area as businesses ranging from street vendors to clinics to restaurants operate inside heritage Spanish-era buildings dating back to the 1800s. You may even have seen these highly photographed structures in travel magazines or listicles.

Calle Real used to house high-end fashion boutiques with products coming in from all over the world, especially from Europe, back in the day. It was also, and still is, the central business district of the city. If you find yourself wandering in the city, most jeepneys with a Downtown route pass by this truly iconic street with a very rich history. Also drop by some of the city’s most beloved restaurants and diners like Roberto’s and KongKee. They have been serving affordable and quality food to Ilonggos for decades and are well known and loved for a reason.

Lizares Mansion

This one is another must-see for history or architecture lovers. The Lizares Mansion is located in Tabuc Suba, Jaro and is known for the tragic events it has witnessed, including the torture of Filipinos during the Second World War. This mansion is also a true-to-life look at how noble and wealthy families of Iloilo lived during the colonial period.

Built in 1937 by a Filipino sugar baron named Don Emiliano Lizares, the 3-story mansion was dedicated to his wife. When the War broke out, they had to flee and hide, leaving the house at the hands of the Japanese imperial army, who then turned it into a torture chamber. Too macabre for your taste? That’s history for you – often ugly but essential to our collective memory as a nation. This is a good place to go with friends and family to learn more about the city and its deeper history.