Head to Iloilo, the Philippines’ Festival Capital

Iloilo lures residents and tourists alike with its charming and wildly fun festivals all year round! By Cecile J. Baltasar

Iloilo: the Philippines' festival capital
Paraw Regatta is one of Iloilo's colorful festivals you have to see for yourself (from the Iloilo Paraw Regatta Facebook page)

Iloilo province, although already a bustling metropolis, still knows how to look back and remember its history through festivals. In practically all months of the year, there is at least one festival happening in one of Iloilo’s municipalities, celebrating anything from a patron saint to tattoos. Check out Pursuit of Passion‘s list of some of Iloilo’s fabulous festivals. Know what the best part is? If you already live in Iloilo, you could experience them all!

Dinagyang festival (fourth weekend of January)

This riotous street party combines two elements: religious devotion and a history lesson. Having the same roots as Cebu’s Sinulog festival and Kalibo’s Ati-Atihan festival, Iloilo’s Dinagyang celebrates Panay province’s devotion to the child Jesus—Sto. Niño, or in this case, Senyor Sto. Niño. This is why throughout the festival, which involves frenzied dancing through the streets of Iloilo City, you’ll hear shouts of “Pit Senyor!” and “Viva Senyor Sto. Niño!”

Dinagyang Festival
Photo courtesy of Dinagyang Festival Facebook page

Different tribes and groups dress in their most outrageous indigenous costumes imitating how the Aetas welcomed Malay settlers to Panay island centuries ago. Apart from the street dancing, there are side events such as sports tournaments and cultural presentations.

Paraw Regatta (third week of February)

In Hiligaynon, a paraw is a sailboat with double outriggers. (Outriggers are those logs attached to the sides of a sailboat to prevent it from capsizing.) Every February, seafarers in Iloilo race their colorful paraws up the coast of Iloilo and back down the coast of Guimaras completing 30 kilometers. The sailboats they use, however, are not your regular sailboats.

Meant to preserve the cultural and historic value of the paraw, this regatta allows only sailboats made from the original design used by Malay settlers from Borneo. The visually stunning regatta is known to be the oldest event in Asia that celebrates seafarers and master craftsmen.

Pintados de Passi (third week of March)

The art of tattooing is an ancient ritual that was established in the Visayas long before the Spanish conquerers landed onto Philippine shores. At the Pintados de Passi festival, tattooing is put on the forefront via street dancers who are covered in body art.

Photo courtesy of Pintados de Pasi Festival Tribes Facebook page

A parade of these human art forms—the “pintados”—goes through the streets of the city of Passi, telling the story of Passi’s ancestors, and how they established societal hierarchy using tattoos (only warriors and people of high social status received tattoos).

Carabao Carroza festival (third of May)

Originally, a simple carabao race to commemorate the fiesta of the municipality of Pavia, the Carabao Carroza festival has grown to become a big celebration that may or may not irk some passionate animal lovers. Each participating barangay creatively decorates their carroza—or carriage—and sometimes, their carabao as well, using representations of their respective farm produce in a bid to win the prize for the “Most Gaily Decorated Carabao Carroza.” They then proceed to parade down Pavia’s streets.

Carabao Carroza festival
Photo courtesy of Carabao Carroza Festival Facebook page

The main event, however, is the carabao race. Riders atop their carabaos and carrozas without decorations race down a 110-meter lane. The festival wraps with the coronation of the Carabao Carroza festival queen.

Pandayan festival (last week of June)

The Pandayan festival (literally, the blacksmithing festival) showcases and celebrates the fine craft of blacksmithing in the municipality of Bandiangan. Bolo (machete)-making is one of the major backyard industries in the municipality of Bandiangan.

Pandayan Festival
Photo courtesy of Bandiangan Tourism Facebook page

The Pandayan festival celebrates this annually by providing craftsmen and the interested public to come together and teach and learn about this ancient craft. Aside from a parade featuring muses and dances depicting the art of blacksmithing, the festival also features bolo-making demonstrations, as well as taho (taro)-making and weaving, two more lucrative industries in Bandiangan.

Lechon festival (third week of July)

Imagine over 20 towns in an entire municipality cooking a lechon (roasted pig) each and then sharing it all at lunch. This is what happens in the municipality of Balasan one day every July, when residents celebrate the fiesta of their patron saint Sta. Ana.

Lechon festival
Photo from Municipality of Balasan Facebook page

To kick off the fiesta, the residents wake up at 2 a.m. to begin preparing their lechon. The pigs roast to a delicious crisp for several hours. When they’re ready, the people carry their lechon to the plaza fronting the municipal hall, which, by then, would have long tables and benches laid out to accommodate everyone. What follows is a boodle fight that continues until the last rib has been licked clean.

Kahilwayan festival (first week of November)

The municipality of Sta. Barbara was where the revolutionary government of the Visayas was established during the Spanish times. So every year, Sta. Barbara residents remind locals and tourists about the “Cry of Sta. Barbara” through the Kahilwayan (freedom) festival with a dance-drama performed through the streets of the municipality. They tell people of the story that led to the iconic moment when the Philippine flag was raised in Sta. Barbara as an act of defiance against the Spanish government—this was the first time the flag was raised outside Luzon. It triggered the guerilla movement in the Visayas and Mindanao.

Ready to move to the cultural hub that is Iloilo? Check out Avida Village Iloilo and Avida Towers Atria to find a home that will put you closer to these cultural and historical festivals.