Historic Mansions

Scratch the skin of Iloilo, and you'll find an architectural wonder that goes amazingly uncelebrated. Iloilo has an impressive number of historic mansions from the 19th and early 20th centuries, the legacy of a far more prosperous era, when the city had the highest concentration of millionaires outside Manila. Owned by prominent families largely in the sugar and textile businesses, they were abandoned in the face of war and economic collapse. Sadly, these beautiful examples of Spanish and American architecture are going to rot.

Most of the houses are in Jaro, although they also appear by the city's plazas. Stately Nelly's Garden, built in 1928, and resembling the White House, and ornate Villa Lizares, built in 1937 and now a school, are two of the grandest. For a general overview, take the unique heritage tour offered by Panay Tours.

Don't Miss: Miagao Church

The relaxed coastal town of Miagao (mee-yag-ow), 40km west of Iloilo City, makes for an excellent day trip. The city is primarily known as the site of the elegant honey-coloured Miagao Church, the only Unesco World Heritage site in the Visayas. Built from 1787–97, the baroque church served as a fortress against Muslim raiders, and has striking pyramidal towers. Damaged over the years by fighting, fire and earthquakes, it was finally restored to its rococo glory in 1962. The fabulous bas-relief sandstone facade depicts St Christopher strolling through a tropical forest of coconut palms and papaya trees with baby Jesus. For lunch there's the multtipurpose Sulu Garden, which manages to combine a Japanese teahouse with a fish farm, butterfly hatchery, artists' studios and sushi restaurant. In the town hall, Miagao’s helpful tourist office has ideas for local excursions, including caves, lakes, interesting rock formations and cool fern forests.