Iloilo does not get nearly so many foreign tourists as Cebu and Manila. Places like Boracay, Dumaguete and Bohol see more tourists and have many more resident foreigners than Iloilo. Sometimes, I can spend the day in the city and not see another foreigner. A big part of the explanation must be that these places have much better beaches, but I also think that the Ilonggo character is part of the answer. I find Ilonggos, male and female, to have a reserve and seriousness which differentiates them from the more outgoing Cebuanos and even Tagalogs. They seem serious, proud, industrious, honest, and pious compared the more fun-loving Cebuanos or Tagalogs. Beyond the reserve, I find Ilonggos to be honest, kind, and courteous, but don’t expect them to fawn over you because you’re a foreigner.
There’s certainly nothing unusual about young Cebuanas dating foreigners but this does not seem common here. While Iloilo has a few “girlie bars” it does not have the kind of pervasive sex tourism/bar scene found in Angeles or Cebu City. Casual dating of a “white” guy would not be considered proper by many Ilonggas. I rarely see young Filipinas with older foreigners, a very common sight in Cebu. Many of the Filipina-foreigner couples appear to be married couples who have grown plump together over the years. In short, Iloilo is not the best choice for the foreigner looking for a good time.
The upside of this is that the foreigner is more a curiosity than an opportunity and is generally left in peace and treated with respect. It’s unusual for me to be overcharged or otherwise taken solicited or taken advantage of because I’m a foreigner. There are not so many beggars. Sometimes when I do see children begging money, they will approach other Filipinos or my wife but not me. I wonder if the relative lack of begging and prostitution relates to Ilonggo pride.
In almost ten years I have never had even a hint of a problem with crime or pickpockets. On the contrary, we have experienced so many acts of kindness. I left a bag with cellphone and digital camera behind when getting off the jeepney. Fellow riders stopped me to be sure I did not forget the bag. If I drop something, multiple people rush to make sure I get it back.
When this post was originally written, Iloilo was a quiet small city, easy to get without too much traffic. That is rapidly changing as the city grows at a breakneck speed. Traffic congestion and lack of parking is are increasingly serious problems and getting around the city can be a trial. Hopefully residents will benefit from this rapid growth and expats will have new housing and shopping options, but for us going into the city is no longer as easy or enjoyable as it once was.
However, does have a community of resident expats, many who have been in Iloilo many years. Expats hold meetings twice monthly on the first and third Wednesday of the month at Langford Place Cafe, which near the SM City mall. Langford Place is just off Diversion Road behind the Philippines Airlines office. The get-together starts at 3:00 p.m.
You can also join to the Iloilo Expat’s Yahoo Group. It’s not an especially active group so you won’t be deluged with email but you will receive reminders of the meetings.
Click to join Iloilo-EXPATS