When the Motown song “Dancing in the Streets” hit the airwaves in 1964, it must have been referring to the Philippines which was beginning to be fascinated with street dancing festivals.
This month, many localities will celebrate the feast of the Holy Child Jesus, and festival watchers and travel bugs will troop once more to the biggest events which are back after being sidelined or downgraded in the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With their religious pomp and circumstance, Cebu’s Sinulog, Kalibo’s Ati-Atihan, and Iloilo’s Dinagyang are sure to bounce back as organizers have vowed to put their best foot forward in staging these festivals, as the hordes of revenge travelers are itching to go dancing in the streets and enjoy the touristic spots of the places.
If you have the time, energy, and the moolah, visit the three festivals and drive around the Visayan islands by land and sea, on board via 2Go which has big state-of-the-art ships, notably the new MV Maligaya which sails to Cebu and Iloilo.
Pit Stop 1: Cebu. The most popular Sto. Niño feast, Sinulog is a must-see for many because of the city’s pulsating urban vibe and the festival’s contagious energy. The downside of this merry-making is that Metro Cebu traffic comes to a standstill, and visitors would need strategic planning to navigate the sea of humanity.
But if you’re not dying to see the parade, might as well drive to the city’s upland farm resorts, gardens and cozy restaurants, or laze at the luxe beach properties away from the madding crowd. Bask in the newly opened Sheraton Cebu Mactan Resort which boasts of 261 well-appointed rooms and suites, 36 courtyard pool units, and opulent facilities typical of a five-star hotel.
Discover Cebu’s charming countryside and drive further north or south to marvel at Spanish-era structures, enchanting waterfalls, sleepy shores, mesmerizing mountainscapes, and a wond’rous waterworld beneath the sea.
Pit Stop 2: Kalibo. Aklan’s provincial capital is home to the Ati-Atihan Festival, which traces its roots to the 1200s when ancient Ati tribes celebrated the peace pact with the Malay chieftains from Borneo who bought their land with a golden headgear.
Despite being acknowledged as the “Mother of Philippine Festivals,” it is overshadowed by its more fancy and big-budgeted counterparts, particularly by the Sinulog which also takes place on January 15.
Despite its limitations, Ati-Atihan exudes a more authentic vibe, as the frenzied drum beats seem to magnetically pull the public to join the street dancing and shouting of “hala bira!” instead of being mere spectators.
In between the revelry, swing by Museo It Akean, Aklan Freedom Shrine, St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Tigayon Hill and Cave, and the sprawling Bakhawan Eco-Park mangrove forest. Before leaving, get yourself exquisite piña cloth at discounted rates at the barong stores around town.
Hang around after the event and drive around the neighboring municipalities which have their own variant of the Sto. Nino feast.
Kalibo can be reached by boat via Batangas Port which connects to Caticlan, the jump-off point to Boracay and the provinces of Antique, Capiz and Iloilo.
Pit Stop 3: Iloilo. The heart of the Western Visayas, this city has garnered a series of accolades for its heritage conservation and urban renewal programs, evident in its River Esplanade project which has resuscitated a dying river and made it a pedestrian and biker-friendly pathway.
This eclectic city, which is reclaiming its Spanish-era title of being “Queen Regent’s City in the South,” is home to the Dinagyang which is sought-after by culture vultures both here and abroad. Running from January 13 to 22, the revitalized festival will introduce innovations and new events, including an illuminated night parade.
On the sidelights, you feast on mouth-watering Ilonggo cuisine—La Paz batchoy and pansit Molo, and an assortment of dishes at home-grown dining joints. Sink your teeth on European charcuterie at Muelle Deli, a port warehouse which has been repurposed into a classy riverside restaurant, whose night lights brighten up the Esplanade’s heritage belt.
Indulge in seafood and local specialties at 8 Villa Beach House, an intimate seaside resto, bed and breakfast, and beach activity hub which relives the good old days of casual dining.
Golf aficionados can play at the challenging fairways of the Iloilo Golf and Country Club in Sta. Barbara town, the oldest of its kind in the country established by Scottish engineers in 1907. The 18-hole championship course, which boasts of Victorian-style manors, has hosted prestigious tournaments over the past 115 years.
Within the town proper is Sta. Barbara Church and Plaza where Ilonggos declared independence from Spain in late 1898. The historic event is memorialized at the nearby Centennial Museum which also houses the memorabilia of Gen. Martin Delgado.
With the innate charm and exciting road trips that these cities offer, there is definitely more than just dancing in the streets.