By Herman M. Lagon
ILOILO City prepares to dazzle the world with its most awaited event of the year—the Dinagyang Festival 2024! This grand celebration, which started last January 12, promises an explosion of culture, spirituality, and exhilaration. To help you make the most of this incredible experience, particularly during the higher-energy days from January 26 to 28th, I propose a guide on what to do, see, eat, and enjoy for the visiting public.
Kickstart your Dinagyang adventure with the tranquil Fluvial Procession along the Iloilo River this early Friday afternoon of January 26. Witness the Santo Niño replicas gracefully sailing on beautifully adorned boats and being paraded through the Solemn Foot Procession, setting the spiritual tone for the festival. As the sun sets on the same day, make your way to Dinagyang ILOmination Streetdance Competition and Floats Parade of Lights at Ayala-SM-Megaworld, where competing tribes—Tribu Arevalo (Kahirup), Tribu City Proper (Ilonggohanon), Tribu Jaro (Buntag-tala), Tribu Lapaz (Sagasa), Tribu Lapuz (Sidlangan), Tribu Mandurriao, and Tribu Molo (IAFA)—display illuminated floats and moves. This visual spectacle showcases the artistic prowess of the Ilonggo community.
Prepare for heart-pounding excitement as you join the crowd at Iloilo Downtown Area to witness the early-morning Street Dance Parade and Sadsad sa Calle Real on Saturday, January 27. Secure a prime viewing location and fully immerse yourself in the dynamic performances, dazzling costumes, and infectious rhythmic beats. Dance shoulder to shoulder with the tribes, lose yourself in the rhythm and become a part of the celebration. At the same time and place, take in the Festive Parade of Sponsors’ Mardi Gras, an event highlighting local businesses’ invaluable support. Witnessing the community’s active participation in Dinagyang is a beautiful opportunity.
This Saturday early afternoon, immerse yourself in the festival’s cultural essence with the Kasadyanhan sa Kabanhawanan that is set to shine in the downtown area. This penultimate showcase of the rich culture of Iloilo features Katagman Festival of Oton, Pantat Festival of Zarraga, Kaing Festival of Leon, Saad Festival of Leganes, Cry of Jelicuon of New Lucena, Tultugan Festival of Maasin, Hinirugyaw-Suguidanonay Festival of Calinog, Kasag Festival of Banate, and Banaag Festival of Anilao. This mega-production is followed by the grand religious procession at San Jose Parish Placer, which adds a profound layer to the festivities.
Start your final day on Sunday, January 28, with the early morning Concelebrated High Mass at San Jose Parish Placer, further connecting with the festival’s religious significance. The grand finale of Dinagyang is the Tribes “Ati” Competition, where competing tribes showcase their remarkable talents and cultural heritage, especially at the judging areas in Freedom Grandstand, Iloilo Provincial Capitol, Mabini-Delgado, and Quezon-Ledesma. Prepare to be awestruck by this magnificent spectacle and out-of-this-world choreography courtesy of Tribu Ilonganon, Tribu Mandu-riyaw, Tribu Paghiadet, Tribu Pan-ay, Tribu Salognon, Tribu Sigabong, Tribu Silak, and Tribu Taga-Baryo.
Between the festivities, indulge in Iloilo’s culinary wonders. Savor the iconic Deco’s La Paz Batchoy, Kap Ising’s Pancit Molo, Jo-ann’s Fishball, and Madge’s Coffee; relish fresh seafood, inasal, inihaw, and turo-turo at the Dinagyang Food Festival; binge with biscocho, butterscotch, and barquillos delicacies; or dine at local gems like Tatoy’s Manokan, Roberto’s Siopao, and Ramboy’s Lechonan. Explore Iloilo’s rich heritage and visit historical landmarks like Jaro Cathedral, Molo Church, and San Jose Placer Church. Have a glimpse into the rich history of the city, visit the museums and heritage sites in Museo Iloilo, National Museum of the Philippines Iloilo, Museum of Philippine Economic History, Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Philippine Marine History, Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art (ILOMOCA), Old City Hall, The Molo Mansion, Casa Real de Iloilo, Plaza Libertad, Rosendo Mejica Museum, Camiña Balay na Bato, Casa Mariquit, and Iloilo River Esplanade, among others.
After the official events, especially during nighttime, seek out the after-parties happening in various stalls, restos, bars, and clubs around the city. Dance the night away and celebrate the festival’s spirit of unity with fellow revelers. Party at the crowd, hood, nook, and cranny of your choice at Calle Real, Smallville Complex, SM City Mall, Robinsons Malls, Vista Mall, Festive Mall, Gaisano City Mall, Riverside Boardwalk, Cubix Strip, The Atria, Plazuela de Iloilo, Times Square, Diversion Road, Pison Avenue, Megaworld, Iloilo Capitol Grounds, and many others.
Braid your hair, ink yourself with a tribal tattoo, wear an Ati headress, stand in front of a booming sound system, or take a photo with an Ati warrior if that pleases your senses. Remember to pick up Dinagyang souvenirs and local handicrafts as mementos. You will find everything from tribal-inspired jewelry to vibrant fabrics and captivating artwork.
To truly savor the festivities, immerse yourself in the rhythmic drumming that permeates the streets. Let the beats resonate within you as you celebrate alongside the tribes, creating lasting memories.
Strike up conversations and engage with the joyful participants and merrymakers. Learn about their culture, share laughter, and make new friends as you celebrate.
When participating in any street party in the different corners of the metropolis, wear comfortable clothing and footwear. Stay hydrated, apply sunscreen, and keep your belongings secure. Join in the fun, but also be respectful of others’ space and traditions.
Dinagyang Festival 2024 offers a kaleidoscope of experiences that will leave you with cherished memories. Whether you are a first-time visitor or a returning enthusiast, embrace the energy, immerse yourself in the culture, and shout “Hala Bira!” as you unlock the vibrant magic of Dinagyang.
Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.