January is all about starting things right, and because it also happens to be festival month, it’s all about starting loudly as well.
Theoretically, it will take you four years to see all four festivals happening next month—the Feast of the Black Nazarene in Manila (January 8), the Ati-Atihan in Aklan (January 14 and 15), the Sinulog in Cebu (January 14 and 15), and the Dinagyang in Iloilo (January 21 and 22). Assuming you ask me where to head first among the four, I’d definitely shove you to Iloilo, the home of Dinagyang, the best I have seen yet (gone to Masskara, Kadayawan, and of course, Panagbenga, but Dinagyang is still king. Of all the four January festivals, however, I’ve only been to Dinagyang and the Black Nazarene, and the latter is a religious procession and does not include the merrymaking typical in the other three. Will be seeing Sinulog for the first time next year AND going back to Iloilo right after for Dinagyang).
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM DINAGYANG
The highlights of Dinagyang happen on a weekend (same as all other major festivals I’ve visited this year), specifically the third weekend of January. In 2012, it will be on the 21st and 22nd.
There are two main events to see in Dinagyang: the Kasadyahan competition on the Saturday, and the Ati competition on the Sunday. See full schedule here for other activities.
The Kasadyahan features dance tableu performances by elementary and high school students, while the Ati competition, the creme de la creme of Dinagyang activities, features the soot-covered warriors the festival is known for. Although I need not tell you NOT to miss the Ati competition (there, I already did), I highly encourage visitors to see the Kasadyahan as well, because it has the same *awesomeness* of the Ati competition that gives you the goosebumps every now and then.
NAMES, NUMBERS AND ROUTESFestivals are taxing. They will kill your feet, dehydrate you, and God knows what else, and it’s best not to even think of getting into the streets (or attending a festival altogether) if you tire quickly (or choose to).
AND, if you can’t let go of your heels.
NAMES TO REMEMBER:
- Freedom Grandstand, Iloilo Capitol, La Paz Rotunda, and Iloilo Sports Complex. These are the four judging areas where performers of both events will dance. There are seats allotted in each of these locations, but you’ll have to purchase tickets. According to Ms. Pearl Lena of the Iloilo Dinagyang Foundation, the following are the ticket prices: P1,200 (Freedom Grandstand), P800 (La Paz Rotunda), and P300 (Iloilo Sports Complex). The Iloilo Capitol tickets, according to her, are not for sale.
- Iznart and JM Basa. This is part of the stretch closed during the festival where you can eat everything from chicken inasal to batchoy, as well as and buy souvenir masks. The festival fair is actually very long but Iznart and JM Basa Streets are nearest the Freedom Grandstand and Iloilo Capitol grounds should you be watching the performances in those areas.
DEVELOPMENTS IN THE 2012 DINAGYANG. Next year, revelers can witness the performers dancing along the streets en route to the festival areas (unlike last year when they performed only in the judging areas via carousel route). So if you are unable to secure tickets or simply want to watch on the streets, you are free to do so (see parade route below).
- Why should you buy tickets though? Tickets are provided for spectators so you get to see the dancers the way the judges do, and compared to their performance in the streets, those done in the judging areas may be expectedly better (but then again that’s just me thinking out loud). Iloilo can get really hot, and when you factor in the crowds, you might be better off seated to enjoy the show better.
- Which spot is the best? During the Dinagyang 2011, we were able to secure a media pass and were assigned to the Iloilo Capitol judging area (although we requested for the Freedom Grandstand in our applications, because it’s the biggest one). It was a breeze shooting at the Capitol because there weren’t many people in it. The bleachers allotted for spectators were only half full. Next year, however, the Iloilo Sports Complex, which has a bigger capacity, will replace the Freedom Grandstand as the last (and biggest) judging area.
OTHER FRIENDLY REMINDERS
- Be. Early. Both events take place in the morning, starting around 8 AM until noon or 1 PM. Since normal routes are suspended, and the parade route is closed entirely to vehicular traffic (except sikads or pedicabs), you would still need to walk a sizeable distance to your desired spot. Crowds start to thicken by 8 AM so make sure you’re there by 7 AM. AND, the walking will not hurt as much because the sun’s not yet too harsh.
- Ditch the heels.
This is not a pageant. I’m used to walking because I’m from Baguio, but the walking we did in Iloilo was impossible. If you’re coming from Gaisano Mall—the nearest jeepney stop from the Jaro side—it will take you about 25 minutes to reach the Freedom Grandstand by foot, but you can always hire a pedicab to take you as near as the Iloilo Capitol from Gaisano, saving you 15 minutes of walking (drivers charge as little as P10 each). There’s never a shortage of food and water in Iloilo, so whatever energy you expend will be quickly rewarded with even better tasting food.
- Scout for hotels near the cordoned-off area.Iloilo is rife with accommodation options but since you’re going to have to walk almost every time, get one near the closed area (see the map below for the streets). Make reservations now to avail of the cheaper rooms in the nicer hotels. Competition for the best deals is going to be more difficult come January.
HOW TO GET TO ILOILO
Iloilo is a major gateway to the Visayas. All our four major airlines—ZestAir
, Cebu Pacific
, AirPhil Express
, and Philippine Airlines
—are flying there everyday, but you can take the 18-hour ferry ride via Super Ferry
if you want a more different travel experience (the downside is there are no daily trips, and, well, the 18 hours is just too long).
Once you’re in Ilonggo land, you can do much more than see Dinagyang. And because year-round fares to Iloilo are relatively cheaper than Tagbilaran, Puerto Princesa, Caticlan, etc., there’s no stopping you from making the most out of this wonderful Visayan gateway, but more on that in another post that’s soon to come.
In the meantime, you can consult this guide I put together. Print it if you will. Hope to see you in Dinagyang next month!