Miagao's Secrets - The Church, The Bats, and the Myths

Miagao Church Guide - Iloilo, Panay via @idreamedofthis
Exploring Miagao Church, Iloilo



Nathan Allen Visiting Miagao's "Jurrasic Park" :)

If you plan on visiting Panay island for the Dinagyang Festival, I suggest a side-trip to visit and photograph impressive Miagao Church - probably my favorite Spanish Church anywhere in the country!


The town of Miagao (also known as Miag-Ao) is also the charming and relaxing home of the University of the Philippines Visayas.


I loved the clean air and shady, tree-lined streets here. In fact, I loved this place so much, I stayed for a whole month! Haha.


While there's no doubt that the church is the center of attention, I found out that there's more to Miagao than meets the eye...most notably, the local folklore! However, we'll start with the church:)



Miagao Church, or Fortress?

Miagao Church - Iloilo, Philippines  © Nathan Allen via @idreamedofthis
Miagao Church - One of the most impressive in all the Philippines


Yes, there's definitely something different about Miagao Church...at one time it served as protection from the Moros, so that's where the fortress-like construction comes from. It also has some distinctly Filipino relief carvings...a depiction of St. Christopher carrying Christ as a baby, under the protection of a coconut tree.


Miagao Church is currently listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, as part of the baroque churches of the Philippines.



Let The Stories Begin...

The locals told me many stories in Miagao. The first was how the town came together to convince a well-loved doctor to run for mayor. They were ready for a change, and against all odds, used the power of the Internet to unite and get him elected. After 30 years of the previous political family, change had finally come to Miagao. This is the story I heard, anyway.


Christ The King Procession

Miagao Church Altar - Iloilo, Philippines  © Nathan Allen via @idreamedofthis
Miagao Church Altar & Interior


The current mayor, "Doc" Napulan, learned of my arrival, and was very kind to invite me to join him during the Christ The King Procession through town. This was a great way to explore and take photos, and having a knowledgeable guide like Mayor Napulan along the way was a nice bonus!


The procession started at the church, and slowly wound its way through town from there. I loved hearing bits and pieces about the history as we went, and seeing the altars that were placed in front of many of the houses.


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Christ the King Procession Altar - Miagao, Philippines  © Nathan Allen via @idreamedofthis
Christ the King Procession Altar

The Legends of the "Bat Castle" and “Golden Ship”

Are they just myths? Who knows...but this is what I heard:


Behind the municipal hall (ask a local), you can find the “Bat Castle”, which is actually just a large tree where thousands of giant fruit bats sleep each day. Around sunset, they begin their departure to hunt for food…and cover almost every square meter of sky!





It is called a “castle”, because supposedly a beautiful actress came to Iloilo one day, and took a cab all the way to Miagao. When the taxi driver dropped her off behind the municipal hall, he was surprised to receive a crisp 50 US dollar bill as payment - with "no need to give change".

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When he looked out the window, he was also surprised to see a beautiful mansion there. Later, when he told his friends the story, they all laughed at him, because they took him back and showed him there’s nothing there but a big tree full of bats. To this day, the tree is said to be enchanted, and nobody would dare harm it. 


As for the bats, these harmless creatures can only be found in the Philippines, and are actually called "Golden-Crowned Flying Foxes". They are quite large, and only eat fruit. They are endangered, and if this area becomes a tourist draw, I do hope the local Government will do everything possible to protect them.



The Golden Ship” is another legend. It has reportedly been seen by locals over the years…strangely enough, floating down the small creek that flows through a tunnel at Sulu Garden restaurant. It’s worth a visit to Sulu Garden just for the fish spa and atmosphere of the place - whether you see the ship or not! The food is decent, but for me the highlight was the beautiful garden.

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Where To Stay - St. Mike’s Art Gallery / B&B / Dorm

You wouldn’t think you would find an eclectic “bed and breakfast” inside a college dorm, but at “St. Mike’s”, indeed you can! Sir Mike and his wife “Mama Nora” are well-loved by the students, and it’s easy to see why. They fill the place with a warm energy, and good, cheap carinderia food.


They are avid art collectors, and even if you’re not hungry, the restaurant is worth a visit just to see the artifacts and collectibles that decorate the walls!


Statues & artifacts @ St. Mike's Dorm - Miagao, Philippines  © Nathan Allen via @idreamedofthis
Statues and relics @ St. Mike's Dorm


Note: Many of these items are for sale. The guest rooms have aircon, and are also decorated with an eclectic mix. I believe they recently opened a giant, bamboo bar and dance hall as well! I snapped a few pics before it was finished. Ask them about it! You have to take a small path to get to St. Mike's from the main road, so go inside Balay Lampirong or the other dorms and ask where it is.


Dining Table @ St. Mike's Dorm - Miagao, Philippines  © Nathan Allen via @idreamedofthis
Eclectic Dining Table @ St. Mike's Dorm



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"Like" my page to follow along with me! - Nathan Allen

UPV Campus Photos

Beautiful tree-lined streets on UPV campus - Miagao, Philippines  © Nathan Allen via @idreamedofthis
UPV campus

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Various Photos From Around Miagao

These shots were taken as I explored around the market and town center...you might want to keep an eye out for the many beautiful birds that can be seen around the UPV campus. Also look for the Panay Bird Club link further down the page.

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I also visited the "Green Bamboo" Project. Bamboo grows so quickly, and it quite strong....I believe bamboo construction could really ease a lot of the strain put on our environment! This UPV project helps to employ locals who process the bamboo. You can purchase bamboo crafts on site.

Food / Restaurants in Miagao

Nerizens Batchoy with Flord Calawag - The man, the myth...or the man OF myths? :)  © Nathan Allen via @idreamedofthis

Try Miagao's own Batchoy at a local favorite - Nerizens! On the way to or from Iloilo, you can also stop by Doming’s Talabahan by the sea! You can have a large bowl of talaba (fresh oysters) for almost nothing! Iloilo is famous for this at places like Breakthrough and Tatoy’s, but not too many people know about this gem just outside of the city:)




I’ll let you in on a little UPV secret: There is a super cheap, hole in the wall cocktail bar right near the church! It’s called "Vineyard", and you may have to ask the locals where it is. They have some very unique mixed drink creations there…I never expected to find something like that in Miagao! There's an outdoor patio, and the UPV students love it. I almost expected I would have to give a secret handshake or password to enter. Haha.



How To Get To Miag-Ao

If coming from Boracay or Antique by bus, you will reach Miagao about 45 minutes before you arrive in Iloilo City. Don't worry, you won't miss the imposing structure of Miagao church! Haha. From Iloilo, you need to take 2 jeepneys, but unfortunately I can't remember which ones and from where. Hopefully somebody will answer this here on the post, but you can always ask the drivers when in Iloilo.

Thanks so much to fellow photographer Ruperto Quitag, who assisted me quite a bit there in Miagao. Big thanks as well to Mayor Napulan, Flord Calawag, Veronica Melanio, Mama Nora, and Sir Mike! Being there in Miagao was just the rest and relaxation I needed at the time. I was actually invited to give a TEDx talk at UPV, and I regret not being able to. Next time, I guess! :)


- Nathan Allen

Like my page to follow along with me:)  - Nathan

Nathan Allen @ waterfall in Albay, Philippines - Agoda - Photo by BM Snapshots


Most recent blog: Z Hostel, and the Suprising Tech-Driven Side of the Philippines


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