At a glance, you wouldn’t believe that Tacloban was once a ‘ground zero’ for one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the Philippines. Back in 2013, typhoon Yolanda ripped through the city of Tacloban, leveling neighborhoods full of infrastructure and destroying plenty of historical monuments. But in proper Filipino fashion, the community banded together to rebuild their city.
Today, you can visit Tacloban in all its glory. Historical monuments have been restored, restaurants and bars have been rebuilt, and a sense of community has been strengthened. You could say that Tacloban is more tourist-friendly after the rebuild than it was before with a modern makeover and the addition of more entertainment. This is certainly the silver lining.
Tacloban has always been a jumping off point for the islands of Samar and Leyte, but now, it is certainly worth it to schedule in a few days to visit, explore, and learn about the heroic story of this Philippine city.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Tacloban:
1. Kanhuraw Hill
Home of the City Hall of Tacloban, Kanhuraw Hill has a lot to offer on a lazy day in Tacloban. Facing Kankabato Bay with grassy nooks and shady trees, come have a rest on Kanhuraw Hill where you can watch joggers out on their daily run, couples having a picnic, and the occasional skateboarding shredding the pavement. This is very much the center of the town, used as a gathering spot for locals from every walk of life. Come and observe!
Around Christmas time, the local government erects a bright Christmas tree as tall as you can see with a different theme every year. It’s a selfie-lovers paradise.
2. Madonna of Japan
Right in front of Magsaysay Boulevard and Cancabato Bay, you’ll find the park home to Madonna of Japan. 33 years after World War II, Japan gifted Tacloban this precious monument in order to honor the friendship between the Filipinos and the Japanese. The statue itself is a beautiful piece of art which almost looks like a female version of the Indian Buddha.
Have a seat in the park and ponder the intricate history of Tacloban, or have a quick look at the monument and go right back to people watching! This is said to be the spot where young couple come to kanoodle. Additionally, from Madonna’s seat, you can get some magnificent views from the water.
3. Ocho Seafood Grill
It’s said that if you want the best Filipino seafood dishes in all of Tacloban, Ocho Seafood Grill is where to find them. Located in the center of town on Senator Enage Street, this restaurant serves a revolving door of locals and tourists on a daily basis.
All the dishes are served family style so don’t be shy- order a full spread to share. The seaweed salad is a staple, the sarad adobo is not to be overlooked, and the fish sinigang is to die for.
Not to mention, they got a vast collection of wine artfully displayed on the wall. It’s too tempting not to order a bottle!
4. Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park
Right across the river from Tacloban is a national park that rivals all others in this beautiful country. With over 841-hectares of protected lands, Sohoton Natural Bridge Natural Park offers both leisurely and extreme activities for you to take part it including rivers kayaking and trekking.
However, the star of Sohoton Natural Bridge Natural Park are the caves! These cathedral-style underground caves are absolutely massive! There are strange rock formations that look like alien pods, creepy spikes sticking down from the ceiling, and of course bats hanging out in dark crevasses.
You guide will take you through the caves while pointing out interesting formations and answering all your burning questions. Go there now!
5. Ride a Habal-Habal
You’ve probably ridden in a tuk tuk, a Jeepney, and a tricyle- but have you ever ridden in a habal-habal?
A habal-habal is a form of transport used in the Tacloban region and is basically a motorbike with wide seats and a roof. You’ll squish on the habal-habal in a single-file seating arrangement which comfortably fits 3- although never underestimate the bounds pushed by young Filipino kids.
You’ll often see habal-habals in the countryside as they are best for navigating bumpy roads and steep inclines.
6. Go on a River Cruise
Hire a local boat captain at the Sohoton Natural Bridge Natural Park to show you what these water canals have to offer.
As you go down the river you’ll pass incredible scenery including the limestone cliffs that have developed small caves via water erosion.
On your trip down the river, you’re also likely to pass some local kids playing in the water or some fishermen out doing their daily chores. There will be a dock that leads to the caves where local musicians are playing Waray-waray songs with tunes echoing off the cliff walls.
7. Sto. Nino Shrine and Heritage Museum
The shrine and heritage museum feels like a grand ballroom from centuries ago. With extravagant carpets, lavish chandeliers, and an exterior reminiscent of a southern plantation, it’s clear that there was some serious money circulating here.
No surprisingly, Sto. Nino Shrine and Heritage Museum used to be the vacation home of the Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife. This museum, with it’s overstated mahogany tables and intricate ceiling mosaic, was used as a venue for state dinners and gatherings by the country’s most elite.
This museum is an insane look into the life of the “haves” and “have-nots” in the Philippines with a president living such an excessive life while his people struggled for food.
8. Burgos Street
Typhoon may have gotten the best of Burgos Street back in 2013, but today, Burgos Street is in full swing! All along the stretch, you can find restaurants offering both western and Filipino food, bars with cold beers, and places to party until late.
On the flip side, Burgos Street provides a calmer atmosphere for those who seek it during the day. There are family-owned guesthouses, teahouses, and coffee shops that are great for killing a few hours (especially after a wicked hangover).
9. Rizal Avenue BBQ Stalls
Take yourself on a food tour up and down Rizal Ave. There, each vendor specializes in just a handful of dishes where they are the true masters of their food domain.
You’ll find lots of grills with sticks of meat. Some chicken, some pork, and some the ever-so-popular Tacloban Longaniza which is the Filipino version of a Spanish sausage!
One of the most popular BBQ stands on this food strip is Baldevia Siblings’s Barbecue. There’s often a small line of people here who just can’t shake the craving for the secretly marinade chicken.
Food is cheap, hot, and ready to eat!
10. Pintados and Sangyaw Festivals
The Pintados festival celebrates the brave Waray warriors with locals dressing up in indigenous costumes and colorful face paint and dancing traditional dances for the whole city to see. There are even staged warrior fights by men covered in ceremonious tattoos.
In Waray, “sangyaw” means to “herald the news”. This festival, held day before the city festival, helps ring in the festivities and get everyone raring to go.
Both of these festivals put you in touch with Tacloban, its people, its culture and its history in a way that others don’t often get to experience.
These festivities kick of June 26th!
11. M/V Eva Jocelyn Shrine
In 2013, typhoon Haiyan (also known as Typhoon Yolanda) devastated the region of Tacloban. Recorded as the deadliest typhoon to ever hit the Philippines, Haiyan killed an estimated 6,300 people. There is a famous photo which shows a demolished neighborhood with the only recognizable object being this red, white, and blue ship.
Today, the M/M Eva Jocelyn Shrine stands as a symbol of resiliency and pays tribute to all of those who lost their lives. The same red, white, and blue ship is a symbol of remembrance and memorial.
12. Zpa Spa
After a few days of site seeing, trekking, and buses, your body is probably one big pretzel. Untwist your muscles at Zpa spa. This spa is a popular destination in the city with an amazing reputation for providing top notch services.
There is a sauna, a steam room, massage chairs, and of course, massage therapists who work wonders! The setting is very professional and relaxing with private rooms, aroma therapy candles, cozy massage tables, and calming music.
Call or message ahead of time. You can find Zpa on the 2nd Floor of XYZ Hotel.
13. Try Chocolate Moron and Binagol
A staple treat in Tacloban is chocolate moron and binagol. These beloved rice-made sweets are homemade and sold up and down the streets of the city.
Moron is rice that has been cook and simmered in coconut milk, then mixed with a touch of cocoa powder. Binagol is made from the root crop called Talyan (kind of like taro), which is crushed and mixed with coconut milk, condensed milk and sugar and then cooked like a cake, steamed in a coconut shell and wrapped in a banana leaf.
You can almost taste the love!
14. MacArthur Landing Memorial National Park
A stunning portrayal of the moment General Douglas MacArthur in Leyte Gulf, the leaders of the American forces, landed on the coast to recapture and liberate the Philippines from Japanese occupation. The memorial can be found near the center of Leyte Island, shared with Tacloban.
The memorial itself is both breathtaking and emotional- even if you aren’t a huge history buff. There is are informational markers in both English and Filipino to give you the full story and all the details, including a copy of General Douglas MacArthur’s speech that was given upon landing.
15. Tulaan Falls
You didn’t think this list was going to finish without a waterfall shout out, did you?
Of course there is a magnificent waterfall in Tacloban to be explored! Take a day trip down to Babatngnon where Tulaan Falls awaits! You’ll make your way through a laidback forest path surrounded by hundred-year-old trees, toppled logs, and wild ferns. You’ll then come across a lazy stream where you can splash about- this is how you know you’re close to the falls!
Follow the path and the sound, and you’ll come to Tulaan Falls. This rocky fall creates a shiny black sheen on the rock it covers, then spills into a natural pool below. Kick your shoes off and jump in! If you are a decent climber, you can try climbing up the rocks to a ledge situated about two meets from the water. It’s a nice place to rest and then do a little cliff diving.