Photo by Xtian Lozañes

The BULLETPROOF Dinagyang Festival Survival Guide

By joseph batcagan

If Philippine festivals are your thing, then there are few things bigger in the country than the Dinagyang festival. With a record one million tourists having visited last year’s iteration of the fest, it’s probably safe to say Dinagyang is far from being our own “little thing” right now. And right now, you’re probably thinking how you can be able to spend Dinagyang weekend at your own leisure!

Of course, as with all things, there are many, many ways on having your Dinagyang ruined by… well, anything, really. And believe us, dear readers, when we tell you that all of us here at Project Iloilo have had our own shares of crappy Dinagyangs from years past. So, because we don’t want you to experience the same things we did, we decided to do our civic duty this time around and basically pool all the things we have learned from our past screw-ups to produce the first-ever edition of The BULLETPROOF Dinagyang Survival Guide (and yes, that’s not a typo. “Bulletproof” is written in all-caps just because)!

So, whether you’re a battle-hardened Dinagyang vet Dinagyang or a newbie taking on his or her first adventure in the colorful and (most likely) heat-choked Iloilo City in the middle of Dinagyang, we have tried to be as comprehensive as possible with the tips we’ve laid out below for your perusal. So, without further ado, here is—once again, with feelings—the BULLETPROOF Dinagyang Survival Guide! Enjoy!

Travelling to the city

Filipinos take their fiestas in a deadly serious manner. For Dinagyang season in particular, select places within the city are known to start their “parties” as early as Wednesday and letting it rage up until the wee hours of Monday morning (by which then, the city celebrates its unofficial “Hangover Day”). So, if you’re gonna go to any party in the city during the weekend, expect all roads leading to those places to be as jampacked as EDSA during rush hour.

For those travelling downtown, you should expect to have a hard time penetrating the city, and not to mention trying to find a suitable parking spot where you won’t risk your vehicle getting jacked by more “opportunistic” people in the city. So, as an aside, it is really better for you if you’ll have to commute or simply hail a cab.

Of course, one other thing you still have to remember is that, more often than not, you really won’t get to your destination directly since city ordinance prohibits public jeepneys—and by extension, even private vehicles without “car passes”—to pass through the city. So, do take note of the numerous vehicle “re-routes” that will surely affect your total travel time to any place in the city; the government usually posts those temporary routing map a few weeks before the festival proper.

However, if you’re even lucky enough to have your vehicle pass through the Iloilo River Bridge, you still have to contend with the masses of humanity that will be blocking every nook and cranny you pass through as you make your way through your destination. Thankfully, there is one walkaround (pun not intended) through all of these tiresome walking: most of the times, you will encounter “tricycles” that will be able to force-squeeze themselves through the narrowest of roads. Last time we checked, hailing a trike downtown during Dingayang season will set you back about 40-50 Php, which is roughly the cost of one Red Horse beer you will probably be buying when you get there. Yes, we know our audience very well, thank you very much.

Keeping your safety and sanity

Every good Ilonggo worth his or her salt knows that a real Dinagyang experience isn’t just limited to cooping yourself up inside Freedom Grandstand for six hours straight while waiting to get bombarded with one tribe dance routine after another; the “real” party, as you can probably guess by now, happens in them streets, yo.

So, if you’re going to go out on Dinagyang weekend, better prep yourself up for a whooooollleeee lot of walking. Of course, that means the onus is on you to make yourself as comfy as possible. For one, footwear will be an important component of your experience: if you’re expecting to go to as many places in the city within a span of three days, then wearing a comfy pair of shoes or sandals or—if you dare—even your household tsinelas (flip-flops) should do well for this purpose.

On the other hand, if you’re expecting to go out during the daytime, then it would do you a whole world of good to bring either of these things: umbrella, sunscreen lotion, hats or caps, shades, or even a water canteen, if you can help it. With the way weather here in the Philippines can wildly shift from one extreme to another, these are practically your go-to kit for protecting yourself from the elements.

Other factors to take note: never bring more valuables than what is only necessary for you to carry; make sure that you’re securing all your cash, cards, and belongings with you while you’re out; and—arguably the one problem very common to all modern Philippine cities—do expect that EVERY place you will be going through in the city has at least one pickpocket or “snatcher” lying in wait.

Of course, we also have to mention one “dirty” little secret that every tumandok (native) has come to expect from large-scale events like Dinagyang: expect to be greeted with piles of rubbish upon entering the city. Worst of all, you most likely also have to endure the smell of anatomically-produced, old-fashioned human urine while you’re at it, too (among other… “things” that we prefer not to mention in this guide for the sake of human decency *shudder*). Thankfully, the City Government is still expected to pass an ordinance reminding attendees not to litter, similar to this one they enacted last year.

In case you’re trying to find a good spot where you can “go” without risking yourself to disease, you’d be hard-pressed to find any portable restrooms that don’t… well, stink, to put it bluntly. So, in this regard, you might as well find a restroom that is ensconced safely inside the premises of a mall, building, or any large-ish establishment—at the very least, you can be sure that the plumbing inside those places work.

Of course, it also goes without saying that the only way you can prevent people from littering and making a mess out of everywhere is when you start doing so yourself. At the very least, do try to make the city NOT dirtier than when you found it no matter how wild your partying is! And speaking of partying…

Partygoers’ “unofficial” protocol and etiquette

So, now we go to the one thing that defines modern-day Dinagyang for all intents and purposes: its party scene. As a rule, there is NO rule to what constitutes a “proper” party for Dinagyang—you can simply saunter into any designated “street dancing” area within the city and just move along with the rest of the tribes performing for the judges during their performances (just remember that you’re not REALLY supposed to be a part of their “performance”. You don’t want to be the jerk who costed them the championship, do you? ). Really, this is where the “community” aspect of Dinagyang becomes apparent: each and every person partaking in the street celebrations—regardless of his or her social sphere—becomes one cohesive whole, united by nothing but sheer enjoyment at the experience. And probably because a good number of them are drunk too, but we digress.

However, because this is the Philippines we are talking about, then social classes DO matter here. in particular, the more wizened party animals among us are probably looking forward to the “gated” parties that cooler clubs and establishments here in the city will be sponsoring, each one of them competing for your attention and hard-earned money. Thankfully, many of these parties often offer pre-selling tickets that are (often the case) 50% cheaper than what you’re charged at the gate. At the very least, you can still save some dough which, we trust, you will be putting to good use (READ: plying yourself and your friends silly with drinks).

But of course, that’s not to say you can’t enjoy Dinagyang if you have no extra cash to burn. Like we said above, all you need to do is to go downtown and wander around. It’s guaranteed that you’ll always find something interesting while you’re there. Looking to take a selfie with a “warrior”? Sure, loads of them in full costume are already walking around and expecting for a “tourist” to take a snapshot with them! Think the Dinagyang performances look too tame on TV? Well, it’s more certainly fun if you’re there seeing the colorful sights and ear-busting drumbeats of those performances in person—and you don’t even need to have a ticket in order to do so!

Regardless of the kinds of parties you will be attending during Dinagyang, the general etiquettes for both remain the same—in particular, the ‘Golden Rule’ for partying is to not ruin anyone’s experience if you don’t want yours ruined. And really, it’s all just a matter of knowing where your social “boundaries” are. Nobody wants anyone puking or groping at them indiscriminately, of course. So, the best course of action is to be a model partygoer yourself: be respectful of each other’s “spaces”, and be honest with yourself when you know you had too much to drink already. Sure, not everyone will be polite and mindful to you and your friends, but that is why we’ve got cops patrolling these places. Don’t hesitate to ask help when you feel you’re getting harassed.

So, the TL;DR version of the above paragraph? Don’t be a jerk and a creep. This one naturally goes out to all genders, too. Equal rights and opportunity and all that jazz.


It can be very easy to tout Dinagayang as an excuse for us to indulge in bacchanalia. And really, there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you’re not harming anyone. However, we all have to remember that the reason Dinagyang survived THIS long was because the originators of the festival have managed to foster a culture that is—to quote directly from one of our contributors, writer Tin Buenavista—a “celebration of community, diversity, and gratitude”.

More than any other iteration of Dinagyang in the past, Iloilo is now becoming a gracious host to a wide variety of people—non-Ilonggos, foreign expats, you name it—who have fallen in love with the city and simply decided on a whim to stay here. In effect, this has further “diversified” our definition of what a local community means to us in this day and age. And with the much-touted “economic boom” the city is undergoing right now, then there is certainly a lot to be grateful for this year. See, that’s three-for-three from Tin’s quote already!

So yes, you don’t even have to be a baptized Catholic to have a reason to celebrate Dinagyang this year. Dinagyang is a communal act, and no matter what your background or belief of may be, your “individuality” is what gives the community of Dinagyang its completely unique identity. This, to us, is what Dinagyang is now. So, please act like a responsible member of the community by making sure you also do your part to make this year’s Dinagyang a better experience for everyone. That should be easy enough, yes?

Of course, we’re aware that we may have missed out on a few—okay, “some”—tips that every Dinagyang attendee will find useful. So, that’s where you come in! Let us know in the comments section below what else we may have missed out! You may also be interested in reading more about the history of Dinagyang in this link here! Thanks for reading this post, and please party responsibly! Hala bira, Iloilo!

Joseph Batcagan is the editor and a writer for Project Iloilo.