Summer is officially here in the Philippines. Many of us associate summer with the beach. The Philippines is so blessed to have so many beautiful beaches and islands. In Western Visayas there is one that in recent years has been getting the notice it deserves in the Philippine tourism radar. Gigantes Islands or Islas de Gigantes is a gem waiting to be further discovered.
Gigantes Islands is a group of 14 major islands and minor islets. It is located in Carles, Iloilo which is in the Northern tip of Panay Island. Its beautiful seascapes have attracted many tourists, both local and foreigners. Gigantes is blessed to have spectacular sceneries, long stretch of white sand beaches, jagged rock formations, clear and turquoise water and interesting caverns or caves. These are the reasons why tourists are drawn to these magnificent group of islands and islets. I would peg it as a mini Palawan.
In late March 2018, my family visited Gigantes Islands and we love it. It has been on our bucket list and we were very happy that it was finally ticked-off. It was worth the long trip from home.
There are many islands and islets to discover and the best way to be able to do this is to stay in the islands. However, this is not applicable to many and is only for the adventurous. For people who can cope outside of their comfort zones. Accommodations and amenities are limited and so is electricity.
Another option is to take a day tour of island hopping and visit some of the major attractions. This was what my family did.
The first islet that most tourists visit is Pulupandan but since we had limited time, we did not dock. This islet has a lone coconut tree.
Our first stop was Tangke, one of the top two most photographed island in Gigantes Islands. It is a salt water lagoon in the middle of beautiful rock formations. If there are not many tourists, one can have a nice swim in its shallow water.
Onward to Cabugao Gamay which is the unofficial image of Gigantes Islands. If you search Gigantes Islands on the internet, numerous photos of it will appear on your screen. This island has a unique shape. At the center is a sandbar. On both sides are a rock formation and a lush vegetation. Atop the rock formation are viewing decks where you can get a bird’s eye view of Cabugao Gamay. This is what made it the most photographed island in Gigantes Islands. Climbing to the viewing decks is not advisable for people who have ailments and mobility problems. There are make-shift wooden stairs but precaution is necessary. Groups of fifteen people are allowed to go up.
Tourists piled up flat stones which is another added attraction. My family had a nice swim.
Before heading to another island for lunch, we made a quick stop at Bantigue Sand Bar for a swim. Just like any sandbar, the water is so clear and clean which is ideal for swimming. Other travelers said that the sunset view in the sandbar is amazing.
Antonia Point is a popular lunch stop for tourists. There are small stores where you can buy foodstuffs and the freshest of seafood. It is also ideal for swimming. Snorkeling is another activity in this island. Adventurous tourists can stay here for the night. Albeit limited, there are accommodations where one can stay.
For lunch, the resort where my family was billeted and arranged for our island hopping prepared a very nice picnic menu for us. They served us pork adobo, grilled fish, steamed scallops and “wasay-wasay”, eggplant salad and bananas. Since the seafood were so fresh, they were very juicy and sweet. No need for garlic and butter which is how scallops are mostly served in the city. My family was in food heaven!
Scallops in Gigantes Islands and in mainland Carles cost only around P50 per kilo or about P1 each. A far cry from city prices. My family love them so much that we bought ten kilos and have them grilled for our mini party during bonfire at the resort after dinner.
It was my first time to eat “wasay-wasay” and I love it! Because of their “scary” exterior, they can be intimidating at first. But once they are opened, my gosh, they are delicious! The white meat is similar to oysters. Very juicy and sweet.
After resting and swimming, we headed back to the mainland. Since the seas are rougher in the afternoons, it is highly advisable to leave Gigantes Islands by two o’clock.
If there is ample time especially for those spending the night in Gigantes Islands, there are other attractions.
North Gigantes Island Lighthouse for a nice view of the beautiful seascape. The lighthouse is one of 27 commissioned by the Spaniards during their colonization of the Philippines.
Bakwitan Cave. The range of difficulty in this spelunking activity is moderate to difficult which takes about 2 to 2.5 hours. This is for the physically fit only. The cave has spacious caverns and many rock formations. This served as refuge for the people during the surge of Typhoon Yolanda.
Pawikan Cave for its high ceilings and rock formations.
Tinagong Dagat offers panoramic views of the islets. Some compare it to the Hundred Islands of Pangasinan.
Where to Stay in Gigantes Islands
Sleeping in the islands are for the non-picky travelers because of the limited accommodations and amenities. There are a few bed and breakfasts and small beach resorts. Electricity and cellphone signals in all networks are limited. Check them out on the internet.
Another option is to stay in the mainland in Carles which my family did. We were billeted for four days at Solina Beach and Nature Resort. The resort just recently opened and is the only one of its scale and kind in Northern Iloilo. I have written a separate blog on this.
Aside from Solina, all the other accommodations in Carles are lodging houses, small beach resorts or bed and breakfasts. You can find them on the internet.
I would strongly suggest to stay in Carles. It is the jump-off point to Gigantes Islands. Estancia and Roxas City can likewise be jump-off points but the boat rides take longer especially with the later. Island hopping starts early and it is very practical to stay overnight in the Municipality of Carles.
How to Get to Gigantes Islands Via Carles
By air, fly to either Roxas City or Iloilo City Airports.
By land, Roxas City to Carles is about 1 1/2 hour. From Iloilo City is about 2 ½ to 3 hours. From Kalibo is 4 hours.
Those coming from Negros and want to bring their own cars, you can take any of the RORO vessels docking in Dumangas or Iloilo City. From Dumangas it is a 2 hours drive to Carles. Those without cars can take the fastcrafts to Iloilo City.
For those taking the public transportation to Carles from Iloilo City, go to Tagbak Terminal for the public buses and vans going to Carles. Ceres buses are plying the route. Fare is around P180 by bus and P200 by van.
Coming from the airport, take the airport shuttle to SM City then take a taxi to go to the terminal. This can save you money than taking a taxi all the way from the airport which is outside the city. Hiring a taxi or van can be more convenient if you are in a group.
From Roxas Airport, take a tricycle to the bus and van terminal for Carles. For frequent bus trips, you can take the bus for Balasan and from there take a tricycle for Carles.
In Carles, go to Bancal Fish Port. Travel time to the islands is an hour to 1.5 hour. Before boarding the boat to the islands, pay the environmental fee at the tourism office. The local passenger motorized boat (pump boat) only runs once daily from Bancal Port to Gigantes Norte Island. It leaves Bancal at 10 am and from Gigantes Norte at 2 pm.
The most convenient way to go to the islands is to take the package tours. It is hassle-free and has a flexible time. Usually the tour includes lunch and entrance fees. You can have the tour facilitated by the resort or lodging house that you are staying in or you can search on the internet. Make sure that the tour guide is an accredited one by the tourism office. If you are many in a group, you can have a private tour.
If you prefer not to take the local passenger boat or a tour, there are also boat rentals ranging from P3,500 to P6,000 depending on the size of the boat. Fee for a tour guide is P500. It is advisable to travel with companions so you can split the expenses. There are also entrance fees in some of the islands.
Visit Gigantes Islands now when it is not so crowded yet. It is still building a name in the Philippine tourism map.
Below is a video of my family’s wonderful vacation in Carles, Iloilo.