Are you looking for a place where you can temporarily forget about your stressful life in the city? Maybe looking to break your monotonous work-life cycle even for just a short time. Are you ready to disconnect yourself from the sometimes disturbing world of social media? If you answered yes to all these but don’t know where to go next, then think no more. Just ready your backpack and prepare yourself for to have that most-needed vacation in a laid-back island in Iloilo called Islas de Gigantes.
Islas de Gigantes is a chain of islands in the northernmost part of IloIlo province. It can be found in the municipality of Carles. Islas de Gigantes is consists of ten islands, the largest of these are the islands of Gigantes Norte and Gigantes Sur. The name Gigantes is derived from the word “Higante,” which means Giant. According to a local legend, there are coffins found inside Bakwitan Cave that contained gigantic sets of human bones. Gigantes Norte represents the male giant while Gigantes Sur represents the female giant. Some of the locals believe that their islands have once been inhabited by the giants, which stand at least 8 feet tall.
How to get to Gigantes Islands?
1. From the IloIlo International Airport, take a cab or one of those van vehicles then put off at either SM Ilo-Ilo or Tagbak Terminal. Travel time is about 30 minutes, depending on the traffic situation.
2. From SM IloIlo, you need to cross the diversion road and ride a jeepney going to Tagbak bus terminal. Travel time is less than 30 minutes.
3. From Tagbak Terminal, you have the option to take a bus or a van going to Estancia. In my opinion, taking a van is the best option as it is faster and cheaper compared to a bus ride. Travel time takes 2 and a half hours.
Note: The van vehicles cannot be seen inside the terminal but along the highway, near the bus terminal. I believe that there is no specific schedule for the trips of the vans.
4. From Estancia, take a tricycle going to the Port. Travel time is less than 15 minutes.
5. From Estancia Port, you need to catch the only passenger boat bound to Gigantes Norte. Their daily schedule is at 1:00 p.m. and travel time is 2 hours.
6. When you reach Gigantes Norte, you can take a Habal-Habal going to your resort.
Where to stay in Gigantes Islands?
We booked an AC room at Arjan Beach Resort, which is good for 4-5 pax. Standard rate is 1500php/night. You should lower your expectation if you decide to book here because there is nothing fancy about their rooms; no Hot and Cold Shower, no Wi-Fi, and no electricity in the morning from 7:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.
The place is a wide garden beach-front resort with 9 (AC and Fan) rooms. If you would like to go camping, tents are available for rental at 150php/head per night. No extra charge for the use of cottages. The signal in the whole island goes from weak to none so trying to connect to the Internet is almost next to impossible.
Even so, the service of this resort is exceptional. They will assign an assistant to you attend to your needs during you entire stay. The assistant will welcome you, stand as your island hopping guide, and get your order and serve your meal every day. You don’t need to look for anyone else in the resort for anything that you need. Your dedicated helper will be there for you all the time.
The food here is super affordable and the serving is big. The ordering of food is per kilo. I remember we ordered scallops and pork for 200php/kilo. Fish and vegetables is less than 200php/kilo. Just inform the staff how you want your food to be cooked.
For inquiries and reservations, please contact Remia Pestaño at +639999918643
What to do in Gigantes Islands?
1. Land Tour
The land tour that would take you the lighthouse and the cave is one of the coolest tours I have ever taken. The only mode of transportation in the island is Habal-Habal. Imagine riding a motorcycle sans a helmet, on a road that is narrow, rocky and bumpy, risky indeed but somehow added to the excitement.
The local children are very friendly that I felt like I’m the mayor of the island waving and greeting back to the kids. You may find this weird but I suggest you just enjoy it and respond with a few hi’s and hello’s too.
• Visit the Century-old Lighthouse
The original lighthouse station was established by the Spaniards in 1895. In 2008 though, typhoon Frank destroyed the said lighthouse. The Japanese were kind enough to replace the old lighthouse by donating one that is solar-powered, and it is the one that you will find in the place today. The island of Masbate is visible from the station. According to our guide, guests were allowed to climb to the top of the lighthouse before but the local government noticed that some tourists are touching the solar panel, hence entering the top part of the lighthouse is now prohibited to avoid damage to the panel.
• Spelunking at Bakwitan Cave
This cave reminds me of all the buwis-buhay spelunking I did in Sagada. Going inside the cave will give you a challenge because it involves climbing up by holding on to the tree vines and ropes. The only difference is, it’s warm inside Bakwitan cave compared with the Sumaguing Cave in Sagada. I spotted some graffiti inside the cave and it deeply saddens me. Our guide said this cave used to serve as the island’s evacuation area during the Japanese occupation. Today it is still being used as an evacuation shelter when there is a typhoon. We no longer pushed our way to the exit on the other side of the cave because my friends were still tired from our trip and wanted to take more rest. At least now I have something to look forward when I go back.
2. Island Hopping
• Tangke Saltwater Lagoon
Aside from the Land Tour, you should definitely go on an island hopping tour. Our first stop is Tangke Saltwater Lagoon. Going there was tough that it made me feel like the lagoon doesn’t want to welcome us. The waves were too strong, which put quite a challenge to our small boat. From the shore, we had to walk on a bridge to get inside the lagoon. After that, we needed to walk carefully as we trek down the big rocks. But the effort was worth it, to my surprise, the lagoon looks just like those that you can only see in El Nido or Coron. I even climbed up the wall to get a better view of the lagoon and it was simply astonishing!
You can also do cliff diving outside the lagoon or inside when it’s high tide. There is no entrance fee but I suggest giving a small amount to the person who is guarding the place.
• Cabugao Gamay
The most photographed island in Islas de Gigantes is the Cabugao Gamay. It has an entrance fee of 50php. To capture the picturesque view, you need to climb the small hill on the end side of the island. The place is ideal for swimming because the waves are calmer. The clear and turquoise-colored water is really inviting. You can also have an overnight stay in this island.
• Antonia’s Beach Resort
We had our lunch at Antonia’s Beach Resort, the place that made me regret I’ve no underwater camera. Unlike other places where I went snorkeling, you didn’t have to wander far from the shore for a good spot to see corals and fishes. Here, you just need to swim a few meters away from the shoreline to be amazed by the colorful underwater world. You have to be careful though because some jellyfish can be seen floating in this area. Apart from snorkeling, other water activities available here are riding a Jet Ski and a banana boat. The entrance fee is 40php.
• Bantigue Sandbar
Our island hopping journey ended at Bantigue Sandbar. Although we didn’t have the chance to see the sand bar in its full length due to the high tide, we had fun swimming, running, and playing on this island. Had we known that the ideal time to go to this beach is just before sunset (that’s when the tide goes low), we would have stayed there longer. Even so, the small portion of the sandbar is still enough to appreciate the exquisiteness of this place.
Summary of Expenses in Php.
I hope that this post especially the photos enticed you to come see the place for yourself. If not, I highly recommend that you just go see it for yourself, pack that bag, and get that much-needed vacation in a place as beautiful as the Islas de Gigantes.