The Gigantes Islands, with all its beaches, caves and rich marine life, is a real gem in the rough in the province of Iloilo. Its sheer distance from Iloilo City and the rest of the Panay mainland however ensures that it almost always gets bypassed as a tourism destination of beach goers and backpackers in favor of the much nearer municipality of Concepcion or the more accessible province of Guimaras.
This blog post is an attempt to create a guide for traveling to the Gigantes Islands based on my own experiences and hindsight realizations. You can cross-reference this with the previous entry which shows a detailed sample itinerary and budget estimate.
Merely getting to the Gigantes Islands is pretty much a whole-day affair. It’s comprised of the following steps:
1. From the Iloilo International Airport, take a cab going to the Tagbac Terminal. You will likely be charged a fixed rate of P500. If you find this too expensive, there is an alternative: You can ask around for an airport shuttle that would take passengers to the Jaro (a district in Iloilo City.) Once in Jaro, get off at the plaza and board a jeep going to Tagbac Terminal. (As we’ve never tried this cheaper alternative, I can’t really judge if it’s better than hiring a cab. It’s up to you if you want to try it.)
2. Once at the Tagbac Terminal, board either a bus or van going to Estancia. A bus makes frequent stops and the ride could last as long as 4 hours but costs only around P80. A van ride costs P150, but is much faster at a little over 2 hours due to less frequent stops. Buses leave every 15-30 munutes, while vans need to be filled up first with passengers before leaving. Either way, you’d reach Estancia before noontime as long as you leave before 8 am.
3. Upon arriving at the Estancia terminal, take a tricycle to the Estancia port. There, you can have lunch and buy supplies while waiting for the boat ride going to the Gigantes Islands that leaves at 2pm. I’d recommend having lunch at Pa-on Beach Club which is around 5-10 minutes away from both the port and the terminal. It’s a popular place and the tricycle drivers would know where it is. You can drop by there from the terminal prior to proceeding to the port. It’s much cooler than any place in the port area because it’s elevated and it benefits from a constant breeze.
4. Board the boat that goes to Gigantes Norte. Travel time is around 2 hours long and costs P80. You will be charged a terminal fee of P4. This trip is once a day only so it is important that you catch this ride. If not, you’d be forced to spend a night in Estancia to catch the next day’s trip.
Note: There’s also a ferry service that goes to the other major island, Gigantes Sur, once daily, but we chose Gigantes Norte for reasons that will be discussed in the next section which is…
WHERE TO STAY
Basically, all of the lodging houses for tourists in the Gigantes Islands is located in Gigantes Norte. Some lodging houses are in Barangay Granada, but the one where we stayed at, the Gigantes Hideaway Inn, is located in Barangay Asluman, which is in the other side of the island.
The Gigantes Hideaway Inn, as I mentioned in a previous entry, is more of a resort than a simple inn - it’s a collection of beach cottages in an extensive “open” compound. It has basic amenities, and notable for its very strong water pressure. The water is directly sourced from nearby mountains and it’s actually safe to drink, although it has a distinctive taste. Like the rest of the island, there’s electricity for around 5 hours every night, but the resort has a generator that can be used to extend this, probably for a certain fee.
The Gigantes Hideaway Inn is owned by Joel Decano, who is also a tourism officer in the islands. You can find his contact information and a link to his Facebook account in the Tour Guides page of this blog. As there’s almost no cellphone signal in the islands, you might need to be patient with Joel if he can’t answer your inquiries right away. He spends half of the time in Estancia, and that’s where he’s able to check his text and online messages. He prefers that you call up rather than just texting.
If you’re a bit more adventurous, you can opt to catch the ferry ride that goes to the other major island, Gigantes Sur, which also leaves once daily. You’ll be landing at Barangay Lantangan where you’ll have to ask the locals who among them is kind enough to let you stay for the night because there are no resorts there.
Another option is to stay at one of the resorts in the mainland in Estancia or further north in Carles proper. In Estancia, I only know of Pa-on Beach Club. In Carles proper, there’s the Carles Shangri-La Family Resort among others. Take note that resorts in the mainland are more established and have better facilities. They would therefore cost more than any accomodation you would find in the Gigantes Islands.
WHERE TO EAT
If you’re staying at any resort in Gigantes Norte, their staff can buy, prepare and cook the food for you and your group. You can also request that the meals be packed for your island-hopping tours. In the Gigantes hideaway Inn, the cost per meal per person averages at P100 or less. And I can assure you that not only are the meals very filling, but they are also very delicious - a real fiesta. You can forget about any diet you might be under.
(The seas surrounding the Gigantes Islands is one of the richest areas for marine life in the country. Any seafood you will eat is guaranteed to be the freshest catch from the sea. You can eat all the scallops your stomach can take and not spend a fortune on them, unlike in Metro Manila.)
If you wish to drink alcohol, you’d best bring your own because the choices in the islands are very limited – Red Horse, Gold Eagle Beer and a smattering of local gin brands. Same goes with cigarettes – they really have funny names for them in the Gigantes. (Not a habit I’d like to encourage though.)
If you’re staying in Gigantes Sur, you’d also have the benefit of being served the freshest catch, although I imagine that you would play a more active role in buying, preparing and cooking your own food. If you’re staying in the mainland, either in Estancia or Carles proper, meals would probably be a bit more expensive, but no less fresh.
WHAT TO WEAR/BRING
Island-hopping, even when it’s not summer, would expose you to a lot of UV rays, so it’s important that you protect yourself from the sun, such as applying sunblock, wearing a hat, sunglasses, etc. Since you would also be doing some swimming/snorkeling, wear outfits that are light and made of dry fit material – board shorts, rash guard, hiking shirt, aqua shoes, etc.
Speaking of snorkeling, if you didn’t bring a diving mask and/or snorkel, they are available for rent at the Gigantes Hideaway Inn. Do take note that diving masks and snorkels generally don’t float so you need to take care that they don’t get lost underwater when you take them off.
Of course, you need to bring your camera. Part of Gigantes’ appeal is to take really nice pictures of the surroundings. Just make sure that you also bring a dry sack/dry bag to waterproof your camera, other gadgets and money.
Lodging houses and resorts usually have their own contacts as far as boat rentals for island-hopping tours are concerned, the only difference is the price – boat rentals are significantly more expensive when solicited in the mainland than in the Gigantes Islands. For example, a boat big enough for 3-4 people (excluding the pilot and the assistant) rented at Barangay Asluman costs only P1,500 for the entire day, all in. The same boat size for the same duration in Estancia would cost at least P2,500, and there might even be additional charges.
You can discuss the island-hopping itinerary beforehand with Joel. Take note that some places’ look better or worse depending on the tides. The tide is highest typically at mid-day. So here are a few tips:
- The Tangke Saltwater Lagoon is best visited at high tide, when it’s deep enough that you can take a dip.
- The Bantigue Sand Bar is best visited at late afternoon, where the entire length of the sand bar is exposed by the low tide and the golden hue of sun enhances its beauty.
- The Cabugao Gamay Island is best visited at high tide in the morning or mid-day when it looks much smaller and its white sand contrasts the most with the surrounding blue waters.
A few islands have minimal entrance fees of around P10 per person. Be sure to have some small change handy. If you wish to go spelunking in the Pawikan Cave in Gigantes Sur, you will need to hire a guide who can take you there. The rate is P200 and you can find one by asking around at the jump-off point.
Within Gigantes Norte and Gigantes Sur, there are no vehicles larger than a motorcycle. If you need to get from one point to another within the island, the fare for a motorcycle ride typically costs P10. There’s actually no clear-cut rule regarding this fare and it’s more of a guideline. Motorcycle drivers might charge more if you are carrying heavy bags. You might also encounter those who would say, “Kayo na po ang bahala.”, upon inquiring. I’d put my foot down on P20. Anything above that is already excessive and would just encourage over-inflated fares.
Leaving the Gigantes Islands and getting back to Iloilo City is just a matter of following the steps in reverse. But it’s very important to note that the ferry in Barangay Asluman going back to Estancia leaves at 9am. Be sure to ask your guide if there are any changes to this schedule just to be sure.
Take as many discarded scallop shells as you want as souvenirs. Seriously, the islands are filled to the brim with them. You can take a hundred sacks full with you and it would not affect the islands’ ecology at all.
A NOTE ON THE NAME
The English name of the island group is “Gigantes Islands”. A lot of people however refer to it in Filipinized Spanish as ”Isla de Gigantes” or “Isla de Higantes”, which – if you know basic Spanish – is gramatically wrong.
This is why I refer to it as “Islas de Gigantes”. Since it’s composed of more than one island, the plural “islas” should be used. I’d encourage you to use it too, when referring to the islands in its non-English variant.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
There you go. If there’s some information that you think needs to be added here or you simply need some clarification on, just leave a note at the comments section.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
This entry is part of the Iloilo & Guimaras series dated March 23-27, 2012:
1. Looking for Travel Buddies
2. Preview: Tangke Saltwater Lagoon
3. Las Islas de Gigantes (prologue)
4. Las Islas de Gigantes (morning)
5. Las Islas de Gigantes (afternoon)
6. Why are they called the “Gigantes Islands” anyway?
7. Gigantes Islands Sample Itinerary & Budget Estimate
8. Gigantes Islands Travel Guide
9. Las Islas de Gigantes (epilogue)
10. Back to the mainland, back to the city
11. Day Trip to Guimaras (morning)
12. Day Trip to Guimaras (afternoon)