Soaking Up on the Islands of Giants (Islas de Gigantes)
January 1, 1970
by Mia Concepcion
The beach has always felt like home to me. And since my birth month was coming up, I decided to take a beach trip. But instead of going to Boracay, which is an obvious choice for a lot of Filipinos my age (I won’t divulge the exact number – just know that I’m a millennial. Hahaha.) I decided to explore other islands out of the 7,107 islands that the Philippines can offer. I wanted to go to a place that was less explored compared to other popular islands. This search then led me to booking a trip to Islas de Gigantes or Islands of Giants in Iloilo.
It’s said that Islas de Gigantes got its name from a discovery made sometime during the Spanish occupation. In a cave in one of the islands, they had found coffins containing gigantic human bones suggesting that the islands were inhabited by giants.
Coming from Manila, it takes several rides and numerous hours to take to reach the island but trust me, all the efforts pay off.
Which Islands Did I Hop To in Gigantes Islands?
This was basically my home base for 3 days. I had stayed in Las Marias Resort which was located in this island. Among the islands I visited, this was one of the few that had local residents as the other islands were uninhabited.
At the end of this island, you can visit the remnants of the Gigantes Norte lighthouse via what locals would call, “singol” – basically, a motorcycle with a designated driver.
The lighthouse was one of the first 27 lighthouses built by the Spaniards in the Philippines during the time of colonialization. However, a storm that struck the country 8 years ago had destroyed it and all that’s left of the original lighthouse are ruins of the brick keeper’s house.
Early in the morning, you can traverse through the Bakwitan Cave where you’ll be able to have a view of the other islands surrounding Carles. However, this cave is quite challenging to explore if you are in questionable health as there are portions inside wherein you will have to climb up in the dark on a diagonal path with you having to pull yourself up using a rope. But if you feel you can do it, just remember to wear shoes or sandals with thick soles as there are sharp limestones you’d have to step on.
They say first impressions last. That’s definitely true for this place. This was the first stop in the itinerary and just from this island, I could tell that the other islands were going to be amazing. It had a vast sandbar which would sometimes get narrow or covered by a thin layer of water during high tide. The best activity you could do here is soak up the sun and take a nice dip in the clear blue water.
Cabugao Gamay Island
Of all the islands I went to on this trip, this would have to be the smallest. As its name suggests, “Gamay” means small in local tongue. Compared to the Bakwitan Cave, climbing up to the top of the rock formation on this island is easy peazy. It’s not very high and the locals have created steps to make it effortless to climb. Once you get to the top, it’s simply breath taking. To be honest, this is the very island that made me want to go to Islas de Gigantes. I saw a friend of mine post it on Facebook and I was in awe. I just had to see it myself.
Treasures are always hidden and this one sure is kept well. Tangke Lagoon is in the middle of an island surrounded by rock formation; hence, the name “tangke” which actually means tank in English. The water inside the lagoon comes from a small hole at the bottom of the rock walls. Sea water fills it up depending on the tide.
If it’s low tide, the water inside is somewhat knee deep. And getting inside the lagoon would be a bit tough. You’ll have to climb a ladder that the boatmen would secure by tying a rope on one end of the ladder to a rock and the other end on the boat. Since we’re on the sea, of course there are waves, making the boat sway. My only advice is, grab on tight! Make sure to find your balance and move as quick as possible just in case the ladder gets dislodged.
I didn’t get to experience Tangke lagoon during high tide but as shared by the tour guide, it’s much more convenient to access the lagoon during this time. The boatman will just move the boat near so that passengers can easily leap in. There’s no need for a ladder and acrobatic skills!
To wrap up all the fun under the sun, we relaxed by the shores of Antonia Island. With all the island hopping and swimming that was done during day, we were just exhausted… and HUNGRY! The guide had brought some food and we had our super late lunch. After that, it was time to relax and simply enjoy the beach.
Where to Stay, What to Do and How Much
I’m sure by now I’ve gotten you all excited and interested in this wondrous place. You’re probably thinking, can I afford to go there? If so, what do I do? Well, if you’re coming from Manila or other international airports in the Philippines, you’d first have to book a flight going to Iloilo City. There are other points of entry but since I came from Iloilo International airport, I’ll take you through this route.
At the Iloilo airport, take a cab that would bring you to the Tagbak Terminal and get on board a bus that would take you to Estancia. When you get to the bus station in Estancia, ride a tricycle that will bring you to the port. Here, you can grab a ferry to Carles where most of the available accommodations are.
Here are ballpark figures of transportation costs you’ll incur going to the island.
Airfare from Manila to Iloilo Php 5,000 / 125 USD per head
Taxi to Bus Terminal Php 350 / 8 USD (maximum of 4 people per taxi)
Bus to Estancia Php 700 / 14 USD per head
Tricycle to Estancia Port Php 10 / 0.25 USD per head
Estancia Port to Carles Php 90 / 2 USD per head
If you’re not very picky with your accommodations, I would recommend the place where I had stayed – Las Marias Resort. From my observation, it looks like a home that was converted into a resort. My room was located inside the main house where the family that runs it also lives. There are separate cottages though I’m not sure if they’re air-conditioned. They have very affordable packages where daily meals (mostly seafood) and island hopping tours are already included. The best part is, they’re more than willing to help you and guide you to reach the island and some of the fares are already included in their package. You can contact them through their Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/ShalomDeLasIslasDeGigantes/
Photos from their Facebook Page (I wasn’t able to take my own photos. 🙂 )
To give you an idea on the costs, I’ve listed below the package that I availed of.
Total Cost Php 2,000 / 42 USD per head (Minimum of 5 Persons)
3 Days and 2 Nights
Round trip fare for the ferry from Estancia Feeder Port to Carles Island
Accommodation for 5 pax
Five Meals with Snacks
Tour Guide Fee
Entrance Fees to Islands
Some Call Outs
There is very limited network signal on the islands.
I barely got signal on my mobile phone. If you need to urgently reach someone or access your phone, you can hire a “singol” to take you to what locals call “Call Center.” It’s an area on the island where there is signal.
Electricity is also limited.
Sometimes, power is cut around 12mn. Learn to use a hand fan while sleeping. Hahaha. 🙂
You’ll have to ride a raft to get on the ferry going back to Estancia
Due to the typhoon Haiyan, the port in Carles was destroyed so the ferry cannot dock near the shore. It’s not scary. It’s just that if you fall off, you’re wet!
Photo credit to Dada Sison
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