Iloilo is known for the famous La Paz Batchoy and Pansit Molo. Aside from that, it had made its mark as a place for history lovers with old churches and houses that are found all over the city. However, the city is becoming more known to another thing and that is Isla de Gigantes.
The island, which is 3-4 hours away from the main city has gained much attention from the local tourists due to its beaches, island hopping experience, fresh seafoods and warm Ilonggo hospitality. Knowing these, I knew I just had to visit Isla de Gigantes at least once in my life so during our B.I.G tour, our Iloilo escapade’s main focus was the Isla.
For this trip, I found doing it DIY will be a bit hassle so I decided to book our trip through a local tour operator : Gigantes Island Tours and Services. Our package for a 2D1N tour was priced at Php 1399 pesos per head. This already includes the island hopping tours, entrance fees to the islands, 1 night fan room accommodation, 4 meals (lunch, dinner, breakfast, lunch), coffee/milo/water, insurance and a water proof pouch for the phone. This was by far the best and cheapest package that I could find during my research and we were not disappointed with their service at all. (P.S writing this is in my own will and I was not paid for such)
Isla de Gigantes is located far north of Iloilo and pick up point is at Bancal fish port at Carles Town which is a 3-4 hour ride from the main city. To get here, you have these options:
- By Public Bus/Van – Ride going to Tagbak Terminal at Jaro Iloilo. Ride a bus/van going to Carles or Bancal Fish Port. By bus, it would take 4-5 hours. If by van, 3-4 hours. Fare is roughly Php 200.
- By Private Car/Van – We took this option as an addition to the package deal we had. Luckily, the tour operators and drivers pool their customers to have a private van going to the port for Php 250 per way. The best part about this is they pick you up at your hotel. I think it could save you time, effort, and even money compared to going to Tagbak Terminal which is a bit far from the city.
Upon arrival, our tour guide was already there taking care of all arrangements with the local government like registration. Our guide also introduced us to a local eatery where we could have our breakfast. However, prices are quite a bit inflated. If you want to save a bit, better eat ahead or bring your own meal.
From Bancal Fish Port, going to the main Gigantes island will take you an hour. If you have a package, all boat transfers are already included. If you want to do DIY, currently there is already an available charter boat going to and from the island. You may check the pic below for the schedules:
The Isla de Gigantes Experience
One of the main things to do here is of course the Island Hopping activities. For this trip, we were able to visit 7 destinations. Each with its own unique experience. Let me introduce to you the places we visited and what each has to offer.
The first island we visited was the Pulupandan Island. It is basically a small island with cool rock formations at the side. It’s so small that you can go around it in less than 10 minutes. There’s only one coconut tree and a small hut in the island. There’s honestly not much to do here except for a quick photo ops and dip in the clear blue waters.
Similar to the hidden lagoon in El Nido, the Tangke Lagoon was our second stop. It’s a small saltwater lagoon with beautiful high cliffs around it. We went there during high tide the water did fill up the lagoon. Don’t expect too much tho as the lagoon isn’t that deep. During our visit, the water wasn’t really that clear as opposed to some pictures I saw in the internet. After the short visit here, our guide told us we could cliff jump. I skipped that part since I don’t know how to swim. haha
Cabugao Gamay Island
This is by far the most popular island in all of Gigantes. This is where most photo ops happen. You can easily make your way up to the hill and take a picture overlooking the island. There is also a resort in the island where you can stay overnight. Aside from the photos, we also enjoyed the white sand beach here. Waves were quite strong but we loved it. We also went back here during our second day since our caving got cancelled due to the rain.
Bantigue Sand Bar
The long stretch of sand bar at Bantigue was just enchanting. There’s just something about letting your feet feel the white sand while walking. Here, you can also find the locals selling souvenirs. If you feel like it, I suggest you buy from them since this is just one of the few ways that they can earn money.
The main thing to do here are the water activities. You can go snorkeling, rent a jetski or ride a banana boat for a minimal fee. The island also has a store where you can buy food and beverage. The rock formations were also amazing to see. Nothing quite like it. We stayed long in this island since we enjoyed the snorkeling. Corals and fishes can be found just a few meters away from the island.
Near Antonia Beach
To be honest I am not quite sure what the name of the island/place is but this last stop of ours is by far my/our favorite spot. Same as with the other islands, the water was super clear and clean. What sets it apart for me was the fine white sand that you don’t need to wear your slippers while swimming. Also, there were only two boats, including us, when we stopped by and that made us feel like it was our own little private island.
Gigantes Main Island
This island is the most inhabited island in Gigantes group of Islands. This is where most locals are and where most tourists would stay. While the island is a bit secluded from other towns, they still have almost everything you need here. However, don’t expect classy accommodation or restaurants as the island is just so simple. But that’s the best part cause it made us feel like it was a true getaway.
TIP: Travel light and bring a dry bag. When the tide is low, the boat can’t reach the shore so you have no choice but to walk through the shallow waters.
The fresh seafood and home cooked meals
If there’s one thing that tour operators would boast in their packages, it would be the seafood. Most specifically, they’ll tell you that the main seafood attraction here are the scallops. Yes, there’s an abundance of scallops and you would not wonder since 1 scallop is sold for 1 peso! Imagine that. I was blown away and I keep remembering how much scallops cost in restaurants with only 10-12pieces per serving. I’ll never look at restaurant scallops the same way again.
Our meals during the entire tour were steamed scallops, chicken tinola, squid, adobong scallops, egg, grilled and fried fish, ginataang baboy with monggo. All servings were huge that at most times we struggled to finish the meals. They also tasted really good. I could not stress enough that the locals here cook food really well. There was not a time that I did not like the food. It was so worth it for the package we paid.
All is well that ends well
Our trip back to Bancal fish port was by far one of the most memorable experiences in my entire life. It rained the time when we had to go back so we had to face the challenge of going against the waves. It was such a scary moment for us as we thought our boat was gonna flip in any moment. Thankfully, our boatmen were very skilled and they assured us that the waves were “small”. I didn’t know how they define small cause for us it weren’t. haha. But all is well that ends well. We got to the port safely and we cannot thank God enough for protecting us during the trip.
All in all, our trip to Isla Gigantes was great. The food and the island hopping experience were all memorable in its own. The islands provide you with a sense of serenity that’s so rare once you are used to living in the city. To end this, I want to leave you with this unfiltered picture of Isla de Gigantes sunset that left me extremely overwhelmed and inspired.
Isla de Gigantes was part of our B.I.G Tour (Bacolod, Iloilo, Guimaras). You may check the full itinerary here.
*credits to some pictures taken by my friend Paul Simborio