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The search for the next Boracay: Gigantes Islands, Iloilo

Kara Santos

Posted at Apr 30 2018 12:50 PM | Updated as of May 01 2018 01:00 PM

The Gigantes Group of Islands, popularly known as Isla de Gigantes, which means “Islands of Giants” in Spanish, are a remote cluster of islands in the northernmost part of Iloilo province in the Philippines. The Gigantes Islands consists of about 10 islands, the two largest being Gigantes Norte (North Gigantes) and Gigantes Sur (South Gigantes).

The Gigantes Islands. ABS-CBN News

The chain of islands located in Panay in Western Visayas is located on the opposite corner of the world-famous Boracay and offers a different kind of beach experience.

Though the islands have become more popular among backpackers and budget travelers in the past few years, the whole vibe here is simpler compared to the usual beach party life you find in other popular summer destinations. Gigantes still offers that off-the-beaten track appeal, with uncrowded beaches, a lagoon hidden within karst rock formations and all-you-can-eat seafood.

 

HOW TO GET THERE

The official jump-off point to the islands is the Bancal Port in the town of Carles in Northern Iloilo, where daily commuter ferry trips depart and a Municipal Tourism Office has been established to assist visitors. Carles can be reached by land from all major transport hubs in Panay Island including Iloilo City, Roxas City and Boracay (Caticlan)/Kalibo.

Visitors take a boat ride from Bancal Port in Carles, Iloilo. Kara Santos, ABS-CBN News

While both Carles and Gigantes are geographically located in Iloilo province, the closest and most convenient option to get here by air is via Roxas City in the province of Capiz. Land travel from Iloilo City to Carles can take 3 to 4 hours, while only 1 hour and 45 minutes from the Roxas City.

For boat travel, while it is also possible to also get here through Estancia (via Estancia Feeder Port), it is not recommended since travel time is longer and there is currently no tourism office there. Boat trips via Carles are preferred as travel time is 30 to 45 minutes faster compared to than those coming from Estancia. It is now mandatory to pay the environmental fee of P75 per person and other entrance fees at the Carles Tourism Office.

Because of the various transfers needed, if you’re traveling in a group and want to save time, it may be more convenient to charter a private van and private boat through a tour operator for the whole trip. Some tour agencies and hotels can arrange shuttle services directly from airports.

Boats can be rented if you opt to go island hopping. ABS-CBN News

Via Roxas City

  • Travel by air to Roxas City, Capiz. Travel time from Manila to Roxas City is about 1 hour.
  • Ride a tricycle going to the Roxas City Integrated Transport Terminal. Fare is about P100-150. Travel time is 10-15 minutes.

BUS: Ride a Ceres bus going to Carles and alight in Balasan. Fare in the Ceres bus is P75. Travel time is about 2 hours.

VAN: Ride a van bound for Carles and alight in Balasan. Travel time by land is about 1 hour 45 minutes. Fare in the van is P65. Trips in the van start from 6 a.m. and ends 6 p.m.

  • From Balasan, board a tricycle (P50) or motorcyle taxi (habal-habal) (P100-P150) directly to the Bancal port in Carles.
  • Alternatively, you can wait for a bus from Iloilo bound to Carles. Buses usually pass every 30 minutes to 1 hour. Balasan to Carles is 12 kilometers. Make your way to the Bancal Port.

Bancal Port

  • Passenger boats run once daily from Bancal Port to Gigantes Norte (where most of the homestays are located), departing at 10 a.m. and arrriving at 11:30 a.m. The same boat departs at 2 p.m. at arrives at Bancal Port at 3:30 p.m. Fare is P80 per person.
  • There are no passenger commuter boats between the different islands in Gigantes Islands. You can charter island-hopping tours from Gigantes Norte with the help of homestays and resorts.
  • For day tours, a convenient option is to charter a private boat that can take you to all the Gigantes Group of Islands from Bancal Port, which can leave depending on your preferred schedule.
  • Travel time from Bancal to Gigantes Islands is about 1 to 1.5 hours depending on the type of boat used.

Via Iloilo

  • Travel by air to Iloilo City, Iloilo. Travel time from Manila to Iloilo is about 1 hour.
  • Ride a taxi going to Tagbak Terminal in Jaro district. Travel time is 20-30 minutes.
  • Catch either a bus or van bound for Carles.

BUS: Ride a Ceres Bus bound for Carles. Fare is P170-P180 per passenger. Travel time is 3-4 hours.
VAN: Ride a commuter shuttle van bound for Carles. Fare is P200 per passenger. Travel time is 2.5 hours.

Via Boracay (Caticlan) / Kalibo

  • There are no direct passenger bus or van routes from Boracay (Caticlan) or Kalibo in Aklan to get to Carles or Gigantes Islands. You would need to transit through Roxas City.
  • Take a bus or van from the Caticlan Port to Kalibo. Travel time is 1.5 to 2 hours.
  • From Kalibo, board a Ceres liner bus or van to Roxas City. Travel time is 1.5 to 2 hours.
  • Follow instructions above from Roxas City to get to Carles.

NOTE: Aboard land and ferry connections, travel time to Gigantes (via Carles) takes around 5-6 hours from Iloilo City, 3-4 hours from Roxas City and 6-7 hours from Boracay/Caticlan.

WHERE TO STAY

Kamalig cabin tents are available for those who want to experience “glamping” at the Solina Beach and Nature Resort. Kara Santos, ABS-CBN News

Most of the resorts can be found in Gigantes Norte Island. These resorts offer rustic and basic accommodations catering to budget-conscious travelers. It’s also possible to camp out in tents at Antonia Beach and Bantigue Island, though it is not really encouraged during peak season because of concerns for water conservation.

There is no public water line in the islands and fresh water for bathing and personal needs have to be brought in by barrels and containers from the mainland or from island springs and deep wells. Camping fees usually cost P200/pax for those staying in tents.

Electric power is also limited on Gigantes Norte Island and runs at scheduled hours and may be cut-off at night. Some resorts may have generators.

Gigantes Hideaway Tourist Inn on Gigantes Norte Island offers various accommodations from rustic nipa hut fan room cottages with mosquito nets and shared restrooms and a few AC rooms.
Room rates are usually bundled with their package tours, which start at about P3,665 per person for 2 pax (inclusive of boat transfer, food, accommodations, etc.)

Se-San Beach Resort offers clean, comfortable and relaxing accommodations in Gigantes Sur for those who want to sleep on the island. Aircon rooms with private CR start at P1,500 per night (good for 2). https://www.facebook.com/SeSanBeachResort/

High-end accommodation at Solina Beach and Nature Resort. Kara Santos, ABS-CBN News

Solina Beach & Nature Resort is a newly opened resort in Carles, that offers the most luxurious gateway to Gigantes. It is the only high-end beachfront accommodation in the area, offering eight duplex villas totaling to 16 rooms, eight pods good for two persons each, and 25 glamping-style cabin tents that can accommodate couples and small groups of four to six. Each room at Solina has a private comfort room with hot and cold shower, complete vanity, and toiletry kits. Price range is P5,500-P11,500 per night depending on room type and number of guests per room. https://www.facebook.com/SolinaResortGigantes/

WHAT TO DO

1. Go Island-Hopping

Island-hopping is the main attraction at the Gigantes Group of Islands. Including travel time, you should allot at least a whole day to to visit all the main sites, which include:

Enjoy the view from the top of Cabugao Gamay in Gigantes Island. Kara Santos, ABS-CBN News
  • Cabugao Gamay Island: The most photographed and most iconic spot of the Gigantes Group of Islands, Cabugao Gamay offers a stunning view of two sides of the beach visible from a view deck contstructed on top of rock formations. Previously only reachable by cliff scrambling on the rocks, a concrete stairway with wooden handrails were has now been constructed to make it easier for all tourists to reach. Entrance fee: P50 per head
  • Bantigue Island: An island where the shape of the sandbar shifts depending on the currrent. This island offers a nice spot for swimming and snorkeling. It’s also possible to camp out on the island here.
  • Antonia Beach: Another popular snorkeling spot, Antonia Beach is also called Sandwich Island. It’s best to bring your own snorkeling gear. The beach is designated as a lunch stop area for some island-hopping tours and is reknowned for selling scallops that cost just 1 peso each. Entrance fee: P40 her head
  • Tinagong Dagat: Locals proudly liken this spot to a “mini-Boracay” because of the white sand and stunningly clear water. It’s a very small rocky little beach with a small but picturesque stretch of sand.
  • Tangke Saltwater Lagoon: Another spot made popular by social media, the lagoon surrounded by rock formations offers a serene swimming spot with shallow waters. Locals named is “tangke” or tank as because of the gap among its boulders forming an opening. This is best viewed in the morning during high tide. Entrance fee: P20/head.
  • Pulupandan Islet: The first or last islet where visitors can make a stop. This tiny islet with one tree is considered a common resting place of fishermen who go out to sea.

Package rates for island-hopping tours differ depending on the tour operator, type of boat used, and number of passengers availing of the tour, with larger groups benefiting from cheaper rates.

Las Islas Travel & Tours (https://lasislas.ph), a DOT-accredited travel agency advocating responsible tourism, offers all-in day tours for as low as P999 per head for joiners inclusive of licensed island-hopping boat to the main destinations, DOT-trained professionals, all entrance and environmental fees, seafood lunch by the beach, unlimited steamed scallops and unlimited drinking water.

2. Visit the Gigantes Norte Lighthouse

For those staying overnight in Gigantes Norte, one attraction you can visit is the Gigantes Norte Lighthouse, the ruins of a Spanish-era lighthouse. Roundtrip fare for motorcycle taxis to take you to the lighthouse is P60 per person including waiting time.

3. Go spelunking

Explore the beauty of Tangke Saltwater lagoon. Kara Santos, ABS-CBN News

If you have more time, you can visit also several caves in the vicinity including Pawikan Cave and Baktiwan Cave, which was used as a refuge during the surge of typhoon Yolanda. Baktiwan Cave is a spacious cavern with rock formations resembling wings, cross, and even a shark. A Bakwitan Cave tour usually costs P500 for the cave guide and P200 for the roundtrip motorcycle taxi transfer.

WHERE TO EAT

Carles is a humble seaside town, with not a lot of fancy dining options or fastfood joints at the moment. There are various carinderias or you can buy fresh seafood from the public market. Most island-hopping package tours include a seafood buffet lunch as part of their offerings which includes fresh scallops, steamed crabs and axe-shaped oysters locally called wasay-wasay

A cafe at Carles Port called Gigantes Cafe specializes in seafood and local delicacies like Scallops Aglio Olio Pasta to cater to the summer crowds looking for a place to eat.

Appreciate the bounty of the sea in Gigantes Island. Kara Santos, ABS-CBN News

The newly opened Angga Restaurant, the in-house restaurant at Solina Beach & Nature Resort in Carles, offers the best place to enjoy a wide range of seafood and Ilonggo specialties. Try their Kilawing Hipon (shrimp ceviche), Beef Lauya (Ilonggo beef stew flavored with batwan) and Seafood Platter. Price range for main dishes ranges from P200-P300.

Simple reminders to respect nature from Las Islas Travel and Tours are posted around the island. Kara Santos, ABS-CBN News

WHAT TO BUY

There are a few usual beach souvenir items being sold in the Bancal Port area and various islands such as Cabugao Gamay island including necklaces, trinkets, t-shirts and other crafts. Take note, that it is prohibited to take home shells, sand, stones and corals from the beach.

Aerial shot of an island part of the Gigantes group of Islands. Courtesy of Las Islas Travel and Tours

Aerials shot of Cabugao Gamay, Gigantes Islands. ABS-CBN News

Aerial shot of Bantigue Island, Gigantes Islands. ABS-CBN News

Bantigue Island, Gigantes Islands. Kara Santos, ABS-CBN News

Aerial shot of Cabugao Gamay, Gigantes Islands. ABS-CBN News

A fisherman navigates along the waters of Tinagong Dagat, Gigantes Islands. Kara Santos, ABS-CBN News

Tourists wait for their turn as they enter Tangke lagoon, Gigantes Islands. Kara Santos, ABS-CBN News

People may opt to stay at Gigantes Norte island. ABS-CBN News

Aerial shot of Cabugao Gamay, Gigantes Islands. ABS-CBN News

The pool at Solina Beach Nature Resort, Carles. Kara Santos, ABS- CBN News

The pool at Solina Beach Nature Resort, Carles. Kara Santos, ABS- CBN News

Treat yourself with probably the cheapest scallops at 1 peso each. Kara Santos, ABS-CBN News

Have a seafood platter at Angga Restaurant of the Solina Beach Nature Resort, Carles. ABS-CBN News

The search for the next Boracay series: https://news.abs-cbn.com/specials/next-boracay

TIPS FOR RESPONSIBLE BEACHGOERS

1. Respect the surroundings. Don't leave your trash on the beach. Better yet, don't create trash. Avoid buying drinks in plastic bottles, using plastic straws and plastic bags.

2. Respect marine life. Don't disturb turtles, fish and other creatures. Don't step on corals because those things are fragile.

3. Respect people. Avoid playing loud music that disturbs others. Be sensitive by wearing appropriate clothing. Wearing bikinis near churches, schools or offices may offend the locals.

4. Patronize establishments that don't pollute. If your hotel's drainage leads directly to the sea, maybe it's time to check other accommodations.

5. Pick a beach that doesn't get a lot of people as congestion puts stress on the environment.