June 1, 2015

Islas de Gigantes

Panay Island, the place of my origin, is rich in supernatural folklores. Would you even believe that once upon a time, there were giants who lived on the islands of northern Iloilo, now known as Islas de Gigantes? I don’t know if they were true, but I can assure, a gigantic kind of adventure awaits those who will set foot in this astonishingly beautiful group of islands with pristine, white sand beaches in Western Visayas.

Part of Carles, Iloilo, Islas de Gigantes is composed of 10 islands and islets, including the two largest inhabited - Gigantes Sur and Gigantes Norte. By commute from Iloilo City, it would take almost whole day to get to the islands, with so many transfers and waiting time, but with a good snapshot of the local life once you ride the boat from Estancia Port.

There are now several resorts catering to tourists scattered all throughout the islands, but most of them are located in Gigantes Norte. I chose to stay at Arjan Beach Resort (0999-9918643) mainly because it offers a good view of the sunset.

The two main land attractions of Gigantes Norte are the Bakwitan Cave and the Lighthouse, which can be reached either by walking or via habal-habal. Bakwitan is the dialect translation of “evacuate”. It was named as such because the cave served as a refuge for the locals during the war and in times of calamities and strong typhoons. The cave contains remarkable stone formations, stalactites and stalagmites. According to local legend, large coffins containing gigantic sets of human bones were found inside the cave.

The solar-powered and reconstructed Spanish lighthouse originally built in 1895, serves as a navigational aid to fishermen and boatmen during nighttime. It also provides a panoramic view of the nearby fishing village.

A whole-day island hopping is recommended for ultimate enjoyment. Their beaches are all exquisite and uniquely different from each other.   

Pulupandan is an islet with a lone coconut tree.

The Bantigue Sandbar provides a nice backdrop of Cabugao Gamay and Daku. But I think it isn’t just a sandbar for it has a hill of rock formations.

Antonia Island has twin beaches and a cave, and offers water sports activities like banana boat ride, jet ski, snorkeling and fish feeding. I totally enjoyed eating crabs, scallops and wasay-wasay during lunch in this island. By the way, scallops are abounding everywhere that their supply seems infinite.

Tangke is a hidden saltwater lagoon surrounded by granite monolithic cliffs and limestone formations. With its calm, clear waters, it makes a perfect spot for leisure swimming during high tide.

Cabugao Gamay is the picture postcard that sensationalized the natural beauty of the islands. It is my most favorite too. From its viewing deck, it’s hard not to fall for its mesmerizing natural surroundings.    

I’m glad to have finally ticked off my bucket list Islas de Gigantes. It took me so long, knowing that it is just four to five hours away from my hometown Kalibo. But maybe, it turned out okay that I did not rush things. Because even if I didn’t see any giants, at least I got to see two of the 1,440 sunsets. And as one of my favorite books say “One loves the sunset when one is sad...” And even not.

How to get to the islands and tips:

The islands can be reached via Roxas City or Iloilo City. Though it only takes one and half hour from Roxas City going to Estancia port (the jump-off point to the islands), I took the Iloilo City route (since it has early morning flights) which allowed me to catch the only 1 pm boat ride from Estancia port to Gigantes Norte. From the airport, ride a van going to SM Iloilo City. From SM, ride Leganes-bound jeepney and get off at Tagbak Terminal. At the terminal, take the van (which is faster than taking the bus by at least an hour) bound for Estancia port. Travel time takes two hours. At Estancia port, take the boat bound for Gigantes Norte. Travel time takes another two hours. From the drop off point in the island, take habal-habal to drop you at your resort.

Overnight accommodation ranges from P150 to 2,000 depending on the type of accommodation (tent, fan room, aircon room) and number of people.

Standard rate for island hopping is P2,000, inclusive of a tour guide, good for maximum of five persons.

It’s possible to visit the islands in one day and be back again in mainland Iloilo when chartering a boat from Estancia or Carles port (this port is nearer to the islands and will cut off travel time by an hour) but it usually costs P5,000+ for the boat ride.
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