Going to a new place every year for my birthday has been a self-imposed commitment. I like rewarding myself with travels to enrich myself more in experiences, creating more memories as I embrace a new chapter in my life.
This year, my close friends and I booked a ticket to Iloilo. Going as far as Western Visayas to explore its unspoiled beaches and eat abundant seafood was not a walk in the park, and every inch a literal definition of adventure. But it was all worth it. It was a gateway to an incredible adventure I couldn’t trade for anything else.
I appreciated the simplicity of the people’s lifestyle in Gigantes. The absence of signal unplugged me from social media for a few days, and made me reconnect to nature, with myself and with God.
Our first destination: Islas de Gigantes.
How to reach Gigantes via flight from Manila to Iloilo City:
1. From Iloilo Airport, take a van going to Tagbak Terminal (400 to 500 pesos per van)
When you you exit the arrival area of Iloilo airport, a group of people in will block you to offer shuttle service going to Tagbak Terminal, the lone mode of transportation going there. The rate is 500 pesos per van but we haggled up to 400. Travel time is 20-30 mins.
2. From Tagbak Terminal, ride a van going to Estancia Terminal. (150 pesos)
Travel time is 2 to 2.5 hours, fare is 150 per head. There is also an ordinary bus going to Estancia at almost the same rate, but it takes a longer time. The seating capacity per row is for four people, so expect that it will be jam-packed and a little inconvenient.
3. From Estancia Terminal, ride a tricycle going to Estancia Port (10 pesos)
4. From Estancia Port, ride a pump boat going to Gigantes Norte. (80 Pesos)
Gigantes Norte is where most of the resorts are located. Travel time is 2 hours. Remember that there is only one passenger boat per day so don’t miss it! Take note that the boat leaves at 1 PM so go there before 12 PM to buy last minute supplies or eat lunch. The boat ride may tend to get shaky depending on the waves and the weather, so waterproof your stuff and might as well get ready to get wet. The boat from Gigantes Norte going back to Estancia Port is at 8 am so be sure to go there earlier.
5. From Gigantes Norte, ride a habal-habal to head to your resort.
How to reach Gigantes via flight from Manila to Roxas City:
1. Take the ordinary bus from Roxas City to Estancia Via Ceres Bus (Php 75-80)
2. Ride the boat at Estancia Port to Gigantes Norte
Gigantes Hideaway Tourist Inn
Most blogs and online searches will direct you to Gigantes Hideaway Tourist Inn, one of the most famous resorts at Bgy. Asluman. Prior to going to Iloilo, we already contacted Mr. Joel Decano, tourism officer and owner of Gigantes Hideaway Tourist Inn and he assigned one of his staff to meet us at the port. When we reached Bgy Asluman, we rode a habal-habal that dropped us off at Hideaway.
I thought all this time that staying at Hideaway was practical and convenient. But when I read this blog, I had a different perspective of this resort. Looking at the angles, the owner has this tendency of monopolizing the tourist accommodations at Gigantes. I am not saying we did not like the resort’s accommodation, but you may also want to check other resorts that has the same amenities to give fair chances to others.
The resort has two sites, the main and the beach front. Located along the main road of Bgy Asluman, the main site is known for its vast garden with nipa huts, a private bathroom, and even a tree house. However, signal is zero and it has no view of the beach. Meals are served in the garden.
The beach front or what they call “the extension of Hideaway” is situated on the beach, around 10 minutes boat ride. It has large nipa huts as its rooms, but water supply is scarce and common bathrooms are shared among all guests. You have to fetch the water from a large drum. The site has a stronger signal compared to the main site but it fluctuates from time to time. We slept on mattresses on the floor, and mosquito nets are provided in each room.
We slept at the main site on the first night, but we requested to be transferred to the beach front on the second night to get a stronger signal. However, we had to walk through the low tide for an hour just to get to the island. So if you’re planning to stay at the beachfront, tell it right away to the receptionist to avoid the hassle of the low tide. Electricity runs from 6 am to 6 PM then the succeeding hours will be sustained with a generator.
Main Site Amenities:
The package is inclusive of seafood buffet, with unlimited rice. Scallops, squid, fish, mussels, crabs whether grilled, fried, steamed or sauteed: plenty of them. It’s hard to finish all of them in one sitting but definitely we were all satisfied. So much fun to eat with your bare hands!
The room rate is very cheap, charging you 200 pesos per person per night for a fan room. However, the high cost is allocated on the island tour. The owner insists we will arrive at the same amount if we decided to avail the services separately. We paid 2687 per head for 3D 2N accommodation.
Here’s the breakdown and inclusions:
Boat Rent – 2500
Room Accommodation for 2N – 1200 (200 per head, 2 nights)
Meals – 2100 (150 per meal per person)
Port and Habal-habal fare- 480
Environmental Fee- 450
Service Fee- 500
8060/3 pax = 2687 per head
Islas de Gigantes Island Tour
The name Islas de Gigantes or “islands of the giant” was taken from the rumors that it was invaded by giants before. According to our tour guide, there were coffins found in Bakwitan Cave with bones the size of a 7-9 footer men.
Gigantes is known for its pristine islands, alluring rock formations and picturesque island overlooking. The low-key living of the people, mystique beach profile and unspoiled islands make it a prime tourist destination that beats all other overrated, mainstream beaches. The sand is not powdery fine, but its immaculate white colour is one of those distinguishable characteristics that complement the beauty of the islands. Scallops are scattered everywhere, one of the island’s primary product.
Snorkeling gear is available for rent at 50 pesos. However, I brought my own for sanitation purposes. 🙂
Our first stop was at Antonia Beach. Graced with coconut trees, skewed rock formations that will give you a wider picturesque overlooking of the sea, Antonia is a quiet fragment of Gigantes perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
The remarkable stretch of white sand overlapped by gushing cool sea waves is Bantigue Sandbar’s appealing charm.
Cabugao Gamay is the trademark spot of Gigantes every time you’ll search it online. Its peculiar shape from the top view and surrounding emerald green waters with rock fortresses are its notable traits. The pile of stones the locals created is also an amazing centerpiece attraction of the island. Camping is also available at 150 pesos per night.
Scallop shells can be found lying everywhere.
Spelunking at Bakwitan Cave
Part of the package includes a tour at Bakwitan Cave. Bakwitan means “a place to evacuate” in Ilonggo. Locals use this cave as a place of refuge from strong typhoons and to hide from Japanese invaders years ago. Coffins were said to be found in this cave as well. Bakwitan has pretty sparkling stalactites inside with formations resembling to either an animal or a plant. Slippery and muddy inside, Bakwitan requires spelunkers to wear comfortable, rugged clothing. Some passages are narrow and hard to pass through. The trail exiting the cave is a serious trekking though. Some opt to skip the trekking and just see the caves at the onset of the trip. My friends and I however, managed to finish the trail even if we were dressed in swimming attire only since we thought it’s a simple cave tour. Wear hiking shoes and bring flashlights and drinking water.
Gigantes Norte Lighthouse
Riding a habal-habal, we headed to Gigantes Norte Lighthouse. Aside from the white towering lighthouse as its main attraction, the pre-hispanic architecture and pretty landscape are worthy of your visit. You have to walk along the narrow pavement for 10-15 minutes before reaching the lighthouse. Before the lighthouse is accessible to tourists but now it is closed so we weren’t able to reach the top.
Sample Summary of expenses for 3D 2N at Gigantes:
Van fare going to Tagbak Terminal (400/3 pax)- Php 134
Van fare going to Estancia Terminal – Php 150
Tricycle going to Estancia Port- Php 10 pesos
Boat fare going to Gigantes Norte- Php 80 pesos
Gigantes Hideaway Tourist Inn Package (island tour, accomodation, food, fares, entrance)- Php 2687
Tip for Island Tour guide- Php 234 (700/ 3 pax)
Tip for Bakwitan Tour guide- Php 134 (400/3)
Snacks/meals – Php 200
Boat fare from Gigantes Norte to Estancia Port- Php 80 pesos
Tricycle fare from Estancia Port to Estancia Terminal – Php 10 pesos
Van fare from Estancia Terminal to Iloilo City- Php 150
Total: Php 3869
06:30-07:30 Flight from MNL to Iloilo
07:45-08:15 Trip from Iloilo Airport to Tagbak Terminal by Van
08:30-11:00 Trip from Tagbak Terminal to Estancia Terminal
11:00-11:10 Trip from Estancia Terminal to Estancia Port
11:10-12:30 Lunch, rest and buy supplies at Estancia Port
1:00- 4:00 Boat ride from Estancia Port to Gigantes Norte
4:00- 4:15 Habal-habal ride to Gigantes Hideaway Tourist Inn
4:15- 5:00 Snacks, coffee
5:00- 7:00 Rest
7:00- 7:30 Dinner
7:30 onwards Rest, freshen up
*We did not go to the lighthouse on the first day since it was raining hard
06:00 Wake-up, fix stuff
07:30-12:30 Island Tour (Antonia Beach, Bantigue Sandbar, Cabugao Gamay)
12:30-1:30 Lunch at Hideaway Beach front
1:45-4:00 Bakwitan Cave
6:00-7:30 Walking to Hideaway Tourist Inn Beachfront (low-tide)
7:30 onwards Rest, dinner
06:00 Wake-up, fix stuff
07:00-07:30 Boat ride from Hideaway beachfront to Bgy Asluman Gigantes Norte
9:00-11:00 Boat ride from Gigantes Norte to Estancia Port
11:00-1:00 Van from Estancia Terminal to Tagbak Terminal
1:00 Arrival at Iloilo City
insect repellent lotion
Gigantes Hideaway Tourist Inn
Address: Sitio Hayahay, Gigantes Norte, Carles, Iloilo
Contact Person: Mr. Joel Decano, Owner and Carles Tourism Officer
Contact No: 09184685006
Note: Some photos are courtesy of my two closest buddies on earth: Catherine Redoña and Caseylyn Santillan