Isla de Gigantes: Travel Lessons From Paradise
In my previous post about Isla de Gigantes, I shared that my obsession with the island started last year. The need to visit the place at least once in my life was so strong that I couldn't stop myself from doing intensive research. It was a challenge to plan and create the itinerary. For one, there aren't a lot of people who have written about their experiences or travel tips they picked up when they visited the islands. But experiencing what the island has to offer made all the challenges seem nothing.
So if Isla de Gigantes is in your must-visit place this summer, here are some travel lessons me and my friends learned when we planned and journeyed to this incredible group of islands in northern Iloilo:
Isla de Gigan— what?
There are some important things about the place that I think you should know first. Isla de Gigantes or "Island of Giants" is a group of remote islands in northern Iloilo. It's divided into two groups: Gigantes Norte (North Gigantes) and Gigantes Sur (South Gigantes). The biggest island is Gigantes Norte where most of the accommodations are. The locals are Ilonggos but they speak and understand Cebuano (there's only a thin difference between the two dialects), Filipino, and English.
Electricity on the island is limited. They have scheduled black-outs during the day/night, so make sure to charge your gadgets while there's still electricity. Sending text messages and updating your social media accounts is going to be difficult since most parts of the island don't have phone signals. If you need to send a text, ask a habal-habal/motorcycle driver to take you to the only spot where there's signal. The locals fondly call it as their "call center". Inland roads are not that developed yet and there are no other mode of transportation except for motorcycles.
By now, you can probably imagine the experiences you'll be having when you visit the place. So how do you get to Isla de Gigantes? Let's go to the next part :)
How To Get There
Going to Isla de Gigantes can be... well, a bit complicated. You have two routes you can choose to take. You can either board a direct flight to Iloilo and go on a 4-hour bus or van ride going to Estancia Port, OR you can board a plane going to Roxas City. There are also two ports that you can choose to be your jump-off point: there's the Bancal Port in Carles and there's the Estancia Port.
So which one is the better route? Don't worry. Let me help you weigh your options :)
Through Iloilo City
If you and your group decide to make Iloilo City your gateway to Isla de Gigantes, you still have to ride a bus or a van going to the port you choose. The travel time depends on the mode of transportation. When you decide to take the van, the estimated travel time is 4 hours. If you take the bus, it's a longer trip.
Then again, there are two ports: Bancal Port in Carles and the Estancia Port. Estancia is the closest port when you're coming from Iloilo City, but take note that the boat going to Isla de Gigantes usually leave around noontime. Their schedules aren't fixed, though, so make sure to arrive in Estancia Port an hour before the first boat leaves (around 11 AM or 12NN).
Through Roxas City
When you and your group will be traveling from Roxas City, it takes about 2 to 3 hours to arrive in either port. That is when you decide to take the van. The van fare is 150 pesos per person. The bus, although a much cheaper option, takes longer.
If you take the van, you can ask the driver to take you straight to Bancal Port in Carles. But when the driver won't agree to take you straight to the port (which I think rarely happens because Ilonggos are super friendly to tourists) you can alight at Balasan Town and charter a tricycle to take you to the port. The boats usually leave around 9 AM. Again, be sure to arrive 30 minutes or an hour before as their schedules aren't fixed.
You can also head to Estancia Port in case you missed the morning boat ride in Carles. The two towns are not too far from each other, so you can easily ride a van or bus to Estancia. It totally depends on your itinerary.
For me and my friends, we boarded a ship from Cagayan de Oro to Cebu and we arrived early in the morning. Our flight to Roxas City was scheduled at 2 PM, so we still had time to chill in the city. The plane ride took an hour and a half, so we arrived in Roxas City around 5 PM already. We had to stay there for a night and rode a van bound for Bancal Port early the next day.
Where To Stay
In Roxas City
In case you're taking the Roxas City route and you have to spend a night there to catch the 9 AM boat ride the next morning, there are a lot of places you can stay depending on your budget. Places like Urban Manor, and Roxas President's Inn pop up on Google as some of the top hotels in the city. Their prices range from 1,200 to 3,000 pesos a night.
If you have a tight budget, there are also several places that offer basic amenities for a cheaper price. For our group, we stayed inWallabies Hotel. Our room was spacious enough for a group of five and we paid around 849 for the night, excluding the extra bed which was 200 pesos. They have cable TV, hot and cold shower, and fleece blankets that made our sleep extra comfy. The owner of the hotel even offered to take us to the transport terminal in his fancy SUV for only 15 pesos (the same fare if we took the motorcycle). I swear, Ilonggos are super friendly and accommodating to tourists.
In Isla de Gigantes
Here's sort of the tricky part: there aren't a lot of places you can stay in the island. You can't simply board the boat to Gigantes Norte and go around choosing resorts without researching and booking in advance. There are places like Arjan Beach Resort and Rosewood Place Resortthat you can choose to stay in. I'm not sure if they do organized tours, though. One travel agency that you can check out is Las Islas Travel and Tours. They have amazing reviews about their tour packages.
My friends and I stayed at Gigantes Hideaway Tourist Inn* in Gigantes Norte. We availed of their package which was 2,750 per person for a group of five. The package included the accommodation, food (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), island hopping fees (boat, tour guide, environmental fees), and motorbike fare. Brace your tummies because most, if not all, of the dishes, are seafood. And scallops will always be present.
The price is a-okay considering we stayed for 3 days and 2 nights. The room that we got had three beds that were big enough for two average sized people (haha!), and a decent bathroom. Two of us in the group decided to sleep in their treehouse just for the experience and the staff happily obliged without charging us with additional fees. The tour guide and motorbike drivers were kind and accommodating too.
For me, one of the downsides was that pesky light switch in our room's bathroom because I got electrocuted when I switched it on! Another downside would be the resort's location. The place is, unfortunately, not located on a beachfront, so you can't simply roll out a mat and sit on a sandy beach because they don't have one lol. However, they have a spot in the nearby islet calledBulubadiang where you can do all the beach chillin' you want.
What To Do
Go island hopping
Hopping from island to island is first on the list of to-dos when you visit Isla de Gigantes. There are at least 5 islands that you have to visit. Some of the places that you shouldn't miss is Antonia Island in Gigantes Sur, the Tangke Saltwater Lagoon, Cabugao Gamay Island, Bantigue Sandbar, and Bulubadiang Island.
Pro tip: If you're going to Gigantes Island during the peak season (March to May), for sure there'll be tons of tourists that will have almost the same itinerary as yours. Ask your guide to take you to Tangke Lagoon first so you can take those Instagram-worthy photos without a lot of people in the background. This is, sadly, what we missed.
If you're someone who loves adrenaline pumping activities (and who doesn't have claustrophobia), you'll love going through Bakwitan Cave. The climb up to the "entrance" of the cave is steep and the rocks are pretty sharp so make sure to wear proper climbing shoes.
Enjoy the view in the Spanish Lighthouse and watch the sunset in the Langub Sandbar
In Gigantes Norte alone, you can do a handful of activities already. One of them is taking photos and enjoying the view in the Spanish Lighthouse. You can check out more of my photos here, so you'll have a better idea of what to expect when you visit.
Another thing that you can do is chill and see the sunset in the Langub Sandbar. Have your transportation organized by your resort or your tour group. For our group, we requested our guide to take us there but the fare is not included in the package. We paid 60 pesos per motorcyle as a roundtrip fare.
Like this post? Pin it for later!
Hang out with the locals and/or fellow guests
Whether you're staying in Gigantes Norte or somewhere in Gigantes Sur, you'll be meeting several friendly locals and maybe even guests too. Go and make friends! Have fun! Everyone is so friendly, accommodating, and oh-so-eager to share stories about the island.
During our stay, we made friends with the ladies who owned a videoke machine next to our resort. We sang our hearts out there for two nights! And yeah, our tour guide and motorcycle drivers became our friends too.
If you're friendly and respectful, not just to the locals but to everyone you meet on the road, people will most likely treat you the same.
All in all, our stay in Isla de Gigantes was one for the books. Experiencing the islands' splendor in real life, not just in a 14-inch screen, was overwhelming. I wouldn't be writing such a sappy blog post if I didn't love my stay there.
Also, I'd just like to point out that my group and I didn't spend a lot. For me, I spent more or less 7,000 including the airfares (which was a promo fare) and boat fares. I think it's not such a steep price considering the priceless experiences I had.
If you're planning to go there this summer, you wouldn't regret a minute! I hope this guide will help you in making your itineraries. If you have any questions or if you'd like to share your experiences, comment down below 😁