Gigantes Islands also known as Islas de Gigantes (Islands of Giants) will put a smile even on the most grumpy face. This group of pristine islands consisting of about ten islands (including the two largest: Gigantes Sur and Gigantes Norte) is the second most underestimated dreamlike destination I found at the Province of Iloilo (first one being Islands of Concepcion). Well Gigantes Islands are not a hidden gem compared to Concepcion however not so many tourists know about them probably due their remote location at the northernmost point of Iloilo Province.
In this article I’ll will share with you the best and most enjoyable way to travel to and around Islas de Gigantes and not worry about a thing. I am also sharing my insights of the highlights of this place as well as give you information about the prices, transportation, accommodation followed by some useful travel tips at the end of the article.
So What’s So Special About These Islands?
Let’s see..even if pristine white sand beaches with postcard landscapes alone bore you, maybe giant ancient rock formations and taste of heavenly delicious fresh seafood will get your attention.
Since mainstream tourists of Panay Island are visiting Boracay I would definitely recommend to check out Gigantes Islands and Concepcion’s group of islands instead (or additionally) if your eyes sparkle when you hear about the opportunity to go off the beaten path. Trust me, I am the same.
Public Transportation and Exploring on Your Own vs. Rented Van + Tour Package
There are several ways to enjoy a trip to Gigantes Islands, including going to one of the two ports: Carles or Estancia by public bus and then chartering a regularly scheduled ferry that have routes to various spots at the islands. If exploring places on your own is what you prefer read “How to Get There” at the end of the article to find more information about the schedules and prices of public transportation to Islas de Gigantes.
Me and my friends chose to rent a private van and take the all included tour package this time and I have never been so glad about this decision before. This is why I loved it:
First, we didn’t have to worry about the transport and activity schedules. Everything was adapted according to our wishes. Furthermore there are no extra arrangements besides renting a van and booking a tour package. That means: no accommodation and meal reservations, no activity booking, no boat seeking for islands hopping and no additional looking for transportation for inland excursions etc. Basically by choosing the all included package you get a lot less worries and a hell of a lot of fun. In this way you can relax to the fullest during your weekend getaway.
Besides there is a simple service provided by friendly and kind people who will make sure that you will feel good during your trip. The accommodation was quite basic (you have to use a basket to get a shower), but very comfy and lovely, perfect to have a good night sleep and that’s what matters the most to me when it comes to accommodation. If you are looking for a luxury resort with vast pools, hot tubs and a spa, then look elsewhere, Gigantes Islands are not for you.
And there is the incredibly delicious seafood. It’s no wonder why Islas de Gigantes are unofficially known as the scallops capital of the Philippines. However scallops are not the only seafood Gigantes Islands are proud of. They also have abundant resources of fish, crabs, squid and shrimps to name a few.
- picking up and bringing back to Estancia port
- private boat for 2 days (island hopping to 5-6 island destinations)
- free entrance fee for islands
- room accommodation for 1 night
- 4 meals
- island guide
- cave guide
- motorbike fare for 2 days
What’s not included:
- public transport fare or
- fee for a private van to Estancia port
- snacks or a meal on the islands during the island hopping
- snorkeling gear
Activities/Itinerary on The Islands
After traveling for about 3 hours from Iloilo to Estancia and 1.5 hours by boat to Gigantes Norte and then a short ride by motorcycle taxis (locally known as single) we arrived at Gigantes Hideaway Tourist Inn – a nice, simple and peaceful resort with both cottages and room accommodation options. After a small simple breakfast we were already off to island hopping. Everything was fast and well organized so we could enjoy our adventure on Gigantes Island with laughter and smile on our faces.
Take a postcard like photo on Cabugao Gamay Island
Our first stop is Cabugao Gamay Island – the most photographed place on Gigantes Islands. After 5 minutes of climbing a small but pretty steep rocky path you will find a perfect spot for a group photo or a landscape photo for creating a beautiful personal postcard afterwards. A classic postcard view can be seen at the top of this article.
Other than that this island is great for picnics and beach bumming. But it definitely isn’t my favorite place on the islands.
Dive into crystal clear Tangke Lagoon
Next stop provided by tour package is crystal clear Tangke Saltwater Lagoon in a beautiful shade of turquoise. Tangke Lagoon is hidden behind rocky cliffs along the cost of Gigantes Sur. If you want to enjoy this delightful place to the fullest by diving into the refreshing water be sure to visit during high tide. Unfortunately we missed it and could only soak our feet and take some photos there.
Ruins of a Spanish colonial lighthouse
After arriving back at the resort, having a lunch and resting for a while there is a small tour to ruins of a Spanish lighthouse at the same Gigantes Norte Island where the resort is located. Local motorcycle taxis will take you there. It is a beautiful sight at the area of the lighthouse and you can take great photos with the old ruins at the background. You will find the new lighthouse standing next to the old ruins. After the tour there is resting at the resort and a delicious dinner of fresh seafood (mostly scallops).
Next day after a light breakfast we are heading to the caves of the island. Gigantes Islands are known not only for delicious seafood and beautiful island hopping places but for the giant caves hidden behind steep rock formations and cliffs as well. Many of the caves on the islands have spacious caverns that can be easily explored.
This time our goal is to explore the Bakwitan Cave in Gigantes Norte. This cave has a rich history. It is known that islands got their name due to the fact that over sized coffins with gigantic human bones have been found at Bakwitan Cave. Many legends and tales have been told by local elderlies about giants who have lived on the island long time ago.
During pre-hispanic times the primitive inhabitants used Bakwitan Cave as a burial site. Centuries later during Japanese occupation this cave was used by locals as a hiding place from Japanese soldiers. Even these days Bakwitan Cave is used as an evacuation site where people hide from the typhoons and other calamities.
Exploring the giant chambers of Bakwitan cave was one of the highlights of the trip. Just prepare to climb some pretty steep walls (don’t worry, a guide will help you) and to get wet since the air is very humid there.
After caves there comes the relaxing and refreshing part of the second day of our adventure: island hopping. And our first stop is Bantigue Island. It is advised to go there during low tide if you want to walk the sandbar. Even though we were there when it was a high tide me and my friends still had a wonderful time with lots of swimming in one of the clearest water of Gigantes, enjoying a beautiful view of the island and also a little bit of snorkeling.
Our final stop of the trip is also the most enchanting one: the gorgeous Antonia Beach. Without a doubt my favorite place of Islas de Gigantes. It is a white sand beach located at a corner of Gigantes Sur. Lots of swimming, a little bit of cliff jumping (very small cliffs can be found there), snorkeling, beach bumming and enjoying a beautiful view: a perfect end for a perfect day.
After that there is only a long and relaxing way home, when you can choose between sleeping in a van or observing the charming scenery along the way.
Our all included trip to Gigantes Islands was relaxing and well organized. I still enjoy going off the beaten path most of the time. However I would definitely recommend tour package and renting a van for going to Islas de Gigantes if you want a fun, careless weekend getaway.
Northern area of Iloilo Province has more dream like islands to offer. I loved Gigantes Islands but Concepcion’s group of islands including Agho, Pan de Azucar and Bulubadiangan Island are still my favorites. They are less developed and therefore more pristine and provide more of the kind of sense of being alone on a paradise island.
How to Get To Gigantes Islands:
Roxas Airport is the nearest one to Gigantes Islands. Iloilo International Airport, Kalibo International Airport and Caticlan-Boracay Airport are also popular starting points.
From airport you can either go there by arranged rented van or go to a bus station at the city.
More information about the schedules and prices of public transportation to Islas de Gigantes from different cities of Panay island and other major cities of Philippines can be found here.
For arranging a tour package, planning your trip and other questions contact Carles Tourism Office.
Contact person: Mr. Joel Decano
Contact No.: 09184685006
Van rent: P6000 ($129) for a roundtrip Iloilo – Estancia and vice versa. Van for 10 and more persons.
Tour package: P1.650 ($36) per person. Up to 14 persons. Note: tour package prices may vary depending what’s included. Try to use your negotiation skills to get the best price.
Fruits, snacks, water: P500 – P1000 ($11-22) for two days.
Where to Stay:
- Arjan Beach Resort
(a small, simple resort, different accommodation types: tents, open cottages and simple fan or air con rooms)
Address: Gigantes Norte, Gigantes Islands, Carles, Iloilo, Philippines
Contact No.: (+63)9999918643 / (+63)9074555703
Room rate: Tent accommodations from P150 per person. Fan rooms for 4 persons: from P800 ($17) per room.
- Maruja Flora’s Island Paradise
(simple accommodation with tents and basic wooden cottage with bunk beds, no extra facilities)
Address: Cabugao Gamay Island, Gigantes Sur, Gigantes Islands, Carles, Iloilo, Philippines
Contact No.: (+63)9399212456 / (+63)9984883876 / (+63)(033)3970328.
Room rate: Overnight stay including tent rental from P300 ($6) per person.
- Rosewood Place Resort
(simple resort, different accommodation types to choose from)
Address: Sitio Tabun-ak, Barangay Granada, Gigantes Norte, Gigantes Islands, Carles, Iloilo, Philippines
Contact No.: 09079551099 / 09107101595
Room rate: Air con room starting from P1500 ($32) per room (room for 4 person). Nipa hut starting from P250 ($5) per person.
- Gigantes Hideaway Tourist Inn
(Simple resort, basic facilities, different accommodation options, friendly staff)
Address: Gigantes Norte, Gigantes Islands, Carles, Iloilo, Philippines
Contact No.: (+63)9184685006
Room rate: Air con rooms for 4 persons: from P1500 ($32) per room. More simple accommodations from P200 ($4) per person.
- Take your own snacks, water and fruits while going on island hopping. The day is long and you will easily get hungry with all the activities going on. Besides breakfast on the resort is very light so most likely you will crave for more food within a few hours.
- There are plenty of places to do some snorkeling. Don’t forget to bring a good quality snorkeling gear with you in order to get the most of this activity. There is no gear included in the tour.
- You can also bring a waterproof camera if you have one to explore the underwater world of Islas de Gigantes and make some gorgeous shots for memories.
- Be prepared to spend a lot of time in the direct sunlight so bring a good quality sunscreen with high SPF.
- Note that accommodations on Gigantes Islands are very basic. Bigger resorts have electricity but it is switched off certain periods of time during the day. There are no showers, you can wash yourself with a water bucket.
- Prepare a suitable (but not too warm, since it’s very hot in the caves) outfit and hiking shoes if you want the have the safest and most comfortable cave exploring experience. Or not. Hey, locals are exploring caves at the Gigantes Islands in slippery flip-flops and loose tank tops. However it should be taken into consideration that they have been doing this since their childhood, thus they have more experience in this kind of extreme rock climbing.