GIGANTES ISLANDS BUDGET TRAVEL GUIDE (with itinerary, top attractions and expenses)

Cabugao Gamay (or "selfie" island) of Gigantes Islands
Cabugao Gamay (or “selfie” island) of Gigantes Islands

UNDERSTANDING GIGANTES ISLANDS

Super typhoon “Yolanda” (or “Haiyan” as internationally known) was a total havoc to most of the island communities in the Philippines as it lashed out a staggering death toll of an estimated 6, 300 people and wrought a billion worth of damage in agriculture and infrastructure to two thirds of the country. It was an unexpected chaos both the government and the populace were unprepared for. But that was back in 2013 and people have started to move on and recover.

The Fun-sized Traveller at Bakwitan cave in Gigantes Norte.
The Fun-sized Traveller at Bakwitan cave in Gigantes Norte.

At the coastal town of Carles, at the northernmost part of Iloilo, much of the recovery is focused on tourism, which started upon the discovery of its beautifully spread islets collectively known as GIGANTES ISLANDS or Islas de Gigantes. The cluster of islets were initially spotted during the aerial patrol at the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda and since then was slowly explored by the travel community until it became the off-the-grid destination it is recognized nowadays.

Sunset at Lango beach, Gigantes Norte.
Sunset at Lango beach, Gigantes Norte.

QUICK TIPS AND FACTS ABOUT GIGANTES ISLANDS

  • Gigantes Islands is a chain of ten islands that are spread out at around 2 to 10 minutes away from each other by an outrigger boat. The two largest islands: Gigantes Norte and Gigantes Sur, are the most inhabited and where most resorts are situated.
  • Legend has it that the islands were some scattered offerings thrown out by a giant upon knowing that his bride was abducted by pirates before their wedding ceremony. The giant died in grief which would then become Gigantes Sur, his wife Gigantes Norte.
  • The best time to visit the “Island of Giants” is during the dry months of late Feb through May as the seas are at peace and crossing to the islands are highly possible. Avoid the southwest monsoon or “habagat” season from June to September as these days bring strong winds and rough sea swells which make island hopping laborious. During these months, Tangke Lagoon will not be available for tourists for most of the time.
  • Signal strength is poor for most networks. Smart and Sun cellular may have one to two signal bars while Globe would mostly have none.
  • There is no ATM in Gigantes Islands so stack up some cash before going. ATMs are available at Carles, at the mainland area.
  • Electricity is now available 24/7 in Gigantes Norte. However, if you want to go camping at Antonia beach, consider that their source of electricity is solar and is only available from 6PM to 9PM. As per caretaker of the island, the electricity is powerful enough to charge gadgets.

HOW TO GET TO GIGANTES ISLANDS

Getting to Gigantes Islands can be approached using two ports: Bancal port at Carles and Estancia Feeder Port at Estancia. Bancal port is more established, takes lesser travel time and collects cheaper environmental fee between the two. Of late, environmental fee at Bancal Port is around P75 while at Estancia Feeder port is around P150.

The tourism office at Bancal port in Carles.
The tourism office at Bancal port in Carles.

All passenger boats from both ports go to Lango beach at Gigantes Norte. If your choice of accommodation is to go camping at the nearby islands like Antonia or Cambugao Gamay, charter a boat at Gigantes Norte to your desired island for around P300 to P500 depending on the boat type.

There is only one trip per day for regular boat from both ports. Every 10:00AM at Bancal port (fare is P100, travel time is one hour) and every 1:00PM at Estancia port (fare is P80, travel time is close to 2 hours). If you miss the trip, there are shuttle express at Bancal port for P300 which takes trips to Gigantes Norte at these intervals from Monday to Thursday at 7:00AM, 10:00AM, 3:00PM and 4:30PM, and additional intervals from Friday to Sunday at 8:30AM and 12:30PM.

Another option is to take a private boat from Estancia port which costs for about P5,000, ideal for a traveling group with more than 10 people.

Morning at the shores of Rosewood resort in Gigantes Norte.
Morning at the shores of Rosewood resort in Gigantes Norte.

The two ports are accessible by land transport from these 3 major airports in Panay island, which are the closest by proximity:

  • Roxas Airport, serving Roxas city, the capital of Capiz province. From the airport, head out by tricycle (fare is around P150, travel time is close to 15 minutes) to Roxas Integrated Transport terminal where you can find a bus or van bound for Carles or Estancia. Travel time is around 2 hours, fare is P150. Vans go directly to Bancal port at Carles while buses stop at Balasan terminal in Estancia where you would charter another tricycle for P50 to get to Bancal port for around 30 minutes or for P10 to get to Estancia port for around 10 minutes.
  • Caticlan Aiport, serving Boracay and the general municipality of Malay. From the airport, take a bus to Kalibo, travel time is around 2 hours. Then board another bus or van to Roxas Integrated terminal bound for Carles or Estancia. Travel time is around 5 hours, trip is daily and starts as early as 5AM. From there, follow the instructions shared on the first bullet above (Roxas Airport).
  • Iloilo International Airport, serving flights departing to the province of Iloilo. From the airport, ride a van to Tagbak terminal (fare is P50) where you can catch another van or bus bound for Carles or Estancia. Travel time is close to 4 hours. Daily trips start at 5AM, travel fare is P210. Vans stop at Bancal port in Carles while buses arrive at Balasan terminal in Estancia which requires another trip via tricycle to Bancal port for P50 for around 30 minutes and to Estancia port for P10 for about 10 minutes.

Tip: Some resorts in Gigantes Norte like Rosewood works with van service that would take passengers from the airport directly to Bancal port. In our case, we were fetched from our hotel in Iloilo city to Bancal port in Carles for P260. For service inquiries, contact kuya Edgar at +63 912 087 8651, +63 907 788 4998.

2019 TOP ATTRACTIONS IN GIGANTES ISLANDS

Here are the top attractions in Gigantes Island listed in an order based on the stops during our island hopping adventure and Gigantes Norte land tour.

ANTONIA ISLAND

Beach at Antonia Island.
Beach at Antonia Island.

The closest island from Gigantes Norte, Antonia Island takes a form of a sandwich and boasts a spread of white, coarse beach sand. The place is notable for being a snorkeling hub for its lively underwater scenery.

While here, enjoy a panoramic view of the shoreline from the boulders and the cool, azure waters with an easy-on-feet seabed. Don’t forget to bring your aqua shoes and snorkeling gear or be ready to rent, P50 for goggles and P100 for snorkeling gear. Entrance fee is P40.

The Fun-sized Traveller on boulder at Antonia Island.
The Fun-sized Traveller on boulder at Antonia Island.

Note: Scallops are sold for P1 per piece and rock oysters for P200 per strainer in Antonia beach.

The glamorous tents of Antonia Island.
The glamorous tents of Antonia Island.

For backpackers, tents with foam mattress and pillow can be rented here for P250 per head. Huts (fan room) are also available for P800 per night for 2 persons, P1,200 per night for 4 persons. For more details about island amenities, contact Patroceno Mahipos at +63 919 268 5896 or Danilo dela Cruz at +63 947 388 4070.

Rating: 4/5

TINAGONG DAGAT

Tinagong Dagat or "the little Boracay" in Antonia Island.
Tinagong Dagat or “the little Boracay” in Antonia Island.

Lies comfortably at Antonia Island but on a different side from Antonia beach, Tinagong Dagat is dubbed as the “mini-boracay” for its sand properties. It’s white and powdery, comparable to that in White Beach of Boracay. The stunningly clear water only goes to the hip on a high tide, adding up another property reminiscent of its namesake.

The Fun-sized Traveller at Tinagong Dagat in Antonia Island.
The Fun-sized Traveller at Tinagong Dagat in Antonia Island.

The beach is the finest that you can find in Gigantes so spend more time sunbathing and beach bumming while around here. Of late, there is no entrance fee but caretakers appreciate a little amount of donation.

Rating: 4.5/5

BANTIGUE ISLAND (SANDBAR)

A drone shot of the sandbar in Bantigue Island.
A drone shot of the sandbar in Bantigue Island.

In Bantigue Island, ready your group jump shots and soak up the long stretch of ivory sandbar that touches a backdrop of shimmering clear waters and luxuriantly green mountains under a clear blue sky.

The peebled sand of Bantigue Island.
The peebled sand of Bantigue Island.

Bantigue is easily one of the finer beaches around Gigantes. With a food area and scallops sold for P1 per piece, the island also makes for a perfect stop for lunch. Entrance fee is P20.

Rating: 4/5

CABUGAO GAMAY

The Fun-sized Traveller at the viewing deck of Cabugao Gamay.

The most photographed of all islands for its scenic view, Cabugao Gamay is a piece of heaven for beach lovers chasing for that elusive tropical vibe. It is pinned on the one end with massive pile of rocks that support its viewing deck and on the other a hill, separated by a stretch of ivory sand with a sprinkle of palm trees at its center.

A full view of Cabugao Gamay. Notice on the left a lineup of tourists to the viewing deck.
A full view of Cabugao Gamay. Notice on the left a lineup of tourists to the viewing deck.

A bamboo-made ladder is provided for easy access to the viewing deck where awaits a full view of the island, including the nearby Bantigue sandbar. It will take for about 2 minutes to get to the top, but because it can only accommodate 10 persons at a maximum, tourists are lined-up on the one side of the stairs while waiting for their turn to take photos at the viewing deck. As this is the case, visitors are advised to wear sunblock and a cap or anything that can cover from the heat of the sun.

An aerial view of the island of Cabugao Gamay.
An aerial view of the island of Cabugao Gamay.

Entrance fee is P50. Camping is allowed and huts are available for rent for those who want to stay overnight. Contact Maruja Resort at +63 999 558 0626.

Rating: 4/5

TANGKE LAGOON

The gorgeous karst formations surrounding the natural pool of Tangke Lagoon.
The gorgeous karst formations surrounding the natural pool of Tangke Lagoon.

Tangke Lagoon is a shallow pool of emerald waters surrounded by limestone cliffs that run hundred meters to the sky. Apart from swimming, cliff diving is also a notable activity while around here.

Tangke Lagoon is best visited on a high tide, during the dry months of summer. It is closed during habagat season from June to September as sea swells surrounding the area are big and rough, obstructing the passage of tourists from its makeshift entrance.

The Fun-sized Traveller at Tangke Lagoon, on a high tide.

To pay a visit, tourists are required to register first at the Tourism Office in Bancal port. Entrance fee is P20.

Drawback: Seawater only gets in the lagoon during high tide from its small opening, so expect that some sides of the pool are slimed over with bearably stagnated dirt. But generally, Tangke Lagoon is clean and fit for swimming.

Rating: 4/5

GIGANTES NORTE LIGHTHOUSE

A drone shot of Gigantes Norte lighthouse.
A drone shot of Gigantes Norte lighthouse.

Thanks to the efforts of Ms. Gina Lopez, the Spanish-era lighthouse at Gigantes Norte has breathed new life. It has now a mini-museum inside which features the life of the island. Of late, climbing to the top of the lighthouse is prohibited.

At the window of the lighthouse.

While here, enjoy the vast view of the sea surrounding Gigantes, and the sweet village children who sell souvenir items and greet tourists in chorus.

The mini-museum inside the lighthouse.
The mini-museum inside the lighthouse.

Rating: 3/5

BAKWITAN CAVE

The near entrance of Bakwitan Cave.
The near entrance of Bakwitan Cave.

Bakwitan cave is named after the events of typhoon Yolanda whereby it was made as a refuge for shelter (or “bakwitan” in the local tongue) of 60 families. The cave offers a dry cavern of beautiful rock formations that extend to certain kilometers. Wandering around the inside is an easy walk, and doesn’t require climbing like most of the caves in the Philippines. Halfway through the cave is a hole on top which gives access to sunray that makes for an attractive Instagram-worthy photo.

Notable formations inside Bakwitan cave.
Notable formations inside Bakwitan cave.

There is no entrance fee to the cave, but donation is highly appreciated.

Rating: 3/5

My favorite spot in Bakwitan cave.
My favorite spot in Bakwitan cave.

LANGO BEACH & SANDBAR

A drone shot of Lango sandbar and beach during sunset.
A drone shot of Lango sandbar and beach during sunset.

A small sandbar at Gigantes Norte that extends to a beach serving as docking area for outrigger boats. Getting a glimpse of this speck of a natural attraction is inevitable as you will come by its ivory, coarse sand as you embark on your island hopping adventure.

Lango sandbar at sun down.
Lango sandbar at sun down.

Rating: 2/5

2019 TOP THINGS TO DO IN GIGANTES ISLANDS

Among other things that you can do in Gigantes Island, getting a taste of its sumptuous scallops is at the top of the list! The scallops are sold for P1 per piece at Antonia beach and Bantigue Sandbar, but you can also purchase them at the resorts in Gigantes Norte. In Rosewood resort where we stayed, it was sold for P200 half a kilo.

That is a kilo of scallops! πŸ˜‰

Apart from feasting on scallops, cliff diving at Tangke Lagoon and beach bumming on the islands of Gigantes are fun activities that you would surely do.

At Bantigue sandbar

For the sun-seekers, Gigantes Norte is a good spot to catch the sunset. Its shores are filled with beautiful rocks that are frequented by migratory birds which make for an excellent subject on your sunset photo.

A silhouette play. πŸ˜‰

If you seek for solitude, give camping on Antonia island a try. The place is also a perfect vantage point to watch the stars at night or gaze at the sun as it hides the horizon during the blue hour.

GIGANTES ISLANDS SAMPLE ITINERARY

The island of Gigantes is best explored for 3 days, but if you only have 2 days to spend, it will already be enough. Spend the first day on a land tour in Gigantes Norte and the other on an island hopping adventure, as outlined in the sample itinerary below.

Things to note when following the sample itinerary which kicks off at Iloilo City:

  • The allocated budget per activity in the table covers food, transportation and entrance fee, and excludes expenses for accommodation, souvenirs and other incidentals.
  • The full itinerary assumes a party of two and will set back a total budget of P3,700.00 per person.
  • The island hopping at Rosewood resort where we stayed costs P3,000.00 good for 4 persons. (P1,500 for the tour, P1,500 for the boatman)
  • Gigantes Norte land tour is P200 per head, good for half-day.
  • Food at Rosewood resort costs P200 for a half-kilo of scallops (plus P150 service charge per meal), P50 for one rice platter, and P50 for alcoholic drinks. Distilled water is for free.
  • The passenger boat from Gigantes Norte back to Carles services one trip per day only, at 2PM. When visiting during summer when it is peak, make sure to book a ticket ahead to avoid being stuck in the island for another day.
  • The viewing deck of Cabugao Gamay and Tangke Lagoon can become too crowded during summer. Be ready to go shoulder to shoulder with other tourists.
The shallow, clear waters of Tinagong Dagat in Antonia Island.

DAY ONE

ActivitySchedule Budget
Depart from Iloilo City5:00AMP260
Arrive at Bancal Port9:00AM
Depart to Gigantes Norte10:00AMP175
Arrive at Gigantes Norte11:30AM
Lunch12:00PMP300
Check in2:00PM
Land Tour3:00PMP200
Gigantes Norte Lighthouse
Bakwitan Cave
Lango Beach and Sandbar
Back to Resort6:00PM
Dinner7:00PMP300
Socials8:00PM

DAY TWO

ActivitySchedule Budget
Breakfast7:00AMP100
Island Hopping8:00AMP1,500
Antonia IslandP40
Tinagong Dagat
Bantigue IslandP20
Cabugao GamayP50
Tangke LagoonP20
Lunch1:00PMP300
Gigantes Norte Port2:00PM
Depart back to Carles3:00PMP175
Arrive at Bancal Port5:00PM
Travel back to Iloilo City5:30PMP260

If you don’t fancy staying on the island or spending more than a day, check out Las Islas Travel and Tour at +63 995 335 7310. They offer an all-in day tour for P999 per head. Pick up and drop off of guests is at Bancal Port in Carles.

The makeshift ladder of Cabugao Gamay.

WHERE TO STAY IN GIGANTES ISLANDS

When spending more than a day in Gigantes, you can either stay at the mainland in Carles or on its islands. Contact info for each location is shared below:

In Gigantes Islands (with fan and A/C rooms)

  • Rosewood Resort at Gigantes Norte +63 912 817 5592
  • Rejohn Beach Resort at Gigantes Norte +63 928 980 3073
  • Arjan Beach Resort at Gigantes Norte +63 999 991 8643
  • Jesa Beach Resort at Gigantes Norte +63 945 332 1297
  • Montibon Resort at Gigantes Norte +63 999 512 3564
  • Scallops Front Beach Resort at Gigantes Norte +63 910 160 2990
  • Hideaway Resort at Gigantes Norte +63 918 468 500 book here
  • MJ Beach Resort at Gigantes Sur +63 908 486 7292
  • Se-San Beach Resort at Gigantes Sur book here

In Carles (mainland)

The village children at Gigantes Norte lighthouse.
The village children at Gigantes Norte lighthouse.

USEFUL PHRASES

Like in any parts of the Philippines, the locals can understand English in Gigantes Islands. However, here are some good phrases that might prove useful when you find yourself endearing with them.

English to Hiligaynon (the most prevalent language among the locals in Gigantes Islands)
Thank you – Salamat
Good morning – Ma-ayong aga
Good afternoon – Ma-ayong hapon
Good evening – Ma-ayong gab-i
How much is… – Pila ini…
Do you speak English?- Makahambal ka sang Ingles?

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