It took Typhoon Yolanda’s devastation to bring this beautiful archipelago in Northern Iloilo to light. Carles, Northern Iloilo was one of the hard hit areas. Rescue aids and volunteers went out of their way to find remote communities that needed assistance. Their perseverance paid off as they found these communities. At the same time, they also found the islands of Isla de Gigantes. An enchanting set of islands that was once solely enjoyed by the locals. Gradually, photos of the stunning white beach and captivating rock formations became viral online. Isla de Gigantes name came big. Every body wants to experience this piece of paradise and that includes me.
Legend of the Giant
A Spanish translation for “Island of the Giants”, Isla de Gigantes is named after a legend of a giant, Higante Tay-og who lived in the hills of Beheya. Higante Tay-og fell in love with a lady from a foreign land named Prinsesa Maganda. She lived with her grandma arriving in Carles by boat. Tay-og would often leave fresh caught fish and even raised animals by their doorsteps. Eventually the couple fell in love with each other and were set to marry. Then pirates came in and tried to kidnap the princess. Tay-og was busy with his preparations before he noticed the chaos in the village. The town folks tried to fight back to rescue the princess but to no avail. When Tay-og made his way to go after the pirates, the knew they were in danger and shot an arrow to the princess heart and flee.
Higante Tay-og couldn’t contain his tears and cried as if there was thunder and rain. From anger he threw away the wedding gifts he received to the sea. He threw a small shoe which became Sapatos Diutay island, then he threw a large shoe which became Sapatos Daku island. He threw a bunch of cogon far away which became the island of Sicogon. A claypot filled with burot, kabugay, kalabasa and gabi became the islands of Naburot, Kabugao Gamay, Isla de Kalabasa the claypot became Tulun-an.
With grief, Tay-og threw the princess in the air while he hacked himself in two. His bodies fell at sea which became Gigante Norte and Gigante Sur. The princess fell at sea and became Higantuna Island.
Island Hopping Isla de Gigantes
The islands scattered tucked within the Visayas Seas are still fairly remote and off-beat among tourist which is part of Isla de Gigantes’ appeal. From Iloilo City, it takes three to four hours ride to Carles. From Roxas City, Capiz, it take two-three hours ride. Either way, it takes some effort to go visit the islands. Carles is the ideal home base for exploration.
For this trip, I partnered with Las Islas Travel and Tours, a DOT-accredited travel agency in Carles, Iloilo that pioneered organized and environmentally-aware tours of Isla de Gigantes. They have joiner tours for as low as Php 999. This includes boat transfers from island-to-island and a sumptuous lunch. Here’s an overview of our day-trip island hopping tour of Isla de Gigantes.
Jump-off at Bancal Port
Our jump-off was at Bancal Port. I met up with the enthusiastic group of photographers who came all the way from Iloilo, the Discover Panay Island Photographers. Also had the pleasure to travel with IG-influencer and Bacolod Blogger, Archie Off Duty for this trip and the rest of the Panay Island Loop. Our guide is the affable Alfred. It’s nice that Las Islas Travel and Tours made us sign an “Eco Pledge” first to be responsible travelers. It states:
- Throw my own trash in the garbage can. Take my trash with me if there are no trash bins around.
- Refrain from using products made of polystyrene (styro) foam and plastics (cups, bottles, containers etc.)
- Conserve water and make very drop count.
- Respect the natural habitat of other living being and resist the urge to bring home seashells or sand from the beach as souvenirs.
- Educate those who harm the environment.
It took around an hour to reach our first stop, the Pulupandan Islet. A small islet that fishermen use as base when they fish around the area. Fish cages are found on the island along with a few rest huts. A lone coconut tree stands on the island as a reminder of survival from the Typhoon Haiyan devastation.
Tanke Saltwater Lagoon
Our next stop is a hidden spot south of Gigante Sur sland, the Tanke Saltwater Lagoon. Glad we visited on a weekday and there weren’t as many boats in the area. A small gap through the limestone rock formations led to a scenic saltwater lagoon with really clear waters. One can’t help but enjoy a swim here. On busy days, groups are only allowed to stay fror 15 minutes to give others in queue a chance to enjoy the place.
Probably the most popular island in Isla de Gigantes is the selfie island, Cabugao Gamay. Visitors here climb a low hill at the northern tip of the island that can give the iconic view of the island white beach and vegetation. It can also be crowded during peak season that tourist line up at the hill for taking photos. We were lucky enough that our guide Alfred knows when to bring us here. While the rest of the tourist are having lunch, we have the whole island to ourselves.
Our lunch stop is at Bantique Island. A beautiful shifting sandbar island that changes shape depending on the movement of the tide. There are huts and eating facilities here. Las Islas Travel and Tours prepared a delectable spread that even other tour groups look in envy. A feast of scallops, wasay-wasay (oysters), crabs and shellfish.
We made our way back at the huge Gigantes Sur. Visiting one of the pocket beaches on the right wing side of the island. Tinagong Dagat is also known as the mini-Boracay. And I do love this beach that I wish we spent more time here. Clear waters and wonderful white sand beach. Even the sea floor slopes gently.
At the southeastern tip of Gigantes Sur is another dazzling strip of white beach connecting a crocodile-like rock formation at the edge. Antonia’s Beach is another alternative lunch spot, a good snorkeling area too. For those who want to stay overnight, there’s a resort on this side of the island.
Day Trip Experience
As the sun was getting ready to settle down in the afternoon, our boat was heading back to Bancal Port. Isla de Gigantes reminds me a little of Coron, Palawan. A lot of places still un-spoilt and I must commend the community of Carles for already having a tourism infrastructure and system in place. A good way to protect the islands from over tourism. Las Islas Travel and Tours’ Php 999/pax tour is a good way to maximize a day trip here. Tours are customizable though if needed and applicable charges would apply.
I would go back here again, probably for a more detailed exploration. Perhaps staying on one of the islands. I bet it would be wonderful to catch the sunrise, sunset and see the night sky from there. View the caves where the fascinating gigantes stone artifacts were found. Isla de Gigantes is such a fascinating set of islands.
Going to Isla de Gigantes
The best jump-off point to Isla de Gigantes is at Carles, Iloilo. Via Bancal Port, the travel time by sea is a lot shorter. Carles can be reached either from Iloilo or Roxas, Capiz.
- From Iloilo: Make your way to Tagbak Terminal in Jaro District. Ride a Ceres bus or Shuttle Van either to Carles or Balasan. Though Balasan is more frequent. Travel time to Balasan is around 2.5 hours. Van fare is Php 160/pax with a 2.5-3 hours travel time. Ceres Bus is Php 170-180 with a travel time of 3-4 hours. From Balasan there are tricycles for hire to take you to Carles. For a special trip, tricycle is Php 200-250 for a 30 minute ride.
- From Roxas: Make your way to Roxas City Integrated Transport Terminal. Ride a Ceres Bus passing by Balasan. Travel time is 2 hours with aPhp 75 fare. From Balasan there are tricycles for hire to take you to Carles. For a special trip, tricycle is Php 200-250 for a 30 minute ride.
For hassle-free tours of Isla de Gigantes, best to contact Las Islas Travel and Tours:
2nd Floor, Bancal Commercial Bldg., Bancal Port,
Carles, Northern Iloilo, Panay Island
Contact: 0995.335.7310 | 0929.595.8870
Email: [email protected]
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.