Once upon a time, around the northeastern seas of Iloilo, a giant was preparing in excitement for his wedding. Guests had prepared a bounty of gifts and food offerings. Little did he know that his bride was taken by pirates and would not make it to the ceremony. Filled with grief and rage upon learning the news, he threw away all the offerings to the sea before he himself fell. These offerings would eventually become part of Islas de Gigantes (Islands of the Giants), or Gigantes Islands. The giant’s body would also become the islands of Gigantes Sur, while his bride’s would be Gigantes Norte.
Such was the legend behind Islas de Gigantes in Carles, Iloilo, as told by our group’s tour guide Alfred. These islands formed from grief eventually became places of natural beauty – white beaches, gray karsts, and clear lagoons.
Our day tour included six of the well-known and beautiful places in Islas de Gigantes, particularly in Gigantes Sur – Isla Pulupandan, Tangke Lagoon, Antonia Island, Tinagong Dagat, Cabugao Gamay, and Bantigue Island sandbar.
My friends and I had an early breakfast at Solina Resort, where we were checked in, which is just less than ten minutes away by tricycle from Bancal Port, the jump-off point for the Gigantes tour. First, we passed by the Gigantes Travel Hub & Cafe, which is also the Carles homebase for our tour organizer, Las Islas Travel & Tours. Here, we also met a few people who signed up for the joiners day tour of P999, which we learned is perfect for those traveling solo or in small groups. As my friends and I were traveling in a group, we would have our own boat.
We then proceeded to Bancal port. A boat ride of less than one hour took us to the Gigantes Sur group of islands. Some waves splashed us along the way. During rainy months, the waves could be stronger and the travel time, longer. Luckily, the sun was out during our trip. Our first stop in our island hopping was Isla Pulupandan.
Isla Pulupandan, or Pulupandan Islet, is the resting place for fisherfolk in Gigantes. True enough, we saw some fisherfolk resting in a hut, and cages for crabs. The island is mostly white sand and rocks, with just a lone coconut tree as its greenery. Before Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) hit in 2013, the island had three coconut trees.
On our way to our next stop, our guide Alfred pointed out the shape of the giant in the Gigantes Sur islands.
Our next stop was Tangke Lagoon, named as such because it fills like a water tank through a hole in the rocks during high tide. Karsts dotted with greenery surround the small lagoon.
Tangke Lagoon is also said to be a mystic lagoon where elementals live. Locals were also mystified that leaves from the surrounding trees do not seem to fall on Tangke’s waters.
Our next destination was Antonia Island, a long white beach framed by rock formations on either side. This was where we would also have our lunch. There are also waters here good for snorkeling, I heard, though our group did not snorkel and just enjoyed walking on the beach and having a satisfying lunch, with the P1 scallops as the highlight. Gigantes is quite known for its fresh, delicious, and cheap scallops.
Our next destination was Tinagong Dagat (Hidden Beach), which our guide said is named as such as the beach is not clearly visible from afar, with the shrubs and the surrounding rocks and greenery standing out more.
The sand is powdery fine, one of the reasons it was dubbed “Little Boracay.”
Swimming in Tinagong Dagat’s waters to me feels like swimming in a lagoon because of the water’s clarity.
After Tinagong Dagat, we then made our way to Cabugao Gamay Island, which is the well-known face of Gigantes online, especially in social media. Makeshift stairs on a karst would take visitors to a viewpoint of the island with the seas on either side. Years ago, visitors would have to scramble across the rocks to get to this viewpoint.
An unexpected attraction to me in Cabugao Gamay are the piles of zen stones along the beach.
Our last stop was Bantigue Island sandbar. Unfortunately, by this time, skies had started to turn gray. We were actually supposed to wait for the tide to recede to get a better view of the sandbar, but we came earlier so that we could immediately go back to the mainland before the waves get too strong.
Below is how Bantigue would look like during low tide on a clear day.
Despite our trip being cut short, I felt we had a good adventure. The beauty that was created from the giant’s grief in the legend made many people in the present, including me, happy.
Summary of trip details:
We had our own boat during our day tour, but those traveling alone, in pairs, or in small groups can sign up for the P999 joiners tour. The fee includes:
- Island hopping in six destinations – Isla Pulupandan, Tangke Lagoon, Antonia Island, Tinagong Dagat, Cabugao Gamay, and Bantigue Island sandbar
- A big licensed boat and a Department of Tourism-trained tour guide
- All island entrance fees and environmental fees
- Seafood lunch with a basket of scallops
- Unlimited drinking water
Where to book:
We had our tour with Las Islas Travel and Tours, which focuses on underrated destinations and responsible tourism. As it is based in Panay (where Gigantes is), and is run by a Panay local and a Manila-based traveler who immersed herself in Panay destinations, Las Islas has a professional yet local approach to tours.
7 am Breakfast and get ready at Solina Resort
8 am Depart Solina Resort via tricycle or hired van – pass by Gigantes Travel Hub & Cafe to register with Las Islas
815 am Leave for Bancal Port (walking distance from Gigantes Travel Hub & Cafe)
9 am Estimated arrival at Gigantes Sur group of islands – start island hopping (Order of destinations depend on the tide)
12 nn Lunch and relax at Antonia Island
130 pm Continue island hopping
4 pm Head back to mainland
How to get there:
Take a flight to Roxas City or Iloilo City. While Roxas City is closer to Gigantes, flights to Iloilo have more schedules and are usually cheaper. We flew via budget airline AirAsia from Clark.
If coming from Roxas City, you can take a tricyle to the Integrated Terminal in Pueblo de Panay, where there are buses and vans going to Balasan in Estancia. Travel time is about an hour and a half. Fare is around P70. From Balasan, take a tricycle to Bancal Port in Carles.
If coming from Iloilo City, take a jeep to Jaro, Iloilo and get off at Tagbak Terminal. Take a bus or van going to Carles. Fare is around P200 or less. Travel time is around 3-4 hours.
Where to stay:
For budget accommodations, there are basic accommodations and homestays in Gigantes Norte, which are accessible by passenger boats from Bancal Port in Carles. Antonia Island also has tents for camping.
For a resort experience near the jumpoff to Gigantes (less than 10 minutes away from Bancal Port), stay at Solina Resort, which has glamping cabin tents as well as villas. Room rates start below P4,000 as of this writing. The resort also has a pool with a sea view. Solina is actually the first accommodation with luxury amenities accessible to Gigantes.
My friends and I are also grateful to Department of Tourism Region 6 (especially Atty. Helen Catalbas) for welcoming us to Panay and also providing our transportation.