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. These islands formed from grief eventually became places of natural beauty – white beaches, gray karsts, and clear lagoons.
A typical island-hopping day tour includes 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.
On my second time, our group 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. We went straight to the port. This is also where those who reserved with Gigantes Islands Travel and Tours, which are taking care of our day tour arranged by the Philippine Tourism Promotions Board, would go first before boarding the boat.
Both tour groups offer as low as P999 per person for an island-hopping day tour, with a generous buffet lunch. Those traveling alone or in a small group can ask to join a boat (joiners’ tour) so they can avail of the P999 rate
The boat ride takes less than 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes, depending on the waves and the weather. On my second time, the waves were quite big and we had to sit towards the back of the boat to avoid the biggest splashes.
Below are the six islands in a typical island hopping day trip:
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 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.
On my second time, though, I was lucky to see the sandbar in its full beauty. Sandbars are my favorite kind of beach, and it was also especially a happy moment for me as it was my first time to travel by plane during the pandemic.
Both times our trip was cut short because we had to leave early for safety before the bigger waves come, but both times were good adventures! 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
- Generous seafood lunch with a basket of scallops
- Unlimited drinking water
Where to book:
My second time was with Gigantes Islands Travel and Tours via Tourism Promotions Board. I was very happy to try new food like the breaded scallops and more during this trip. Our tour guides were also especially game to take our photos.
You can reach them through:
Website| Facebook page
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mobile number: (+63) 998 981 6812
I had my first tour with Las Islas Travel and Tours (paused operations at the moment), 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.
You can reach them through these channels:
Website| Facebook page| Instagram
E-mail address: email@example.com
Contact numbers: 0995-3357310 / 0929-595-8870
Office address: 1st floor, Bancal Public Market Building, Bancal Port (This is the jump-off to the Gigantes island hopping tour)
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
You can also opt for an overnight itinerary with 3 meals and basic accommodation (starts at P1599). This way, you can have an island sunset.
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. On my first time, we flew via budget airline AirAsia from Clark. On my second time, we flew to Iloilo. Kindly note that at the moment, an SPASS is required for flights within the Philippines. Check out the requirements for getting an SPASS here (Always check first as requirements may change). Requirements may vary depending on the destination, but the standard is usually a vaccination card. Some destinations may require an RT-PCR test. For our travel to Iloilo, we had to take an RT-PCR test upon arrival. We also had to present a valid ID, a booking of our accommodation, and our flight details.
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. From Iloilo City, you can also just book a van with Gigantes Island Travel and Tours for P350 (current pandemic rate, subject to change).
Where to stay:
For budget accommodations, there are basic accommodations and homestays near the port. Gigantes Islands Travel and Tours recommends and can set you up with a room as low as P250 per head (for 6 people) at Mundo Hostel.
Some of the islands also have budget accommodations, including tents. If you avail of the P1599 overnight package with Gigantes Island Travels and Tours, you stay at a backpacker dorm in Gigantes Sur.
For a relaxing 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 at P3,000 (good for two people) 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 during our 2018 visit.
For my 2022 visit, I am thankful to the Philippines’ Tourism Promotions Board. Gigantes is part of our #HabiHalalHilot itinerary.