There I was having the time of my life swimming and feeling like a pseudo mermaid when I saw Jade, our Isla de Gigantes guide, shaking off sand from my Birkenstocks. I told him not to do it as they would eventually become soiled again. “Baka madulas po kasi kayo,” he meekly responded.
The hospitality of the island’s people was like no other. Our guide, although younger than us, was attentive to all our needs. We stayed on the island for two days and despite the simplicity of life there, the people’s warmth resonated.
Barangay Asluman's first noticeable feature is its shore filled with scallop shells – a common sight in a place deemed as the country’s Scallops Capital. The whole time we stayed at Gigantes Hideaway Tourist Inn, we were served scallops dishes every meal. We jokingly asked if they were also serving scallops fruit shakes.
Bakwitan Cave: Not for the Faint-hearted
Our first activity was cave spelunking. Bakwitan Cave is not your ordinary cave as it fulfilled many duties in the past. Our guide, Kuya Marnie, said that the cave used to be a burial site (you can even see few remains of the deceased at the entrance). During the Japanese Occupation times, locals used the cave as a hiding place from invaders. They still use Bakwitan today during calamities.
Let your imagination run wild as you will encounter various formations inside the cave. After walking around for half an hour, we were asked if we’d like to take the more difficult exit route. Finishing the route would take two hours. I was terrified because unlike canyoneering, there was no body of water inside to calm me. My reluctance vanished because my friends all agreed to take the exit and Kuya Marnie seemed trustworthy. :)
The exit was perilous, that’s why please, follow your guide’s instructions. Your guide will tell you where to put your feet, which hand to use, etc. Don’t feel pressured to speed up your pace. Upon exiting the cave, the way down was tough too because of the sharp rocks. Nonetheless, the guides are proud that Bakwitan Cave remains accident-free.
Sunrise in the Iconic Lighthouse
Prior to our scheduled island hopping, we went to the island’s Spanish-colonial lighthouse. It was a lovely sight! The historical edifice still serves its purpose but it now functions through the help of a solar panel.
We allotted our second and last day to the trip’s
highlight – island hopping. Our first stop was at Bantigue Island sandbar
followed by Tangke lagoon. Despite the boat-congested entrance, the idyllic
lagoon will put you in a relaxed state of mind. The rock formations surrounding
the lagoon are breathtaking and we even spotted three Macaque monkeys!
We allotted our second and last day to the trip’s highlight – island hopping. Our first stop was at Bantigue Island sandbar followed by Tangke lagoon. Despite the boat-congested entrance, the idyllic lagoon will put you in a relaxed state of mind. The rock formations surrounding the lagoon are breathtaking and we even spotted three Macaque monkeys!
We then visited the island’s most photographed spot – Cabugao Gamay.
It was already noontime when we reached Antonia beach. Most of our swimming took place here.
Sea (sick) Dream
After our final Gigantes lunch, we bid our gracious hosts adieu not knowing that our trip back would be one for the books. I had to force myself to sleep because the surging waves made me feel queasy. It didn’t help that I kept on hearing my father’s (a sea navigation expert) voice lecturing about the perils of the ocean. Some of my friends were restless as the sea swelled and heaved.
While it seemed like the sea would devour our boat anytime, what reassured me was the composure of our boatmen. I prayed that the situation wasn’t that bad and that our boatmen were not merely feigning calmness.
We arrived at 7 p.m. and since we were two hours late for the last trip of commuter vans bound for Iloilo, we spent the night in Estancia. Sir Nick, a coordinator working with Sir Joel (I’ll introduce him later), helped us book a clean and affordable room at Sandrine Inn. You can ask tricycle drivers to bring you there from the port. We slept soundly following our eventful boat trip.
How to Reach Isla de Gigantes from Iloilo Airport
1. Ride a shuttle van (P50) and get off at SM Iloilo/Mandurriao. You can likewise ride a cab and go straight to Tagbak Terminal.
2. Ride a Leganes-bound jeepney (P10) and get off at Tagbak Terminal – tell the driver if you’ll ride a Ceres bus or a commuter van because they’re situated in different terminals.
3. Travel to Estancia Port via Ceres bus takes three hours. If you’ll opt for the commuter van, it’s likely for you to arrive thirty minutes earlier (they fly, you know). Fare ranges from P150-170.
4. From Estancia Port, you can either wait for the commuter boat (P80) that departs at 1 p.m. or rent a private boat. Sea travel takes two hours.
Who to Contact
Sir Joel Decano of Gigantes Hideaway Tourist Inn is the go-to person of most visitors. I wish I could have thanked him personally for his assistance but he rarely stays on the island because there’s no network signal. As the tourism officer of Carles, you’ll be in good hands. For 7 persons, we were quoted P2,315 each for an all-inclusive package (private boat from Estancia, lodging, activities, and 4 meals). You may reach him at +639184685006.
Wear sturdy footwear if you’ll do the Bakwitan exit (I nearly broke my kneecap because Birks and rocks were not meant to be friends. Yes, I’m the same girl who wore her Keds when she went canyoneering.)
Electricity on the island only circulates from 4 to 11 p.m. While there’s a generator, it’s reserved for lights and refrigerators. There’s no network signal too but they have a special spot named the “call center.”
Buy souvenirs from locals.
Don’t let strange-looking shells on your plate intimidate you. Dig in because you might not see them again in the city. I particularly loved the wasay-wasay which I later found out were fresh black lip oysters.
If you think your guide did a wonderful job, tip generously. Tourism greatly helps the island’s people. Our guide, for example, is a college student who tours guests every weekend to aid his studies. Imagine how much your tip could help students like him.
If you arrived later than 5 p.m. in Estancia, you can hire a private van bound for iloilo for P3,000-3,500. We opted to stay in Estancia because we wanted to rest already and we didn’t want to spend that much for a van. We only paid P1,300 for a room good for 7 people. Sandrine Inn also has fan rooms for P150/head. The decision didn’t affect our itinerary because the first trip to Iloilo was at 3 a.m.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature.” – Rachel Carson