Category Archives: Iloilo

The Awkward Traveler’s Guide to Islas de Gigantes

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Ever since I saw Islas de Gigantes back on November 8, 2014, I fell in love with the place. It is now on top of my list of favorite destinations in the Philippines. And to honor Gigantes, I am making my first travel guide for it.

HOW TO GET TO ISLAS DE GIGANTES:

Islas de Gigantes is politically a part of Carles, which is the northernmost town of Iloilo. However, the passenger boat going to and from Gigantes Norte is stationed at the Estancia port. I have learned from locals and other visitors I have met that private boats can be rented at the Carles port but at a steeper price.

The passenger boat only has one trip from Gigantes and another one trip from the Estancia port. The boat from Estancia leaves at 1:30pm (I have never taken the passenger boat going to Gigantes but I was first told by a staff member on my first visit that it leaves at 2pm; however, I was told the last time I was there that it now leaves at 1:30pm) and the boat from Gigantes leaves at 9am.

The town of Estancia can be accessed from either Iloilo City or Roxas City. All buses and vans are stationed at the Estancia bus terminal. You would need to hire a tricycle to get to the Estancia port. The fare for the tricycle is P10 per person.

From Iloilo City to Estancia:

From the Tagbak Terminal, you can take a Ceres bus going to Estancia. I have not seen any air-conditioned bus going to Estancia, so if you want to be more comfortable, you can just take a two-stop air-conditioned going to Sara and just ride another Ceres bus from Sara to Estancia. The fare from Iloilo City directly to Estancia is P152 and travel time is three hours. I have not tried taking the two-stop bus going to Sara but it looked easy.

You may also take the UV Express vans going to Estancia. The passenger vans are stationed on the left end of Tagbak terminal (if you’re facing the terminal). They usually wait until the van gets full but it does not take that long. The fare is P150 and travel time is two and a half hours. Less leg room though.

From Roxas City to Estancia:

From the Lawaan Terminal, you may take a Ceres bus going to Estancia. The fare is about P80 and travel time is around two and a half hours. (Source: freedomwall.net)

I have also seen UV Express vans plying the Roxas City-Estancia route. I have no information though as to the fare and travel time, but I am presuming it is faster than the bus and costs just around the same.

From Manila to Iloilo City or Roxas City:

By Plane:

Both Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines have daily flights from Manila to either of these cities. There are more flights going to and from Iloilo City though with only one to two daily flights going to Roxas City. However, I have heard if you start from Roxas, the ride is shorter.

Since the Iloilo International Airport is located in Cabatuan which is several kilometers away from the city center (just like many other airports around the country), you may still need to take public transportation going to the city center. For more information, you may go to Explore Iloilo’s site.

By Ferry:

2GOTravel has scheduled ferries every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from Manila to Iloilo City and every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday from Iloilo City to Manila.

By Bus/RORO:

Philtranco has daily air-conditioned and ordinary buses from Cubao and Pasay. The AC bus leaves the Cubao terminal at 10am and the Pasay terminal at 12noon. The regular bus leaves Cubao at 12noon and Pasay at 2pm. The fare is P762.30 and P623.70, respectively. Notice how they just interchanged the digits. Neat! (Source: phbus.com)

According to this Facebook post of Ceres Liner dated October 2012, there are buses plying the Cubao-Iloilo route. There is even one from Cubao to Estancia. I will update this guide as soon as I have clearer information regarding this.

From Bacolod City to Iloilo City:

Weesam Express, OceanJet and SuperCat have several daily trips from Bacolod to Iloilo. You can just go directly to the BREDCO port in Bacolod and select the most convenient trip for you. The first trip is at 6am and the last trip is around 5pm. These ferries are stationed at the Lapuz port in Iloilo. The first and last trips from Iloilo to Bacolod are around the same time.

SuperCat schedule and rates: 1supercat

RORO is available from the BREDCO port in Bacolod to Dumangas port. From Dumangas, you may just then go to the highway and wait for the bus there. (Source: exploreiloilo.com) According to my friend, fare is only P70.

There is also a ferry from the Daan Banwa port in Victorias City in Negros Occidental going to the Culasi Port in Ajuy. You may also then go to the highway in Ajuy and wait for the bus going to Estancia.

From Cebu City to Iloilo City:

By Plane:

Cebu Pacific has daily flights from Cebu City to Iloilo City and vice versa.

By Ferry:

Cokaliong Shipping Lines has trips from Cebu City to Iloilo City every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 7pm and every Wednesday at 6pm. They also have trips from Iloilo to Cebu every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday at 7pm.

From Cagayan de Oro City to Iloilo City:

Cebu Pacific has direct flights from Cagayan de Oro to Iloilo and vice versa every Monday and Friday.

From Davao City to Iloilo City:

Cebu Pacific has daily flights from Davao to Iloilo and vice versa.

From Puerto Princesa City to Iloilo City:

There are RORO ferries available from Puerto Princesa to Iloilo via Cuyo Island every Thursday and Sunday and from Iloilo to Puerto Princesa every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. (Source: exploreiloilo.com)

WHERE TO STAY IN ISLAS DE GIGANTES:

The largest and the most popular resort in Islas de Gigantes is the Gigantes Hideaway Tourist Inn. You may contact Mr. Joel Decano, who is the tourism officer of Carles and the owner of the resort, at 09184685006 to book a cottage/room and everything else while on the island. The entire package, which usually includes the passenger boat fare, full-board meals, cottage, habal-habal rides, spelunking, trip to the lighthouse and a guide during the entire stay, would cost depending on the number of people in your group. Based on my experience, we paid P2730 per person during my first time when there were only two of us and P2025 per person during my second time where there were five of us.

I highly suggest to contact Mr. Decano especially if you want to take a private boat instead. He can arrange a boat for you at a lower price. I have seen some visitors who was not able to enjoy much of the place because they just went directly to Gigantes.

There are also other homestays and resorts in Gigantes Norte but the Hideaway Tourist Inn is the best.

WHAT TO DO IN ISLAS DE GIGANTES:

If you were able to contact Mr. Decano ahead of time, one of his guides who will be assigned to you or your group, will take care of the itinerary. But the usual activities include:

Swimming and snorkeling at Bantigue Sandbar (or simply the Sandbar).
Hill climbing and swimming at Cabugao Island where that iconic image of Gigantes is taken.
Swimming at Tinagong Baybay which is the best beach I have ever been so far (not on the usual itinerary but can be visited if you have plenty of time). – Swimming, snorkeling and picnic lunch at Antonia Beach.
Swimming and cliff diving at the Tangke Lagoon.
Going up the lighthouse.
Spelunking at Bakwitan Cave.

*If you have anything to add, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact me at ferdinand@theawkwardtraveler.com.

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Islas de Gigantes, the Second Time Around – Part 4

After having a lot of fun at Tinagong Baybay, Nong Jofer whisked us away to Antonia Beach which was actually just almost right beside Tinagong Baybay. We were going to have our lunch here.

I thought lunch was just going to be all crabs which Nong Jofer brought with us from the resort but he told us when we arrived in Antonia that they were still going to harvest something from the sea and cook it, so we could enjoy the island in the meantime.

I wanted to climb the rock on the side of the island but I only got to go for a few meters because a large shrub was blocking the way up, so I just had to be content with that. I still had a nice background anyway.

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From where I was, I was also able to get a good panoramic shot of the entire beach.

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After a few minutes, lunch was served. We learned that the seashells that were harvested when we got to Antonia were called wasay-wasay (literally “axe-axe”, yeah Filipinos love to repeat words, take my nickname for example). We supposed the shells were called such because of their axe-like shape, but they looked more like boomerangs.

Wasay-wasay. I learned from Google that these are called black lip oysters in English.
Wasay-wasay. I learned from Google that these are called black lip oysters in English.

We had crabs, squid and the wasay-wasay for lunch. It was again very sumptuous and excellent. I don’t have the right adjectives to describe the food. All I know for sure was that I was very full after that lunch.

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We had to rest after lunch. Our stomachs were too heavy to even swim. Thankfully we had plenty of time to just lie down or sit. Nong Jofer told us that we were leaving at 2pm to go to the last stop and it was still around 1pm.

I remember snorkeling here last time but my friends were no longer interested. We were just too full I guess! So we didn’t bother to ask Nong Jofer.

We left Antonia Beach at exactly 2pm to go to the Tangke Lagoon. I was anxious to do cliff diving again here but there was a louder voice in my head telling me to not jump. To get to the chase, I did not jump.

Anyway, the way going to Tangke never seized to amaze me. The first thing that came to everyone’s mind when we saw the rock formations was Palawan. It had a similar feel but at a lower price. The cathedral-like rocks in and around the Tangke Lagoon are just beautiful.

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When we got inside Tangke, I immediately went up the rock that I was too scared to climb before. I’m way too adventurous now than I was back in November.

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My friends Mike and Carlos also climbed their own rocks.

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Nong Jofer explained that some of the boulders inside the lagoon were displaced when Typhoon Yolanda hit in November 2013. These rocks were too huge it was hard to imagine that they were moved by the winds of the typhoon.

Then it was swimming time! The water inside Tangke was shallow enough but it was a bit scary to get too far. I tried but I was imagining things like animals coming out of the rocks. I was trying to scare Katrina that there were crocodiles inside the lagoon but I was secretly thinking they were real.

For some reason, there were also bubbles going up our feet. I don’t know what was causing them (we were not peeing) but they were noticeable enough that I feel I had to mention them here.

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Groufie! Photo courtesy of Katrina Jinon-Morris.

 

Then it was cliff diving time! Mike and Carlos were very excited to do this. The women were not willing to do it at all. I, being the “official photographer” just got ready to take pictures of the guys. No one was forcing me to jump so I didn’t jump.

Anyway, here are my friends jumping off the cliff.

Mike the Batman!
Mike the Batman!
Carlos
Carlos

I felt envious that they jumped but I didn’t. Maybe next time.

We left right after the guys got on the boat to go back to the resort in Gigantes Norte. Mike, Katrina and Carlos all had visible sunburns. I had sunburn too but I was already too dark to see any of them. My skin was just burning though. Globert, on the other hand, suffered the least because she was wearing that long-sleeved swimming attire. In case you’re wondering, no one had applied sunblock.

When we got back, we only got to stay in the resort for about ten minutes. Then we were off to the much-awaited activity. Spelunking!

I told my friends to only bring a few things because I didn’t want them to suffer the way I did before. I left my camera in my room. Katrina left her GoPro too. Everyone except Carlos left our phone. (I’ll update this post as soon as I get the pictures and videos from Carlos. I have the files but I can’t open them.)

I had a feeling Katrina would be the one to find caving the most difficult so I was trying to warn her all day. She wanted to not join but we were egging her on until that point where there was no way back.

Manong Flashlight (I forgot his name so let’s just call him that) was our guide in the cave. Before we got to the obstacles inside the cave, the flashlight that Manong Flashlight was holding went out. We only had two flashlights (I was holding the other one since I was at the back), so I had to give the other one to Manong Flashlight. Fortunately, Carlos’ phone has a flashlight of its own.

I was surprised at how I found this easier than last time. It wasn’t easy but at least it felt easier. I remember how I needed to be pushed by Raisa because I couldn’t manage to pull myself up. My shirt was full of mud at that time because I had to hug the rocks. This time I was able to climb up the rope without much difficulty.

My friends thought things were over when we got out of the cave. They never imagined that going down the mountain was just as hard. We were quiet at this point but I knew my friends were struggling. We were all relieved when it was over.

We gave a P100 donation to I guess the caretaker and some tip to Manong Flashlight.

I’m glad my friends felt fulfilled doing the caving. It wasn’t enjoying but it definitely felt satisfying. We had a lot of stories while having dinner that night.

We again had huge servings of scallops that evening. We also had squid and fish escabeche. After dinner, we went straight to the videoke bar to again sing our hearts out. We drank plenty of beer and had a few good chat before going to bed.

I woke up around 6am the next day, packed up my things and had breakfast. We then settled our bill at the office. It was Mr. Decano’s sister who was manning the front office at that time. We were able to speak to her and I was surprised that she noticed I had a new tattoo (I like showing off my tattoos but I don’t expect people to notice which is which). She also said that her friend was also visiting Gigantes and wanted to take the cottage which I occupied. But since I was there, she had to be accommodated in another cottage. So thank you Ma’am! 🙂

We left at 8:30am. I felt sad to leave Gigantes, a place that I have come to really love. I will probably be back here soon, maybe before 2015 ends.

But before we left, we had to take the bamboo raft to get to the passenger boat. It looked difficult but it would feel comfortable once you’re already standing on it. The boat’s crew was careful enough so they’d maneuver the raft very slowly.

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The passenger boat left a few minutes after 9am. The men were asked to go in front of the boat just like last time when the boat started its engine. I think this is to tilt the boat to the front or I don’t know. Also like last time, I pretended not to hear. Harhar!

Since it was already part of the package, we didn’t pay the fare. But if you’re going to ride the boat on your own, the fare is P80.

The waves were again huge but we got to Estancia port safely around 11:10am. We immediately headed to the bus terminal. We agreed we’d take the Ceres bus but everyone was complaining about how long the bus ride took.

We were all able to take the 5:10pm trip of SuperCat but it was delayed. We arrived in Bacolod a little after 7pm.