I will never forget this cluster of islands in the northeastern corner of Panay. It was by far, the most thrilling journey that I got myself into. To say that it was scary or ‘buhis-buhay’ is an understatement. Never mind that one of our companions in this trip to the Islas de Gigantes almost peed in her pants in sheer fright and excitement as we crossed the super rough seas on a rainy Friday afternoon.
Islas de Gigantes. Beautiful group of islands off the coast of Carles, Iloilo.
How to get there?
The remote Islas de Gigantes belong to the town of Carles. The town is about 5hrs away from Iloilo City. The nearby town of Estancia also serve as a gateway to these islands. For travelers, you may fly in to either Iloilo City, Roxas City (Capiz) or Kalibo (Aklan) and then hop in a bus that would take you to Estancia or Carles.
In our case, we were a group of 4, Iloilo airport was our rendezvous. From Iloilo Airport, we went directly to a van terminal in Tagbak. Just be alert and put your haggling skills to good use because vans-for-hire often wait to gather enough passengers before they hit the road to your destination. Your patience will be put to the test as well. So decide if you wait for the van to get full or you pay a higher amount.
We decided not to wait for the van to get full because we wanted to reach Carles at mid-day. The town of Carles is about 142 kilometers from Iloilo City and 71 kilometers from Roxas City. Carles is said to be the ‘Alaska’ of the Philippines not for any semblance of snow or cold climate but for its rich fishing grounds. This nickname however is being contested by the adjacent town of Estancia.
Islas de Gigantes are no doubt, the jewels of Carles. Unofficially, people called these islands as the Scallops Capital of the Philippines. I will not contest it. You have to go there and find out why.
We reached Carles by mid-day. When we reached Bancal Port, we realized that we missed the only public ferry trip to Gigantes Norte that day. The next option was to charter a banca (outrigger boat) that would take us to any of the islands.
Fortunately, the owner of one of the islands happened to be in Bancal Port. She suggested that we charter a banca and spend a night in her island resort. She explained that her client, a huge group from Cebu, had cancelled their reservation because of the rough seas. It goes without saying that there were no guests in the island on that day. So she offered her island, Cabugao Gamay to us.
Cabugao Gamay happened to be the icon of this island cluster. We arranged for a banca that would take us to Cabugao Gamay, then island-hopping, and finally a ride back to Bancal Port the next day.
Calm before the Scare
The epic journey from Bancal Port to Islas de Gigantes was one for the books. The trip started with our chartered banca getting off the jetty. A few hundred meters from the port, the water was rather flat and calm. We thought the ride would be a pleasant one, but we were proven wrong. About 20 minutes into the trip, we found ourselves in the open sea and the waters have turned bad, rocking our boat, swinging it in almost all directions. At some point, we wondered if we made a bad decision to push thru with the trip. Quite honestly, the waves were very huge and terrible. I could say that it’s much worse than what I experienced in Batanes when we crossed the Batanes Channel from Batan to Sabtang Island.
But we continued on. We were already halfway thru the journey. We had already prayed to the entire heavens for safety and cried for our dear lives. I just hid my fears behind my smile and my shaken body. At the very least, if something would happen, we wore those orange life vests and prayed like crazy.
Cabugao Gamay is at the southern part of the cluster, if not the southernmost of the islands. We safely reached its shores. It is also called Antonia Island, owned by Maruja Flora, the woman whom we talked to at Bancal Port. Her island is truly beautiful.
Maruja Flora’s Resort
Oppie at the most popular spot for photo ops
We got hungry from the trip. What’s crazy about Islas de Gigantes were the scallops. One can order steamed buttered scallops at 1 peso each. I repeat, 1 peso. That cheap! We ordered more than a hundred scallops for our afternoon snacks cum late lunch and another hundred scallops for dinner. We ordered crabs and fish as well, dined under the shades of the coconut and talisay trees.
Scallops at the Scallops Capital of the Philippines
Island-style dining area
The island-hopping came after. Because of the rough sea and the strong current, we chose only 1 island to visit. The nearest sandbar was in Bantigue Island. We were also informed that Tangke, a salt water lagoon was temporarily closed to the public, so we decided to head back to Cabugao Gamay before sundown.
Lonely end of Bantigue sandbar
They came crashing down
Marla, unfazed by the angry waves
We had the island to ourselves. We were like castaways charmed by the island’s beauty, bewildered by the thought that we had to endure the rough ride to experience Islas de Gigantes in ways that words can never fully describe. But for now, let the pictures show you how the islands are worth the visit.
West beach with the view of Isla Gigantes Sur
Stone pile at the eastern beach
Stone pile and view of Bantigue Island
Islas de Gigantes is composed of 10 islands. Out of the 10, we only visited Cabugao Gamay and Bantigue. The other islands are said to be amazing as well. In the future, there will be another opportunity to visit Islas de Gigantes. That time will come, when the sea is calm and everything is smooth-sailing. Summer perhaps?