Another year has passed and my itch for new thrills is still in effect. I was in for another unforgettable birthday it seems. I wished for thrills for my 28th year, and boy did we get the thrill of our lives during our recent trip at Islas de Gigantes.
For those who are not yet familiar with the place, Gigantes Islands is located in Panay Island (particularly in Northern Iloilo). The place has garnered a lot of attention lately with the emergence of travel sites and blogs that feature the place coupled with breath-taking island photos that will really piqué your interest. Being the curious and adventurous tourists we are, we just had to confirm for sure if the hype was real. Well, one piece of advice: don’t get hyped, STAY HYPED!
For in-depth tutorial on how to get to Gigantes, check out my blog post HERE.
Start of the Island Hopping
We woke up earlier than usual to prepare for our scheduled island hopping activity. We started the tour at around 7:30 in the morning to get the best of the morning daylight with Kuya Elmar serving as our official tour guide and personal photographer. The island tour should last around 7-8 hours so we knew we had a long day ahead of us. First order of business? Gigantes’ own sandbar, Bantigue Island.
Though the seas were still rough, we were very thankful that the waves were much calmer compared to their behaviors the day before. How rough were the waves that day? Well, my entire face and front torso were soaking wet due to the wave splashes after getting off the boat at Bantigue. Haha.
We’ve been to a few beautiful sandbars in the country such as in Camiguin and Bohol though Bantigue’s unique factor comes with its sand: not overly white and with tinges of pink. And oh, there’s a house on the island.
Since it was still low tide when we came to Bantique, most of the island was still visible. Come high tide though, majority of the island will have been “vanished”. One bizarre thing about the island is that the currents from both sides come in opposite directions. Quite freaky seeing the opposing waves in person.
Bantigue not only boasts of its sandbar, as the other side of the island has some nice views as well. The pinkish sands of the island’s beach is beautifully contrasted by the rocky and more “untamed” landscape of its other side.
After roaming around the island and snapping some photos (“some” would be an understatement), we went back to our boat for our next destination, Cabugao Gamay.
Not to state the obvious but, Gigantes Islands’ main attraction is Cabugao Gamay. That iconic island photo you see when googling Gigantes Islands? Yep, that is THE place.
Unlike in Bantigue Island, Cabugao Gamay has white sand and with more inviting waters surrounding the island. However, since the waves were still strong, especially at the shores, we refrained from swimming for safety reasons. Jellyfish (poisonous ones at that) also frequent the shores of Gigantes so be on the look out.
Capturing the famous “Gigantes Island shot” did not come that easy. As depicted in the picture above, we had to pass by some boulders and climb to the top of the hill under the scorching heat of the sun. Thank God for the wooden, makeshift stairs that made our climbing easier. Before the stairs were erected, Kuya Elmar mentioned that the only help tourists had in climbing the hill was a thick rope, like what is used in mountain climbing.
Reaching the top of the hill of Cabugao Gamay was very refreshing and rewarding. The view from the top really is a sight to see. Gigantes reassured to myself that the Philippines is indeed a country blessed with natural beauty. Surreal.
After appreciating the scenic views of Cabugao Gamay from all angles, we immediately put on our fiercest smizes as we went on a photo shooting spree with our personal photographer. I mean, we couldn’t resist with this amazing view in front of us. The fresh air at the top matched with the strong, chilling wind smacking our faces definitely added to our unforgettable moments at Cabugao Gamay.
The iconic view at the top isn’t the only photogenic scene in Cabugao Gamay as the view from the surroundings also bring out interesting subjects as well.
We stayed a while at Cabugao’s hilltop to fully grasp Gigantes’ majestic beauty before eventually coming down for a quick and well-deserved rest. We also had to give other arriving tourists their time at the hilltop (but mainly to avoid dreadful photobombs).
During our break, Kuya Elmar shared his stories about the beating the island received in the hands of Typhoon Yolanda. In fact, the people of Gigantes is still recovering from the damages incurred during that fateful night in November of 2013. Notice the tents that bear logos of international humanitarian organizations? Those are shelter rations for typhoon victims. Can confirm, former humanitarian worker.
After our little chit-chat and cooling off, we went about to explore the rest of Cabugao Gamay’s vast surroundings.
Our next stop for that day was in Antonia Island, the biggest island among the three tourist spots. Much like Cabugao Gamay, the place has seemingly two islands connected by a white sand beach filled with growing coconuts. Island genetics maybe?
Hunger already seeped in by 11:00 AM so we decided to have lunch before attempting to explore the huge island. I, for one, was very excited to see what’s in store for us. Very curious of what’s inside our picnic basket. Yogi Bear mode: ON.
Since seafood is the staple food here in Gigantes, it was only natural for us to have a variety of fresh catch from the sea for lunch. The buttered scallops dish was legit delish, as well as the adobong pusit. The whole pot of rice did not see what was coming, that’s for sure.
After drowning down lord knows how many cups of rice, Kaye and I felt in the mood to walk around Antonia Island while letting our tummies digest our sumptuous meal. I was thoroughly surprised to discover that the island had similar flabs as mine. Who would’ve thought?
Kaye was also game in climbing up the huge boulders to get a better panoramic view of the island. A little foreshadowing here for later.
After yet another impromptu photo shoot, Kuya Elmar led us to the island’s dark, hidden lair, Antonia Cave. Gigantes is endowed with many caves and some tourists flock the place for some old school spelunking. Though we were not able to squeeze it in our itinerary, Gigantes’ Bakwitan cave tour should interest some cave junkies out there as Bakwitan cave is the island’s biggest cave. Do try it if you have spare time.
Antonia cave is conveniently tucked at the back of the island. One should climb a makeshift ladder to enter the cave premises. As usual, the insides of the cave were dark and dry. Though we didn’t really expect the cool temperature inside the cave.
Taking photos inside the cave was a bit tricky given the poor lighting conditions which is why we had to turn on the camera flash to offer some much-needed light.
There is a spot in the cave wherein one can pass through to get to the cave exit. However, doing so woul require some slithering skills and a small body. Sadly, I don’t have the serpent-like skills to slide through the crevices inside the cave so… We let Kuya Elmar do the slytherin instead.
After exiting the cave, we headed on to the rocky cliffs of Antonia for some sight-seeing. Originally, we just wanted to enjoy the views but Kuya Elmar insisted that climbing the cliffs would be more fun. Didn’t seem very safe but, alrighty then.
Climbing the cliffs was quite challenging due to the sharp rocks. We also had to be very careful with our steps because who would want to be injured during a vacation? After all, there are NO hospitals in Gigantes Norte. Hardcore. Every move and step must be calculated or you’re done.
Conveniently, Kuya Elmar was there to shoot photos for us whilr leading the way to the top. We were very impressed with his dexterity in walking all over the steep and sharp rocks like it was a walk in the park.
Calling our impromptu cliff-climbing difficult would be an understatement. Well, for me at least. I had to stop during the middle of the climb to catch my breath. Man, that was tough. Haha. As for Kaye, she continued to climb to the top of the cliff, because why the hell not, she’s awesome.
The Secret Lagoon
Our next and last stop of the island hopping tour should have been at the Tangke Saltwater Cove (google that). However, our hearts sank when we heard that it will not be possible for us to go to Tangke due to the weather. The waves Habagat bought coupled with Typhoon Ineng pulling some serious wind in Northern Luzon were serious enough that going to the cove would entail logistical problems in “parking” our boat, not to mention the safety hazards.
Blogger’s Note: Our failure to visit Tangke cove was obviously a stern reminder to never challenge Mother Nature. This is also a warning to future travelers of Gigantes to be more careful in picking the right time of the year to visit the island. Per Kuya Elmar’s advise, best time to go would be February-April. The weather is expected to be sunny all throughout and waves should be smooth (plantsado, as Kuya Elmar describes).
However, Kuya Elmar offered us an alternative to Tangke cove. The place was not as big as Tangke but it was some sort of “hidden gem” in Gigantes because going there was not part of the normal island hopping tour itinerary. Since we still had time to kill, we eventually agreed to go to the Secret Lagoon.
Turned out, the Secret Lagoon was pretty cool! You can barely see the lagoon entrance from the beach due to its teeny-weeny opening. Nevertheless, we managed to enter the lagoon and stayed there for some nice quiet time. We also had bragging rights for being part of a small group of people who have been to the place. Though we’re still quite bitter with not having to go to Tangke cove by the way. Haha.
The lagoon seems to be small on the outside but don’t let the small opening fool you. The place is very much spacious inside and is kind of a crossover between a cave and a cove.
Kuya Elmar and Kaye went on to “exit” the secret lagoon and these were the scenes that greeted them. Not bad for a “minor” attraction, eh.
By 3pm, we decided to leave the secret lagoon and call it a day. The island hopping tour, albeit tiring and frustrating at times, sure was a lot of fun and should NOT be missed by any tourist traveling to Gigantes. You may skip going to the Parola or spelunking at Bakwitan cave, but you never miss the island hopping. That’s rule number one.
Thanks to Jesa Gigantes Resort, our boaters and especially to Kuya Elmar for the excellent service during our island hopping. We enjoyed the heck out of the tour! We’re already thinking of going back to Gigantes in the future with some friends. And oh, we haven’t forgotten about Tangke cove either. We’re comin’ for ya.
What are you waiting for? Book that flight to Iloilo and get to Gigantes already! Much better to go here before the place gets mainstream and too touristy. And don’t forget to spread the good news. Cheers! -rod-
Instead of making a separate post on our visit to Gigantes’ Parola (Lighthouse), I decided to post the snapshots here instead. Enjoy!