The Picturesque Islas de Gigantes

Friday, May 27, 2016

islas de gigantes

BY Neann De Jesus

Going into this trip, I was in the usual level of excitement I'm at whenever I travel. I always love to go anywhere I’ve never been – who doesn’t? It was my first domestic flight; my first trip to Visayas to boot. All the exhaustion getting there was definitely worth it.

With all the arrangements and itinerary laid out for us thanks to my brother, we were all set for an adventure. The original plan was to land at Iloilo International Airport at around 10 in the morning, and arrive at the Arjan Beach Resort in Carles, Iloilo around 1 in the afternoon. By then, we would have already visited one of the tourist spots in town which is the Spanish-era Lighthouse, but with our flight being delayed and the unfortunate miscalculation of travel time from the airport to the resort, we arrived at around 5 in the afternoon. Dog-tired, we ended up just having dinner, taking a bath then heading straight to bed.
The next day we woke before 5AM ready to sight-see. Our first stop was the Spanish Lighthouse for a majestic view of the sunrise. After about a 30-minute motorcycle ride from Arjan, we arrived at the lighthouse with the sun haven't yet risen. So while waiting for the sun to rise, we took pictures around the area.
iloilo isla de gigantes

The vicinity of the lighthouse, with its 82-step staircase, is an instant time-travel haven to any wandering eyes. The ruins of the brick house beside it will take you back to a time now only seen in pictures and movies, but the lighthouse itself is a bit more modern since the original tower was destroyed by Typhoon Frank a few years ago. The reconstructed tower was built to preserve its original purpose: to provide a guiding light to sailors during night time.
things to do in iloilo

Read Also: The Burgos Lighthouse on Cape Bojeador

After a few minutes of waiting, the sun finally started to peep out. There was a considerable line going up the light house. There were plenty of other tourists and the caretakers only allow a maximum of 10 persons at a time. Luckily, we were in the second group. The climb through the staircase was not that much of a challenge if you’re sprightly and not afraid of heights. If you find what I like to call the "perfectly elevated window", you can take a Tumblr-esque photo through it which would overlook this dreamy view:
tourist spots in iloilo

iloilo what to do

Each group is allowed maybe 10 minutes up the lighthouse, depending on the number of tourists in line. But I think we might have stayed a little longer than that. I mean, you need more than 10 minutes to absorb this incredible view.
isla de gigantes travel guide
what to do in iloilo

After a while, I reluctantly went down the stairs since the next group was already on their way up and it was starting to get crowded in the tower. However, the traffic in the stairs would allow for small talk with other tourists which is always fun. (No fees are charged for going up the lighthouse but people are encouraged to donate any amount they wish.)
Our next stop was the Bakwitan Cave which is a 10-15 minute motorcycle ride from the Arjan Beach Resort. According to our guides, the cave got its name after serving as the evacuation or hiding place of locals from Japanese soldiers during World War II.

During our trudge, our two guides would stop at certain areas and point to interesting rock formations like the “fried chicken”, “binti ng dinosaur”, “pakpak”, “bibig ng pating” and so on. It was indeed an amusing tour inside the cave. What’s more is that our guides would always teach us spots good for a photograph and poses that even we weren’t able to come up with.
bakwitan cave iloilo

But the top 3 best parts of the cave are probably the spots where we would find glowing rocks, emerging stalactites, and the part of the cave where there was no other way to go farther but to crawl through a hole. Yes, you got that right. Oh, and another thing, before entering the cave, it’s about a 15-minute hike before the actual cave entrance. Along the way, you'll get to see a stunning view of the island. 
iloilo bakwitan cave

We didn’t go all the way through the trail since it requires rock-climbing and we weren’t really dressed for it – or have ever done rock-climbing before. Also, you would go back the same way you went in through the cave. Meaning, the exit is the same as the entrance. So we decided to just save that for next time. (No entrance fees are charged for entering the cave. You enter at your own risk. Kidding! Donations are encouraged though.)

Read Also: Angel Cave: An Ecological Treasure in Need of Protection

After a quick breakfast back at the resort, we were ready to go island-hopping. And this, my friends, would be the highlight of this trip. The boat rides to and from the islands take about 15-20 minutes per transfer. Our first stop was the Bantigue Island Sand Bar – the very first one of its kind I’ve seen. When we got there, the tide was already starting to rise, so the sandbar wasn’t at its most visible anymore. Still, it is a sight to behold. 
bantigue island sandbar iloilo
We stayed there for a few minutes and took multiple jump shots care of our tour guide who, I must say, has a knack for taking pictures. It only takes one try for him to get us a perfectly-timed jump shot! If it was just us, it would take 15 jumps and we still wouldn’t get one good shot.

After the sandbar, we were then headed to Cabugao Gamay – the most photographed islet of Islas de Gigantes. And it’s no wonder why. The locals have done a good job in decorating the islet with improvised materials. It’s every bit of the feels you'd get on a Hawaiian island – arguably even better.
cabugao gamay  island iloilo

To get a perfect photograph of the islet, tourists are charged Php50 per head to climb some stairs built over the rock formations and capture this view:
cabugao gamay island

cabugao gamay

There was even a line for standing in that spot to take pictures from your own phone. Trust me, never mind the scorching sun, it’s worth all that sunburn. 

Our next stop was the Tangke Lagoon – another first one of its kind that I’ve ever seen. This place reminded me so much of the cliff-diving scene from one of the best travel movies IMO: The Beach. And indeed, it was a spot for cliff-divers. As I watched them, I promised myself: one day. Gotta learn to swim first.

The salt-water lagoon is home to some myths about enkantos hence locals warn the tourists not to make too much noise. When we got there though, there were a lot of people. It was a little disappointing honestly because, of course, it would’ve been nice to have the lagoon all to ourselves and experience its peacefulness. But I know everyone there had the same idea so that really wasn’t going to happen. It was still a great view though. (A Php20 entrance fee is charged in the Tangke Lagoon.)
tangke lagoon

A quick swim in the lagoon then we were off to Antonia Beach where we had the most appetizing seafood lunch. Seriously, there was no getting enough of the scallops, the fish and the alimasag from this place. My taste buds were very happy.

After lunch, we finally went swimming. The only catch was that the spot where our tour guide told us we could swim is a snorkeling area i.e. not good for folks like myself who can only manage a dip in the water. You will get scratches from the rocks. But it was definitely a lot of fun to look underwater and see all those little fish.

We only swam for about an hour or so before it was time to go back to the resort. We were met with heavier currents during the boat-ride back and it was a little scary since we only had a small boat. But once we were near the shore, the picture-taking continued.
On our last day, we rode the passenger boat owned by the Arjan Resort in going to the Estancia Port. This was for safety measures since the boat was a lot bigger and the locals had informed us that there were strong waves that morning. However, the boat, with a 30 or so passenger capacity and yet carrying about a hundred, felt safe only we were finally at the Estancia Port. 

The rest of the day was dedicated for a quick stop at a Ted’s Old Timer branch in Jaro, Iloilo to try the famous La Paz Batchoy, then at The Original Biscocho Haus to buy pasalubong and lastly at the Jaro Cathedral. From there, we rode a taxi to the Iloilo International Airport.
jaro cathedral iloilo

jaro cathedral

That wraps up my storytelling of our amazing trip to Islas de Gigantes, Iloilo. The place is highly recommended. But if you ever get the chance to visit the place, please try to avoid disrespecting the islands by littering and being discourteous to the locals and fellow travelers. It would be nice if its unpolluted state is preserved. Happy traveling!


"A life neophyte with an extreme desire to go places, literally and figuratively. Calls herself a biophilic, a little socially awkward but a work in progress."

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Text and photos courtesy of Neann De Jesus

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