Seven to twelve foot long human skeletal remains were found at the Island of Gigantes a few years ago, six hours away from the capital city of Iloilo. A documentary was shown about these astounding historical finds in a local TV channel – unfortunately, no protection was granted from the government to treasure these artifacts. Antique collectors bought what the locals could find from their backyards – bones, jewelries and other treasures.
The usual sightseeing traveler wouldn’t venture into this unexplored territory. From Iloilo city, one should take the bus to Estancia in the wee hours of the morning to catch the ferry to Carles island. The ride would take about 3-4 hours with the usual drunken folk getting in and out of the rusty Ceres bus. There’s only one ferry going to Carles, arriving at noon and leaving at around 2:00 PM. The whole set-up doesn’t encourage tourism – sometimes, the ferry leaves hours late and the boat ride can get wild.
From Estancia, travelers may opt to arrange a tour via Paon Beach Club – they have free wifi access and superb seafood!
After getting rocked for 2-3 hours in the Northern part of Panay, travelers can stay at the Gigantes Hideaway Inn, owned and operated by Mr. Joel Decano, the island’s tourism officer. I needed to have a shower and hot coffee after being so exhausted from the journey. Too bad for us, we traveled two months ago in November – with our ferry nearly eaten alive by the cold winds of the amihan. The island was literally off the beaten path – through land and air – and for those who like to rough it out, the accommodations here will suffice. The Gigantes Hideaway Inn has that “beach” feel, from the carved wooden furniture to the small huts similar to the homes of the Enoi tribe from the film Time Machine. The electricity only powers the island at night for a few hours and there are about two spots in the island where you can get a decent cellular signal (I’m not even being sarcastic). Most of the famous brands of alcohol isn’t available here. Gold Eagle beer and gin are usually the only option – talk about roughing it out, huh?
Before going island hopping, visit the Spanish colonial lighthouse in the island. Ask some locals who own motorcycles to take you to the lighthouse for around ten bucks. Dirt cheap. There will be some walking for a few minutes, so leave early.
Get your snorkling gears ready at Uaydahon Island. The waters were so pristine, I almost cried. I didn’t venture out far from the shore though because I didn’t know how to swim. I can spend the whole day idling around this island and there are cottages where travelers can rest. I’m not sure about staying overnight though, but the accommodations looked cozy enough. Perfect for tent pitching, this island totally trumps famous Luzon destinations like Anawangin, Potipot and Calaguas.
Another treasure that would put the white sands of Boracay to shame is located south of Gigantes Islands – Antonia Beach. It was my first time to snorkle without a life vest and it was liberating! I’ve gone to so many beaches and snorkle sites but I was always afraid to go out too far from the shore because I thought I’d sink. Well, I’m still alive, so I didn’t. Special thanks to my college friend, Ryan, for guiding me to see the corals.
To cap off our island hopping, we were taken to the Tangke Salt Water Lagoon almost an hour away from Antonia beach. The rock formations would interest climbers and adventure-seekers, while the lagoon’s stunning view would be surely appreciated by anyone – even these kids! It was like a hidden lagoon from an obscure Hollywood film shot in Thailand – which you’d be able to find here in the Philippines. Too bad the place was littered with candy wrappers when we went there. I hope the locals, especially the kids, would find the value in this island, their home.
Gigantes island is also rich in shells (I’m not sure what they’re called exactly), but these are used for home decors that are sold at outrageous prices in Manila and abroad. I was even able to score a pink and yellow shell as souvenirs. There are a lot more places to explore here like the Pawikan cave and other islands. Unfortunately, because of really bad planning and bad luck, we couldn’t find time to visit these places.
I would love to have these treasures hidden and preserved forever, but I think telling the world that we have something as mystical and beautiful as these gems would help in protecting these islands. Mr. Joel personally volunteered to work as a tourism officer here and he has wonderful plans to protect and preserve Gigantes islands through eco-tourism. He is currently working to have the whole island proclaimed as a marine protected area, so he’d have more hands and budget at his disposal to guard the caves and islands from treasure hunters and other unscrupulous scavengers. Mr. Joel and his family was so welcoming when we stayed there – they even let us sing from their home’s videoke machine! Kakahiya!
Sir Joel maintains a Facebook account for Gigantes – https://www.facebook.com/isla.gigantes.
Will be posting the recommended itinerary and budget soon.
More reads about Gigantes islands from:
How to Get to Islas de Gigantes in Carles, Iloilo
Tangke – Natural Salt Water Lagoon in Carles, Iloilo