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Thursday, May 7, 2015

ISLAS GIGANTES: A Little Bit of El Nido, A little Bit of Camiguin but still an Appeal Unique of its Own @LasIslasTravelandTours


At one point it felt like being in El Nido because of the karst formations and the lagoon in Tangke, in other instances it felt like Nacpan because of the twin beaches in Antonia Island. It also felt like being in Camiguin because of the sandbar in Bantigui Island but at the same time, Islas Gigantes or the group of islands in Gigantes Sur has its own charm, an appeal of its own.

It's one of those unexpected summer beach getaway that I find really refreshing despite my poor physical condition at that time. I have seen a couple of pictures of the place before especially Maruja Flora Island/ Cabugao Gamay which is no doubt the most prominent and recognizable spot in the area and those photos have wowed me but not to the level of putting up an effort to get there.

That is because I knew it is another one of those beautiful spots at the world's end. Alam mo naman sa Pilipinas, pag maganda yung lugar, either
a. mahal or 
b.dulo ng mundo.

I was wrong again. The place is actually quite easy to access.


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ISLAS GIGANTES Northern Iloilo

About Islas Gigantes

Islas Gigantes or Gigantes Islands is composed of two major island groups --Norte and Sur. Most local inhabitants live in Gigantes Norte while tourist attractions are located in Gigantes Sur. The latter was where we stayed and did island hopping.

There are four significant attractions you should not miss in Gigantes Sur. Antonia Beach, Tangke Saltwater Lagoon, Bantigui Island Sandbar and the face of Islas Gigantes---- Cabugao Gamay.

Antonia Beach
Antonia Beach was our first destination. It was here where we were supposed to have lunch but the place was a bit crowded so we moved out after a few minutes of trying to find our spot. The beach is located at the tip of one big island---Tangke. Rock formations here are quite prominent that it gives the beach area a nice character. The sand is white and it really glows even brighter in the sun. It has a twin beach and it reminds me of Nacpan in El Nido. The sand could get really coarse on one side of the beach and fine on the other. Take note that I looked dumb going island hopping without bringing any beach sandal. Sorry na.

Thinking about it though, I got to connect with the beaches more than any of my colleagues did. I was able to feel the sand , how soft or rough it could get, I got to feel the place more than my eyes could show me. And I got a lot of "ouch moments" in Antonia because of the shells and corals scattered on the beach but it is pretty impressive if I may say especially the side facing the open sea as the stretch of sand here is nice and the beach expands like a wide playground in contrast to the crowded section on the other side where most vacationers put up their tents.
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Cabugao Gamay
No doubt, this island is the face of Islas Gigantes. It is small, private and characterized by a twin beach similar to that of Antonia Island. On one end of the island is a hill of rich vegetation and on the other is a small rock well known for its view deck. This is probably the most famous spot in all of Gigantes. Visitors, even day tour guests, go up here for the view and the chance for a postcard-worthy photo. The hill is only a few meters high but the angle is perfect for a dramatic landscape shot. It makes for a grand and easily recognizable image which I can confidently say has become the signature view of Islas Gigantes. Yes, when Gigantes Islands gets a mention, the image of Cabugao Gamay is the one the flashes into people's minds, myself included.

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shells and corals debris washed ashore
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photo credits:: www.sharkmaine.com

The viewpoint is love and I remember being here twice --on sunset and sunrise. The view is equally enticing anytime of the day but more dramatic in the early morning or late afternoon. Francis, a local friend who has been to Cabugao Gamay before recalled the difficulty of climbing the viewpoint. But that is a thing of the past. They have set up wooden stairs and paved some sections for an easier but still fun hike. The island is so photogenic. And it feels good being at the viewpoint as it gives you a 360 degrees view of the surrounding islands as well as the mainland. Key attractions in Islas Gigantes Sur are quite near each other can can see the sandbar and Antonia Beach on one side and Tangke on the other. Cabugao Gamay therefore makes for a good base point for an overnight stay. And this is where we camped for the night. Will talk more about it later.
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Seafood Overload
Roxas City is the seafood capital of the Philippines but Northern Iloilo is no exemption. Expect seafood everywhere, especially if you are to stay in Islas Gigantes. And that's exactly what happened, we had a hearty overdose of seafood and I want to share the photos here. Ah! Island experience indeed.


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Bantigue Island Sandbar
Perhaps because my trip to Camiguin was just recent, this sandbar reminds me of Camiguin. Not so much similarities except that they are both sandbars. hahahaha.  Not the most beautiful of sandbars though, the sand is course and more yellowish than white but we enjoyed being here, being around the other islands, walking through its stretch to the rocky end which gives it a solid and rough section. We were here twice. We had to go back the next morning because the high tide the day before denied us to see the whole length of it. We enjoyed almost an hour swimming here before we left for the mainland. I advise caution when swimming as the seafloor is sandy but is punctuated by coral debris so one could get hurt if not careful. Water is really clear though.
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GoPro Moments via www.sharkmaine.com
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Tangke Salt Water Lagoon
This is part of Tangke Island in Gigantes Sur which is a big island that resembles Coron and El Nido because of the giant rock formations and pointed cliffs. Another thing that reminds me of it of El Nido is the lagoon. We had to queue with the other boats to have our turn of going in. It was late afternoon when we visited and docking was a bit of an effort because our boat was big and a couple of other boats were there first. Also, there's no artificial port to speak of so boatmen have to be very good at docking. Good thing the water was calm.

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There were many people here when we came, both on the entrance section and the lagoon itself. We went in and enjoyed the chest deep water and the relative calm of the view. It is bigger than I anticipated but water was a little bit murky because of the influx of people plus it was low tide. We stayed until before sunset and were actually the last boat to leave. We therefore got to take wonderful photos with the place seemingly all for ourselves.

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what about cliff diving in Tangke?

We then set off back to Cabugao Island for sunset and overnight camping. The sun was perfect while we were on the boat. The boat ride also reminded me of our El Nido trip. It was exactly the same setting and the same feel-good mood. We docked at Cabugao Gamay in time before the sun set in the horizon. We found ourselves running for the view deck for the chance to get a sunset shot. And we were successful.
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Overnight at Cabugao Gamay

Camping overnight at Cabugao Gamay was the feel-good part. It allowed me to get connected with the place even more. Notice that I keep mentioning about connecting to a place. That is very important aspect for my travels lately. For me, a good travel experience is not just a view that amazes but a place that feels good. The weather that night was perfect. We have been told that our accommodation would be tents and I have already prepared myself for that imagining the fun aspect of pitching a tent and staying in one on a beach setting. I noticed some tents already setup when we came, even remember big ones donated by air agencies like UNHCR after the Yolanda disaster.

Yes, this island and surroundings area was battered by Yolanda and the amount of coral debris washed ashore and the aid agency tents are a constant reminder of this. I think the place will take a little more time to completely recover. Good thing nature has its way of healing itself.

Back to our accommodation, we didn't end up in a tent, we were the first to occupy a newly built house with concrete walls and nipa roofing. There were four (4) double deck beds made of bamboo material in it plus a matrimonial bed so the room could accommodate up to 10-12 guests.
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It was windy that night so got to appreciate the warmth that the room provided and the comfort of the cushions on the beds. It gave comfort without taking away the authentic island-feel experience.

I am trying to recall what we did during the night. Normally, you will find me swimming, but I didn't swim that night. I was busy chatting with my travel companions time passed quickly. I was with a group of travel bloggers most of whom I traveled with for the first time here but this bunch was so fun to be with. We were busy playing jokes at each other while our host prepared our dinner.
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Las Islas Travel and Tours
Speaking of host, we were invited on this trip by Las Islas Travel and Tours as part of the 3-day Roxas-Islas Gigantes FamiliarizationTour.

Las Islas Travel and Tours
Address: Pueblo de Panay, Roxas, Capiz, Philippines
Phone: 0917-709-3856 / (036) 521-0725
Email: lasislastravelandtours@gmail.com
IG: @LasIslasTravelandTours

I really appreciate Las Islas Travel and Tours because; 

1. It is the one and only tour company in Roxas City
and therefore has a pivotal role in promoting not just Roxas City as a tourism destination but also Islas Gigantes and soon lesser known beautiful spots in the island of Panay. Las Islas Travel and Tours believe that Panay is under-served and under-promoted despite the diversity of attractions in the area.

2. It makes access to Islas Gigantes easy and affordable.
While Islas Gigantes is categorically part of Northern Iloilo, Roxas City is the best access to the islands as it is only 45 minutes by plane from Manila and 1 hour land travel to Carles Iloilo which is the nearest set-off point to Gigantes Sur.

I don't have a list of their travel packages yet but I promise to update this blog post as soon as I get a copy. Just a hint though, a day tour to Islas Gigantes costs around 999php with Las Islas Travel and Tours and that is very competitive thinking that it includes van and boat transfers including meals and entrances. Will confirm this rate soon.

3. Las Islas Travel and Tours doesn't just believe in sustainable tourism, 
it is part of the drive to keep Islas Gigantes clean and garbage free. Their motto, Cleaning up Philippines One Beach at a Time. I say Amen to that!
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HOW TO GET TO ISLAS GIGANTES
Isla Gigantes is categorically part of Iloilo Province but it is in the Northern tip so it is closer to Roxas City than Iloilo City. From Roxas, it only takes approximately 1 hour by land to Carles Port while if you are coming from Iloilo City it will take you 3 hours or even more because their airport is outside the city.

Manila>>Roxas City
Roxas City>>Carles Iloilo
Carles>>Gigantes Islands

Roxas-Carles 
Best Set Off Point
I highly recommend Carles as your set off point to Isla Gigantes instead of Estancia because it will cut the boat ride to 1 hour compared to 2 hours from the latter. This is a very similar case with Paracale as a closer set off point to Calaguas in contrast to Vinzons.

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Carles Port Iloilo
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Personally, Islas Gigantes cannot go head-to-head with the established and popular attractions in the Philippines like Palawan or Camiguin but it could offer a good alternative. It is a destination with a touch of other attractions but at the same time a unique appeal. What I like about it is that it offers quite a variety of physical beauty. At the same time, the four (4) major attractions -- Antonia Beach, Tangke Saltwater Lagoon, Bantigui Island Sandbar and Cabugao Gamay--are only a few minutes away from each other. And I heard there are more interesting spots to discover. My original impression that the place is not easily accessible is also wrong. 45 minutes from Manila to Roxas City, 1 hour ride from Roxas to Carles Iloilo and another hour by boat to the islands and you are in for your unique fun in the sun.

More on new attractions in Roxas City of my next posts. Happy travels!
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5 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing a very detailed posts about Islas Gigantes of Northern Iloilo. Hmm, this info really clears my notions that it is hard to access Islas Gigantes and they are pricey because of the travel blogs I read uses the Estancia route and also coming from Iloilo City instead of Roxas. This gave me a good idea when I plan to visit this place as I'm looking forward to see this in the future. And Roxas could definitely be a good side trip as well!

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  4. We had exactly the same thoughts! Bantigue Island reminded me of Camiguin's white island sandbar and Tangke reminded me of El Nido.

    I enjoyed rack stacking at Cabugao Island :)

    http://www.travellingthephilippines.info/isla-gigantes-island-hopping/

    ReplyDelete
  5. Are there any resort in one of the 4 places you mentioned that offers accommodation? Or the accommodation is just near Carles port and just do island hopping?

    ReplyDelete

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