Dec 31, 2016
Gigantes Island Boat Tour
Location: Gigantes Island (barangay), Carles (municipality), Iloilo (province), Philippines
The Real Deal
The main draw of Gigantes Island is really the boat tour to the nearby islands to enjoy their own unique offerings - inland lagoon, viewpoint, scallops, sandbar and of course, the beach. Finally, I can now see for myself what all the hype about Gigantes Island is all about.
Boat Tour Dilemma
For a lone traveler like me, it was difficult to make the boat tour. The system they have here is to charter an entire boat. This would work well for a big group, but for 2 or 3 travelers, it's a lot of money to fork out. You have to find a bigger group to tag yourself along as a joiner and offer to divide the cost with them. Additionally, this is where I found abuses by greedy operators.
Rejohn Beach Resort
I approached Rejohn Beach Resort to inquire about their rates. They said P1500 for the boat and P500 for the guide for a total of P2000 for up to 5 people. Then I talked to their guests, a group of 4 pax who have already scheduled the boat trip. They agreed to tag me along. My fair share of P400 was to be given to them, of course!
When we talked to the resort to firm-up the plan, the resort had a different story this time. Instead of charging by the boat, which they earlier said, they would now charge by the group. What???? I would now be a different group, subject to a different rate. They wanted P500 from me, payable to the resort and not to the group of 4. I complained, since it was unfair to the group, not to mention I would now be paying more. But because of time constraints, we were forced to accept. So the group still paid the full P2000, I paid P500 and the resort gettting a total payment of P2500 instead of P2000.
My protest was not appreciated. The following day, the owner was rude and disrespectful which adversely colored my island experience. I would never do business with this resort again.
This was the first destination on the east side of Gigantes Island South - white sand, rock formation that can be climbed to for better view, convenience store, tents for rent.
Fees: island fee P40, scallop P100/100 pcs, snorkel P50, goggles P30, wasay-wasay P200/order
Cabugao Gamay Island
What makes this island unique is the viewpoint. They put up steps leading to the top of a limestone outcropping.
Fees: island fee P50, tent use P250/day
Bantique Sand Bar
As the name suggests, it is an island with an extended sandbar. I was also a captive audience as my 4 Ilonga boatmates were taking selfies in their show-stopping wardrobe.
Fees: no island fee
This is on another part of Gigantes Island South with an inland lagoon - no beach. Best to visit on a high tide for easier access and for swimming. At low tide, you enter through an opening at water level - more difficult compared to going over the rocks on a high-tide entry. There is no water in the lagoon at low tide.
Fees: island fee P20
Coron (Palawan) Tour vs. Gigantes Island Tour
This island-hopping tour is very similar to what is offered in either El Nido or Coron in Palawan. I cannot help but make a value-for-money comparison.
Here at Gigantes, I paid a total of P610 (boat + guide + island fees) for a 5-hour tour covering 4 destinations - no lunch, no water. After the boat tour, you could also avail of the Bakwitan Cave-Lighthouse land tour, afterwhich, you go home as you've seen everything they offer. Getting to Gigantes Island from nearby Roxas City airport wasn't easy either - 6 rides which could even necessitate an overnight stay in Bancal Port if you miss the 10am boat. There are no restaurants, cafe, bars or even wifi in Gigantes Island. You just stay at the resort you're in. The practices in Gigantes Island now is reminscent of where Coron was in 2008 when I first visited when Coron was then struggling to find the best business template.
In Coron, I would have paid P650 which includes a hearty lunch + water. The Coron tour would take about 7 hours (8am-3pm) and cover more destinations - Kayangan Lake, Twin Peaks Reef, Twin Lagoons, Atwayan Beach, CYC Island and Coral Garden. After that tour, you can stay a few more days and try other tours - snorkeling tour, safari tour, beach tour, etc. From Busuanga airport, you take one ride by van and you're in Coron Town. Your not stuck in your hotel or resort. Coron Town is vibrant for night life - restos, cafes, bars, etc. Coron's pricing and tourism practices are more streamlined and standard given the number of years it has been refining its industry.
If you have to choose and it's your first time to either Gigantes Island or Coron, I would choose Coron by a wide margin. However, if you've done Coron and looking for something new but similar, then Gigantes would be a choice.
Town Life in Gigantes
Altogether, I stayed 3 nights including New Year's eve at Beach Front Resort. It's just a spartan shack - no food and no boat tours. But the hospitality of my host was endearing. It wasn't part of the deal, but they sent me food during the new year festivities and even invited me to join their extended family on the eve. They accommodated my request for laundry and were helpful in many ways. There isn't much to do around town - there were hardly any tourists around and there were no cafes, restos or bars. It's really just a simple fishing village caught blind-sided by the sudden popularity of Gigantes Island. On the third day, I was already restless and raring to leave.
Gigantes Island is beautiful but plagued by the pricing practices of its operators. They have unwarranted charges as follows:
- boat pricing - the boat incident as explained above is one
- mandatory guide - they charge P500 for a mandatory guide. Guide for what? We were dropped-off an island to enjoy the beach. Why do we need a guide? For the little hand-holding we needed in going to Tangke, there were 3 able-bodied boat crew for that little task! We didn't need to pay a fourth guy P500 for that! I can appreciate having a guide to explore the interior of a pitch-black cave or a guide to hike a mountain trail system, but a guide on a beach? It's ridiculous!
- food charges - since there are no restaurants in the island, you have to eat at the resorts. But the way they charge is again questionable. When I asked for the menu, they had none. They said the standard price is P150 for the 'service' without the food yet! P150? I could already buy 3 dishes and a rice with that!
I am not sure if these operators realize that their greed is their biggest stumbling block in furthering tourism for Gigantes Island. They aspire for Boracay money and start charging as though they are Boracay when the stark reality is, Gigantes Island is just an emergent destination...one of many across the Philippine archipelago. Gigantes Island has interesting islands, but it's not the best of its category. Coron offers much more for less. Sure, Gigantes will continue to be visited, but it probably won't get as popular as it could given the prevailing practices.
I had been to Boracay many times and to Coron many times. But would I visit Gigantes Island a second time? I'm afraid my answer is no. Until pricing practices are made fair, Gigantes will be a once-is-enough destination for me.
The saving grace of Gigantes Island are as follows:
- beauty and raw nature - yes, the cluster of islands in Gigantes Island are truly beautiful
- Beach Front Resort - they gave more than what we agreed about and were helpful
- friendly locals - the locals are generally friendly although somewhat still unused to seeing outsiders in their midst. But they warm up fast when I start talking to them.
- P200/pax lodginig - Hideaway Resort has a friendly policy with lone travellers. They offer a room + CR to a lone traveler at P200/night. This is the best lodging value I saw for a lone traveller. However, their boat pricing of P3000 for a group of 5 make them the most expensive for island tours.
Altogether, my 4 days in Gigantes Island has been a mixed experience. But at least I have demystefied the hype about the place. If they handle tourism right with good business practices, I could see the place becoming more popular despite the difficulty in getting there.
Gigantes Island, Carles, Iloilo, Philippines
- boat for Gigantes Island (North) leaves at 10am but be there at 8am to buy a ticket at the tourism office to ensure your slot. The boat only takes a max of 35 people
- the cheapest place to sleep in Bancal Port is Beverly Hills at P500 for a fan room |
- there is an oyster place selling a huge platter for only P40/kilo |
(US$1 = Php 49.62 as of Jan 2, 2017)
- from the city proper, take a tricycle to the bus terminal P10/pax, 10 mins
- at the bus terminal, take a Ceres bus bound for Estancia but get off at the Balasan Crossing P69/pax, 2.5 hours. Ask the bus conductor to let you off at the junction bound for Carles. Better, at the bus terminal, if there is a bus heading straight for Carles, take it - but there are more buses leaving for Estancia
- at the Balasan Crossing, take a tricycle to the market P10/pax, 10 mins
- at the market, take a jeep for Carles town proper P15/pax, 30 mins
- at the Carles town proper, take a single motorcycle to the Bancal Port P15/pax, 10 mins
- at Bancal Port, you can board the boat for Gigantes Island (departs 10am)
- tricycle ride from Carles town center to Bancal port to board the boat for Gigantes Island
- environmental fee payable at the tourism office
- one-way boat fare to Gigantes Island
- small bottle of Beer na Beer
- big platter of oyster
- most travellers bring their own water from the mainland. Bottled water is available ini Gigantes Island, but quite expensive.
- electricity runs only from 3pm to 11pm
- there are no restaurants, cafe or wifi - you usually eat at your resort
- there is nowhere else to go within town so you usually stay in your resort
- there are only 2 tours offered - land tour (Bakwitan Cave + Lighthouse) and boat tour (Antonia Beach + Cabugao Gamay + Bantique Sandbar + Tangke Lagoon)
- Gigantes Island is actually a cluster of islands - Gigantes North, Gigantes South, Cabugao Gamay, Bantique Island, etc.
- as of this writing, the stakeholders are still struggling towards a business model that can accommodate the overnight popularity of Gigantes Island. Infrastructure need to keep pace. Their aggressive pricing policy and crude guest relations need to be improved.
- Gigantes Island is known for its scallops. Make sure to try a dish!
- places to stay in Gigantes Island would be at
Beach Front Resort,
Jesa Beach Resort,
Se Sun Resort and
Arjan Beach Resort.
If you only want a day tour to Gigantes Island and stay the night in Estancia where there are more offerings - restos, cafes, night life, etc., you can check-in at Paon Beach Club and book a tour package with them. One payment takes care of everything - boat ride, guide, lunch, water, island fees. It's a lot easier to get to Estancia from Roxas City or Iloilo City than it is to travel all the way to Gigantes Island to book the tour there.
- 3 Days in Estancia, Iloilo Jan 2-4, 2017
- Gigantes Island Boat Tour Dec 31, 2016
- Visiting the Lighthouse of Gigantes Island Dec 30, 2016
- Exploring Bakwitan Cave of Gigantes Island Dec 30, 2016
- Overnight in Carles, Iloilo Dec 29-30, 2016
Dec 31, 2016
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