Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Going to and Eating in Islas de Gigantes

Of the seven thousand plus islands in the Philippines, there's a group of ten islands called Islas de Gigantes, which translates to "islands of the giants". Why the name Islas de Gigantes? I wondered. And asked. I was told that the people who lived there were giants. Or so some think. Only because of extra long coffins that were found in the caves some x years ago.

 The extra long coffins on display at the inn in Gigantes Norte
...though you really can't tell that it's about 7 feet long from this sucky photo of mine.

To get to the islands, you have to wait

These ten islands lie on the north of Iloilo, and the town of Carles holds jurisdiction over them. To get there, we waited at the airport. We waited at the bus terminal. We waited at the port. If you abhor waiting, then Islas de Gigantes will be a big pain on your butt. Guaranteed. If this does not deter you from visiting the islands, this is how you get there:
  • Iloilo as your starting point
    1. From the airport (assuming you are flying in to Iloilo), take the shuttle van to Jaro Plaza. Travel time: 30 minutes / Fare: Php 50
    2. From Jaro Plaza, take a jeepney to Tagbak Terminal (where northbound buses and vans are). Travel time: 10 minutes / Fare: Php 10
    3. Alternatively, you can take a taxi from the airport to Tagbak Terminal. Certainly a more expensive option if you're traveling solo.
    4. At Tagbak Terminal, either take a van (no AC) or bus to Estancia. 
      • Van - Travel time: 2.5 hours / Fare: Php 150
      • Bus - Travel time: 3.5 hours / Fare: Php 152
      Be warned: the van leaves only when it's full. It follows no schedule. If you're the first passenger, chances are your waiting time plus your travel time will equal the travel time of a bus. Trust me.
    5. From the terminal in Estancia, take a tricycle to the port. Travel time: 10 minutes / Fare: Php 10
    6. I bet, by the time you get to the port of Estancia, your stomach will be growling. Treat it to some food. There are carenderias and sari-sari stores at the port.
    7. Take a pumpboat to Gigantes Norte. There's only one pumpboat servicing Gigantes Norte from Estancia and it leaves at 2PM (or thereabouts) daily. Travel time: 2.5 hours / Fare: Php 80
    8. Thereabouts means: 30 to 45, even up to 60, minutes later, depending on the captain; in our case it left at 245PM.
Left to right: Van terminal at Tagbak, Estancia terminal, Port of Estancia
  • Roxas as your starting point - you can fly in to Roxas in Capiz from Manila. Take a bus (2 hours) to Estancia.
  • Bantayan Island in Cebu as your starting point - there's one pumpboat going to Estancia at 9AM thrice a week: Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Locals (in Estancia) did say that the boat ride takes 3 hours and will cost about Php 300.

 Last leg to the islands!
Spotted on the way to Gigantes Norte:
A teeny tiny patch of land with just a hut and two coconut trees (left). A barge hauling off tons of sand (right).
Maybe that's why the island on the left has become so tiny.

DAY 1.75
Settling in at Gigantes Norte

Destination in sight

Ten hours, six transfers, and six modes of transportation later, we arrive at Gigantes Norte. There are only two places on this island that offer a bed to sleep on, one of which is Gigantes Hideaway Tourist Resort (or Inn as their other sign states) in Barangay Asluman. I don't know the name of the other place, but spotted it on the way to Hideaway.

Before going to the inn, via a ten-minute motorcycle ride that will cost you ten pesos, make your last-minute calls and send your last-minute text messages... there are no available cellphone networks at Barangay Asluman.

Sleeping at Gigantes Hideaway will cost Php 200 per person. A very good price for a private room that has a bed with pillows and a blanket, mosquito net, electric fan (which you can only use from 5PM until 11PM because that's the only time there is electricity), towel, and a toilet and shower. If you want to rough it, bring a tent. They have a wide area with a carpet of grass to pitch your tent on. A common toilet and shower also exists just for the campers.

Ah! Shin-deep mini-pool just for me!

On one side of the property are open cottages and tables and chairs for the guests to relax and dine in. Food is not a problem. There is plenty. More than plenty. It will only be a problem if you are allergic to seafood. And a very big problem if you hate scallops.

Scallops make an appearance in every meal. Even on the road, scallops are ever present (as you will see in the next part of this two-part post).

Dinner on the first night: scallops overload

When the first night's dinner arrived on the table, we were deathly afraid of how much we'd rack up after the stay, imagining the same amount of food every meal.

We kept bugging Joefer, our guide, with questions such as How much will this cost? (It's cheap, he'd assure us.) Are you sure? (Very sure.) How many kilos is this in your estimate? (About a kilo for the scallops with shells and half a kilo of the de-shelled ones.) Are you very sure we will have enough money to go home after this feast?

We couldn't finish our dinner. That and a mound of rice was too much. The leftover scallops we asked to be served for breakfast...and served it was, with a plate of egg, hotdog, dried fish, and rice, which we did not expect. We were expecting just rice and the leftover scallops. This time, the steamed shelled scallops were de-shelled and sauteed in garlic. I like this more that the steamed scallops.

The leftover steamed scallops and grilled scallops make an appearance at the breakfast table

For lunch, we begged them to please please please cook just enough for two. And this was what they came up with: two scallop dishes (nope, not cooked the same way as last night). And, oh goody, crabs!

Scallops, scallops... and crabs! Yay!

For dinner the second night, we had grilled fish, lagang, and scallops...breaded this time. I wonder how many scallop recipes they have come up with! The leftover lagang became our breakfast the next day.

The bounty of the sea for our last dinner on the island.

Time for the bill and were we apprehensive. Would this have cost us 700 pesos each? (We only budgeted 400 a day for meals.) The total bill was Php 755. That's five meals for two persons. An average of Php 75.50 per meal! Fresh seafood for just that! So Joefer was telling the truth. It is cheap! They don't even charge for the cooking, it was all for the ingredients.

To take my advice or not is up to you:
  • Contact Joel Decano at 0918 468 5006 if you have questions about Islas de Gigantes. Book a room at the Gigantes Hideaway Tourist Resort thru him. I did not ask him to meet us at the port nor to arrange an itinerary for us, but he did. He and Yanyan (a guide) met us at the port though they weren't set to go to the islands until the next day. Joefer (Joel's brother) was our guide from start to finish: from the boat ride to Gigantes Norte, to the tours, and even on the last day, when he took us to the area where the passenger boat was waiting (it wasn't the same place where we docked on day one).
  • If you are picky, let them know what you'd like for your meal. We will eat and would try anything, so we let them decide. Our mistake was that we left it to them to decide on how much was to be served. They probably thought we were big eaters that they served meals good for four to five persons! We are big eaters, but not that big.
  • Bring mosquito repellent. Slap some on before getting comfortable at the dining table. 
  • There's a sari-sari store near the inn. You can buy your drinks from there.
  • Be prepared to eat a month's worth of scallops. I bet after a day or two at Gigantes, you'll say you'll swear off scallops for six months.
  • Leave some tip for the cook!
  • Bring a flashlight or headlamp. In case you need to go to the toilet (or want to go for a stroll) when the power's out. It is pitch black from 11PM onwards.

Islas de Gigantes in two parts:
Going to and Eating in Islas de Gigantes (you're here!)
What to Do in Islas de Gigantes


  1. great! this has been on my bucketlist and its time to strike this out from the list..hopefully this holy week..sir/maam taga cebu ka noh?

    1. Good luck on the trip Sir Gino. Yup, taga Cebu. :)

  2. nice one adto nya ko ani

    1. Hi nya mi ni Mr. Joefer kng makaadto ka. Thanks. :)

  3. Quota talaga sa scallops jan hehe Lahat na ata ng lutong pwedeng gawin sa scallops hinanda nila para sa 'min hehe

  4. Wooowww! Scallop heaven! My paradise! Nom nom! Wish I could go there! Nice post as always, mustachio! ;)

    Babe for Food - your BFF in Cebu dining! :)

    1. Thanks. But I bet after the eat all you can, you'll swear off scallops for months. :)

  5. hmmmm sarap nmn! we missed this place during our visayas trip

  6. where's the pic with the mountain of scallops? :D

  7. What the... fresh pa pala tong post na to, kasing fresh ng seafoods. bro we're going there last week of April 2013! we love scallops too they're called Baloco in sorsogon. ipapaprint ko na to hehe. 2 lang kami ng wife ko pupunta dun. tignan din namin yung other Islas de Gigantes na post mo :) ayos! :)

    1. Ayos sir. Hope you have fun. I bet youll doubt your love for scallops after eating so much at the island. :D

  8. How much for the guide? And 15k is enough for 4pax? Following all your transportation means? Which one is more convenient from iloilo or roxas coming from manila? Are there plenty of tourists? Is it safe to use public transportation? Does the island has standby pumpboat for emergency? Hows the island when the water is in hightide? Is it shallow for kids to swim or kantilado? Tnx

    1. Hi there. Glad you stumbled upon my blog. There are very few tourists in Gigantes. When we arrived (on a Friday), it was just us. Another group arrived on Saturday, but that's about it :-) The public transportation is safe; Ceres bus lines is quite reliable.

      No guide fee but you are most welcome to give a tip :-) We spent 6400 for 2 pax so if you follow our itinerary, I would say 15k is more than enough for 4 pax. But I would suggest you spend two days island hopping if you want to see all the islands in Gigantes (we only had one day for island hopping).

      I haven't tried the Roxas route, but in terms of distance, Roxas is nearer to Estancia than Iloilo City.

      We went for a swim in Antonia Beach and Cabugao Gamay island and it wasn't deep. But, for your questions regarding the beach and the pumpboat, it would be best to contact Joel Decano at 09184685006.

  9. Thanks for your blog. I truly enjoyed your funny stories! I will be traveling alone in 2 weeks and I hope I'll survive the.... Scallops! Haha!

    1. Hello there! Thank you for your kind words. Made my day! :-) Enjoy your vacation but don't overdose on the scallops!

    2. Thanks for the post, Mustachio. Bookmarked. :) Anonymous, how was the weather during September? Was it any good? Planning to go there in September. Did the weather and waves treat you right? Island hopping a breeze? :)

  10. @ Mustachio, just wanna know if it's okay to travel in Isla de Gigantes during the month of September? 😊