Carles is the easternmost and northernmost municipality of Iloilo, one of the provinces comprising Panay Island in the Visayas. A second-class municipality, its rich fishing grounds earned it the moniker of “Fishing Ground of the Philippines”, or “Alaska of the Philippines”.
Beyond its abundant fisheries, Carles is slowly emerging as a major tourism destination, particularly the Isla de Gigantes group. Isla de Gigantes, or island of giants, is a group of ten islands scattered on the Visayan Sea. The two largest island are Gigantes Norte and Gigantes Sur.
How to Get There
Take a flight from Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport to Iloilo International Airport. Iloilo is catered by the country’s major airlines with regular flights scheduled during the week. The trip takes about an hour to an hour and thirty minutes at most. From Iloilo International Airport, ride the airport shuttle or the UV Express to SM Iloilo. The trip is about 20 to 30 minutes. From SM Iloilo, go to Tagbak terminal. As Tagbak terminal is a bit far from the city center, we took a cab.
At the Tagbak terminal, there are UV Express vans going to Carles and to other destinations. Take the van plying Carles but ask to be dropped off at Estancia. Alternatively, one can go directly to Carles and jump-off from Bancal port. For our trip, however, our tour organizers asked as to alight at Estancia because our jump off point is the Estancia port.
After about two and a half hours travel, we reached the Estancia terminal. From Estancia terminal, we rode the tricycle going to Estancia port. Passenger boats from both Bancal and Estancia ports run only once during the day, leaving the ports at around 1 PM. The boat trip to the island can run from two to three hours.
As an alternative, one can also ride the plane from Manila to Roxas City. Then from Roxas City, ride the van to either Carles or Estancia.
- Manila to Iloilo (Airplane) – Round trip ticket ranges from PHP 3,000.00 to PHP 5,000.00
- Iloilo Airport to SM Iloilo (Van) – PHP 50.00
- SM Iloilo to Tagbak Terminal (Cab) – PHP 150.00 to PHP 200.00
- Tagbak Terminal to Estancia Terminal (Van) – PHP 150.00
- Estancia Terminal to Estancia Port (Tricycle) – PHP 10.00
- Estancia Port Terminal fee – PHP 10.00
Where It Derived Its Name
Before it was called Isla de Gigantes, the place was previously called Sabuluag or Salauag which was derived from a tree endemic to the area. However, according to local legends, during the Spanish era, giant coffins containing giant bones were found in Bakwitan cave, ergo the name change to Isla de Gigantes.
First Day and First Impressions
For this trip, we booked a tour package with the Gigantes Hideaway Tourist Inn, owned and managed by Mr. Joel Decano. According to the tourist guides, it was Mr. Decano who first uploaded pictures of Isla de Gigantes which later became viral. It is also said that he is one of the first ones to open a tourist inn.
Hideaway Tourist Inn is composed of cottages of varying sizes scattered all over the area. The cottages can can accommodate from one to ten individuals. There’s also a tree house than can accommodate two individuals.
The tour package cost us PHP 3,665.00 each. This is the package price for a group of two. Though it was a bit steep, this package covered:
- Round trip boat transfer from Estancia port
- 3 days, 2 nights accommodation
- 5 meals
- Private boat for island hopping
- Motorbike fare for the entire duration
- Island entrance fees
We nearly didn’t make it because we experienced some issues at Estancia port. The passenger boat that is supposed the ferry us became overloaded. The Coast Guards that came to check didn’t permit the boat to leave. Moreover, the passengers who signed the boat manifest also expressed their concern regarding their personal safety.
Because there was no other alternative, the passengers who didn’t sign in the boat manifest were asked to be offloaded. Unfortunately, it wasn’t only me and my companion who got offloaded. The other Hideaway guests as well were offloaded, with some getting distressed especially that we’ve already waited for about three-hours for the boat to leave.
Thankfully, the contact person of Hideaway resort was able to arrange for private boats to carry us and the other passengers. I don’t know the hell that other passengers could’ve raised had our trip been delayed further, or worse, cancelled. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, the old adage goes. Not me of course.
The first thing I’ve noticed, aside from the fine sand, are the scallop shells scattered all over the area. Apparently, the scallops are the island’s main produce and it is where the residents derive their income. I’ve learned also that before the pathways were cemented, they were also made of discarded scallop shells. There’s an abundance of scallop shells that even the sea shore is covered by scallop shells. It is literally a SCALLOP SEASHORE.