August 14th, 2018
It was a sudden decision, but this is one of the best decision I've made.
Never did I expected that before 2017 ends, another travel experience is coming along the way. It was a sudden decision - a friend at work just phoned me in and asked if I wanted to come along pretty much also because of an airfare promo. Without any hesitation, I said yes.
Gigantes Islands, to me, is one of the islands not yet heavily civilised which preserves its beauty. Once an island is filled with fame, glitz and glamour, and high end resorts, it will not be as serene as before it was crowded. I love how challenging it is just to get there and witness the breathless beauty of nature.
The city, meanwhile, is modern and civilised than I thought, but in a positive way. Despite of it being on the trend, historical places and other attractions are well-kept. I also noticed the cleanliness of the roads.
We wanted a spectacular but reasonably cheap get away, so we really have planned and searched for the cheapest but decent offer possible. We came across Rhett Paul Bolivar's FB page and got the probably lowest tour package possible. We are a group of 9 people which really trimmed down the cost. This included pick up from airport to Bancal port, boat transfer, accommodation, and food.
We also availed of a van rental for a city tour on the last day of our Iloilo trip at Smooth Operator Van Rental as recommended by Paul.
We booked last trip to Iloilo (via Air Asia) on November 13. It was a blessing in disguise as the tour landed on a holiday. No traffic going to the airport. But late night/last trips aren't always the best, because they are most likely to be delayed. Ours was delayed and so we did our best to entertain ourselves and fill our tummies because an adventure is definitely waiting for us ahead. 😉
Upon arrival, we decided not to book a hotel since it will only be a 3 hour stay. At 4:30am, the van picked us up going to Bancal port at Carles which took about 3 hours.
The airport is actually nice, but we were only allowed to stayed outside where the guest lounge is. There were benches and TVs so you can be entertained while waiting. There is also a vending machine which I find really interesting because it dispenses coffee and juice in a paper cup (lol). Haven't seen one in Manila. 😁 But please bring lots of food when you are planning to stay the night at the airport because cafes aren't 24/7, and no nearby stores are in the area.
We were picked up at the airport at 4:30AM. Travel time going to Bancal Port took about 3 hours. We left Bancal port at 9AM and arrived at the resort (Gigantes Island Resort, formerly MJ Beach Resort) around 10:30AM. The cottages were cool and can fit a family of 5. There were also cottages good for 2 to 3 person.
The cottage that can fit up to 5, also had a nice and clean cushion and fan inside.
The rest room was clean but the pail needs to be filled up because there's no faucet inside. I like how it still has the old days vibe.
For our lunch, we were served with overflowing steamed scallops and sinigang na buto-buto. They were actually generously served. They refilled rice and viands when they see it's half empty. We were treated very well. Kudos to all the ate's!
At 3PM, we were out to trek to Pawikan Cave. It was called after its shape similar to Pawikan. It was said that Japanese people buried gold bars in some parts of this cave and used pawikan eggs to mark the areas where they buried gold. After some time, the eggs weren't there and gold bars were also stolen by tourists and other locals that got interested in the history.
The trek, for me that doesn't really do hiking and trekking stuff, is a bit harder than I thought. The trail has highs and lows, smooth and sharp rocks, dry and muddy, slippery tracks. Although I was wearing a trekking sandal, the mud was really sticking under the soles which made the trail slippery. I highly advise you also wear leggings; plants and vines can be sharp and itchy sometimes. Please forgive me, I am an unprofessional hiker. 😁😏
At dinner, we were served with fried matambaka, adobong pusit, and bottles of soda. We enjoyed the rest of the night by renting a karaoke. We were only allowed to use it until 10PM to avoid disturbing other locals and tourists on the other resort.
We had our breakfast at 7am. We were served with inihaw na scallops on sticks and sunny side up, with hot coffee or chocolate, your choice. Every meal here is a filler!
We started island hopping right after breakfast. Our first stop was at the "walang forever" (no forever) island, Balbagon Island. The only coconut tree you will see in this island is still standing strong and tall after Yolanda hit the island. The tour guide told us it was actually a couple of coconut trees, but the other didn't made it after the storm, hence the name. Quite a sad story, isn't it? But the tiny island is indeed, beautiful and amazing!
Next stop is one of the famous place in Gigantes you don't want to miss - the Tangke Lagoon! We were blessed to catch the high tide because on low tide, water goes down, hence you cannot enjoy swimming in the lagoon. And just outside the lagoon is a 10-feet cliff diving spot were you can enjoy the view and jump on the blue, cold water.
Our next destination is probably one of my favorite among all the islands we've been - the Antonia Beach. White sand, clear water, and there's even a snorkelling area which is a big plus for me! There are also many picturesque spot in this island and are very instagram worthy!
It was about lunch time and we were a bit hungry, but luckily, there was a store and eatery in the area. A local was selling wasay-wasay for only 200 pesos/kg. We enjoyed it with spicy vinegar and an expensive soda. Stuff in the local store were pricey. A bottle of soda costs 25 pesos, so bring lots of water while on tour.
We hopped back on our resort to have lunch. We had fried breaded scallops and pinaupong manok, of course with bottles of soda and generous serving of rice.
After lunch we resumed straight away with island hopping. Next was also one of the famous, Cabugao Gamay Island. We enjoyed this place even under the scorching heat of the sun.
Next is Bantigue Sandbar. Now I want to share my honest point of view about this island. If you've already seen spectacular sandbars, this wouldn't amaze you as how I was amazed with Manlawi in Caramoan and the white, pristine sand of Calaguas and Coron. This sandbar, although, is long and higher than any other sandbars. The sand has too many shells and not as fine as others. But the color is nice, like a creamy golden color.
Locals were selling sea urchins here for only 15 pesos. We tried one and it tasted like balut.
Our last stop was the island best for swimming, the Mini Boracay. It was called mini boracay due to its fine, white sand and crystal clear waters. We spent the rest of the time here, enjoyed the company and took tons of photos, of course. 😄
We were back in the resort for our dinner. And guess what's for dinner? Yes, scallops! Adobong scallops! You'll raise the white flag with these scallops! 😁
The next day, we left the island at 8AM. I strongly suggest you leave the island earlier, around 6 to 7AM so you will have plenty of time to enjoy the itinerary for the city tour, especially the Garin Farm which was the farthest that took us 2 to 3 hours to get there from Jaro Cathedral. Our breakfast was served late so we also have to leave later. But we did not caught some of the places to go in the city.
Here are the places we visited during our city tour.
Et Nos Gallery
Lunch at Decrito's - their massive bulalo, good for 9-10 people for only Php695!
Garin Farm and Pilgrimage
What we missed: Molo Mansion and Miagao Church 😔
We shouldered the entrance fee at Garin Farm. It is not included in the van rental.
We still have time for dinner. And a perfect place to drop by is at La Vita Merkato Food Park in Manduriao. Very accessible to the airport, about 30 minute drive away only!
The place is nice, clean, and has a cozy ambiance. Food is surprisingly cheap with its generous platings. Value for money? You'll absolutely get it here! Plus, there are many options to choose from. They also have a live band on weekends.
Summing up our itinerary and expenses below:
Manila to Iloilo Airport
4:30 AM - Airport to Bancal Port, Carles
9:00 AM - Bancal Port to Gigantes Island Resort
10:30 AM - Check in, unpack, rest, lunch
3:00 PM - Pawikan Cave Trekking, Watch Sunset
7:00 PM - Dinner, free time
11:00 PM - Rest
7:00 AM - Breakfast
8:00 AM - Island Hopping (Balbagon Island, Tangke Lagoon, Antonia Island)
1:00 PM - Lunch at the resort
2:30 PM - Island Hopping (Cabugao Island, Bantigue Sandbar, Mini Boracay)
6:00 PM - Back at resort
7:00 PM - Dinner, free time
11:00 PM - Rest
7:00 AM - Breakfast (I suggest this should be earlier)
8:00 AM - Leave Gigantes
10:00 AM - Start City Tour (Et Nos Gallery, Lizares Mansion, Biscocho House, Garin Farm)
7:00 PM - Dinner at La Vita Merkato
11:00PM - Airport bound to Manila
Per head expense (fares and rates may be different now, so better check it out)
**Roundtrip airfare : Php 2,200
**Gigantes Tour Package 3D/2N with airport pick up to port (Rhett Paul Bolivar) : Php 2,299
**Van rental for city tour with airport transfer (Smooth Operator Car/Van Rental) : Php 8,700/9 = 966
**Karaoke (5 pesos per song) : Php 50/head if you like singing (10 songs)
**Excess luggage checked in (15kg) : Php 800/5 = 160 (we had to check in our pasalubong items because it exceeded allowable hand carry weight 😂 )
**Budget for Pasalubong/Souvenir Items : Php 1000
**Budget for food (airport snacks, drinks, day 3 lunch and dinner) : Php 1000
**Garin Farm Entrance : Php 150
TOTAL EXPENSE PER HEAD FOR 3D/2N WITH AIRFARE : Php 7,825
Not bad for a 3D/2N stay with jam-packed activities. 😀
You can opt not to have budget for pasalubong and other souvenir stuff. You may also bring lots of snacks to avoid buying while on road, you just have to mind the weight of your hand carry.
MY TIPS AND OTHER REMINDERS
*Always watch out for airfare promos.
*Do your research. Plan everything ahead.
*Travelling in large group will help trim down the cost. But worry not, if you're going solo, you can avail of their tours and package for joiners.
*Weigh your stuff before going to airport to avoid checking in costs. Do not max out the 7kg allowable hand carry weight. I find airport scales not calibrated.
*If you think 7kg is not enough, you can book ahead of fly+baggage. It's cheaper than checking in on the day of your flight.
*Do not bring liquid cosmetics of more than 100ml. It will be required to be checked in which will incur cost or confiscated. You choose. 😉
*Bring insect repellant and lots of sunblock. By lots, I mean, LOTS. You don't want to get burned in the scorching heat of the sun in this place during island hopping.
*It gets chilly at night. Bring jacket or anything to protect you from the low temperature.
*Hard to get signal at the island. Based on our experience, you can receive messages very late. You can send but it will take ages.
*Try to leave the island early if you want to go city tour.
*If you can bring your own snorkelling gear, the better. Snorkelling gears on the island for rent didn't looked sanitary to me. I brought my own for safety. Decathlon in Festival Mall Alabang has lots of swimming and sports stuff at lower price, I mean, really cheap price!
*Electricity on the island is only at 10AM to 4AM. Generator will start to kick in only at 7AM.
Iloilo was awesome!
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