The port of Estancia is not exactly a tourist hotspot, but it is one of the jump-off points (other than the larger port of Carles) to get to the fabled Islas de Gigantes.
Both ports have much in common: They are administered by the Iloilo Provincial Government and have a very active seafood and maritime economy going on. That means that these are two very busy places despite size differences; crawling with workers, entrepreneurs, and tourists alike. You can expect to see all sorts of activities going on throughout the year, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week at both ports of Carles and Estancia.
Chances are that you will be arriving into either port via bus. Ceres has a regular route from Molo Terminal in Iloilo City and this single route will get you to either town. There are regular P2P (point to point) bus and van routes from Kalibo and Caticlan as well. An abundance of tricycles at each bus terminal are the perfect last-mile (or kilometer) connectors to get you to the seaports.
Similarities aside, we are going to take the time in this article to cover all the basics of the smaller of the two port towns: Estancia. The goal is to make sure that you travelers are better prepared for the journey through this rural provincial fishing port.
What Does Estancia Mean? Namesake - Etymology
Let’s start with the name of the town; it is of no surprise that the word ‘estancia’ comes from the Spanish language. In many South American countries that are former spanish colonies, the word is used to describe a private plot of land used for agriculture or livestock. That means that this tiny plot of land near the sea has been responsible for feeding the local people for hundreds of years. Estancia seems to be a well suited adaptation of language; though many other South American countries that are former spanish colonies also use the term “hacienda” to describe the same type of plot.
It just goes to show you that despite a strong colonial Spanish influence in South America, the locals continue to adapt and create their own dialects throughout the Americas. Similar to how many languages and dialects continued to evolve with their own unique paths in the Philippines since the Spanish colonial era.
Today, Estancia continues its namesake and legacy of being the economic and agricultural hub of this region. Below, we will talk about the major industries at the seaport as we direct you to the tourism office.
Is it safe there?
While the images of Estancia in this article do paint quite a dramatically hectic seaport life, there is a short, direct route from the port’s entrance, to the tourism office. This route is not exactly a paved sidewalk, nor is it a roadway… but you will see lots of foot traffic and lots of motorized vehicles passing along this throughway.
The largest of these vehicles are the freight hauling trucks with loud diesel engines, which rumble on the gravel and kick up dust on their way to deliver local caught seafood by the hundreds of kilograms. Their presence at the top of this economic food chain is clear; supporting a host of ancillary business' such as banks, transportation, and supply shops.
As you approach the pier, the presence of the shipping industry dominates the next section of concrete and gravel. Dock workers in sandals muscle in heavy bags of rice with hand carts. Cooking and diesel fuel, along with large quantities of retail packaged perishable foods are also crammed into the (approximately) 30 foot (10 meter) vessels. Recognizable logos of brands are repeated so often they seem to create a temporary art installation. That is what is easy to spot; many boxes are only marked with a delivery address, or sometimes nothing more than the owner’s name. Ships’ hulls sink lower on the dock as the rapidly moving human workforce move more and more bulky goods into the holds of the native styled boats. Each of them adorned with neat, hand painted lettering and identification numbers.
It is not until the afternoon that you see the majority of these boats unloading goods from their destinations. The return journeys are nowhere near as packed full of goods as the smaller islands off the coast of Panay are dependant on imports for many everyday necessities. That also means that there are probably lots of people standing around, waiting on boats, and generally acting board in the afternoons as they wait for work. It definitely appears to be much more hectic as crowds are just hanging around. There isnt really anything to worry about. Its just people waiting to work, go somewhere, or are taking a break in between gigs.
Last but not least, the tourism office (your likely destination) is representative of the fastest growing industry at the port of Estancia. With the Concepcion islands and Islas de Gigantes quickly building steam in the domestic tourism industry, more and more Filipinos are finding their way to this small port town. Only time will tell how quickly this area shifts from industrial driven to a more consumer focused port, but that is not likely to happen for decades. A large chunk of Iloilo Province’s seafood and maritime economy passes through Estancia, so the town may expand in the years to come, but the port itself won’t change much.
New hotels would do well here. As of 2018 there was only one or two with a web presence. Estancia is perhaps only one Robinson’s City Mall away from a mini real estate boom. A place with amenities like aircon, hot showers, and a spa would certainly catch the attention of travelers who are transiting to the remote islands that have no electricity.
All that may still be in the future, but it is because of tourism right now that there are efforts to make the route within the port, easier to walk. The presence of working ATM machines is questionable, but finding snacks or a small sit in restaurant will not be difficult. Be sure to use your best judgement (always) when eating street food. Look for businesses that practice sanitary food keeping and have a tidy storefront. Keeping stomach medication on hand is always advisable when traveling in the provinces, especially when eating street food regularly. Even a delicious, fresh tasting meal can get you sick. Be prepared and always keep a bottle of filtered water on you as well.
Despite the dangers of an upset stomach, the lite presence of local and national police, along with some uniformed coast guard members in the crowded harbor; make the entire port feel very safe. Of course nothing guarantees complete safety, so you are (as always) encouraged to move through crowded areas with caution. People are mostly here to work, and the authorities have many reasons to ensure that business continues safely as usual here.
Stay along the main walking corridor, keep your belongings close to you and you will be fine. Keeping dust out of your stuff, will hopefully be your biggest concern!
Once you have visited the tourism office, got through the passenger terminal building, and are aboard your vessel you can relax before departure. There will be a few vendors walking onto the boat similar to how vendors board manila Busses leaving Buendia and Cubao terminals in Manila. Pick up some freshly made starch filled snacks like bibinka, puto or oilier snacks like roasted nuts.
Just like in the city, you’re limited to what’s available. Expect bench seats and life vests but not many more comforts. Chances are that your vest is better served as a cushion for your seat. Thankfully trips average just 1-2 hours from the port so you won’t be riding for too long, but some trips, such as that to Gigantes Sur will require getting on a smaller boat to get to shore across the shallow lagoon that the larger boats cannot transit.
This information should get you prepared for your passage through Estancia. Happy travels!