Island Hopping in Gigantes Sur
Travel to just about any destination in the Philippines and “Island-Hopping” is most likely an activity that is offered. In some places like Palawan, the island hopping tours are world famous for being such remote and beautiful locations; and in places with a growing tourism industry like Malalison the island hopping tour is nothing more than a pleasant cruise around the island. The Philippine archipelago offers some of the most beautiful tropical islands and sandbars in the WORLD; each with their own charm and uniqueness.
The Islas de Gigantes are no different. These are two remote tropical islands (Gigantes Norte and Gigantes Sur, respectively) just 1-2 hours via boat from the mainland; which is actually not really the mainland, but rather the island of Panay. This large island is made up of four provinces: Antique, Capiz, Aklan, and Iloilo, with the Islas De Gigantes being under the administration of of Iloilo Province.
That’s Enough of a Geography Lesson, Let’s Go Island Hopping! Tara!
If a comparison had to be made as to what to expect from island hopping here in Gigantes, the tour would be the closest experience to doing a tour in Coron or El Nido.
Yes, it is absolutely true that any island in Gigantes can compete with the natural beauty of Palawan. Taking scenery, crystal clear waters, and the purity of the beaches into account, this place is world class as an ecotourism destination, albeit several years behind in their ability to handle large scale tourism.
For this particular island hopping adventure, I was lucky enough to have the ability to hire a private boat, crewed by two local boatmen that were friendly, and newfound drone enthusiasts.
Before we left the resort for the day, I explained to them what my goals were: too fly the drone, to eat inexpensive seafood, and to swim when it got too hot. We collectively put together the itinerary below. These two allowed me full control of when to move on from each stop on the tour, and they even allowed me to say when to return home, as long as it was before sunset. What service!
First Stop: Bantingui Island and Sandbar
The word ‘Iconic” is what comes to mind when thinking about the view of Bantingui island from the air. The elongated elbow shaped sandbar seems like a much longer walk over some course sand that seems to suck you down into the earth with each step. Our small boat was parked at the far end of Bantigui's sandbar, so the round trip to to inspect the island proper took up lots of unnecessary energy and time. Ask your boat operators to park closer to the island itself if that is where you plan to spend time. While hiking is always a wonderful activity to experience, this is first and foremost, a great place to spend time in the water.
The tour guides let me know that Bantingui is also said to have a troops of wild macaques, their ancestors migrated to the isolated land mass many years ago. They live in the rocky and wooded areas and rarely venture out onto the sandbar.
The tides, and currents both contribute to the ever shifting shape of the sandbar and that means that it could possibly look different depending on when you visit the island.
The top activities here are certainly water based, but hiking and flying a drone are also very enjoyable. This could be a great place to have a packed lunch if you don’t want the seafood feast that is waiting for you at Antonia Island.
Stop Number Two: Cabugao Gamay Island
The second stop on the day’s itinerary was the incredible island resort of Cabugao. It is basically two rock outcrops sticking out of the ocean, connected by a sandbar.
The lone resort on this island is fairly simple and on par with what you will find elsewhere in the Gigantes archipelago: an eco-centric camp with no electricity. The majority of the visitors to this island are island hopping day trippers.
The center of this picturesque islet is sparsely populated with coconut palm trees offering just modest shade from the midday sun; something that bare sandbars do not offer. The most famous photograph from Gigantes on the internet will be a shot from the observation point here. A short, but tricky climb up the bamboo staircase will reward you with internet famous views.
Here are some edited drone videos from a trip in 2018
In summary, the photo you will take from the observation deck on Cabugao Gamay is the most famous of all Gigantes views, so you should definitely prioritize that climb and photo opportunity; the hike will be worth it. Unfortunately, that is the only hike available at this location as the wooded area on the other side of the resort is off limits. Enjoying the beach, going for a swim and taking photos are the only activities here unless this is where you choose to have lunch. Cabugao does indeed look like a fun place to spend the night if you can tolerate the temp camping.
Third Stop: Seafood Lunch at Antonia Resort on Gigantes Sur
No island hopping tour is complete without an exotic lunch on the beach. On this particular day, our tour went to Antonia's resort on the southeastern tip of Gigantes Sur for steamed scallops and crabs. Imagine a feast of sea scallops that is more than you can eat for less that you would pay anywhere else in the world. Scallops are in massive abundance here and it shows. At just 1 Philippine Peso each, the equivalent of 2 cents in US Dollars, even the hungriest person can eat all they want for less than 5 dollars. That fee includes cooking, but there is a minimum of 100 per order, so make sure to bring friends along.
While Antonia Beach has many areas that are good for swimming, the majority of folks here come to eat and they are prepared for groups large and small.
Teachers from a school in Cebu; Office Workers from Bacolod; a girls trip from the UK; a solo traveler from the US, you will be surprised to see the diversity of people that come together to eat here.
Final Stop: Mini Boracay
Even before arriving or planning my trip to Gigantes, there had already been rumor floating around about a local beach where the kids would go to swim. This fabled beach had the same powdery white sand found on the most famous beach in the Philippines, and therefore also inherited its name. Mini Boracay, has maybe 30 sq meters of the same sand. But the locals love it and are proud of this rocky little beach. There is even a giant boulder that the local children jump from.
Even though this is not a widely publicized beach (it didn’t even exist on Google Maps until Unofficial Guide requested to have it added using GPS coordinates) the boat men seemed excited to take their visitor here to close out the day, because it was a good way to close out the day, chatting with locals and cooling down with a swim.
By sunset, which happened to coincide with low tide on this day, we got the boat back to the eastern shore of Gigantes Sur and docked for the evening. Island hopping is an absolute must when in Gigantes, even in addition to these locations there are lagoons, caves and more beaches to explore. I will save those for my next trip to the islands, and you can count on a future post on that tour as well.
It is important to remember that there are no preset tour itineraries in Islas Gigantes like there are in more popular places like El Nido, where packages A-D each offer a unique experience, and give participants multiple options. Instead, most tour operators put together an island hopping tour for you based on what you enjoy and what is easily accessible, so be sure to communicate what you like and don’t like.
Happy Island Hopping!