Philippines / Visayas / Iloilo / Carles
Travel to just about any destination in the Philippines and island hopping is most likely an activity that they offer; and with good reason; 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 Gigantes are no different. They 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 larger island of Panay.
Because I was traveling solo on this particular island hopping adventure, I was lucky enough to have a private charter, lead by two 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 seafood, and to swim when it got too hot. We collectively put together this itinerary, and they left full control of when to move on from each stop, and even when to return home as long as it was before sunset. What service!
First Stop: Bantingui Island and Sandbar
It wasn't actually until we arrived at our first stop, Bantingui island that the boatmen realized what I was referring to when I mentioned my drone, because they seemed just as excited to watch the drone views as I was to be on a sandbar. Their eyes lit up when they saw their familiar islands from the air for the very first time.
We parked at the far end of Bantigui's long, narrow sandbar. Bantingui is said to have wild monkeys, but I did not get close enough to the trees to see any, as I was sitting in the boat hiding from the sun while focused on getting some ariel shots.
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.
Stop Number Two: Cabugao Gamay Island
The second stop on the itinerary created for me 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, but most of the visitors here on the island are day trippers or island hoppers such as myself.
There are many palm trees scattered along the beach which offer some welcome shade from the midday sun; something that bare sandbars do not offer. The most famous photograph from Giantes 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.
Below are a pair of quick videos that I shot while visiting.
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, I ended up going 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.
Final Stop: Mini Boracay
When my friend told me that there is actually a tiny little beach that the locals have named Mini Boracay, I thought he was joking. Boracay Island is world famous for its 7km long white sand beach that is almost completely devoid of shells and coral. Plus, through some fluke of nature, the soft, powdery sand barely heats up to an uncomfortable temperature, even in the mid day tropical sun.
Mini Boracay on the other hand, has maybe 30 sq meters of the same sand. haha. But the locals love it and are proud of this rocky little beach. There is even a giant boulder that the local children jump off of. The boat men were excited to take me here to close out the day. I must have just swam and chatted with locals for the entire two hours were there.
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. Happy hopping!