Note: We still advocate for travel — once this pandemic is over and borders and restrictions open up for business. In the meantime, we have been sitting on this post since we went into quarantine and lockdown due to the coronavirus crisis.
In honor of the weekend, and because we all had a lot of bad news lately, we are posting a “normal” travel post today.
Extraordinary trip to Gigantes islands
Our recent trip to the stunning Gigantes islands off the northeast corner of Panay, Philippines, is one we will always remember. The world changed during those three days.
We were advised by friends we made at our previous month-long stay in Valencia, Negros Oriental, that Gigantes was a place not to be missed. They raved about the incredible islands and beaches and the abundant, delicious, fresh sea scallops Gigantes is known for.
Since we had allowed three “unbooked dates” between the end of our stay in Valencia and the start of our next log-term rental on the touristy island of Boracay, a stopover in the Gigantes – which was kind of on the way – would be perfect. I made the arrangements.
Gigantes islands… as the world changed
Getting to the port town
The trip would require a day-long bus ride, crossing by ferry to another island, then another long bus ride just to reach the ‘end of the earth’ — the Gigantes islands.
On our first travel day, Friday, we checked out of Valencia and took a seven-hour bus ride north to the port city of Bacolod, with several stops at bus stations along the way (pictured below).
We stayed in a cheap, comfortable, western style hotel Friday night and had dinner at a busy, hip, brewpub and restaurant nearby.
First thing in the morning, we took a cab to the port to catch a ferry for the one-hour-forty-minute ride to the city of Iloilo on the next big island to the west, Panay.
From there we took a torturous, hot, slow, crowded local bus four hours north. At both the ferry and bus terminals we (and everyone else) had our body temperatures scanned upon entry, something that had become commonplace over the past two months in the Philippines. Everything normal.
We rolled into the tiny port of Carles, the gateway to the Gigantes islands, at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday. We had booked, in advance, two nights at a hotel by the port and a day-long island hopping tour of six of the most beautiful Gigantes islands for the next morning, Sunday. Suddenly, things got strange.
In the time our transport had taken, the coronavirus scare had exploded in the Philippines. When we walked up to the hotel we had reserved (and paid for), we were curtly denied access to the property. Minutes later, the island hopping tour operator next door also informed us we would not be welcome on our reserved excursion the next day.
Of course, I attempted to explain that we had been in the Philippines since mid-November. We were not ‘tourists’ who might be bringing the virus from other parts of the world. No matter. Not wanted.
Long story short, none of the handful of island hopping day-tour companies would accommodate us the next day. (One did offer a private tour at an exorbitant rate). And we would have missed seeing the Gigante islands completely, but for a hotel on North Gigante called Se San Beach Resort.
An agent for Se San in Carles became aware of our plight and had me talk by cell phone with his boss on the island. After explaining our inhospitable welcome and Philippine travel history, the boss offered boat transport to the hotel, one night accommodation, three meals (including scallops), private island hopping tour, and return to the Carles port, for three people (my mom is stuck in the Philippines and traveling with us) for 8,450 pesos ($165) — starting first thing the next morning. They would even help us find a hotel for the upcoming night near the port.
The total package price turned out to be about exactly what we had expected to pay using our original individual bookings; hotel, day-tour, meals, tips, etc.
We would see the Gigantes after all.
The beauty of Gigantes
The next morning, the same Se San agent met us at the dock, paid our park entrance fees, secured our ferry transport, even carried our luggage and sent us off.
At the other end of the 45-minute ferry ride, a private Se San outrigger boat was waiting to take us to the resort to check in — like a private water limousine.
By 10:30 a.m., we had dropped off our luggage, picked up a huge picnic basket lunch, and were off on our island hopping tour on that same outrigger boat; three passengers, three crew, one loud motor.
Over the next seven hours, we visited four separate amazing island destinations: mini Boracay beach, Tanke saltwater cove, Antonio Island, Bantigue Islet & sandbar.
Words can’t possibly describe these exotic islets better than photos. So as the world was freaking out over the coronavirus, take a look at what we were witnessing. Unforgettable!
Of course, it ended all too soon. As evening fell we headed back to the hotel – in time for some incredible sea shell hunting. Then had a scrumptious seaside supper including more sea scallops and cold beers before a peaceful nights rest in our air conditioned room.
The next morning, we were chauffeured back to the ferry dock and actually were on the last boat to depart the Gigantes before a complete shutdown due to COVID-19 began.
Our travel onward became ever more difficult. And by the end of the day we were ensnared in a mandatory 14-day health quarantine by Philippine authorities.
And of course, we later learned that countries and airports and travel worldwide was being locked down during our Gigantes adventure.
In the end, it all made our trip to the beautiful Gigantes Islands even more special and memorable. And it was indeed the time when the world changed.
As always, be thankful and generous, happy trails, & more beer.
Life is now!