Islands and Beaches
Bantayan Islands: Cebu’s Paradise in the North
Aris Mape | Jun 04, 2015
The yellow Ceres bus eased through its usual route, up north to the port of Hagnaya, three hours from the city. As soon as the sun’s rays flickered through the curtains, the hobbit who seated comfortably by the window, woke up with excitement. Outside, the mountains carved a beautiful backdrop against the morning sky, and the tall grasses gently swayed in trance to the cool wind. Finally, he could tick off the long overdue escapade to one of Cebu’s paradise destinations, the Bantayan Islands.
Where Is Bantayan Island
This island group lies at the western part of Cebu’s northern tip. It includes the main island and a number of smaller islands—mostly around the southwest region—some of which are unoccupied. It has three municipalities: Bantayan at the central part, Madridejos in the northern part, and Santa Fe in the eastern side.
From Hagnaya Port, the ferry ride to Santa Fe can take about an hour. Right after you step out of the ferry, you’ll be greeted by porters and tricycle drivers who would offer you a ride to the nearby hotels. Or, if you booked your accommodation beforehand, you would see one of these men holding a placard that bears your name. Go take a tricycle. The hotels are not within walking distance from the port, but it shouldn’t cost you more than P100.
Where to Stay
There are many options for accommodation. Among the popular beach resorts are Kota Beach, Budyong, Anika, Sta Fe Beach Club, Cou Cou Lodge, and Ogtong Cave Resort. As the island can have an overwhelming number of visitors in summer, it’s advisable to book a reservation unless you’re ready to camp in the open. Well, some portions of the beach are free to the public, so bring a tent if you're not a fan of the comfy hotel bed.
What to Do
You go to Bantayan to take a breather from the hustle and bustle of the city. Relax. Unplug yourself from email and Facebook. Soulsearch if you wish. But, of course, have fun. And fun here means bumming in the beach and soaking yourself in the clear blue ocean. So, ready that swimwear and take a lot of selfies while tanning under the sun. Run barefoot along the white shores of Sugar Beach in the southwest and Alice Beach in the east.
Not to be missed is the scenic Virgin Island, locally known as the Silion Island. You’ve never been to Bantayan if you haven’t seen the captivating beauty of this pristine island. Go here by all means. For a minimum of P300, you can already get a boat that can take you to this beach. An entrance fee of P500 is charged for two persons, and P100 for additional heads. Go snorkeling and play with the fish. Rent a cottage, sit back, and just enjoy the view as you get ready for a sumptuous lunch of blue marlin and sea shells to knock you down.
If you can drive a bicycle or motorcycle, rent one for P100 to P200 per day and explore the town. Go beach hopping east to west. A 10-minute tricycle ride from Sta Fe will take you to Ogtong Cave. This cave is right in the middle of a resort named after it. For an entrance fee of P100, you’ll be able to take a dip in the cold underground water. Or take the long drive to the poblacion to see the old stone church of St Peter and Paul. Drop by the public market and buy some pasalubong. Or if you ran out of cash, this is the opportune time for you to withdraw from the ATM! (Credit cards are accepted in some establishments, but better be sure to cash up before heading to the island.)
Although Sta Fe is a small community with a slow, easy, relaxed way of life, the night doesn’t get quite boring. Choose your mood. You can spend the night at the beach front, drink San Miguel beer by the pool, hit one of the restobars and party, grab the microphone and belt out in the karaoke, or listen to a local band while you feast on prawns, fish, and squid over dinner.
Here’s the catch. After all the adventures, going back to the city can be a challenge. The three-hour bus ride can turn to a five-hour ordeal that can make any good-humored hobbit totally grumpy. So, take it from experience, make the best memories in Bantayan, take a lot of photos, try something you haven’t done ever in your life, and don’t forget to take with you a number of friends. You will need all of these, definitely, to make your Bantayan escapade something to look back to and worth the long trip.
How Much Is a Bantayan Experience*
Taxi to North Bus Terminal-----------P100
Bus to Hagnaya Port-------------------P160
Ferry to Bantayan-----------------------P170
Ogtong Cave entrance-----------------P100
Boat to Virgin Island--------------------P300
Entrance fee, Virgin Island------------P500
Tricycle to the port----------------------P20
Ferry to Hagnaya-----------------------P170
Bus to North Bus Terminal-----------P160
* Resort and food expenses not included
* Island Shipping has at most seven trips going and leaving the island. The first trip is at 5AM and the last trip is 530PM.
What Others Say About Bantayan
CHE--I’ve been warned by friends not to expect much from the island after it was battered by the super-typhoon Yolanda, but when I set foot on the island, I knew it wasn’t a wrong decision to visit. It was worth the trip. Never miss Virgin Island! Swimming in the clear water is like taking a dip in a pool, so calm and relaxing. And you can even see the fishes as you walk along the shore. There are some fees collected, but I’m sure it helps the locals maintain the beauty of the place.
ROUIE--There’s less crowd and less pollution. The sand is cool, the water is cool despite the scorching weather. Seafood is just everywhere. Anytime you feel like eating crabs, shells, or fish, you can visit the local market and cook to your heart’s content. Everything is inexpensive, from accommodation to food and rides. And the people of Bantayan are so friendly, you will never feel lonely or out of place.
KARMS--Have a bottle of beer and watch the sun go down in Kota Beach. Don't forget to drop by the fish market for danggit, fish tapa, and dried fish bones as pasalubong. Try Caffe del Mar, they serve the best pizza in town! For the thrill-seekers, sky diving is the best activity to try in Bantayan. When we learned that a team of adrenaline junkies called Skydive Greater Cebu offers skydiving experience, we immediately booked a tandem skydive. What better place to jump from a plane than over the beauty of an island paradise!
PS--As a beach bum, I recommend Bantayan because of the beautiful scenery and ambience. Snorkeling is a must. You’ll be captivated by the rich marine life of this island. Of course, the memories that you make, that's what makes it most memorable, so bring your special friends!
JAY--The long stretch of white sand beach is a beautiful sight to see. There are a lot of budget resorts to choose from. You can also bring a tent or rent one if you want to be more adventurous. Bask in the sun while drinking your tequila and just let the day pass without your notice.