For the uninitiated, Bantayan’s beaches may seem like any other in the Philippines.
With it being three hours away from Cebu City proper by both land and sea, Bantayan may seem like it’s not worth the hassle of having to book a van transfer and lining up for ferry tickets. After all, most local airlines nowadays offer direct flights to Boracay, a place that is arguably livelier and more developed.
But unlike the crowded beaches of Boracay and Palawan, Bantayan offers a quick escape for those who want to get away from it all. Only a handful of resorts dot the island’s shorelines and even fewer guests stay in them. Life here moves at a slow and steady pace and it’s no wonder that a lot of expats have adopted this place as their retirement home.
What to do in Bantayan
With only a few resorts to its name, it should come as no surprise that Bantayan’s beaches remain pristine, with soft white sand and crystal clear blue waters.
Aside from the beach in front of whatever resort that you’re staying at, one should also make the trip to Virgin Island, which is just a boat ride away from Santa Fe port.
The island lives up to its name, as you can only find the basics here. There are a few cottages that can be rented out and a small restaurant, but other than that all you can find here are the ocean and sand.
There are snorkeling spots surrounding the area, where you can spot the rich marine life that Bantayan has to offer.
But if you really want to get away from it all, pay a visit to Paradise Beach, which is roughly 20 minutes away from Santa Fe by tricycle. Even then, the tricycle drops you off in front of a field, where you have to walk fifteen minutes to the beach entrance.
The trek, though, is absolutely worth it. You’re greeted white sand and waters so clear you can see the bottom of the ocean. The beach is completely isolated from it all that you can’t even find a phone signal.
Unlike Virgin Island, there are only benches for you to set your stuff on so make sure to bring mats if you’re planning to stay a while. There’s also no restaurant or place to buy food in the area so you may want to bring along some packed food.
If you’re getting sick of seawater, pay a visit to Ogtong Cave, a freshwater cave located in Ogtong Cave Resort. The cave’s cool waters provides a respite from the heat of the sun.
Another place to visit is the Obo-ob Mangrove Park, just a tricycle ride away from Santa Fe port. You can walk on the park’s bamboo walkway, which crosses through the mangrove forest. The movie Camp Sawi also has a few scenes that were shot here and you can still see the signages that they used!
What to eat in Bantayan
When you’re surrounded by the ocean, it should come as no surprise that seafood is a must-eat on this island. You can easily take a tricycle to the local market and buy some freshly caught scallops, crabs, and shrimp. Just make sure to get there before 10AM as the good stuff runs out fast.
You can have your resort cook up the seafood you bought or you can ask the boatmen or tricycle drivers to grill them for you if you’re headed out to Virgin Island or Paradise Beach.
If seafood isn’t really your thing, there’s actually a number of restaurants on the island that specialize in international cuisine, thanks to the large expat population on Bantayan.
Check out Caffe Del Mare, a small Italian restaurant and bar. The place makes its own fresh homemade pasta and pizza. It tends to get packed though, so make sure to get there early to get a table!
Bantayan also has its very own food park, reminiscent of the ones we have back in Metro Manila!
Ask a tricycle driver to take you to MJ Square, and you’ll be greeted by an array of choices from Mexican to Greek. Popular stalls include Bantayan Burrito Company, a Mexican stall with an extremely friendly owner who is more than willing to recommend their best dishes. They also make their nachos from scratch, none of that prepackaged stuff.
Another one to visit is Shake Me, a stall that makes fresh fruit shakes sourced from local fruits on the island and surround Cebu. They also make their own popsicles, which is a perfect treat after spending the whole day on the beach.
Where to stay in Bantayan
The most popular place to stay is Anika Island Resort, which is only a few minutes away from Santa Fe Port. Anika’s villas are actually made from old container vans, which means that the rooms feel quite airy and not as stuffy when it would be if made from concrete.
A fan of local movies? Then you might want to stay at Kota Beach Resort, where they shot the film, Camp Sawi. They still even have their signages up if you’re feeling sawi yourself.
If you’re more on a budget, you can also choose to stay at Bantayan Cottages. Rates depend on whether or not you choose to have an airconditioned room. Unlike the other resorts, this one is located on the main road, which means you would have to walk a bit in order to get to the beach.
How to get to Bantayan
Take a flight from Manila to Cebu, then take a cab to the Ceres Bus Terminal. From there, take a bus to Hagnaya Port, which should take you about two to three hours. When you arrive in Hagnaya Port, take a ferry to Santa Fe Port. Once at Santa Fe, you can take either a tricycle to your resort or have your resort arrange a transfer for you.