Bantayan Island – One of Asia’s unknown tropical paradises
Beautiful Virgin Island Guide.
Bantayan Island is my favourite tropical islands in Cebu, it gets all my ticks of approval for a great tropical holiday destination. Beautiful beaches, a sleepy laid back town, friendly people and just generally a fantastic place to unwind. Bantayan has got some of Cebu’s most gorgeous beaches you will ever see (it rivals that of Philippines own Boracay and even Thailand’s beaches) and what’s more you don’t have to compete with the crowds you get in other parts of Asia (with the exception of Holy week!) This is not an island for action and adventure like its neighbouring Malapascua. Come to Bantayan to laze, read and enjoy a beer by the beach. I’ve also written a blog on Bantayan Island and guide for further information on the island.
Bantayan Island has few smaller islands worth visiting or island hopping to. One is Virgin Island, great for a day trip with its beautiful beaches and is a popular place to enjoy a barbeque. Another island, Hilantagaan, is less well known and more of a fishing village, but it does have a beautiful white sand bank that you can swim at. Kinatarkan Island (Kinatarcan Island) is another beautiful island worth travelling to, pretty much untouched by tourism and has some stunning pristine beaches.
Over the years I have used a guy by the name of Glen (cell 0909 8825989) to organise motorbike rental and island hopping. Haggle hard!
Video guide to Bantayan Island Resorts.
Video Spotlight: Budyong Beach Resort, for more details on this resort visit here.
Bantayan Island offers some of the best beach resorts in Cebu from simple beach cottages to more luxurious rooms. You won’t find big resorts in Bantayan, it’s more low key affair. Santa Fe is where all the beaches and resorts are located; most are within walking distance of the township of Santa Fe. Arriving at the pier you can’t miss Santa Fe Beach Club on the right with its iconic row of sun chairs and umbrellas. Rooms start from simple fan up to larger air-con rooms. To the right of the pier along Alice Beach are a number of beach resorts that range from budget to mid-price all within tricycle distance. Here the resorts include St Bernard Beach Resort, a small resort with circular cottages (either fan or air con) with its own restaurant. Anika Island Resort, is a newish resort in Bantayan, made from recycled cargo containers that have been renovated into rooms. The resort includes beach cafe and has its own restaurant. Beach Placid starting from simple nipa huts to rooms with satellite TV and kitchen. Abaniko has four cottages, 1 having a kitchen and dining area. Tickety Boo is the last resort on the beach with both air-con and fan rooms. Some of the cheapest resorts in Bantayan are found along the road going from the pier to Santa Fe Town (less than 10 minute tricycle ride from the pier) Bantayan Cottages and Swallow Cottages offer some great value if you’re happy not being on the beach. Around Santa Fe where the best beaches of Bantayan are, there are a number of simple cottage style accommodation. Kota Beach Resort and directly adjacent Budyong offer great beach front cottages (as well as cheaper semi beach front views) with basic room amenities. In Santa Fe Town there are some great value accommodation to be found and while not on the beach you’re only a few minutes away. Kiwi Kottages, Seaview Apartelle, Annies Rest House and RR Lodging all offer great value rooms in Bantayan. Further past Santa Fe the resorts in Bantayan tend be more popular with the local tourist, the resorts are quieter during the week and busier on the weekend. During Holy Week, this area becomes the center of the activities and is most crowded. The most popular being the huge Sugar Beach Resort set on a lovely stretch of beach with sugary fine sand. Cottages are pretty basic (and a bit tired looking). Mayet’s, Playa Estrella and Roumel’s are also popular with local tourist. Past these resorts is the ever popular Ogtong Cave Resort complete with its cave (which you can take a dip in) and swimming pool. It has a nice landscaped garden and beach front. A nice quiet and small resort a few minutes past Ogtong is Kandugyap House by the Sea with its huge villa room complete with kitchen and living area. For those looking for a bit of luxury on Bantayan try Hoyohoy with its beautiful stilt cottages and landscape gardens complete with swimming pool may be an option. This is the resort the Governor stays at when she’s in Bantayan. A new budget place to stay is the Holiday Palms Cottages Bantayan. The Coral Blue Oriental Villas and Suites (originally called The Bamboo Oriental Bantayan) has some luxury type suites. Ogtong Cave also has its luxury White House Room. If you don’t have accommodation pre-booked as soon as you step off the boat at the pier you will be swarmed by porters (they get commissions from the hotels/resorts they take you to) willing to take you to many of the resorts (which tends to be Anika and Beach Placid!). Even if you do not stay on the beach most resorts/rooms are within walking distance of the beaches. Rates start at about 300 Peso for cheaper cottages not on the beach right up to 16,000 Peso for Ogtong Cave Deluxe Suite with Jacuzzi. Check here for full list of Bantayan Resorts or check below.
Bantayan Island Attractions
The number one reason tourist come to Bantayan Island is for its white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. Try to visit Virgin island (day trip) price negotiable with the touts but you should be paying 1000-1500 Pesos only. We got as cheap as 800 Peso direct with a fisherman! You can organise barbecue (bring your own fish/food) and cooking facilities – touts can help with this (at a cost!). Virgin Island entry fee is 500 P for the 1st 5 guests and 50 P for every additional guest. Cottages can be rented for 50 P. On the island you can do a bit of snorkelling (but it’s not that great), swim or just relax. Kinatarcan Island (around 1 hour boat ride, pay around 1500 P) is a beautiful island with gorgeous beaches and is well worth the visit (see video). Not many tourists make it to the island, so it does lack the infrastructure for tourist. The island is unspoilt and amazing. Another place to reach is Paradise Beach (on Bantayan Island itself) a beautiful little cove sometimes you have to pay to enter depends if there is a guard to collect. A 45 minute ride from Santa Fe is the town of Madridejos where you can visit Kota Park, a nice place to relax and watch magnificent sunsets as well as visiting an old Spanish fort. Visit Bantayan Town (20 minutes ride from Santa Fe) to see one of the oldest Churches in the country. It was constructed in 1839 and completed in 1893. Bantayan Town is also a bigger town than Santa Fee and has at ATM (Allied Bank which, if you have the right credit card facilities you can withdraw with your visa card). A great way to see other parts of the island is to rent a motorbike, the longer you rent the cheaper you can get it. The average price is around 350 Peso per day but if you rent for 4 or more days you can get 250 Peso per day (you have to get the motorbike from a vendors or local – check the bike over before you agree on the price to check for scratches that they might claim later you caused!). You can ride to Bantayan proper or up to Kota Park in the north of the Island. It’s great riding the back roads and discovering the other parts of Bantayan Island.
Holy Week (Easter) is the time of year that Bantayan Island changes from a sleepy island to a noisy overcrowded island! Boats to the island are packed, vacant land becomes camping grounds for hundreds of tents, rooms are booked out and prices triple (and more!) Roumel’s beach resort goes from 1000 Peso to 6000! The island was supposedly granted permission by the Pope in 1843 to be allowed to eat red meat on Good Friday and Filipinos being the meat loving people they are flock to Bantayan to enjoy their meat! Although not a festival and the town even promotes it as a religious celebration not a fiesta you can’t help but feel the party atmosphere with such large numbers of people. Recent years Holy Week has become quite tame compared to other years.
Bantayan Island celebrates the Palawood Festival on the last week of June. It cultivates the life of a fisherman through dance and music.
Bantayan Island Restaurants
Most of Bantayan’s restaurants are located on the one street of Santa Fe and are easy walking distance from each other, Tristan’s is only a short tricycle ride away. A number of the resorts in Bantayan have their own restaurant (Marlin Resort, Kota Beach Resort, Budyong Resort, Beach Placid, Anika, Hoyohoy Villas, Ogtong Cave, Santa Fe Beach Club, St Bernard, The Coral Blue Oriental Villas and Yooneek Beach Resort). The restaurants in town serve fresh seafood, local and international cuisine and the food is generally pretty decent and affordable. D’Jungle (serves buffet every Saturday night) has some good grills , Blue Ice has some good food, Coucou is a popular place with good food, pizzas and Asian Cuisine. Balikbayan Restaurant down the road a little has a healthier fruit and muesli breakfast option if you get tired of egg and bacon. Marisquera O’ Portuguese Bar and Restaurant (serves a buffet every Saturday night). Daddy Dok’s for some budget meals, Tristans has great pizzas, HR Bar as well as some local barbeque places.
Cebu to Bantayan
Bantayan Island can be reached by V-Hires (vans) or Bus from Cebu North Terminal (look for Hagnaya sign on the front of the bus) it takes 3 and a half hours travel time. You can catch air con (around 150 Peso) or regular buses (around 80 Peso) on the yellow Ceres bus liner. Taxi from Cebu City to Hagnaya you can get for around 2500 Peso depending on your bargaining skills! From Hagnaya take a ferry boat to Sta. Fe which will take about 45 minutes to cross (170 Peso). For ferry schedule Hagnaya to Bantayan Island check the Bantayan Government website. Coming back you may be able to catch a taxi (at Hagnaya port) that has dropped off passengers going to Bantayan at a much lower price be prepared to negotiate.
The name Bantayan is derived from the phrase “Bantayan sa Harì”, meaning Watchtower of the King (of Spain), referring to the many watchtowers built in the area during the early part of the Spanish occupation of the Philippines. They were strategically distributed around the island as defense against the attacks of seafaring marauders. Remnants of these stone structures can still be found today.