Bantayan Island, the Laid-Back Side of Cebu

At the rocky mountain at the Spanish fort (Photo by Excel Dyquiangco)

At the rocky mountain at the Spanish fort (Photo by Excel Dyquiangco)

Cebu has on one side its historical and glamorous landscapes where monuments and shrines such as the Magellan’s Cross stand and where people flock to shop in colossal malls. On the other side are its famed beaches and sunsets where tourists come to swim, relax and lie underneath a grove of coconut trees.

As this was my first time in Cebu, I decided to explore the side less traveled, a celebrated spot known as Bantayan Island. A butterfly-shaped island, Bantayan is composed of three towns Bantayan, Madridejos and Santa Fe. It is also known as a commercial fishing port that takes pride in the buwad (dried fish) and the guinamos (salted fish), which are transported daily to Negros and Cebu for consumption or to sell in Metro Manila and some parts of Luzon. There are also other industries on the island such as poultry, in which thousands upon thousands of eggs are produced.

The City of Bantayan

Just a couple of hours away from Cebu City by car and boat, Bantayan Island is a peaceful and serene locale. But unlike most islands in the middle of the sea where only a few facilities are located, Bantayan seems complete with all the amenities of comfortable living: resorts, restaurants, vendors, stores. In fact, the road to Bantayan plaza is lined with rows of houses; and bicycles and jeepneys ply the route. The plaza hosts restaurants that offer buffets and foreign and local dishes, a wet market, e-loading centers, bakeries and even an ice cream shop named Le Petit Bonheur where you can taste a variety of ice cream.

Given that, my friends and I decided to eat first, aware of this slew of restaurants. We stopped by a Portuguese restaurant that serves – what else – Portuguese dishes. But curiously, they don’t offer fruits for dessert. I asked why, but the servers couldn’t give me a definite answer. Anyway, the next best thing when you want to taste something sweet is the ice cream parlor next door.

We decided to stay at Beach Placid Resort which boasts the longest and the best stretch of beach along Alice Beach, just one of the many in Bantayan. Truly when low tide starts, the sandy shore goes all the way out to what seems to be the middle of the sea. Aside from the daily activities such as the videoke sessions in the resort, you can also ride around town by renting a bicycle for around P40 ($1) the whole day. 

Bantayan seems complete with all the amenities of comfortable living: resorts, restaurants, vendors, stores.

A Different Kind of Nature

Northeast of Santa Fe, one of Bantayan Island’s municipalities and just less than an hour away from the plaza, lies a smaller island known as Virgin Island. This one indeed has a breathtaking view of powdery white sand beaches and a long stretch of sand that extends to a cove at the deepest corner of the island. Virgin Island also provides huts for rest and relaxation and a public grilling place where you can cook your meals. We spent a considerable time out here, snorkeling, swimming and just picnicking with friends. I also lay in someone’s hammock for a few minutes while others went somewhere else.

At Beach Placid Resort (Photo by Excel Dyquianco)

At Beach Placid Resort (Photo by Excel Dyquianco)

Picnicking at Virgin Island (Photo by Excel Dyquianco)

Picnicking at Virgin Island (Photo by Excel Dyquianco)

Another spot that I found interesting is the Mangrove Farm, which offers excellent information about the different kinds of mangroves. In fact, there are signs in strategic locations that tell you what kind of mangrove is to be found there. To do this, we went through a walkway made of bamboo, which goes around in circles, in the middle of which lies a small hut for those with aching feet, good enough for 15 people to relax in.

The walkway to the Mangrove Farm (Photo by Excel Dyquiangco)

The walkway to the Mangrove Farm (Photo by Excel Dyquiangco)

Other places not to be missed are the 400-year-old Bantayan church, the Saints Peter and Paul Parish Church made of stones and corals prevalent in the island. This is considered to be the first seat of parishes in the Visayas and Mindanao regions and was built in 1863. The architecture is well preserved, making the church a truly great site for spiritual activities.

In another part of the remote island is what used to be a Spanish fort but now a mass of ruin, just a couple of minutes drive from Beach Placid. The Visayan Sea laps at the boulders and a hundred feet below. 

Getting to Bantayan Island

From Metro Manila, take a flight to Cebu, or if you are an international traveler, you can just take a direct flight to the province. Once there you can take a taxi or a bus or rent a van to get to the Hagnaya Port in the town of San Remigio, which is north of Cebu, the jump-off point for Bantayan Island. If you are a group of ten or more, renting a van is the most economical way since it would only cost you between P3,000-P5,000 ($67 to $112) which comes out to a cheap share per person. Land travel is around two hours.

When you reach Hagnaya port, take the ferry that leaves for Sta Fe, Bantayan Island starting 4 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Rates is P180 ($4) including terminal fee. If you are a student, just show them your ID and you need only to pay P140 ($3). Travel time is an hour and a half. 

Excel Dyquiangco

Excel Dyquiangco

Excel V. Dyquiangco describes himself as a "dreamer, an adventurer and a mentor." Between working free-lance for magazines and surfing the Internet, he inspires, encourages and builds “passion for some people who have lost theirs along the way.”

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