Bantayan Island: Resiliently Beautiful

Travelling. Long haul or a few days worth of just wandering. Why do I do it anyway?

I count my allowable number of days of vacation leaves; I ponder, then decide what to do. Search online, scour thru my ‘to-see’ list then my mind finally agrees with my soul and decides that I do deserve to go on a vacation.

A general sense of confusion, early morning flights, Metro Manila traffic going to the airport, the possibility of going thru obscure places and miscomprehensions of languages. I pack my bags and always confuse what to bring, subject myself to being searched and patted down at airport security. I pass thru security and I’ve boarded the plane. Once seated, sweaty, clueless as to what to do in the next hour or two. Eager on what will happen throughout the day.

Our ancestors are nomadic people who are always on the move, going through different conditions.  In their quest for greener pastures, vast lands and better source of food. Present day, most of us sit in front of our computers and glued in our cubicle. Mind numbingly on autopilot not knowing that 7-9 hours of the day had passed. Hopefully, you are doing a job you enjoy, to pay the bills, government contributions, taxes at the end of the month. Incessantly living the same routine for 5 days/week

I travel to break the norm, to refresh my soul and to regenerate my integrity to myself that I deserve to regain back my wits. Arriving in any destination, exhausted yet instantly rewarded with a sense of fulfillment. It is our human nature to defy the rule of monotony and to always be inquisitive with what is out there for us.

After my food binge in Cebu City and before I even attempt to cover the immensity of Cebu, I wanted to see Bantayan Island. I have been reading good reviews and recommendations from people that I know that the island is picturesque with powdery white sand and turquoise water.

The L-shaped Bantayan Island is composed of three towns namely, Sta. Fe, Bantayan and Madridejos. While Bantayan and Madridejos are known to be the centers of fishing and commerce in the island, Sta. Fe is the resort town.

 

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How to get to Bantayan Island ( via Cebu)

There is no easy way of getting to Bantayan Island, but the journey to this place will be rewarded by the magnetism of a tropical island.

 

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The Island has its own airfield but no commercial airline has flown to it since 2011. Mactan-Cebu International Airport will be your start-off point. Cebu City will be your gateway. From the Mactan Airport, go the Cebu North Terminal and catch buses going to the Hagnaya Port in the town of San Remigio.

 

CEBU CITY> HAGNAYA PORT> STA.FE BANTAYAN ISLAND

 

I recommend riding the Ceres Buses. It is cheap and can get you efficiently to the island. They brought new buses so relatively the ride going to the port will be comfortable and faster as compared to the last time I went to Bantayan.

  • 165-200php or 3.50USD– Air-con bus to Hagnaya Port
  • 140php or 8USD  – Non air-con bus to Hagnaya Port

Same fares for the return trip to Cebu City. These buses leave about every 30 minutes. Just jump on board. No need to buy a ticket ahead of time. The first trip starts as early as 4:00 AM and their last trip are at 5:00 PM daily.

 

Ceres Direct Bus – Cebu City North Bus Terminal to Bantayan Town

 

Ceres runs several buses a day that drives onto the ferry (RORO – Roll On Roll Off) and comes all the way here to Bantayan Island. Literally loading the bus to the ship.  The end stop is in Bantayan Municipality, but you can get off at the Santa Fe Port and take a tricycle to your resort.

The bus passes by downtown Santa Fe as well so you can get off anywhere along the way if you’re staying in the town center area.

Just let the conductor know when you want to stop and they’ll accommodate you.

Schedule as of May 2017:

 

cesres

 

The benefit to the direct bus is that you don’t have to lug your bags onto the ferry by hand or negotiate with porters if you have a lot of luggage.

Roro Tickets cost around 170PHP or 3.50 USD plus port of fee of 10php.

Contact Number for Valacar Transport (Ceres Buses): 032 345 8650

 

Where to Stay in Bantayan

The island is abundant in resorts and other accommodation options. Prices are reasonable. Below are my recommended places based on location, price, and feedbacks:

Mid-Range (Click titles for availability)

For budget travelers, Kota Beach Resort and Mayet’s Resort have budget fan room for as low as 600php or 12USD per night, both are strategically located along Sta. Fe Beach. Check out other Tripadvisor COMPLETE Bantayan Island listing.


 

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We stayed in Anika Resort. I highly recommend this place as their rooms are clean, mattresses are comfortable and prices for their rooms are quite sensible. Per room can accommodate up to 3-4 people, but you have to check their 2017 current policy for occupancy.

 

The Experience

Arriving at Bantayan, going thru the vast port you smell the cleanliness of the ocean, the sun basking over you but you won’t mind the heat because it’s gorgeous rays compliments the azure water. From the port, you can immediately see the wide stretch of fine white sand that glistens as you get closer. The exhaustion from the travel went away as the island’s beauty immediately welcomed me with its open arms and my heart jolted with excitement. I had fallen in love instantaneously.

 

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Powder like sand of Bantayan Island

Where to Eat

The island is abundant in fresh, very cheap seafood. Think about being able to buy a kilo of crabs for just 160php (3USD), bags of grilled scallops less than 100php (2USD)

 

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Grilled Scallops sold by vendors for just 100php (3 full bags)

 

I like the laid-back lifestyle in the island. Well, all islands are pretty laid back, but what sets Bantayan apart is that commerce is pretty strong. If you go around its municipality you can see various shops, micro public markets and restaurants. Considered as Cebu’s fishing ground from where boatloads of fish – guinamos (salted fish) and buwad (dried fish). I highly recommend that you go and check out the Bantayan Island Public Market to witness the abundance of seafood and if you are also buying dangit you can get them at a cheaper price and with many variants.

 

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There are times where we eat at Anika’s restaurant. They serve good food, but a little.expensive as the prices on their menu are intended of course for tourist, Nevertheless, their food is good and still gives value to what we pay for.

 

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Anika’s restaurant
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Anika’s restaurant

 

Locals randomly walk pass by the resort and offer ‘Paluto’ (buy your ingredients then they’ll cook and serve any viands for you) with a minimal service fee. My friends and I discovered the public market because of Ate Marlyn one of the locals who offered to cook our meal the following day and serve it in her home which is a pretty good deal because her place is right at the beachfront and she only charged us 200php for cooking 4-5 dishes. There was so much food that we were able to share our lunch with her whole family.

 

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They also sell these deadly Blowfish in the market

 

After having the perfect lunch you are permitted to be in daze and be lazy all afternoon

 

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Bantayan has a pretty strong restaurant scene as well. Here are a few recommendations for you;

  • Bantayan Burrito Company
  • Caffe Del Mare
  • Shake Me
  • Ale Pasta
  • HR Native Restaurant
  • Bavarian Beer Garden

 

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Bavaraian Beer Garden

 

I highly recommend HR Restaurant as they have massive servings that are relatively cheap without compromising the integrity of ingredients. Bavarian Beer Garden, go here for their generous serving of sausages and imported german beers.

 

What to do

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Explore Bantayan Town on a Bike

Go around the town by riding a bicycle. There are many surplus bikes from Japan that are for rent. They are randomly being offered at the sidestreet or you may just ask your resort front desk and they’ll arrange it for you.

 

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150php-200 PHP (3-4 USD) 24 hours bike  rental

 

You shouldn’t worry about safety since the town is pretty laid-back and you will rarely see big cars/vehicles along the road but still be cautious. Mostly the route is on a flat road, with some uphill and downhill part.

After taking the 11-km bike ride, you can now explore Bantayan Downtown, home of Cebu’s oldest Parish Church – Saints Peter and Paul Church. You can have a walk at the town plaza, seeing some well-preserved houses designed during the Spanish colonization. The Bantayan Public Market is also a walking distance from the area.

 

church
from TrekEarth

 

After going around the surrounding town and market. Bike to Ogtong Cave Resort. The resort landscape is pretty basic and the only thing that makes it special is the underground cavern. It can get pretty crowded with tourist though, as for me personally, it is okay to miss this location.  There are a number of caves in Bantayan. The one in Brgy. Atop-Atop was a favorite hangout place of the guerillas during the Wold War II.

 

Island Hop and Snorkel 

Rent a boat for 1,200php (20USD) to go to Virgin Island. Along Sta. Fe just walk around and approach any boatman and they’d offer you to take you island hopping. Virgin island has white powdery sand and the best thing about that place is along the shore there are plenty of fish. ou don’t even need to go out and snorkel. Just stay still and the fishes will come to you. If you’re afraid to go out to the deep, this is the place for you.

 

Pause and Enjoy.

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Going back to why we travel. It is basically pausing for a few days and being in a conscious state that you are at a place like Bantayan to reward yourself with serenity.

The island is kind. It’s turquoise blue water, the curtain of silk sky perfectly casting shadows as it sways you to your perfect naps during the afternoons. The water is always calm with gentle waves rolling onto the shore making soothing sounds. You can smell the salt, and the gentle wind kisses your skin as you affirm to yourself that you are actually having a perfect day. Peaceful and you are centered.

 

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A couple of things struck me in Bantayan Island and its people. Its beauty and spirit are resilient. It was one of the heavily damaged islands during Yolanda. Hundreds were left dead, farms were destroyed and everything cut off. But it fought it’s way back to life. It fought back so hard that when you visit them this day you will see how well it was re-built. How its people manage to move forward. I witnessed how children in Bantayan are the happiest. They live a very simple life, yet abundant. We travel to search for inspiration from the people that we interact with along the way. To be put in situations that don’t make sense, to push our minds to think beyond our daily routine, to learn, and ultimately become awake from our daze. Traveling grounds us and gives us awe with the world that we live in. I will keep coming back to Bantayan Island as it reminds me that life does not need to be complicated. That traveling to a place like Bantayan instantly resets my clouded mind and re-humanize me as a person.

 


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