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The Beach Bummer’s Guide to Bantayan Island (Cebu)

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If there’s one thing Bantayan Island is famous for, it’s white-sand beaches. People visit here so they can experience the best tropical experience in the province of Cebu. In return, Bantayan Island has something to offer for everyone: for millennials, Instagram-worthy backdrops and “hugot” corners such that in Camp Sawi; for the quiet or older people, beach resorts that offer relaxation; and for families, family-friendly amenities and tours.

Here’s a complete travel guide to Bantayan Island, Cebu!

Overview of Bantayan Island

Bantayan Island is an island in the northern part of Cebu province. It’s divided into 3 municipalities: Bantayan, Madridejos, and Santa Fe.

Bantayan is located in the central area, and it’s where the local population is concentrated. Madridedjos is a fishing village. Sta. Fe is the gateway to Bantayan Island. It’s known for its white-sand beaches, and it’s basically the tourism hotspot as most beach resorts are located here.

Our experience

I went here for 2 days with a friend (Joemar of Lakwatserong Irigenyo) and then went for another 3 days in Malapascua.

If there’s one tip I can tell you, it’s to stay for a few days! I really loved the relaxing ambiance in the island, especially in our accommodation in Kota Beach Resort. I also liked that the restaurants are walking distance from each other and there’s plenty of choices, so if you want to eat your heart out or have a little drink after a day of touring, you can do so. It actually reminded me a bit of Koh Lipe in Thailand.

Beach in Bantayan Island, Cebu
One of the white-sand beaches in Bantayan Island.

Kat in Kota Beach in Bantayan Island, Cebu

 

Overall, this is a great place to visit in Cebu especially if you want to de-stress and unwind. It’s a bit far from Cebu City, but once here you can choose to pamper yourself with a beachfront cottage, eat fresh seafood (unlimited scallops), enjoy drinks at night and get a room-service massage before retiring to bed.

Kat in Bantayan Island, Cebu

How to get here

From Cebu City, it takes 5-6 hours to reach Bantayan Island. The easiest gateway is via Cebu City.

  • Take a local flight to Mactan Airport (Cebu).
  • From the airport, take a MyBus to the North Bus Terminal. Schedules are 7AM to 11AM (departs every 30 min) and 11AM to 9:30PM (departs every 20 min). Fare is P25 per person. You can also get a Grab or taxi.
  • From the North Bus Terminal, ride a bus to Hagnaya Port (3-4 hours, P225 per person).
  • From Hagnaya Port, ride a ferry to Sta. Fe Port in Bantayan Island (1.5-2 hours, P185 per person + terminal fee P10). First trip is 2AM and last trip is 5 or 6PM daily.

Upon arrival at Sta. Fe Port, walk towards the tourism office. Pay the ecological fee (P30 fee per person), which you will have to present during island hopping.

There are also Ceres Liner buses that go directly from North Bus Terminal and through the ferry to Bantayan Island (same bus and ferry fares applies). This is ideal for those with lots of luggages, as you won’t have to transfer from the bus to the ferry. Earliest trip is 4AM and last trip is 11:45PM.

How to get around

From the port, there are tricycles waiting to take you to your accommodation (P20 or above per person). Some resorts also offer free shuttle pickup.

Once at the town proper, you will find that a lot of beach resorts, restaurants and establishments in Bantayan Island are walking distance from each other. You can also ride a tricycle for P10-15 per person, depending on the distance.

When to visit

The best time to visit Bantayan Island is during habagat season (November to April), when the weather is generally good and the water is clearer.

Peak season is during the summer months (April-May), particularly during the Holy Week.

Tours in Bantayan Island

Mangrove Park in Bantayan Island, Cebu
Mangrove Park aka Camp Sawi.

You don’t have to pre-book tours in Bantayan Island. Once you arrive at the port, there are tricycle drivers offering you land tour and/or island hopping tour. Resorts can also connect you with their recommended local tour operators.

For other activities, read our list of top things to do in Bantayan Island.

Land Tour

You can charter a tricycle or rent a motorcycle/bike to get around the island. A tour can take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours, depending on your pace.

Here are the places you can visit:

1. Butterfly Garden

A small garden with botanical plants and various species of butterflies. You will be taken to a holding cage where you can interact with the butterflies themselves. The place is small and the tour is short, usually just a few minutes. I love the idea of a butterfly sanctuary, but I advise you not to expect much.

Entrance fee is P50 per person.

2. Paradise Beach

Also called Sandira Beach. It is oftentimes uncrowded. Entrance fee is P50 per person.

3. Paradiso Campsite

This campsite is a favorite particularly among foreigners. It has a quiet beach where you can spend an afternoon at. This is also where you can find the Instagram-favorite spot featuring a bamboo stairs leading straight to the beach. During our visit though (November 2019), the bamboo stairs was already gone and hasn’t been reconstructed yet.

Entrance fee is P50 per person.

Paradiso Campsite in Bantayan Island, Cebu
Paradiso Campsite.

4. German Ruins

The ruins is an unfinished building filled with vandals. This is a popular Instagram-spot in Bantayan Island. There is also a cliff-jumping spot here. A stair leads to a small beach cove below.

German ruins in Bantayan Island, Cebu
German Ruins.

5. Ogtong Cave

A natural cave pool found within the the Ogtong Cave Resort. This is undoubtedly our favorite stop in our Bantayan land tour. The water inside the pool was cool (not cold) and refreshing. We spent 1-2 hours here and didn’t even notice the time. Aside from the cave pool, there is also a swimming pool and beach in the resort you can access.

Bring your own towel and change of clothes. The resort is open for day tours from 8AM to 5PM. Entrance fee is P200 per person.

Ogtong Cave Resort in Bantayan Island, Cebu
Ogtong Cave Resort.
Ogtong Cave in Bantayan Island, Cebu
Refreshing dip in Ogtong Cave.

6. Omagieca Obo-ob Mangrove Garden

A large mangrove sanctuary, ideal for nature lovers. You can walk across a bamboo path to explore the huge area, climb the tower for an overlooking view, and take a rest in various cottages. Kayaking and boating activities are also available (P150 and P350, respectively). This is also where you can find Camp Sawi signage, an obligatory photo location in Bantayan Island. There is also Camp Wagi, for those who do not like unnecessary drama.

The best time to visit here is during high tide. Entrance fee is P50 per person.

Mangrove Park in Bantayan Island, Cebu
Mangrove Park.

Other places to see:

These are normally not included in a land tour, unless requested.

  • Kota Park. Kota was once a fort built in the 1790s (kota means “fort”). It has since been turned into a park that people can enjoy. The main features of Kota Park are the old fort and a 187-meter-long footbridge on the shoreline.
  • Saints Peter and Paul Church. Built in 1580, this is considered the oldest parish church in Visayas and Mindanao.
  • Other beaches. Aside from those mentioned above, there are other beaches you can visit in Bantayan Island including Kota Beach, Alice Beach, Sugar Beach and Maricaban Beach.
  • Guiwanon Ocean Park. This is a great place to experience underwater life. You can rent glass-bottomed boats and observe corals and fishes underneath the water. Rate is P300 per person.

Island Hopping Tour

From Bantayan Island, you can island hop to Hilantagaan Island and Virgin Island. You may also ask to visit Galingan Island, an off-beaten island behind Hilantagaan Island. There are other islands accessible via Bantayan Island but are too far to include in an island hopping tour.

1. Hilantagaan Island

Hilantagaan Island is a residential island. Across it is a marine sanctuary where you can snorkel. The marine sanctuary is wide enough so that even if there are several tourist boats in the area, you don’t have to worry about bumping against each other.

We stopped here for about an hour to snorkel. I noticed that the corals here have turned brown, similar to other places in Cebu. However, there are still areas much alive with schools of fishes swimming in between the corals.

Snorkeling in Hilantaagan Island
Snorkeling in Hilantaagan Island.

Snorkeling in Hilantaagan Island

2. Virgin Island

Virgin Island is a private island resort. The island isn’t virginal per se — it’s a developed resort with cottages, rooms for overnight accommodations and a restaurant. There are also activities offered in the island for a fee.

Virgin Island is famous for its white-sand beachfront. It also features bamboo pathways that lead to Instagram-worthy corners. At the end of the island is a bamboo tower where it’s possible to cliff jump at 40 feet high.

Although it’s a popular spot for island hopping, during off-peak season this is a wonderful place to stay.

Virgin Island in Bantayan, Cebu
Virgin Island.
Beach in Virgin Island in Bantayan, Cebu
Main beach in Virgin Island.

I didn’t read up on Virgin Island before our trip so I was surprised to see it developed. That saying, I love that it kept its charm thru its native-designed cottages and seashell curtains. I also like the beach — we were amazed at the schools of striped fishes just gliding along near the shore and I regretted not bringing my snorkel along.

Where to eat

There are lots of restaurants in Sta. Fe town proper which offer local and international dishes including American, Thai, Japanese and Korean. A lot of these are walking distance from each other, so you can easily choose where to eat.

A popular food place is MJ Square, a one-stop food park where you can find various type of restaurants and bars. Here you can find Panyang Restaurant, a local favorite which offers buffet (regular buffet P150 per person, seafood buffet P299 per person). We have not tried it, but it gets mixed reviews — so basically what we understand is that it’s sulit, but again you get what you pay for. As for my personal recommendation, I like the Bantayan Burrito Company, which offers delicious burrito and rum cola.

MJ Square in Bantayan Island, Cebu
MJ Square.

Everyday Sunday Cafe is a good option if you’re looking for something healthy — or let’s admit it — Instagram-worthy. This breakfast cafe offers smoothie bowls for P250 each. Ingredients are based on available fruits for the day.

Where to eat in Bantayan Island: Everyday Sunday Cafe
Enjoying a smoothie bowl at Everyday Sunday Cafe.
Smoothie bowls in Everyday Sunday Cafe in Bantayan, Cebu
Mango and banana smoothies.

If you are on a budget, there are also a lot of cheap eats and ihaw-ihaw stalls in Bantayan Island. There are also vendors selling cooked crabs and scallops in budget prices.

Where to stay

It’s easy to find an accommodation in Bantayan Island as there are numerous lodgings and beach resorts here. There are budget accommodations that start at P500-600 and mid-range ones at P1000 above.

Kota Beach Resort

Beachfront in Kota Beach Resort
Beachfront in Kota Beach Resort.

We stayed in Kota Beach Resort. This is the most recommended beach resort in Bantayan Island, as it has a beautiful beachfront and is close to a sandbar. It has its own restaurant. Read about our stay at Kota Beach Resort.

Rates start at P2300 for a standard room good for 2 people. Beachfront cottages start at P4000 above. Book discounted rooms here.

Others

Here are other recommended resorts in Bantayan Island:

  • Annika Beach Resort. A highly rated family-friendly resort in Bantayan Island. Book discounted rooms here.
  • Bantayan Island Nature Park and Resort. This resort is located in an 8-hectare property which comes with gardens, mini zoo and small caves including the largest cave pool in the island. A beach is accessible via stairway. This resort promotes sustainability. Book discounted rooms here.
  • Jelly’s Haven Resort. A newly built resort with its own beachfront. It has recreational amenities including boats for tours and fitness center. Book discounted rooms here.

Looking for other resorts? Click here to book discounted resorts in Bantayan Island.

3 Days itinerary in Bantayan Island

Here’s a sample 3-day itinerary in Bantayan Island.

Day 1
Travel from Cebu City to Bantayan Island
Check in at accommodation
Free time

Day 2
8AM – 11AM Land tour
12PM – 4PM Island hopping

Day 3
Beach bum at Kota Beach
12PM Check out of accommodation

Most people visit Bantayan Island for a day tour, but I recommend at least 2-3 days or longer so you can enjoy it better. I also suggest leaving Cebu City as early as possible since the island is a few hours away.

Budget and expenses

Here are the current tour rates (updated as of November 2019).

Land tour

There are no standard rates for the land tour.

  • Tricycle tour: P500 (good up to 3-4 pax). Adding the optional stops (Kota Park, church, and others) may require additional fee.

Motorcycles and bicycles are also available in most resorts and hotels.

  • Motorcycle rental: P300-350 per day
  • Bicycles: P150 per day

Either is a good option if you want to explore the island at your own place and visit other attractions without paying more. Though if you’re a regular tourist like me, I recommend getting a tricycle tour instead as it’s more comfortable and there is little difference in price. (Also, you’ll be helping the local drivers in the island.)

Island hopping tour

There are no standard rates for island hopping.

  • Boat rental: P1000 good up to 2 pax, additional P100 per pax
  • Virgin Island: Entrance fee is P500 for first 2 pax, additional fee per pax

Lifevest is provided. Snorkel set are free, but make sure to advise your boat operator in advance if you will require one as sometimes they do not bring them.

Estimated budget

For a 3-day stay, for 2 people, a safe budget would be P5000 per person (including transportation, accommodation, meals and tours).

Reminders and tips

Here are some things to note before you go:

  • As Bantayan Island is located a few hours away from Cebu City, make sure to adjust your itinerary accordingly.
  • There are ATMs in the island. Some establishments also accept major credit cards.
  • There is strong mobile signal in the island.
  • For tours, don’t forget to tip your local guides!
  • Most of the road outside the town proper in Bantayan Island are rough roads, so prepare for a slightly bumpy ride.
  • Take advantage of the cheap scallops in Bantayan Island. You can buy fresh ones in the market for cooking. There are also vendors walking along the resorts selling cooked ones with vinegar sauce. We bought a heavy plastic for only P100.

Festivals and Special Events

These are the festivals in Bantayan Island. Fishing is the main livelihood, so it’s reflected in local celebrations.

  • Palawod Festival. Palawod is a Cebuano word meaning “to go out to sea.” Palawod Festival is one of the most colorful celebrations in Cebu. It pays homage to the daily life of fishermen inthe island. Enjoy streetdancing and lots of food. Held every June 29.
  • Isda Festival. A thanksgiving to the abundant marine life in the island. It’s celebrated in line iwth the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Enjoy an ocean-themed parade. Held every December 8.
  • Kinhason Festival. This is celebrated during the feast of St. Sto. Nino, the patron saint of Sta. Fe. Enjoy a parade similar to Sinulog Festival, but with dancers wearing “kinhason” or sea shell. Held every January 15-16.

 

From Bantayan Island, we rode a boat direct to Malapascua.

 

Has this guide to Bantayan Island in Cebu been helpful to you? If you have any questions or suggestions, let me know in the comments section below!

 

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