I have been to Cebu several times. And as I have said, it seems that it never runs out of beautiful attractions to offer to visitors. That’s perhaps the reason why I keep coming back.
Just this year, in July, I visited the island province again but this time, I went to North Cebu. My itinerary included Bantayan and Carnaza Islands. I visited the latter first and jezz, I fell in love with its beauty.
Because I so much enjoyed Carnaza – known to be Cebu’s turtle-shaped island paradise – I had a second thought visiting Bantayan Island. In other words, Carnaza delivered more than what I expected and so, it was just okay if I could not go to Bantayan. After all, both islands might just feature similar attractions – beaches, beautiful landscapes.
But I went to Bantayan anyway, realizing that I would waste three days of my leave credits doing nothing.
So glad I did.
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Bantayan Island in a nutshell
Bantayan Island is a group of islands located in the Visayan Sea in the Philippines. It is situated west of the northern tip of Cebu Province and can be reached via ferry ride at Hagnaya Port in the Municipality of San Remigio.
The whole Bantayan Island has a total land area of 108 km^2 and is administratively divided into 3 municipalities, namely: Santa Fe, Bantayan, and Madridejos.
As per 2015 census data, Bantayan has a total population of 120,447 and the main sources of income are fishing and now, with the rise of popularity of the island as a nice travel destination, tourism.
Places to visit in Bantayan
Bantayan gave me a pleasant surprise. Yes, I was expecting white-sand beaches but it gave me more – despite the fact that I was able to explore only the municipality of Santa Fe.
If you are visiting Bantayan Island one of these days, here are some spots I recommend:
Oboob Magrove Garden (50 pesos entrance fee)
A place where visitors can enjoy a dense plantation of mangroves of different varieties. This 120-hectare mangrove forest is also a home to different species of birds, which is why you will notice the sweet chirping of birds the moment you enter the place.
Climbing up the bamboo towers provides a bird’s eye view of the plantation and the expanse of the Visayan sea. It also features different activities, including kayaking, fish feeding.
There is also enough huts inside the park where you can relax and enjoy the fresh air after your fun activities.
And, I should not forget to mention that the place was also used as one of the filming locations for some scenes of the hit movie Camp Sawi.
Definitely, Oboob Mangrove Forest is a place not to miss when visiting Bantayan Island.
The cliff-diving area (free)
The breathtaking landscape, rock formations, and the alluring crystal clear waters at this diving site (when high tide) are some of the reasons why you should not miss visiting the place. It is an open space, no entrance fee, so it is quite accessible to anyone.
The area also features an old, dilapidated structure they call “the ruins,” which is also a favorite tourist spot most especially to those who are into photography.
Sandira Beach (50 pesos entrance fee)
As I have said, Bantayan Island has long stretch of white-sand beaches that you can enjoy for free – even if you visit only the Municipality of Santa Fe. But there are compelling reasons why you should visit Sandira Beach. For one, it is pretty a secluded place; few people visit there particularly in the early morning. You get to enjoy the beach as if it is all yours. Second, the beach is well maintained, which makes the area comparable to world-class beach resorts. And third, you cannot find (as of this writing) man-made structures in the area (except for a few huts), which makes the landscape even more breathtaking.
Visiting Virgin Island usually is included in an island hopping tour. The place is another beautiful island destination, with its sparkling white-sand beaches, diving platforms, rock formations, among others. However, they charge visitors 500 pesos each for a day tour. If you find that pretty expensive, you may consider other alternatives.
Another island that is usually included in an island hopping tour. Unlike the Virgin Island, you can enjoy Hilantagaan’s beaches for free – no entrance fee, no docking fee. Plus, you get to enjoy interacting with locals on the island.
I am not sure whether or not it is its official name because up until this writing, I can’t seem to find such a name online. My boatman just recommended “coral garden” to me and off we went. One thing is for sure, the place is another beautiful destination that you should not miss. There, you can see lots of corals and colorful varieties of fish. It is best to go there in the morning when the sun is bright as it makes underwater creatures even more colorful and lively.
Beaches near Kota Beach Resort and Budyong Resort
If you are dying to see white sandbars, there is no other place in Bantayan that I recommend but the beaches near Kota Beach Resort and Budyong Beach Resort – these resorts are located next to each other. In this area, you can enjoy the long stretch of beach without having to leave Santa Fe; it is just a kilometer or so from the port.
You will be surprised (as I was) to know that visiting Bantayan Island isn’t just about beaches and island hopping. You can get to experience a great night with drinks and good music as well. You can do that when you visit MJ Square – a place where you can find a chain of restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, souvenir stores, among others. Truly, your visit to the island would not be complete without going to this place.
Other spots you might want to consider:
- Ogtong Cave (Php 200 per person entrance fee)
- Paradise Beach (Php 50 per person entrance fee)
Where to stay in Bantayan Island
There should be no problem when finding accommodation in Bantayan as there are plenty of them on the island. From a budget hostel, backpackers’ accommodations to high-end resorts. Some of the most popular include:
Kota Beach Resort (Check current rates)
Anika Island Resort (Check current rates)
La Playa Estrella Beach Resort (Check current rates)
Here are other top accommodation recommendations in Bantayan Island.
Where to eat
If you are staying at a beach resort, chances are, that resort also offers a variety of menu items; in fact, many resorts also have their restaurants. But if you want other options, just go to MJ Square where you can find, as I have said, lots of restaurants there offering a variety of delectable menu – seafood, barbecue, and even foreign dishes.
It is worth mentioning as well that MJ Square is located near a public market so it is accessible. Plus, you can find cheaper options at the market as well, most especially during day time
Truly, a night at MJ Square can give you the festive Boracay feels.
How to get there (via Cebu City)
From Mactan-Cebu Airport, head to the North Bus Terminal (the most convenient yet economical is to hop on a MyBus, which you can easily find near the domestic arrival area, and alight at SM City Cebu (fare is 40 pesos). From there, you can either ride a jeepney (8 pesos) or take a taxi (should not be more than 100 pesos) to bring you to the NBT)
From NBT, hop on a bus bound for Hagnaya Port (fare is around 180 pesos)
From Hagnaya Port, take a ferry ride to Santa Fe port (fare is around 180 pesos)
At Santa Fe port, you can find habal-habal or a tricycle to ferry you to your accommodation (fare is 20 pesos per head)
You are there; if you stay near a beach, you can just explore the stretch of beaches on foot.
Sample Budget (Solo Traveler)
|Mactan-Cebu Int’l Airport to SM Cebu and back (MyBus fare)||40 x 2 = Php 80|
|SM Cebu to North Bus Terminal (taxi)||Php 80|
|North Bus Terminal to Hagnaya Port and back (bus); note: bus can drop you off at SM from Hagnaya Port (just ask the conductor)||180 x 2 = Php 360|
|Hagnaya Port to Santa Fe Port and back (Ferry)||185 x 2 = Php 370|
|Terminal Fee |
(Hagnaya Port + Santa Fe Port)
|10 + 10 = Php 20|
|Budget Accommodation (2 days)||Php 1,200|
|Entrance Fees (Oboob Mangrove + Sandira Beach)||50 + 50 = Php 100|
|Food for 2 days (including snacks, water)||Php 600|
|One day motorbike rental||Php 200|
|Island Hopping (day tour)||Php 700|
|Inland Tour (Destination: Oboob Mangrove, Sandira Beach, Cliff-diving site, Kota Beach)||Php 150|
Useful tips when traveling to Bantayan Island
- Stay in the Santa Fe area as it is where most tourist activities are happening; it provides you easy access to top attractions in the island; plus, it is near the port.
- If you intend to roam around and venture further inland, I would recommend that you rent a scooter (if you know how to drive) as it is a lot cheaper and convenient. You can rent it at 200 per day.
- If you do not want to drive on your own, take an inland tour. You can find a tricycle driver near the public market of Santa Fe who is willing to tour you around. You can get as cheap as 150 pesos for a 3-hour tour. In my case, I negotiated a driver to take me to Obo-ob Mangrove Forest, Sandira Beach, Cliff-diving site, and Kota Beach for only 150 pesos, but he was more than willing to tour me around and, in fact, he became my photographer of the day, so I gave him 300 instead for about 3 hours of touring around.
- Don’t forget your travel essentials – from drinking water to sunblock to headache meds. The tap water on the island, particularly near the beach, isn’t drinkable as it is a bit salty. Also, as you get to be exposed to fun activities under the sun, make sure your skin is well-protected.
- The island is beautiful; help keep it as it is by making it sure you manage your trash responsibly. If you can’t take them back with you as you leave the island, at least, you ensure its proper disposal.
- You can eat delicious food without spending too much; just take a stroll in the neighborhood and you can find delicious treats at a corner of the street at way cheaper prices. Plus, you get a chance to interact with friendly locals.
Here are some more photos to give you a glimpse of what Bantayan Island has to offer.