Quiet and remote Bantayan is an island located north of Cebu, famous for its amazing white sand beaches and its waves, making it a kite-surfing paradise. The island is starting to get some attention from international tourists but it’s still a pretty laid back island with a fishermen vibe attached to it. It’s the perfect place to relax on the beach for a couple of days and enjoy the sun. The locals are really friendly and always happy to see foreigners.
Santa Fe is definitively the most crowded town on the island in terms of tourists. If you want a more secluded area, there are some resorts farther along the coast. In town, you’ll find western food and a couple of bars. The Italian restaurant is a nice place to have a drink, they often have live music. La Playa Estrella also offers live music every Friday on the beach.
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What to do in Bantayan:
The best way to explore the island is to rent a motorbike or to hire a tricycle for the day. You can find motorbikes for 300 pesos a day, don’t forget to ask for a helmet and don’t rent a scooter if you intend to drive on the small roads, ask for a proper motorbike. If you really want to enjoy and discover the island, plan to rent the motorbike for at least two days, three is better.
Here are the main attractions on the island:
1 – Kota Beach
The nicest and busiest beach in Santa Fe, perfect for watching the sunset.
2 – Ogtong Cave Resort
This privately owned cave is located in the resort of the same name. You can swim there, the pool is not really deep, almost at ground level. You’ll have to pay a 200 pesos entrance fee to visit the cave, which is nice but probably not worth that much. For the price, you also have access to the pool and the sunbeds, so it’s ok if you’re planning on spending the day here.
3- The cliffs
Continuing west after Ogtong Cave, you’ll see the cliffs with crystal clear water, you can jump from most places, just ask locals first because some parts are not deep enough. About midway there’s an amazing beach hidden between the rocks. It’s not known by tourists so there’s no one there apart from some locals. The beach is a bit hard to spot, the access way is in front of the pizzeria, you’ll see a sign asking to leave the place clean, it’s right down there.
4- Paradise beach
The most famous beach in Bantayan, Paradise beach is a picture-perfect beach: crystal clear water and thin white sand. There’s a reef nearby so bring your snorkeling gear (they also rent it there). Bring plenty of water and snacks, there’s nothing nearby. The only down point for me is the lack of shadow, it can get pretty hot.
5 – Obo-Ob Marine Sanctuary
This sanctuary offers canopy walks through the mangrove. It’s owned by the community so everyone benefits from the activity there. You’ll find mangrove in many places along the coast. This area is protected and fishing is forbidden. It’s a good opportunity to see birds but you’ll have to wake up early or come after 4 pm and of course be patient.
6 – Saints Peter and Paul Parish Church
Located in Bantayan city, Saints Peter and Paul Parish Church is the oldest church on the island. Built in 1580 by the Spaniards, the edifice is well preserved and worth a quick stop in the city.
There’s a tourist office across the church, they are pretty useless. There’s a big map of the island there with the point of interests, I checked some of them out and I’m still trying to understand what’s interesting there so I’d say it’s not really reliable.
7 – Kabangbang Village
Around here, you are entering an area where tourists never venture so prepare to be stared at curiously. Kanbangbang is a traditional fisherman village, people are really welcoming and will want to talk to you. The beach here has potential but is just really disgusting with trash. It’s still a nice place to visit if you want to take a peek at local life. The best time to go is early morning when all the fishermen come back from the sea bringing all the fishes.
From Bantayan, you’ll have to follow the highway to reach the village, don’t try to follow the coast, the roads are really bad, after Kabangbang, you can follow the coast going north.
8 – The Spanish Fort
Located in Kota Park, in Madridejos, this Fort was built in 1780 by the Spaniards. It’s pretty small compared to what I expected but it’s well preserved and full of flowers, there’s also a haunted tree right on top of the entrance gate.
9 – Tibaya or Langob Cave
Located in Atop-Atop, you’ll need to ask around to find the cave, the road is bad so you’ll have to have a good motorbike or go on foot. They open it when they feel like it, so ask first if it’s open. The cave is home to many bats and a source of water for the village, the stream is really clear and you can swim there.
10 – Lalio’s Cave
This cave is definitively off the beaten path, I had never heard of it and just saw the sign while driving and decided to stop by. It’s an underwater pool located in Tamiao. The cave is big, and you can really swim there.
To get there, just follow the sign then stop at the last house, you’ll have to continue on foot through the plantations, always turn right, toward the sea. The trek is about 15 minutes, the cave is not always open so try to ask in the village before going. There are also two nice beaches near the cave, you’ll just have to hike a bit. Both are pretty clean with just a bit of seaweeds.
11- Bantayan Island Nature Park and Resort
This resort is worth staying the day, especially because the entrance fee is 200 pesos. They have a nice cave with an underground pool, an infinity pool, a nice beach, cliffs you can jump from and water activities. They also have a spa if you feel like getting pampered.
12 – Montemar Beach
This resort is really quiet, located in a secluded part of the island, the beach is nice and is cleaned regularly. If you really want to have the beach for yourself, this resort is the right place.
Where to stay on the Island:
The cheapest accommodation I found is Onde Guest House, the room are clean but not the common CR. It’s really basic but they have wifi. Just in front, you’ll find a hotel with room for 600 pesos (you can negotiate for 500) with private CR and a small kitchen.
Where to eat:
You’ll see in Santa Fe the food is pretty expensive. For a cheap breakfast, you can find silog-silog for 59 pesos with a drink at the food court. Ask for the 59 pesos ones because they only give you the menu with the 120 pesos ones. There’s also a good and cheap eatery towards the middle of the main street, next to the karaoke bar. They have vegetables in the morning/early afternoon but they often run out for dinner, just ask, they can also cook it on order. There’s also another cheap place, cross the food court, pass the clothes shops until you reach the street, it’s the first eatery on the left. They often have nothing left at dinner time.
How to get to Bantayan:
From Cebu City, you can take direct buses with the ferry included to Santa Fe, or just go to Hagnaya and take the boat from there. There’s also a daily boat from Cadiz in Negros to Bantayan City.
Don’t know where to go next? Check out Bacolod in Negros, Philippines’ sugar capital.
Don’t have much time? Take a tour
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