ultimate guide to bantayan island

Discover an underrated island destination in Cebu, the Philippines when you visit the charming but breathtaking Bantayan Island. Why should you add this destination to your travel bucket list? When is the ideal time to go and what are the best ways to go here? What are the top attractions and things to do? Which resorts or hotels should you stay? What are the must-try restaurants here? Read on below to find out everything you need to know when planning a trip to Cebu’s Bantayan Island.

In search of sun, sea, and sand without the big crowds? You should add Bantayan Island, Cebu in your travel bucket list this year! Situated at the northern end of Cebu in Central Visayas, Bantayan Island is a group of islands divided among three municipalities – Bantayan, Madridejos, and Santa Fe. These three municipalities are also the most accommodations are located. The entire island is so small that you can explore it on a motorbike. Talk about a rugged tropical getaway!

Surrounding with mesmerizing clear waters, Bantayan is also not as developed as a popular island destination in the country like Boracay.  

Bantayan Island boasts stunning tourist spots where you can enjoy a ton of activities including sightseeing, swimming, cliff diving, island-hopping, kayaking, and even skydiving. 

Bantayan Island Cebu 2019 Travel Guide | Guide to the Philippines

Bantayan Island in Cebu got its name from the term Bantayan sa Hari, which means "Watchtowers of the King." Eighteen watchtowers were built here during the time of the 22nd Governor-General Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera when Moro pirates raided the island looking for slaves. Folklore says that the people would shout the word "Bantayan!", which means to "keep watching," eventually inspiring the island’s name.

Aside from being a tourist destination, Bantayan Island is also a fishing community. It plays Cebu's fishing grounds, supplying fresh catch to towns and provinces as far as Manila and Mindanao. They’re famous for their danggit (dried fish). Because of this, you’ll be sure to fill your days with food tours feasting on the freshest seafood dishes for a lower price during your trip to Bantayan Island.

Idyllic beach trips, island-hopping, exciting water activities, and inland tours, to gastronomic seafood adventures await you in Bantayan Island. Use this ultimate travel guide to plan your trip to this paradise in Cebu.

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Going to Bantayan Island

Traveling by sea to Bantayan Island

There are no direct flights to Bantayan Island from airports outside of Cebu. If you’re coming from outside of Cebu, you need to fly to Mactan-Cebu International Airport first, which is the jump-off point to other top Cebu destinations.

By Flights

There are flights to Cebu from major cities in the Philippines, and international airports in South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. It only takes 1 hour to reach Cebu from Manila by plane.

From the airport in Cebu, you still have to either hop on a bus and a Roll-On Roll-Off (RoRo), which is around 5-6 hours or take a 40-minute connecting flight to Bantayan Airport. Here are your travel options to Bantayan Island in detail when you arrive in Cebu City: 

North Bus Terminal + Ferry

Once you’re in Cebu’s Mactan International Airport, ride the MyBus shuttle to the North Bus Terminal. You can board a direct bus to Santa Fe in Bantayan, which will include onboard the RoRo. Or take the bus that will drop you off at Hagnaya Port where you will bring your luggage and get on board the RoRo. Fare is PHP160 to PHP200. 

The buses at the terminal leave every hour, day and night, and travel time is around 4 hours. The RoRo ride is about 1.5 hours and costs PHP170. When you arrive in Santa Fe, you need to pay PHP 30 for the green fee charged to all tourists or non-residents.

Air Juan - Connecting Flights

If you have the budget and wish to skip the long bus and RoRo ride, you can ride a chartered plane instead of Cebu City. Air Juan is the only operator currently servicing chartered flights from the Mactan-Cebu International Airport to Bantayan Airport, a small community airport in Santa Fe. Travel time is around 40 minutes.

Best Time to Go to Bantayan Island

Bantayan Island Cebu 2019 Travel Guide | Guide to the Philippines

Since a lot of the activities and attractions in Bantayan Island involve the beaches and outdoors, it’s best to plan your trip around the months that will give you the sunniest days.

Dry Season | February to Mid-May 

You will enjoy Bantayan Island the most during its dry season, usually from February to Mid-May, which also includes the summer season in the Philippines. We recommend avoiding the months of June to September since that’s often the typhoon or wet season in the Philippines. 

Palawod Festival | June 

As a fishing island group in Cebu, Bantayan Island annually celebrates the colorful Palawod Festival usually on June 29 in honor of their patron saints, St. Peter and Paul. Palawod is a Cebuano word that means "to go out to the sea.". Similar to other vibrant festivals in the Philippines, Bantayan Island's Palawod Festival has street dancing with locals adorned in colorful costumes and lots of food.

Climate and Weather

As a tropical island, Bantayan Island is warm throughout the year even during the rainy season, averaging at 28°C in temperature. The best practice still checks weather updates before your trip. In this case, you can prepare what to bring, wear, and make changes to your itinerary if needed since most of the things to do in Bantayan Island are outdoors. 

Bantayan Island Cebu 2019 Travel Guide | Guide to the Philippines

Source: Climate Data

What to Wear

The 4-hour bus ride to Bantayan Island from Cebu City can get cold too because of the air-conditioning unit, so a scarf and light jacket is advisable as hand-carry while traveling. Bring breathable summer clothes with you on your Bantayan Island trip. It includes gears to protect you from the sun like hats and sunglasses, especially if you're riding a motorcycle or a bike while exploring the island.

During the rainy season, make sure to bring an umbrella with you and a light jacket to keep you warm on cold nights.

Getting Around Bantayan Island

Bantayan Island Cebu 2019 Travel Guide | Guide to the Philippines

If you are riding a direct bus, you don’t need to depart upon arrival at the Sante Fe Port. The bus will drive along the route to Bantayan Town where most of the resorts are. You can ask the conductor to drop you off at the closest unloading area from your resort.

If you’re boarding the RoRo, there are tricycles servicing passengers outside the terminal. You can also prearrange a shuttle service from your resort. 

When going around Bantayan Island, you have a couple of transportation options to choose from:

Jeepney or Multicab 

The classic Filipino jeepney and its smaller version, multicab, are common transportation in Bantayan Island. If you're traveling from one municipality to another, like from Santa Fe to Bantayan or Madridejos and vice versa. It can fit a group from as small as 6 to 18 depending on the size of the vehicle, so the driver will most likely make stops along the way to pick up more passengers. You can also hire the whole jeepney or multicab for your group if you want to tour the entire island. Make sure to discuss with the driver before your planned inland tour on Bantayan Island. The price for hiring this for a day will depend on your deal with the driver. 

Tricycle or Habal-Habal

If you're solo or traveling with a small group, you can opt for the tricycle (motorcycle with a sidecar good for 2-4 passengers) and habal-habal (vehicle suitable for 1-2 passengers). These can be your mode of transportation for both long and short distance travel on the island and can also take you to off the beaten path destinations on the island. You can also hire this for an entire day for inland tours. The price will depend on your deal with the driver. 

Pedicab 

These are non-motorized versions of the tricycle, locally known as trisikad. These can be found mostly in Santa Fe and are suitable for short-distance travel within the town.  

Motorcycle and Bicycle for Rent

Similar to other island destinations in the Philippines like Siargao, self-drive vehicles are a hit with tourists in getting around Bantayan Island. These are usually 110cc - 125cc motorcycles that you can rent per day.

Like motorcycles, you can also rent single-speed bicycles. If you're renting this for at least three days for your whole stay, you can get it for a lower price. 

Private Van

If you want the convenience of traveling around Bantayan Island on an air-conditioned vehicle, you can hire a private van with a driver and guide. 

Where to Stay in Bantayan Island

Kota Beach in Bantayan IslandThere are several hotel and resort options in Bantayan, ranging from the budget fan rooms to high-end resorts. The concentrating beaches and the top beach resorts are the main reasons why most tourists stay in Santa Fe.

Types of Accommodations

To help you decide where to book for your accommodation in Bantayan Island, read below on what the different categories are available. Here are your options when looking for a place to stay in Bantayan Island, from beachfront or island resorts, hotels, backpacker-friendly hostels, and private houses that you can rent:

Resorts

Like other island destinations in the Philippines, most accommodations in Bantayan Island are resorts. The beachfront resorts, especially in white sand beaches, are highly sought-after by tourists and are usually fully booked during peak season. It's best to book in advance or at least two months before your trip. 

Hotels

There are also several hotels in Bantayan Island, but most don't have beach access. They are usually located in the inner streets of towns like Santa Fe. They're often found in the town centers so eating out is as quick as a few minutes' walks. 

Hostels or Apartelles

These are budget-friendly accommodations that offer basic amenities. The majority have fan rooms and air-conditioned rooms with a shared or private bathroom. You can rent these rooms for an affordable price. Don't expect though that these will have stunning beachfront views since they're usually located in town centers or inner streets. 

Vacation Rentals

Tourists can rent several privately-owned houses on a short-term or long-term basis. These include a whole home for big groups and bungalow houses for smaller groups. Most of these are equipped with kitchens where you can cook your food, buy ingredients like fresh seafood from the public markets. 

Neighborhoods and Areas 

There are three municipalities in Bantayan Island. Use this as a guide when booking your accommodations.  

Santa Fe 

The ferry port and airport are located in the southeastern area of Bantayan Island. It is the reason why it is the gateway to this tropical destination. Most Bantayan Island tourist spots, restaurants and bars, and top accommodations are also in this area. That's why most travelers prefer Santa Fe as their home base when on the island. 

Bantayan 

It is the largest and most populous municipality and located at the center of Bantayan Island. You can find here tourist attractions like Sts. Peter and Paul Church, the pool cave of Bantayan Island Nature Park Resort, and Obo-ob Mangrove Eco Park.

Madridejos 

Located north of Bantayan Island, this is the farthest municipality if you're coming from the ferry port. You can find Kota Park here and watch the stunning sunset at the beach and boardwalk next to it. 

Accommodation Highlights in Bantayan Island

Bantayan Island Cebu 2019 Travel Guide | Guide to the Philippines

Photo from amihan-beach.com

Depending on your preference and set expenses, here are some of the highly-recommended choices of accommodations in Bantayan Island. We included selections that range from luxury to budget-friendly resorts, hotels, and hostels:

Luxury Accommodations

If you're on the hunt for all the bells and whistles for the hotel-type amenities and features. You can have a very luxurious stay at these Bantayan Island resorts. 

Amihan Beach Cabanas

You will find this Travelers' Choice 2019 award winner at the center of Santa Fe. This small, private beachfront resort with its restaurant and bar features native cabanas equipped with air conditioning, cable TV, refrigerator, hot and cold shower, ceiling fan, and a living area with terrace. They offer breakfast, laundry service, airport transportation, and Wi-Fi.

Marlin's Beach Resort

This beachfront resort offers air-conditioned rooms with scenic garden and ocean views. It’s also close to food and entertainment spots in the island. Other amenities include a restaurant, bar, Wi-Fi, air transportation, and laundry service.

Kota Beach Resort

Situated in front of the white sandbar and long stretch of Kota Beach. This top resort in Bantayan is famed for being one of the locations of a Filipino rom-com movie entitled Camp Sawi. It features modern with natural materials air-conditioned rooms with views of the shoreline and has their restaurant as well. Other amenities include a bar/lounge, Wi-Fi, and shuttle service.

Mid-Range Accommodations

If you're looking for comfortable amenities such as a TV, hot showers, and laundry service, but don't want to splurge too much. There are several mid-range Bantayan Island resorts and hotels for you.

Sunshine Bantayan Garden Resort

Traveling with family? This resort offers budget-friendly family rooms with air conditioning. They also provide room service, free WiFi, free parking, and laundry service. They also have an in-house restaurant and bar.

CouCou Bar Hotel and Restaurant

All rooms in this hotel come with an air conditioner, a fan, a safety box, a hot and cold shower, and flat-screen TV. Their superior rooms even have a satellite connection, dresser, and refrigerator as well as your balcony. The hotel has its bar and restaurant and offers breakfast, room service, and Wi-Fi.

Ogtong Cave Resort

Looking for a resort with its pool? This resort has one you can enjoy. Not only that, but this is also where the Ogtong Cave pool belongs, so you have quick and easy access to it. They also offer children's activities and family rooms, making it an excellent option for families.

La Playa Estrella Beach Resort

Awarded with the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, this resort has an extensive beachfront with stunning white sand. They offer suites and family rooms with air conditioning and a minibar. They also have a restaurant and a bar inside the resort.

Budget Accommodations 

There are several accommodations available in Bantayan if you're on a tight budget. You can choose among several types, including apartelles, beach cabanas and huts, cottages, and resorts.

Stevrena Cottages

If you want to go rustic on a budget, stay at the Stevrena Cottages. It has basic but private and homey bedrooms and has a great location. You can even use their BBQ facilities if you want to cook your fresh seafood.

Casa Isabel Hostel

Are you a solo traveler? Then this hostel is the perfect choice for you. Apart from being near the beach and MJ Square, this hostel with dormitory rooms and family rooms feature a shared bathroom with a bidet and a shared kitchen. They also offer free Wi-Fi and barbecue facilities.

Jumema Apartment

If you want to be along the main road in Santa Fe town and near shorelines, stay at the Jumema Apartment which has the best-rated location in Bantayan Island. Their air-conditioned rooms have private bathrooms. They also allow guests to use the kitchen so you can make this your home away from home in Bantayan.

What to See and Do in Bantayan Island

bantayan virgin island

Since it’s an island, the beaches are the main attractions of Bantayan Island, Cebu. But there are also other eco-tourism sites to heritage and cultural tourist spots that you can visit here. Check out these attractions that you can add to your Bantayan Island itinerary and tour:

Lounge and Swim in Beaches

Bantayan Island Cebu 2019 Travel Guide | Guide to the Philippines

Exploring the beaches of Bantayan Island is as easy as driving around the coastline where many pristine beaches are scattered, mainly in Santa Fe. The best way is by hiring a tricycle or habal-habal if you want a local to drive you around. You can also rent your motorcycle if you're going to do the exploration for yourself. Here are some of the top beaches that you can explore inland: 

Paradise Beach

This secluded beach in Santa Fe is an excellent spot to swim in the crystal-clear water or lie on the beach to work on your tan. They also have grounds for camping if you want to stay here longer. 

Kota Beach

Another Santa Fe beach is famous for its white sand bar, and a long stretch of fine white sand. It will remind you of Boracay's White Beach without the crowd. It is right in front of Kota Beach Resort, but you can access it for free. 

Go Island-Hopping 

There are also smaller islands outside of Bantayan Island that you can explore by doing island-hopping tours. You can visit the following: 

Virgin Island

It is an island that houses a resort where you can go snorkeling and fish feeding aside from swimming. Since it's private property, you need to pay an entrance fee.

Hilantagaan Island

This island is home to a small fishing village where you can interact with locals while swimming or snorkeling. It is a quieter island destination compared to Virgin Island since most tourists choose to stay longer there because of the amenities provided by the resort. 

Explore Inland Attractions

Aside from beaches that you can tour in the main island, these spots are also a worth adding to your land tour itinerary:

Ogtong Cave

A small natural pool cave found in Ogtong Cave Resort. There's an entrance fee that will also give you access to the resort's pool and beach. Because of the small size of the lake, this is popular with tourists, especially during the late morning and afternoon. 

Sto. Nino Cave

Another natural pool inside a cave found in Bantayan Island Nature Park and Resort, but bigger than Ogtong Cave. The is an entrance fee, which includes access to the 8-hectare resort's pool, zoo, and fish spa, among other things. 

Obo-ob Mangrove Eco Park

Take a refreshing stroll in the bamboo walkways of this locally-maintained mangrove park. There's an entrance, which includes the free use of a straw hat. You can also ride a kayak, it's best to go here early in the morning during high tide. 

Try Exciting Outdoor Activities

Up for an adventure in Bantayan Island? Check out these adrenaline-pumping outdoor activities: 

Cliff Jumping

There are several spots around Bantayan Island if you're game for facing your fear of heights to jump off a cliff to the clear waters. You can try the rocky cliffs at Paradise Beach, at ruins of a building near Paradise beach, and in Virgin Island. 

Skydiving

You will be able to get a better view of the island, and you're up for trying one of the extreme activities in the Philippines. The best way to do it is by skydiving with Skydive Cebu. Bantayan Island is well-known for this because the surrounding waters and islands provide for an excellent backdrop for pictures and videos. 

Bantayan Island Cebu 2019 Travel Guide | Guide to the Philippines

Learn About Bantayan Island’s History 

When you've had enough sun, sea, and sand, and want to explore a different side of Bantayan Island, check out these historical tourist spots:

Sts. Peter and Paul Church

Located in the town center of Bantayan municipality and across from the town plaza is this ancient church. This imposing structure is one of the oldest churches in Cebu built back in 1580. It's a great tourist spot because of its architecture and well-preserved antiquity.

Kota Park

If you're a history buff and love sunsets, go to this tourist spot in Madridejos. The construction was in the 1790s; you can see the old fort from here. You can also stay at the beach or the boardwalk where you can watch the spectacular sunset. 

Where to Shop

The danggit (salted, sun-dried rabbitfish) is a must-buy when in Bantayan Island. You can purchase these and other dried fish variants in the town's public markets. You can also find them in Cebu City's Taboan Market. However, you can get these for a lower price in Bantayan Island since you're buying from the fish supply source of the province. 



What to Eat and Drink in Bantayan Island

Food at Bantayan Island, CebuDining options are aplenty on the island, including cafes, restaurants, and bars that offer different types of food and cuisines including Asian, American, Italian, and of course, Filipino. In this section, we break down your food options from the must-try local cuisine to the highly-recommended restaurants on the island:

Local Cuisine

As a fishing village, Bantayan Island's specialty is fresh and affordable seafood like scallops that are sold by locals for as low as PHP100 per kilo. You can also order scallops and other seafood in the restaurants in Bantayan Island and eat it with Cebu's iconic puso, cooked rice wrapped in weaved palm leaves.

Another unique cuisine in the Visayas, specifically Cebu, is SuTuKil or SuToKil. It is an abbreviation of three dishes or ways of cooking. Su stands for grilled, Tu or To stands for fish or chicken cooked in vegetable soup, and kil stands for raw food marinated in vinegar and citrus. You can try this at Arjaymay SuTuKilin Santa Fe near the public market where they serve affordable roasted chicken and fresh seafood dishes. There's also 

Recommended Best Restaurants and Bars

If you’re staying in Sante Fe, explore the busy food center called MJ Square. There are a plethora of restaurants that offer affordable seafood dishes and other types of cuisine and bars for drinks at night. Here are some that you can check out:

  • Bantayan Burrito Company - If you want a break from seafood, this is famous for their tasty Mexican, Southwestern, and Central American dishes like quesadillas and nachos.

  • Stumble Inn - Famed for their must-try ribs and seafood dishes; it’s also a bar that serves Australian cuisine.

  • Sarapoi - If you're in the mood for some affordable yet delicious Asian or Indian dishes, this is the place to be. Their popular dishes include their chicken vindaloo curry and their sizzling steaks.

  • Cafe Mare - If you’re craving something Italian, you'll love their pizza, and it's said to be the best in Bantayan Island. They also have a wide array of international beers and wines, making this bar the perfect spot for nights out. 



Practical Information and Tips

Before you travel to Bantayan Island, take note of these essential tips on the currency and credit card purchases and languages spoken by the locals for a hassle-free vacation in this tropical paradise: 

Currency

Philippine Peso (PHP) in cash is the primary mode of payment in Bantayan Island. Some high-end establishments accept credit cards. Still, bring enough money from Cebu to be sure since ATMs and banks are limited to Bantayan town. 

Language

Bantayan Island's locals speak Bantayanon, a combination of Visayan words like Cebuano, Waray-Waray, and Hiligaynon. They can also speak and understand Filipino, and the majority can communicate in English. 

Sample Itinerary in Bantayan Island

Bantayan Island Cebu 2019 Travel Guide | Guide to the Philippines

Given that the travel time from Cebu City to Bantayan Island already takes half a day, you should plan a trip there for more than a day. If you wish to maximize your visit, a minimum of three days and two nights on the island is recommended. Here’s a sample itinerary  that you can take inspiration from: 

Day 1: Arrival  + Beach and Land Tour 

  • 6:00 AM - Arrive at Mactan Cebu Airport and travel to North Bus Terminal
  • 6:30 AM - Board bus to Hagnaya Port
  • 11:00 AM - Arrive at Hagnaya Port. Purchase ferry ticket / Lunch break
  • 12:00 NN - Board RoRo to Santa Fe
  • 1:30 PM - Arrive at Bantayan Island
  • 2:00 PM -  Check-in to Hotel
  • 2:30 PM - Beach hopping and inland tour: Paradise Beach, Kota Beach, Ogtong Cave, Kota Park, St. Peter & Paul Parish, Obo-ob Mangrove Eco Park
  • 7:00 PM - Dinner
  • 8:00 PM - Drinks and Socials

Day 2: Arrival  + Island-Hopping

  • 5:30 AM - Wake up / Sunrise at beach
  • 6:45 AM - Breakfast
  • 8:00 AM - Island-hopping tour: Virgin Island and Hilantagaan Island
  • 12:00 NN - Lunch
  • 1:30 PM - Back at hotel / Rest
  • 4:30 PM - Sunset at beach
  • 7:00 PM - Dinner
  • 8:00 PM - Free Time  / Lights Out

Day 3: Departure to Cebu City

  • 5:30 AM - Wake up / Sunrise at beach
  • 6:00 AM - Breakfast
  • 7:00 AM - Check-out of hotel
  • 7:30 AM - Board RoRo to Hagnaya Port
  • 9:00 AM - Arrival at Hagnaya and board bus to Cebu City
  • 1:00 PM - Arrival in Cebu City 

  • If you still have extra time to spend in Cebu, check out Cebu tours that you can add to your itinerary 

Experience Laidback Island Life in Bantayan Island

If what you are looking for is an escape from the hustle and bustle of your daily life, Bantayan Island is an ideal place to go. Unlike other popular beach destinations, the island is quiet and not packed with tourists, making it the perfect place to relax, unwind, and enjoy nature. 

Besides its beautiful beaches, the island offers various exciting and fun activities for those looking for a more physical kind of unwinding. Go to Bantayan Island and experience island living at its finest.

Pack your bags and make your way to Bantayan Island. Check various Bantayan Island Cebu tours and activities that you can add in your itinerary for a hassle-free getaway to this underrated destination.