Think emerald waters, white beaches and old fishing village charm. Children still run around bare feet and there is nary a tour bus in sight.
Located off the coast of northern Cebu, this hidden destination is still relatively untouched by mass tourism because it is not as accessible compared to the main beaches of Cebu. In fact, you can only reach this island after a 3.5-hour bus ride from Cebu City and a 1.5-hour ferry ride to get to the port of Bantayan Island.
Meant for intrepid travellers, the seemingly tedious journey will be totally worth it once the island’s powdery white shores come into sight. So, what are some unique things to do on this hidden beach paradise?
Go beach hopping
The greatest pleasure is to hop from one idyllic beach to another in no hurry at all.
Paradise Beach lives up to its name with crystal clear waters that is great for swimming. The fine sand here also makes it a good place to lie down and have a tan. But, do note that there is only one vendor selling a limited variety of food supplies so it will be wise to bring your own.
Ten minutes away from Paradise Beach lies the absolutely breathtaking private beach owned by Kandugyap House by the Sea. This is not open to the public but it is worth to stay a night just for the view.
Nearer to the Omagieca Obo-ob mangrove garden lies the quiet Marikaban beach. There is a lot of slimy seaweed in the water but this area will give you a real sense of what the island is about. Sip a beer while you watch the dogs running along the shores and children playing. I also recommend staying a night at a resort in the Marikaban area so that you can wake up to the sounds of the village awakening.
Most of the other beaches are privately owned by resorts but it is easy to just walk in as a tourist and check them out. The town of Santa Fe boasts several famous beach resorts that line the stunning coastline and Kota Beach Resort is one that is particularly worth mentioning because of the shallow lagoon that you can wade right through.
Take a dip in the cool cave waters
Yes, there are actual caves where you can swim in– the Ogtong cave and the Sto Nino cave!
Take a refreshing dip in the well-maintained and clean Ogtong cave situated within the Ogtong Cave Resort. This is recommended if you prefer a safer experience because the water is not that deep in this cave.
The Sto Nino cave is nestled in the confines of Bantayan Island Nature Park and Resort in Tamiao. This is a spring-fed cave pool and the biggest on the island. The water is cooler here and provides an invigorating respite from the heat outside. Tread with caution because the pool is deeper and the rocks are quite slippery.
Explore the history of Bantayan Island
It is highly recommended to rent a motorbike to explore the many hidden secrets of Bantayan Island because it is cheap and convenient.
The Ruins, aptly named, is an abandoned brick structure covered in graffiti art that is located in the Santa Fe municipality. Sitting alone overlooking the cliffs, these ruins have a somewhat romantic vibe to it and beckons to the wanderlust in you. Also, this place makes for awesome pictures.
You can also take a leisure 50-minute ride to the northern part of the island to see the history-steeped Old Kota Fort at Madridejos. However, the gates are locked and you can only appreciate it from the outside.
Another must-do is to visit the St. Peter and Paul Church, one of the oldest in all of Philippines. This church is a spectacular historical monument that is found in the heart of Bantayan town itself. Constructed in 1863, the walls are made of limestone and the beautiful interior exudes a feeling of calmness over you. It is humbling to be able to spend some time here admiring the amazing architecture.
Skydive (and check one off your bucket list!)
Skydive Greater Cebu is one of only five skydiving spots in the Philippines and the only USPA (United States Parachute Association) member in the Philippines. With that, you can be assured of an adrenaline rush of the highest safety standards when you leap out of the plane from 10,000feet in the skies.
Prices start from 19,000 pesos (approximately S$487) for a tandem skydive. This is indeed a thrilling once-in-a-lifetime experience that you will remember for the rest of your life.
Hang out at the friendly town of Santa Fe
The greatest thing about Bantayan is the laidback vibe. The streets of Santa Fe, where it is supposed to be the most bustling because of its close proximity to the port, is surprisingly quiet with just a handful of tourists ambling about in the day.
Once night falls, this area is the place to go if you yearn for more vibrancy or if you want to make some new friends. There are fancier restaurants and restobars lining this short street where you can have some cold beers.
Unlike the seedier reputation of Southeast Asia’s night life, the environment here is cleaner and friendlier. There are no working girls trying to drag you into bars; couples or families will feel more comfortable having a relaxing night out after traipsing the island in the day.
Strike a conversation with the locals and learn more about their life or culture. The Filipino people are a fun-loving bunch and most can speak English well enough to have a meaningful conversation.
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In the seemingly sleepy town of Sta. Fe, comes a surprise. When the dark bites, the lights overshadowed by the sun now glows. In a different vibe, and in efforts to capture the culture vultures, comes a plethora of shops, restos and bars that tourists flock. You can never really tell what secrets a small town by the sea held. #PENsamientos2018 #PENtravels2018 #BantayanIsland #BantayanAtNight
Much of this beautiful island was destroyed by Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 and it was estimated that 30% of the houses were devastated and 90% of the population displaced.
Regardless, the resilient people of Bantayan Island still greets each day and each visitor with a warm smile and genuine hospitality.
Ready to embark on your adventure?
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