THE PERFECT BANTAYAN ISLAND ITINERARY
THE PERFECT BANTAYAN ISLAND ITINERARY
Bantayan Island, Cebu is known as a baby Boracay due to its ridiculously white sand and irresistible blue water. We nearly didn’t want to write this Bantayan Island itinerary as it is still relatively new to tourists which makes it all the more magical. The beaches in Bantayan Island are still quiet, restaurants remain fairly priced and budget accommodation is easy to find.
Whether you have a week or only a weekend for the perfect Bantayan itinerary, you need to do two things – explore the island by sea and by land. In this itinerary, we will share the best things to do in Bantayan Island, Cebu including the best sunrise and sunset spots. We will also share all the practical info such as how to get to Bantayan Island as well as how much a Bantayan Island trip costs, our favourite places to eat and the best accommodation.
HOW TO GET TO BANTAYAN ISLAND INCLUDING COSTS
If you are wondering how to get to Bantayan Island, it may sound complicated; however it was more straight forward than it sounds so do not let the journey put you off. Most people travel from Cebu to Bantayan Island as it is part of the Cebu province. It is also around 3 hours by ferry from Malapascua if you want to make your Bantayan trip part of an island hopping adventure.
How To Get From Cebu To Bantayan Island
Step 1: Take a flight to Mactan-Cebu International Airport
Step 2: Make your way to Cebu North Terminal Bus Station. Local taxis from the airport were charging 300+ pesos so we opted for Grab. This journey cost us 250 pesos for a Grab although prices vary depending on the time of day.
Step 3: Take the bus from Cebu North Terminal Bus Station to Hagnaya Port. There are two air-conditioned bus options:
- Bus travelling from North Terminal To Bantayan Town (via Santa Fe). The RORO (Roll On, Roll Off) bus costs around 235 pesos per person. It boards the ferry at Hagnaya port and goes all the way to Bantayan Town with your luggage onboard, this does not include the price of your ferry ticket and is the more expensive option.
- Bus travelling from North Terminal To Hagnaya Port. This bus is cheaper at around 180 pesos and drops you at Hagnaya Port, you then take your luggage onto the ferry yourself.
We opted for the RORO bus as it was about to leave as soon as we got to the bus station. The bus had air con and played movies the entire time which was ideal as the journey took 4 hours to reach Hagnaya Port.
Step 4: Take the ferry from Hagnaya Port to Santa Fe Port, Bantayan Island. Regardless of which bus you choose, you will still need to purchase ferry tickets and pay the terminal fee when you arrive at Hagnaya Port. If you opt for the standard bus you have 2 options, either the cheaper Island Shipping ferry or the more expensive Super Shuttle Ferry which is slightly faster and has air-con.
We paid 185 pesos per person for ferry tickets and 10 pesos per person for the terminal fee. We travelled on the Island Shipping ferry which took just over 1 hour (the Super shuttle ferry takes 40 minutes and is around 220 peso per person). We didn’t have air-con, but there was a cool sea breeze and plenty space, so the journey was comfortable.
Step 5: When you arrive in Santa Fe port, you enter via the tourism office where there is an island fee of 30 pesos per person. If you are on a RORO bus make sure to remove your luggage from the bus at Santa Fe, otherwise the bus continues to Bantayan town.
Step 6: Take a trike from the Port to your accommodation. Our accommodation arranged a free trike that picked us up from Santa Fe Port and took us to our accommodation. This should cost approximately 50 to 100 pesos depending on where you are staying.
WHERE TO STAY IN BANTAYAN ISLAND
The perfect Bantayan Island itinerary starts with an incredible place to stay. We found Bantayan beach resorts very affordable with some guest houses starting as low as 400 pesos per night. The majority of Bantayan Island resorts are in Santa Fe however you can also book accommodation in Bantayan town and Madridejos. Bantayan Island also allows camping which would be a very budget friendly option, but we desperately needed air-con and a sand-free sleep.
If you’re looking for the best resort in Bantayan Island, we had an incredible stay at Sunrise Beach Club Resort which was in Santa Fe. In terms of location, you cannot get better on the island – the hotel had steps that literally went straight into the sea at high tide and it was the best sunrise spot on the island.
We booked Sunrise Beach Club Resort through Airbnb, it was a private room with ensuite bathroom and air-con which was large and comfortable. The hotel is run by a friendly Canadian couple who were so helpful in arranging transfers, tours and local recommendations. The hotel manager, Mila is a local who also gave us great advice on costs and how to avoid being ripped off.
We really appreciated that they offered free water refills and the resort owners were passionate about responsible travel, including encouraging beach cleanups and reducing plastic consumption. In all honesty, the beaches in Bantayan (including outside our resort) were pristine during our visit and far more beautiful than what we’d seen in Fiji and Thailand. This is a testament to the changing attitudes of both tourists and locals and really hope this continues to improve to avoid Bantayan Island repeating Boracay’s mistakes.
We cannot recommend Sunrise Beach Club resort enough, and genuinely feel our Bantayan trip would not have been so memorable had we stayed elsewhere.
BANTAYAN ITINERARY – DAY 1
We started day 1 of our Bantayan Island itinerary with an incredible sunrise. We were incredibly fortunate one of the best beaches in Bantayan for sunrise was literally in front of our resort and can genuinely say it was one of the most stunning sunrises we have seen in Asia.
Just a few minutes from our hotel was the main street of restaurants and bars. We walked into the first café we came to which was called EverydaySunday. Not going to lie, we were suckers for the hipster décor but later realised this came with hipster prices.
Daz had 2 HUGE waffles for 190 pesos and I had a smoothie bowl for 250 pesos. We also paid 95 pesos each for unlimited coffee although staff didn’t top up the coffee until Darren asked twice. The food tasted as good as it looked, it was just unfortunate it was one of the most expensive meals we had during our Bantayan Island trip.
If you are holidaying here, the price will still seem cheap, but as we were travelling on a budget (and after what locals told us) this was expensive in comparison to other restaurants in Santa Fe, Bantayan.
A Day In Santa Fe, Bantayan
It’s likely you are already staying in this area, but if not, it is one of the best places to visit in Bantayan island. A day here is the perfect introduction to island life. We enjoyed a wander round Santa Fe, Bantayan and chatting with friendly locals before a swim on the beach.
In Santa Fe we were lucky enough to see starfish in the wild for the first time ever – it was incredible. If you are also lucky enough, please be a responsible traveller and do not pick them up to pose for photos which sadly we saw people do.
We purchased beers from a local shop for only 40 pesos (if you returned the glass bottles you were refunded 5 pesos) and caught up on some much needed nap time after our busy journey from Cebu to Bantayan.
Where To Eat In Santa Fe, Bantayan
We had lunch at Solly’s pub & grill which admittedly, wasn’t at all authentic but we were starving and it was cheap. We had spring rolls, homemade “chippy chips” as well as homemade mozzarella dipper type nibbles. Nutritional, we know. We also had our first taste of Strong Tiger which was surprisingly good. We paid 500 pesos for the meal + drinks.
After a tough afternoon of swimming, sunbathing and beer drinking we had dinner at Stumble Inn. It was recommended by our hotel and was run by an Australian couple. Darren had the Seafood basket which had some of the best prawns we’ve ever tasted and only cost 190 pesos. I had fish & chips which was 190 peso (cheaper than a smoothie bowl and definitely more satisfying).
On our return to our hotel, we found a local trike driver and arranged a land tour for the following day. It is possible to hire a scooter on Santa Fe quite cheaply for anywhere between 300-500 pesos per day. However, we are a tad terrified of Scooters so felt it was easier for a local to show us the best places to visit in Bantayan Island.
BANTAYAN ITINERARY – DAY 2
Breakfast At Tiki Bar
If you are looking for a cheaper alternative to EveryDaySunday, we recommend checking out the cheaper Tiki Bar. For only 190 pesos per person you could order a variety of style breakfasts from Full English to Filipino which included juice, homemade yoghurt, fresh fruit and coffee. Nearly all breakfasts included eggs, homemade bread and rice. We couldn’t finish there was so much and found ourselves still full at lunchtime.
We met our trike driver at 08:30 am at our hotel. We paid 1000pesos for our trike tour, in the belief it was to “anywhere in the island” although it turned out he wanted to charge extra to certain areas. We later discovered this was very expensive and you should only be charged 400-600 pesos for around four stops. We had a list of the best places to visit in Bantayan island however, he did also gave us a few local recommendations which we will share with you too.
From Santa Fe, one of the most popular things to do in Bantayan Island is to visit Ogtong Cave. It is within the private property of a resort, so to enter there is a fee of 200 pesos each. If you pay the entrance fee you are also allowed to use the resort’s facilities such as their pool and sun loungers.
Apparently, in the cave, there is a small freshwater pool that is crystal clear however too small to swim in. If we’d had more time in our Bantayan Island itinerary we would’ve made the most of a day here using the facilities however, we decided to opt out of visiting. We’d heard it was the most popular thing to do in Bantayan Island so to avoid the crowds (and save the entry fee) we decided to start our tour at one of the best beaches in Bantayan island instead.
The Santa Fe beaches in Bantayan Island had been incredible so far, so we were intrigued to see how they could get any better. Our first stop was Paradise Beach as apparently, it is the best on the island. We were delighted at how quiet the beach was when we arrived; there were only us and a handful of locals (it was around 9 am to be fair).
To us, this made it one of the most stunning beaches in Bantayan island because it was peaceful as well as beautiful. The sea was postcard perfect blue, and the sand was as white as you’d expect from a beach described as Paradise.
Note, you do have to pay 50 pesos entry per person. To be honest, we don’t mind paying this to keep the beach this pristine. There were also benches/shelters providing shade as well as roped off areas for safe swimming.
Obo-Ob Mangrove Eco Park
Although we love a life of sand and sea, we were looking for things to do in Bantayan Island that didn’t involve a beach. If you are also wondering what to do in Bantayan Island that doesn’t involve the beach, then we recommend the Obo-ob Mangrove Eco Park.
You can either walk via elevated bamboo bridges or hire a kayak for 150 pesos to take you through the mangroves past fish and other wildlife. There is also a bamboo tower, which despite its appearance is perfectly safe and offers beautiful views.
The area was also the location for the famous Filipino film Camp Sawi in 2016 which has helped boost local tourism to the area. There is a small café on site but we were still full from our breakfast so didn’t visit.
It is one of the best things to do in Bantayan Island if visiting on a budget as it was only 50 pesos per person. At the entrance it did say this entry fee includes a guide, we didn’t see any guides and despite being described as a “conservation area,” we did also see members of staff feed the fish crisps which to us, isn’t the best example of their “conserving natural eco-systems” ethos. Despite this, we still think it is a very interesting thing to do in Bantayan Island and would recommend a visit.
St Peter & Paul Church
When you’re looking for what to do in Bantayan Island, it’s understandable to think “why would we go to a church?”. However, St Peter & Paul Church was a highlight from our entire Bantayan Island itinerary, and we genuinely feel you cannot leave the island without visiting. Even our trike driver came inside to take some photos.
It was built in 1580, making it one of the oldest churches in The Philippines. It’s not usually on the tourist track which made it even more special as we were the only tourists during our visit. We had heard, however, during Holy Week which was the week before our Bantayan Island trip as many as 20,000 locals gather in and around St Peter & Paul Church for the festivities.
Even from the outside, you’ll still be thinking “what’s so special” as it’s so unassuming. That is until you step inside. You will be blown away by the vibrant roof painting which to us, was even more special than the Sistine Chapel.
It was also incredible to watch the artists climb the bamboo scaffolding and continue painting the roof. We learned in total there are 12 artists, the majority who were brought from Cebu to Bantayan Island for the project. They began painting in August 2018 and it will be complete in May 2019. We could’ve stayed for hours, but there were still so many places to visit in Bantayan Island that we had to drag ourselves away.
We returned to Santa Fe by around noon and decided to have lunch at The Butterfly Garden. The food was excellent (we particularly recommend the “dragon chips”) and the service so friendly.
They kindly let us enter the garden for free as at the time there was only a handful of butterflies. However, we met the owner, and he explained it is usually a “butterfly snow globe” as hundreds of butterflies from up to 22 species fly around you while you walk through the exotic garden.
Although that wasn’t the case during our visit, we saw photos from the owner of our hotel which looked amazing and can understand why it’s a popular Bantayan Island tourist spot. As a tip, she explained when you visit, wear a floral item of clothing as this attracts the butterflies and they will sit on you. The usual entry fee is only 100 pesos, making it one of the most affordable and unique things to do in Bantayan Island.
One of the best places to visit in Bantayan Island for food is MJ Square. As the name describes, it’s essentially a square in the centre of Santa Fe surrounded by several restaurants and food courts. There is every food imaginable from Greek to Mexican, and the best part is if you both can’t agree where to eat you can take food from one restaurant to the other.
We highly recommend the Bantayan Burrito Company – it was delicious food and excellent service. We had chilli nachos and fish tacos washed down with ice cold beer. We paid 560 pesos.
We also bumped into a group of sky diving instructors who explained it was possible to skydive on the island. If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush with incredible views maybe add a skydive to your list of things to do in Bantayan Island, needless to say, we politely declined.
Hello Spank Ice Cream
No Bantayan Island itinerary would be complete without a sweet treat or two. If you’re looking for the best places to visit in Bantayan Island for ice cream, look no further. The portions were generous and very reasonably priced at 60 pesos each. The staff were also incredibly friendly and there was seating outside which was a perfect spot to people watch at MJ Square.
Tiki Bar For Happy Hour
There is an endless choice of bars, karaoke and live music to end day two of your Bantayan Island itinerary. We opted to return to Tiki Bar for happy hour although we had beer despite their endless list of cocktails.
We also walked past an incredibly lively Swedish bar (unique, we know.) which looked so fun and had amazing live music but unfortunately, we had to get up early for our boat tour the following day. If you are looking for what to do in Bantayan island in the evening, please visit the Swedish bar on our behalf and let us know in the comments if it’s as fun as it looked.
BANTAYAN ITINERARY – DAY 3
Traditional Bantayan Breakfast
The staff are probably bored of us by now but we returned to Tiki Bar, this time with two friends. One of them ordered the traditional Dangit which is a traditional Filipino breakfast of dried, fried fish.
I am always an advocate for trying local foods so didn’t hesitate in trying (despite the unappetising appearance) but can hands down say it was the saltiest thing to ever grace my taste buds. To me, it was the fish equivalent of pork scratchings – fried, salty, nothingness but try it for yourself and let me know what you think. We swapped out the fish for chorizo which is also a popular Bantayan breakfast.
Bantayan Island Hopping Boat Tour
One of the best things to do in Bantayan Island is a boat tour to explore the surrounding islands. Bantayan Island hopping is surprisingly affordable with boat tours varying on price depending on how many people are in your party.
Generally, it is around 1500 pesos for a boat. We paired up with another two people so we could split the cost between 4. We also paid extra for snorkel hire which ranges anywhere from 75 pesos to 150 pesos for the day.
A Bantayan island hopping tour couldn’t be easier to book. There are several cafes in town which offer tourist services as well as all Bantayan Island resorts offering to arrange one for you.
You could also book your Bantayan Island hopping tour the way we did, and simply find a local on the beach and ask him if he was available the following day. His price was lower than that quoted by the hotel so it’s always worth asking around and of course haggling a little.
Virgin Island Bantayan
If you want to see even more beaches in Bantayan Island, you will need to take a boat to the most famous of all – Virgin Island Bantayan. It took us 45 minutes to reach Virgin Island from Bantayan Island and it was worth every windy minute.
We arrived around 9.30am and already the shores were crowded with boats; however once on the island it didn’t feel too crowded as tourists divided themselves between the sand and the sea.
Being so busy we did not expect the snorkelling to be great, as there were several boat tours in the sea however, we were pleasantly surprised. There are also lifeguards on duty who were very attentive and even patrolled the area in a kayak at times.
There were cottages/benches for rent which to us were incredibly overpriced. It’s amusing to imagine paying to sit on a bench but as it’s one of the most popular Bantayan tourist spots we can’t blame their enterprising skills.
Instead, we laid out our towels and left our belongings on the beach. They were perfectly safe with many people doing the same, so it felt a waste of money to pay for a bench.
Entry Fee Virgin Island Bantayan
Although a Bantayan island hopping tour can seem affordable, bear in mind there are usually fees to enter each island which are not included. Virgin Island is one of the most expensive and as soon as you set foot on the island, you will be met by an employee who guides you to the ticket office.
It is 500 pesos entry for the first two people in your group, then 100 pesos per person after that. Confusing, we know. In total it was 700 pesos for four people so we all just paid the same each.
Be warned, we have found everywhere in The Philippines to be so confused by the concept of paying individually, or maths generally. From counting change to dividing the entry fee we were continually met with baffled looks and incorrect change in return. We always found it easier for one person to pay, then resolve who was owed what later.
Food On Virgin Island Bantayan
Food and drinks are available to purchase on Virgin Island, but like all tourist hot spots they were overpriced. Instead, we recommend going to one of the many bakeries on Bantayan Island before you depart and pack some snacks/sandwiches and take them with you. Don’t forget water either as it was quite expensive to refill your water on Virgin Island because there is limited water on the island.
We spent 3 hours on Virgin Island and this was the perfect amount of time. Originally, we had planned for Fantastic Island to be the second stop in our Bantayan Island hopping tour. However, our boat guide explained the tide wasn’t too good so offered to take us Hilantagaan Island instead.
In all honesty, we feel it was nothing to do with the tide and more because Hilantagaan is where our boat driver was from. When we landed on the island, he asked for a 400 peso fee for our entire group (100 pesos each), so it was evident this little detour was to make his family a quick buck.
However, if you are given the opportunity to go to Hilantagaan Island during your Bantayan itinerary do not miss it – it was some of the best snorkelling we’ve ever experienced. The coral was crazy colourful with fish, electric blue starfish and giant sea urchins.
Better yet, we were the only tourists there so all was forgiven and we would happily pay that 400 pesos again and again for such an amazing experience. The island is far more authentic and fun than the tad pretentious Virgin Island, not to mention even better snorkelling. You’ll think we’re lying but it was genuinely that blue, there is no filter on the photo below.
Wang Wang Island
As we had so much fun at Hilantagaan, we were not ready to return just yet. We asked our guide for any local recommendations, and he saved the best for last. Just 20 minutes later we arrived at Wang Wang Island, which is part of Hilantagaan and was simply around the corner from our earlier snorkel spot. Wang Wang turned out to be one of the best beaches in Bantayan Island compared to all we’d seen so far, it was heaven on earth.
Again, we were the only tourists; it was just us and a handful of locals having a BBQ. We paid a 300 peso landing fee for 4 of us and again, tables/benches were available for rent, but we just put out towels on the sand and took turns in the hammock.
There was a toilet and a small shack selling snacks and beer. We spent hours playing in the sea, it was incredibly clear, and the sand was pristine. There was also a cliff jumping area, but as it was late afternoon, the tide seemed too shallow for us to jump. If you are looking for things to do in Bantayan Island, Wang Wang needs to be top of your list – it was a stunning hidden gem.
Last Night On Bantayan Island
Our Bantayan Island hopping tour was sadly over and it was around 40 minutes back to our hotel. We tipped our guide as we’d had such an incredible day and he had taken us to the third destination when we’d previously agreed to only go to two. After a short nap, we headed back to MJ Square for dinner, where we discovered one of the best places to visit in Bantayan Island if you’re looking for delicious, cheap local food.
Dinner At Chef Pan Yang
There are 2 Chef Pan Yang restaurants at either end of MJ Square – one offers an all you can eat buffet and one doesn’t. We get it, buffets and Asia never end well, and we will be honest we were too scared to try.
However, our friends did as it was an insane value for money. They paid 150 pesos each for unlimited food. Nearly every dish included meat, had there been more veggie options we may have been converted to have the buffet. We did try a little of our friends, and it was super tasty.
If you don’t fancy the buffet, there are so many more options that are an incredible value for money at Chef Pan Yang. Their pizza was 250 pesos and you got one free. Yes, FREE. That meant we had two 10 inch pizzas for 250 pesos.
They also offered BOGOF on their Greek dishes, so there was something for everyone. Do not miss out a visit here from your Bantayan itinerary, it was packed with locals which is always a good sign, and the staff were friendly and attentive despite how busy the restaurant was.
Sunset At Kota Park
Kota Park is an old Spanish fort located at the very north of Bantayan Island in Madridejos. Unfortunately, we ran out of time during our Bantayan itinerary to visit but were told over and over again it is the best place to visit in Bantayan Island to watch the sunset. Most trike tours offer Kota Park as one of the stops, for a little extra as it is around a 40-minute drive from Santa Fe.
Ice Cream At Twisted
We wanted to end the final day of our Bantayan itinerary with ice cream, but unfortunately, Hello Spank was closed. Instead, we found a very busy street vendor called Twisted, which sold the Asian favourite, rolled ice cream. It’s fascinating to watch them create the ice cream rolls on a frozen plate and top with numerous tasty sweets, biscuits and sauces.
We paid 120 pesos for a large Salted Caramel, and admittedly, it was not the best as it didn’t taste of much despite the appearance. Compared to our friends’ who ordered the Nutella & banana and a crushed Oreo ice cream there’s had far more toppings and looked a lot more delicious.
We were so glad we took a chance with Bantayan Island. From the other tourists we met, they continually compared it to Boracay but without the crowds. For us, it was a dream introduction to The Philippines, as the beaches in Bantayan Island were exactly how we dreamed The Philippines would look.
We hope you also enjoy the endless things to do in Bantayan Island and make incredible memories like we did. Although our Bantayan itinerary was only four days (including travel), we could have happily stayed a lot longer and would return in a heartbeat.
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