In the Northern Part of the Queen City of the South is a hidden paradise that most Cebuanos often go to during special occasions, beach get away, vacations and holidays. This paradise offers several activities and has served as one of the best go-to attractions in Cebu by many tourists may it be locals or those coming from other countries. White sand and pristine beaches, the scenery of palm trees, the salty air, good food, natural attractions and Instagrammable spots – these are the things that you can find in this undeniably beautiful paradise, Bantayan Island.
Bantayan Island is divided into three municipalities: Santa Fe, Madridejos and Bantayan Island Proper. In this blog, you will see more what are the wonders and the highlights that you can find in the Municipality of Santa Fe which we went to during our Bantayan trip. Santa Fe offers a lot of things to do. In here, you can find the white sand and pristine beaches that everyone has been talking about. If you’re looking for some space to relax just in Cebu and get away from the busy traffic in the city, Santa Fe in Bantayan Island must be the place to be.
GETTING TO BANTAYAN ISLAND
Bantayan Island is not just an hour away drive from Cebu City. Your patience would be one of the things that you need to bring here since it would take you about almost 5-6 hours before you get into the island itself. It would be best to take the earliest trip as possible to fully enjoy and see the wonders of Bantayan Island.
1. At Cebu North Bus Terminal, board a Ceres bus heading to Hagnaya Port. There will be two options for the bus either an air-conditioned one or not. I prefer you ride the air-conditioned bus for a more relaxed trip which would cost you Php180.00. Travel time would take around 4 hours. See updated bus schedules posted below.
2. Once in Hagnaya Port, take a ferry bound to Santa Fe Port and pay Php185.00 for the fare. An additional payment of Php10.00 would also be collected for the terminal fee upon purchase of the ferry ticket. Travel time would be 1 hour. The first trip would be at 3 AM and the last trip would be at 5:30 PM.
3. Reaching Santa Fe Port, you would need to walk for a few minutes to get in the tourism office and pay Php30.00 for a one-time ecological fee.
4. Take a tricycle going to your resort. Most of the drivers already know where the hotels are located. Fare would be around Php15.00-Php20.00 per head if I remember it correctly. Or you can just ask the driver upon riding though to be sure.
WHERE TO STAY IN BANTAYAN ISLAND
There are a lot of accommodations that you can choose from in Santa Fe, Bantayan. Of course, prices would vary from simple ones up to the mid-range hotels around the area. Choose wisely if you want a comfortable stay during your trip like what we did. We were supposed to stay at Kota Beach Resort or Anika Island Resort but both resorts were fully booked on the dates of our trip. Since it was full, I did some research in TripAdvisor and found a new establishment in Santa Fe that showed good reviews – Carl’s Island Inn.
Carl’s Island Inn is located near some of Santa Fe, Bantayan’s popular attractions. The area was so peaceful, so clean and so Instagram worthy! And the perks that you are getting here is even more than what you are paying for. We booked a room good for 2 people for 2 nights in this hotel that cost us Php1,800.00 per night. The room includes free pick up and service to the port, a comfortable bed, towel, a fridge, hair blower, private CR, Wifi, TV, restaurants’ map, free breakfast and a welcome drink from their mini bar of your choice!
Going around Bantayan Island
There will be plenty of options to go around Bantayan Island. Once you arrived in Hagnaya Port, there will be a lot of locals who will offer you tours. Even tricycle drivers would offer themselves to tour your around Santa Fe for a common price like of the others. You could also rent out bicycles for as low as Php150.00 per day since there are a lot of hotels and stores who have bicycle rentals around the town. But if you’re like us who wanted to explore more the island and save some cents, it would be best to rent a motorbike that would cost around Php300.00 per day and tour on your own.
Weeks prior to going on this trip, I kept myself busy asking my friends who have already gone to Bantayan Island. As this was my first time going to Santa Fe, I felt so excited! I read a lot of blogs about the island, watched vlogs, searched Instagrammable spots and finally composed our itinerary.
WHERE TO GO IN BANTAYAN ISLAND
Let’s get moving! Below are the tourist spots and Instagram-worthy places that we went to on this trip. Research shows that these are also the common places that tourists usually go on their Bantayan escapades. It might not be posted in order below but I’ll be giving you a sample itinerary at the end of this blog in which the places would be best arranged in order.
1. The Ruins and Cliff Diving Spot
This attraction has been famous because of the movie Camp Sawi as they say. I heard from a friend that this was the spot in the movie when Bella Padilla and Sam Milby had a good time at the beach and did cliff jumping. It might be a good spot for sunset though but nothing special about the place when I saw it. Would rate it 2/5.
2. Paradise Beach
Just a few minutes of drive away from The Ruins would be Paradise Beach. Getting to Paradise Beach might be so hard if you’re driving a motorbike since the road is very bumpy and you might also need to ask around if you’re not familiar with the place. You’ll know that you are already there if you see a store with the sign “Paradise”. There would be an environmental fee of Php50.00 when you reach the area.
Paradise beach was indeed a paradise itself. Don’t miss this when you go around Santa Fe. The ambiance here is the real game. Paradise Beach is so peaceful and away from the crowd unlike Kota Beach at day. Also, bring foods when you decide to come here since there are no food stalls around. It might be very hot here in the afternoon but less worries because there are small cottages as well that you can put your belongings for free, first come basis. I also heard that you can also go camping here and rent a tent in the paradise store if you want or might as well bring your own gears to save money.
3. Omagieca Obo-ob Mangrove Garden
Minutes of drive away from Santa Fe is the said mangrove garden noted to be one of the popular go-to lists in Bantayan Island. This place is known to be a conservation area for mangrove that can be explored through a long boardwalk built of bamboos. In here, you can find the famous “Camp Sawi” signboard at the beginning of your trail since the one in Kota beach has already been removed and the new “Camp Wagi” signboard right before you reach the end of the boardwalk. Entrance fee would be Php 50.00.
Since we rented a motorbike, we used google maps to reach the area from the grounds of Santa Fe. While for those who don’t know how to drive motorbikes, getting here can be reached via tricycle tour together with The Ruins & Cliff Diving Spot and Paradise Beach for only Php 500.00. Travel time from Santa Fe would be around 20-30 minutes.
4. St. Peter and Paul Church
Located across the town plaza in the heart of Bantayan Island Proper is St. Peter and Paul Church. Founded in June 1580, this church is known to be the oldest parish in Visayas and Mindanao. This church is a well-preserved symbol of the Catholic faith and said to have numerous religious artifacts and other relief sculptures of saints. One amazing thing that caught my attention when we got to this church was the roof painting. Not really sure as to when but I heard that the roof painting has just been painted not long time ago. In fact, it was still in progress when we happen to visit the main Bantayan Island next to our trip from the mangrove garden.
If you want to reach St. Peter and Paul Church not via motorbike, just be prepared to pay around Php 1,000.00 for the tricycle tour together with the three attractions mentioned above.
5. Kota Beach (AT SUNRISE)
We went here around 5 AM listening to the peaceful sound of waves to witness the sunrise and never did regret about waking up early for it. I suggest you start your day going here very early in the morning like we did!
I must say that Kota Beach is one of the most picturesque beaches in Bantayan Island next to Paradise Beach. This must be a favorite among beach bums since this beach has a long shoreline and even have a mini sandbar. It also offers a crystalline turquoise water if not so crowded and the finest sand that you can find on the island. The beach can get crowded in summer especially during Holy Week, but this is something that you shouldn’t miss.
6. Ogtong Cave
If you have already seen one or two beaches in Santa Fe and still have enough time, don’t miss out one of the most visited and interesting places to see in Bantayan Island, the Ogtong Cave. Ogtong cave is located in Ogtong Cave Resort just before The Ruins and Cliff Diving Site. The resort is actually known for its small underground cave offering a clear natural pool where guests can dip in.
The cave used to be exclusive for house-in guests only way back in 2013 but not long time ago, it was then opened for those who wanted to see the place on a day-tour. The entrance fee for a day-use of the resort would be Php200.00 inclusive of pool usage. There’s also an in-house restaurant where you can dine in if you want. You could also see a lot of white and fuchsia pink bougainvilleas around the resort which can be very Instagrammable! I highly suggest you come here in the morning since it gets crowded in the afternoon.
7. MJ Square
Known to be the food market of Santa Fe, Bantayan Island is the famous MJ Square. MJ Square offers a wide range of food choices in Santa Fe, Bantayan. And if you’re looking for a buffet type of meal, this must be the place to be. If you don’t feel like eating in a buffet, don’t worry since there are also budget meals that you can find around.
There were two stores that captured my attention the moment we arrived.
Lady’s American Diner
Taking you back to the vintage area is this very Instagrammable diner that recently opened last 2018, Lady’s American Diner. They are the last restaurant of MJ Square from the main entrance. I must say that this place could be nice at photos but for their foods which are a little bit pricey, ambiance and service, will give it 6/10. But if you’re really looking for Insta-worthy spots, then you should consider this one!
If you’re looking for a food that you haven’t found yet in Cebu City or the town you’re coming from, then Tapa Master must be the place to be! It is located at the main entrance of MJ Square and you can find this mini restaurant easily as well since their signboard seems so big for it not to be noticed. Their tapa is so good! So tender and you can really feel the flavors bursting inside your mouth the moment you eat their tapa. We ate here twice during our trip since we didn’t have enough during our first visit. Their price is reasonable too for the plate that you’re getting. Be sure not to miss this even just once! Would rate it 10/10.
The weather was on and off the time we visited Bantayan Island and if you noticed, I did not even put a number to this section. We did not opt-in for an island hopping during our trip considering that there was only two of us and this activity might get pricey for our number. If you do a research, one of the most suggested things to do in Bantayan Island is to go for an island hopping.
Island Hopping in Bantayan Island would cost around Php1,000 good for 6 people to Hilantagaan and Virgin Island. This would be perfect for those people traveling in groups since they could split up the cost. Virgin Island, as they say, should be the highlight of this activity. Unlike Hilantagaan Island that comes with free access, Virgin Island doesn’t. Entrance fee for the 1st two people in Virgin Island would be Php500.00 and Php100.00 for the succeeding heads.
Hope this blog will help you make up your mind to see the wonders of Bantayan Island and see yourself going to the places we’ve been to as well. Bantayan Island can be a very long trip but if you really want to free away yourself from stress and have some peace of mind, you might want to consider going through this trip. If you’re planning to go to Bantayan Island soon, just be prepared for the 5 hours drive from the city and bring some snacks to eat with you. Take the earliest trip as much as possible to save time! Below is a sample itinerary for 3D2N that I made that you can use as a guide and as your schedule estimator.
Day 1 (Saturday)
6:00 AM – Take the Bus bound to Hagnaya Port from North Bus Terminal
10:00 AM – Arrival in Hagnaya Port
10:30 AM – Super Shuttle Ferry to Santa Fe Port
11:45 PM – Arrival in Santa Fe Port
12:00 PM – Lunch in Tapa Master (MJ Square)
2:00 PM – Check-In at Carl’s Island Inn and rest
5:00 PM – Sunset seeing around Kota Beach
6:30 PM – Dinner
7:30 PM – Rest
Day 2 (Sunday)
5:00 AM – Sunrise at Kota Beach
7:00 AM – Free Breakfast at Carl’s Island Inn
8:00 AM – The Ruins and Cliff Diving Site
9:00 AM – Paradise Beach
12:00 PM – Lunch at Lady’s American Diner (MJ Square)
1:30 PM – Omagieca Obo-ob Mangrove Garden
4:00 PM – Explore Bantayan Island Proper
4:30 PM – St. Peter and Paul Church
6:00 PM – Return back to Santa Fe
7:00 PM – Dinner at Tapa Master (MJ Square)
9:00 PM – Rest
Day 3 (Monday)
7:00 AM – Free Breakfast at Carl’s Island Inn
9:00 AM – Ogtong Cave
11:00 AM – Return to Inn
12:00 PM – Check Out
1:30 PM – Santa Fe Port to Hagnaya Port
2:30 PM – Hagnaya Port to Cebu City
7:30 PM – Back home in Cebu City