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A Bantayan Island itinerary for those who are short on time

A Bantayan Island itinerary for those who are short on time

  • If you’re looking for a quiet beach holiday away from all the fuss of the city, look no further than Bantayan Island

Bantayan Island is my favorite place on earth. The semi-remote island is located along the northeastern coast of Cebu and boasts some of the most beautiful and peaceful white sand beaches you’ll ever see in your life. 

Unlike Boracay or Siargao, Bantayan stays relatively quiet and peaceful even during their busiest months, mostly because of how far away it is from major cities. On a good day, it can take up to three hours by car or bus to get to the port on the northern side of Cebu and another hour (or more, depending on the weather) on a boat to bring you to the island. 

Believe it or not, I didn’t edit these pictures
Bantayan Island is also known for their killer sunsets

Aside from its pristine beaches and crystal clear waters, there’s a lot to do and see on the island. It’s home to a beautiful mangrove forest, as well as one of the oldest churches in the country. Here’s a very short itinerary of what you can do if you ever plan to visit.

Day tour

Bantayan may be small, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to see. Most tricycle operators on the island also double as tour guides and can take you all over the island in the span of a single day. This would typically cost around P500 to P1,000 per person, depending on the number of stops you take. 

This vehicle may look like a jeep, but make no mistake, it’s actually a tricycle. It’s also the main mode of transportation on Bantayan Island aside from motorcycles and pedicabs

One of the highlights of the tour are Sto. Niño Cave, which houses a small inlet of brackish water that rises and subsides with the tide. If you’re feeling brave enough (which I wasn’t) you can actually go for a swim inside. 

This is the small body of water you can swim in, which is located inside the Sto. Niño Cave

Another beautiful spot you can visit is the Obo-ob Mangrove Garden Integrated Ecotourism and Conservation Association(OMAGIECA) Mangrove Garden where you can walk through the forest on the elevated boardwalk, go kayaking among the mangroves, and even feed some fish. 

It does get very hot during the day, so it’s advised to bring a hat and sunscreen. If you don’t have a hat, you can borrow one from the reception area. 

The tour also takes you to different picturesque beaches and a cliffside diving spot called “The Ruins.” The beaches can get crowded though, so either bring your patience or ask your tour guide-slash-driver to take you to somewhere more private. 

Going around town

There are three major areas in Bantayan: Sta. Fe, where all the resorts are, Madredejos, its northernmost point, and Bantayan Town Proper. While visiting the island’s busiest area may not sound very attractive if you’re pining for an island vacation, it’s still worth the short-ish tricycle ride. 

The town boasts of many shops (including hidden ukay gems) that sell all kinds of clothes, accessories, and beach essentials. The major square is also adjacent to the public market, which is the best place to score the item Bantayan is most known for: buwad. Specifically, danggit. 

Most of the stalls at the Bantayan Public Market display their buwad (or tuyo) like this

One of the major industries in Bantayan is dried fish, which is what most people ask for as pasaulubong whenever I visit. Bantayan’s buwad, or tuyo if you’re from Luzon, is special because it’s mostly unsalted. Instead of using rock or iodized salt, they use the salty ocean water to help clean and dry the fish, which gives it a fantastic flavor. 

You can find many varieties of buwad at the public market. The stalls are lined with different vendors with dried fish piled high for both visitors and locals to choose from. The variety ranges from the typical dilis, espada, and bolinao, but the most popular variety, though, is the danggit. We’ve all probably had danggit before, but the Bantayan danggit is the island’s specialty. 

For the culturally inclined, one of the oldest churches in the Philippines can also be found on the island. The Parish of Sts. Peter and Paul was established in the 16th century, although the structure was built in the 1800s. 

The exterior of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish
The “Dibuho Kisame” is one of the churches most prominent features

It’s a beautiful old church that sits at the head of the square, making it look like the town’s crowning jewel. The church, founded by Augustinian missionaries, was the first parish established in Cebu—making it one of the oldest in the Visayas and Mindanao. 

One of the most compelling features of the church is its magnificently painted ceiling. The “Dibuho Kisame” (or devotee ceiling) was painted in 2018 to 2019 by a collective of artists commissioned by the local community and other benefactors. The ceiling illustrates the story of the creation, the fall of man, and man’s redemption through God. 


Pizzeria la Filomena

A true gem of an Italian restaurant isn’t difficult to find. Well, that is when you know what to look for. One of the most obvious signifiers is the presence of a woodfire oven. Minimal (or at times kitschy) decor is another sign. But the most obvious—and rarest— signifier is the sound of Italian conversation that comes from patrons who hail from the motherland. 

Pizzeria la Filomena’s exterior from across the street with faded signs that say “pizza” and “pasta” atop the entrance

Among the several restaurants selling the catch of the day and other typical island fare, the restaurant stands out. 

If you pass by the quaint street it calls home, you wouldn’t even think it was an Italian restaurant (bar the fading signs that promises hot and fresh Italian food). Like most establishments in the area, the restaurant is al fresco. It’s a relatively bare bones operation with three staff members (including the chef) and a few tables. 

Aside from the pizza, you must get the gnocchi. Getting gnocchi right is a difficult task, even for bigger restaurants. Pizzeria La Filomena’s gnocchi is something straight out of your deepest dreams. The dumplings are light and tender, but with a bouncy bite that leaves you wanting more. 

Pizzeria la Filomena’s seafood pesto gnocchi. If you look closely, you can see squid rings and bits of shrimp

The restaurant has different varieties of gnocchi, but my favorite ones are the four cheese (where you can actually taste all four of the cheeses) and the seafood pesto (made with only the freshest catches). 

Molto bene, if I do say so myself. 

Chloe Café

Recommending this specific restaurant is a bit of a gray area for me (since the owner is an extended family member), but the food is just so good I couldn’t help myself. No matter where I stay in Bantayan, at least two meals must be held at Chloe Café. 

Clockwise from the left: butter garlic shrimp, baked scallops, calamares, grilled pork belly, and Anika fried rice

The cafe is the main restaurant of Anika Island Resort, and it has some of the freshest seafood and most delectable island fare I’ve ever had in my life. Located less than five minutes away from the port, it’s an ideal first stop for the weary traveler looking for a delicious meal. 

Baked scallops, calamares, butter garlic shrimp, grilled pork belly, and Anika fried rice are staple menu items you can never go wrong with. The portions here are served family style, which means you definitely won’t be hungry after this. 

Special items like lobsters and crab are also available, but you’ll have to order them a day in advance to be able to enjoy them. 

Bantayan Burrito Co.

I honestly wasn’t expecting much when I first ate at Bantayan Burrito Co., but I immediately knew I was in good hands when I saw a portrait of Anthony Bourdain on the wall. The Mexican restaurant is located in MJ Square, one of Sta. Fe’s main tourist hangouts. It’s an arcade that houses many different shops, restaurants, groceries, and even a few bars with live music. 

The nachos at Bantayan Burrito Co. are always piled high. Photo from Bantayan Burrito Co. Mactan Facebook

The one thing I get each time I’m there is their pulled pork nachos. What makes this certain bowl of nachos so special is how they fry the chip. Unlike most restaurants that sell nachos with chips from a bag, Bantayan Burrito Co. serves freshly fried chips that are crunchier than anything pre-made. 

The servings here are also quite large, which is a running theme among most restaurants on the island. Be prepared to eat your weight in Mexican food (and probably have extras left over) when you visit. It’s best to come after a long day of island hopping to really make the most out of your meal. © 2020. Hinge Inquirer Publications, Inc.


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