A large part of Bantayan’s charm in my opinion lies on the fact that it is not the easiest island to get to. Nowadays, with the powdery, white sand beach and amazingly turquoise clear waters of Boracay just being 35 minutes by plane and a quick boat ride away from Manila, anything longer than that for a beach that doesn’t rival Boracay (often touted the Philippine’s best beach) seems an awful lot of effort. But if you want an island without the mass of tourists (unless it’s the Holy Week) and still has that sleepy and idyllic countryside charm, make the trip to the island of Bantayan.
If you’re coming from Manila or somewhere else besides mainland Cebu, try to get the first flight to the province (or a 9 am flight at the latest) so you have enough time to make it to the last ferry to Bantayan.
1. From the Mactan International Airport you can take a taxi to the Cebu City North Bus Terminal. We didn’t see the line for the regular white cabs (flagdown of PHP30, PHP2.50 per additional), so we ended up lining in the yellow airport cabs (flagdown of PHP70, PHP4.00 per additional). The fare reached almost PHP200 from the airport to the bus terminal.
At the North City Bus Terminal, look for the Ceres bus with the Hagnaya signboard
2. At the North Bus Terminal, there are no ticket booths. You pay the bus conductor the fare once the bus hits the road. We took a Ceres bus with a Hagnaya signboard, but just to be sure, we asked the drivers and conductors waiting by the bus stop if it was the one heading to the Hagnaya port, where we could catch a ferry to the Sta. Fe Pier in Bantayan. It was. It’s a non-air conditioned bus so be prepared for the heat when you get on the road around noon. The fare ranges from PHP50 to PHP70. On the way to Hagnaya, we paid PHP50. On the way back to North Bus Terminal, we got charged PHP70. My theory is it depends on the condition of the bus you’re riding–old, dinky Ceres bus for PHP50, relatively better and bigger Ceres bus for PHP70. My theory is probably wrong, but just prepare for that amount of fare.
It’s more than a three-hour bus ride, mostly along the national highway of Cebu, where you’ll see typical rural landscapes…
...grassy hillsides, sprawling fields
...a couple of old churches
...a few abandoned-looking buildings
...and the occasional Astro-Boy statue
This definitely made bleary-eyed me, sit up and take notice. What was Astro Boy doing in a highway in Cebu? (On the way back, I saw that the statue was in front of an office building/factory called Cebu Mitsumi. A quick Google search shows that it’s a manufacturer of electronics, computers, and mobiles. Not sure if it was Japanese-owned though.) Anyway, after the Asto-Boy sighting, there remained around two more hours on the road.
3. When you get to Hagnaya Port, head over to the Island Shipping Corporation ticket booth. The fare is PHP70 per person. Supposedly, the Aznar Fastcraft gets there faster but the booth was closed. We hadn’t had anything substantial to eat (unless you call Ding-Dong and wheat crackers substantial) since we left the airport, so with only 10 minutes to spare before the 1:30 pm ferry left, we wolfed down these sticks of pork barbecue, grilled hotdogs and two bundles of puso (Cebu’s hanging rice) for our late lunch. It wasn’t the most delicious lunch, but for PHP47 for everything including a small bottle of Coke, who was I to complain. (Schedule of the ferry from Hagnaya to Sta. Fe: 5:00 am, 6:30 am, 9:30 am, 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 3 pm every day, 5 pm on certain days; schedule from Sta. Fe pier to Hagnaya Port: 5:00 am, 7:30 am, 9:30 am, 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 3:30 pm every day, and 5 pm every Wed, Fri, and Sun)
Less than P50 (a little more than a dollar) for lunch
4. After almost an hour and a half on the ferry, it docks at Sta. Fe port. Porters and pedicab drivers would be approaching you to help you with your bags or take you to your resort (or in some cases the resort where they think you should stay because they get a commission); you can just ignore them if you want. We were thinking of just riding one of the pedicabs (God bless Bantayan, there seemed to be more pedicabs and bicycles than motorcycles and tricycles), but since it looked like it was going to rain pretty hard, we thought it best to ride a tricycle. It’s typically PHP25 per person if we waited for four more people to ride with us, but the driver asked for PHP100 if we wanted to rent the entire thing and leave. We were on a hurry so we agreed. And within a few seconds, the rain poured in thick sheets. The kind that even if you have an umbrella or the roof of a tricycle over your head, you’ll still get wet. When we got to our resort and I saw the beach, I thought, “I’m already soaked, I can swim right now.”
Our welcome to Bantayan Island
P and I chose to run to our cottage for cover first. We made sure our clothes inside the backpacks were still dry and changed out of our wet clothes. Then the skies cleared and we got this.
Then it warmed up to us
And we ended up loving it too
An almost empty beach
The resort was rustic. The beach glorious. It didn’t look as ‘perfect’ as Boracay, but the trip to get there and having it (almost) all to yourself–save for that couple on the other resort next door, the French guy in the hammock, and a family introducing their two babies to the wonderful world of sand and saltwater–can’t be beat.