Six things to do on a road trip down Southern Cebu

When we made the recent trip to the island province of Cebu for the Sinulog festival (one of the Philippine’s biggest fiestas–read: street party–and annual religious festival in honor of the Santo Nino or Child Jesus), my husband and I and a couple of our friends also made a three-hour trip out of the city to the southern town of Oslob and made some other stops on the way back for some good lechon (roast pig) and chicharon (pork cracklings). Because why wouldn’t you stop for lechon and chicharon?

1. Swim with the whale sharks. Like the sleepy Sorsogon town of Donsol, Oslob turned into a tourist destination, primarily because of the whale sharks that frequented its waters to feed. But unlike in Donsol where you have to search for them, the fishermen in Tan-Awan in Oslob hand-feed the gentle giants and lead them close to shore for the tourists to have an easier access to them. And there are three ways to see them, dive (P600), snorkel (P500), or just stay in the boat, (P300) because the whale sharks tend to stay close to the surface as the feeder throws uyap (shrimp) to feed them.

Photo courtesy of Mike Aquino

One of the whale sharks in Oslob. This and the other one we saw were relatively smaller (but still amazing to behold) than the ones in Donsol (Photo courtesy of Mike Aquino)

Personally, I prefer the practice of whale shark interaction in Donsol. There’s no guarantee that you’ll see a whale shark and capture that Instagram-worthy shot there–because they are after all supposed to be still in the wild–but it seems there’s less impact on their migratory nature (the whale sharks in Oslob, we’re told, are there year-round). Our friend who writes for About.com and was with us during the trip has a different take on it here (and a more helpful guide). Continue reading

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One day in Bantayan Island

We only had one full day in Bantayan Island. The first and third days were mostly spent heading there and leaving the island to spend the night back in the city. (Note to self: Next time, no more overnight in Cebu City, just leave Bantayan in the morning and book an evening flight back to Manila. The island is much, much more relaxing than the city.) But one full day in Bantayan was still worth the trip since P and I still got to see much of the small island without rushing ourselves and experience its biggest selling point–aquamarine waters kissing its creamy white sand coastline.

1. Get in the water. It’s the first thing I do as soon as I step out of our little hut. I’m not a morning person, but for some reason when P and I are on vacation, we easily wake up at 5 or 6 am, eager to start our day. Bantayan was no different. Though the sand on the island is not talcum powder-soft like it is in Boracay, Bantayan still has a fine sandy beach. You only need to walk 10 to 20 meters into the water (still just waist-deep at that point) for your feet get past the jagged sea shells and to find that soft sand. After an hour of floating, staring at the wonderful blue horizon, and pitiful attempts to do some laps, I got out of the water to shower and find some breakfast.

Good morning, beach!

Twenty or so meters into the water and the it’s still just waist-deep (even for little me)

Another activity you can do is to go to the smaller islands surrounding Bantayan as the Japanese couple next to our hut did

Continue reading

How to get to Bantayan Island

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.