Going on a Bantayan Island trip and want to know exactly what to do in Bantayan Island? We have you covered! Below you will find our guide to all the best things to do in Bantayan Island 2020 to plan your ultimate trip.
Bantayan Island, said to be what Boracay was 20 years ago before tourism cast its long shadow. The island is only 25km long and 7km at its widest point and here an unspoiled island paradise awaits you. There are endless fields of corn, bananas, breadfruit, camote and coconuts filling the middle of the island, criss-crossed only by small roads that meander past simple houses and chicken-farms.
Home to just three towns – Santa Fe, Bantayan Town and Madridejos – the island was originally named for its 18 watchtowers, built to serve as lookout points for Moro pirates. Today, a few of these watchtowers’ relics can still be found around the island, with Kota Park at Madridejos being the most intact.
Fresh fish, squid, crabs and other exotic shellfish are bountiful – making for great viewing early morning at the Bantayan Fish Market. You’ll also find a limitless supply of chicken and eggs, with the island being known as the “egg basket” for all of Cebu.
However, Bantayan Island is most famous for its white-sand beaches that run almost the island’s length. Empty kilometers of beaches, mostly filled with local children having fun or fishermen preparing their nets, await your exploration. Quiet and simple, island life meanders on under the equatorial sunshine, with only the months of April and May busy with local visitors.
Known for spectacular early sunrises at Santa Fe and equally dramatic red-sky panoramic sunsets at Madridejos, the night sky is likewise incredible, with the milky-way often viewable away from the town’s lights.
Potter around the pretty village of Santa Fe on foot, by bicycle, or hire a trimotor. Spend your days at the various beaches or discovering the inner beauty of the island by scooter. Soak in the fun fiesta atmosphere at jungle-discos, sing your heart out at the karaoke bars, before dining on the freshest seafood or Filipino specialties at MJ Square.
And the fun doesn’t stop yet! …join an island tour, stopping at Bantayan Town’s old church of St Peter and Paul to admire its intricately painted ceiling, Paradise Beach for a relaxing lunchtime bbq or join friendly locals for a roasted lechon. And no visit to Bantayan Island is complete without a day or two spent on the water, island hopping by pumpboat to neighboring islands, such as Virgin Island, on the crystal clear sea.
Whatever you choose to do, Santa Fe is the place to stay, with accommodation – almost all beachfront – great for any budget.
With an airport due to open, flights may soon be available from Manila and Cebu, making the island a much easier paradise destination to reach.
Below, you will find our Bantayan Island things to do blog post with everything you need to know about the best places to visit in Bantayan Island Cebu, where to go in Bantayan surrounds, and the best places to stay for your ultimate holiday in Bantayan Island!! There is also a handy map of the places to go in Bantayan Island, Cebu.
What To Do In Bantayan Island
Here are the best Bantayan Island attractions. Read through and select the ones that fit your interests and timeframe.
Go Island Hopping To Virgin Island
Head out from the main tourist town of Santa Fe by pumpboat for a 30 minute crossing to nearby Virgin Island. A dazzling white-sand beach, usually with welcoming drummers, almost blinds you as you disembark from your boat.
Spend a half day or full day at Virgin Island, enjoying all that the Philippines is famous for, swimming in the clear waters and enjoying the sunshine. For the more adventurous, kayak around the island (30 minutes) marveling as shoals of small fish jump from the water and seabirds dive-bomb in, admire the volcanic rocks that make up one side of the island and pull in to small secluded beaches for a quick “Robinson-Crusoe” moment.
Back at the main area, surrounding the massive beach, you’ll find various huts available to rent. Some are modern, while others are more local in style, made of bamboo and lattice weave. Hang out with your family and friends, swim, play volleyball, rent water sports equipment, snorkel over some small corals, jump from the floating lagoon and enjoy the obligatory seafood lunch!
Your boat captain and crew will cook for you – and join you to dine if invited. Ensure to negotiate the cooking and all costs before leaving from Santa Fe – and ideally pick up your food personally from the market early in the morning. Don’t forget to include paper plates and charcoal (auling). Though don’t worry if you forget, as you can buy things on the island (not seafood though), but prices are mostly inflated.
Visiting Virgin Island is one of the highlights of a stay in Bantayan and is increasingly popular. We recommend to head out very early (7.30 am) to beat the crowds of tourists that arrive from 11 am onwards. You are then sure to have your pick of a hut for the day!
Note that charges can add up – with pumpboat, island entrance, hut fee and cooking fees applied. Be sure to arrange things at the start to ensure a carefree day.
Alternatively, and this isn’t so well known, with a little planning, it is possible to sleep overnight at the island (ask any boatman to help arrange). Arriving around 4 pm as everyone else is leaving is awesome. Calm settles over the island and you can sit back waiting to catch a colorful sunset before enjoying an evening BBQ and the stunning night sky. And wake early, as sunrise is equally as beautiful.
Admire The Sandbar At Kota Beach
Kota Beach is one of the nicer hotels on Bantayan Island and is famed for its large sandbar. Local film crews and photographers are often here, capturing shots at sunrise and sunset.
Jutting out at one edge of the island, the Kota Beach Sandbar – season dependent – is a lovely spot to sunbathe. Alternatively, take a walk here at 5.30 am to catch King-Sun rise again from behind distant islands or hang out here late afternoon when you might see a volleyball or beach soccer game.
Rest And Relax At Paradise Beach
Paradise Beach – recently renamed Sandira Paradise – is perhaps only second to Virgin Island as the best beach spot you’ll visit during your Bantayan vacation. This small inlet is a popular afternoon spot, an idyllic small stretch of beach shielded on both sides by old limestone rocks. The sea here is exceptionally calm, and you’re far from both Santa Fe and Bantayan Town; thus it’s a quiet, serene place to hang out.
Snorkel from the beach’s left to find small fish or head out on a kayak to the local fishermen’s bamboo floating traps, where you’ll find large seabirds flapping around you.
And, as always in Bantayan, it’s time to eat again. Your guide will cook you a great seafood or meat bbq while you enjoy the sea and beach. Don’t forget to purchase your food from Santa Fe market before arranging your guide and trip, and remember to include charcoal, lighter and some cold Red Horse beers.
You can reach Paradise Beach either by pumpboat from Santa Fe (great fun) or, if short on time, there is a new road that leads directly to this “secret” beach by trimotor/motorbike. A small entrance fee is charged.
Explore The Omagieca Obo-ob Mangrove Eco Park
A newcomer to the island, the Obo-Ob Mangrove Eco Park (found halfway between Santa Fe and Bantayan Town on a coastal road), is the work of the island’s local tourism office, with an eye towards responsible tourism.
A bamboo constructed walkway takes visitors on a meandering path through a large mangrove area, with various educational panels and information points along the route. For those with more time, rent a kayak to discover the picturesque mangroves from the water.
Avoid visiting here at low tide; as the walkway stretches far out towards the sea and the underlying muddy areas can be fairly pungent!
Once you’ve finished your walk, enjoy a bite to eat at the onsite bamboo restaurant built over the water.
Try Dried Seafood
Along with its chicken-farm industry, Bantayan is also renowned for its dried “danggit” fish. The pride of the local islanders, the fish is a must-try when visiting the island. Sold at many market stalls and restaurants, it is best enjoyed fried and dipped in a mix of soy sauce and fresh chilies.
Bantayan Town Fish Market
Head here around 8 am weekdays, slightly later at the weekend, to enjoy the lively atmosphere and see what the overnight catch has yielded.
Snapper, barracuda, grouper, alongside an innumerable amount of unrecognizable fish, are sold. You’ll also see large and small (super tasty!) squid, blue and grey crabs, large octopus, seashells, and fresh prawns.
If you’re heading out for a day’s tour – whether on land or by sea – this is the best place to pick up your food for the day.
Island Tour by Trimotor
Wondering what to do in Bantayan Island, Cebu? Discovering the island on a full day tour is an epic way to commence your stay in Bantayan Island. You’ll find many trimotors queued in Santa Fe market, awaiting passengers. Select the most comfortable looking as you’ll be bouncing around in this for a few hours!
The driver will offer some ideas for the day’s route or you can add-in any of the places mentioned here. Our top suggestion would be:
- The Cliffs at Pooc
- Marikaban coastal road to Obo-Ob Mangrove Eco Tour
- Bantayan Town – to discover the Church and Fish Market, taking a cheap lunch at the bbq area or ask your driver to recommend a local restaurant
- On to Kota Park at Madridejos, passing alongside lush fields still plowed by farmers using machines dragged behind large carabao
- Discover Kota Park and the long walkway out over the sea
- Return via the inner island road to Bantayan Nature Park for a relaxing swim in their infinity pool, before passing by Balidbid Lagoon on the return to Santa Fe
Self Discovery Island Tour by Scooter/MotorBike
In addition to the trimotor day tour, we recommend renting scooters or motorbikes for self-discovery of the island. It is impossible to get lost with a coastal road that runs almost right around the island and one interior road.
Set out early, avoiding the day’s heat, passing from Santa Fe to the Balidbid Lagoon. Continue to drive the interior road to Madridejos, taking any of the country roads off to the right or left, just for the fun of it! You’ll either find lovely little coastal roads or coconut plantations and farmland.
Ask for directions to Atop-Atop and the “Big Cross,” a large white cross recently constructed at the island’s center. One of the highest points, you’ll enjoy the views from here.
Following little lanes and coastal roads, random scooter rides are among our favorite things to do in Bantayan Island, Cebu.
Dine At Stumble Inn Beach Club
As of writing, this is the only restaurant that opens directly onto the beach, thus ensure to tick off a few meals at Stumble Inn Beach Club, Santa Fe.
Picture-postcard views, great Australian hosts, and tasty, delicious food. With some local and many international dishes, a diverse menu is catered, along with cold beer, shakes, and cocktails.
A billiard table, fresh air, cool tunes, friendly atmosphere and epic Philippine views… what more do you need?!
Dine at MJ Square
A long food court – strangely not a “square” at all – MJ Square is a relatively new area in the middle of Santa Fe market that offers a surprisingly high amount of restaurants and cuisines. Local specialties (usually pork or chicken based), fresh seafood, pizzas, Thai and even a special crab restaurant. Enough to keep you busy throughout your stay!
Visit St. Peter And Paul Church
Home to one of the oldest parishes in the Philippines, St Peter and Paul Church was founded in 1580 by the Spanish. Used by the colonial settlers as a place to train priests entering from outside of the Philippines before sending them out countrywide, the church was mostly destroyed by Muslim rebels in the 1600s.
Rebuilt using coral stones, the current church was finally finished in 1863. The location for the island’s major religious ceremonies, including the popular Easter festivities, and also used by the connected school run by nuns; most recently the church is wowing parishioners with its intricate ceiling paintings. Not unlike the famous Sistine Chapel, the ceiling has been painted with a multi-panel, super detailed mural. Most definitely worth a look.
See The Historic Fort At Kota Park and Sea Walkway
At the northern tip of the island, furthest from Santa Fe, you’ll find Kota Park at Madridejos (known locally as Lawis). Unfortunately, since the island was devastated by Typhoon Yulanda, the old Fort at Kota Park has been closed, deemed unsafe. However, you can admire the ruins from afar before taking a stroll along a long walkway out over the sea.
At the end of the walkway is a high jumping point, where you’ll usually find many local children having a great time! Swim or just have your cameras at the ready for some cool pics. Hang around here for sunset too, as Madridejos is famed for its red-skies and views that stretch out kilometers to small islands on the horizon.
There’s a very small onsite cafe for a cold beer or warming coffee.
Funtastic Island Medellin – Zip, Dive or Swim!
A full day is needed to enjoy Funtastic Island Medellin, but it is more than worth the effort. Arrange a deal with a boatman in Santa Fe (try for a double-engine pumpboat), pick up your meat and fish from the market, and set out for the 2-hour boat ride to Funtastic Island.
A busy place, the island has a resort area with picturesque huts built all across some stunning rock formations and even out over the sea. Connected by bamboo walkways, with terrifically clear blue waters underneath, this is our top pick for snorkeling in the region. Sometimes a little wavy, the area has great corals and usually shoals of small fish.
But for the youngsters, the fun is this time more on land, with the island having a cliff-to-rock zipline and an extremely high 40ft cliff diving/jumping-off point.
Very popular with locals, it’s recommended to avoid the busier weekends – but either way, you can expect groups of families, with loud music playing from each of the huts. A great day out!
Take A Dip In Hilantagaan Island
Often an add-on to a Virgin Island trip, a visit to Hilantagaan Island, is a step back in time. This “fishing island” is a world-away from Bantayan’s tourist island, yet only 25 minutes by pumpboat.
If you’re looking for somewhere quieter than Virgin Island, yet still idyllic, unspoiled and offering white-sand beaches, Hilantagaan is the spot for you. Ask your boatman in Santa Fe to take you to Wang-Wang Beach …and ask him to translate these amusing words, meaning quite the opposite of Virgin Island!
You’ll find a small stretch of sand, with wooden bench tables and lovely coconut shade, where the owners or your boat crew will cook your lunch while you relish the amazing views that stretch over to Virgin and Bantayan Island. A wonderful spot to relax at – with hammocks too – you’ll be mesmerized at the sea’s different colors as the shallow lagoon slowly dips deeper into the channel.
If not too hot, take a walk into the main village to see the sleepy lifestyle and ask around for fresh squid or fish, bargaining yourself a terrific deal!
Many fantastic days have been spent doing almost nothing at Wang-Wang Beach.
Visit the Cliffs & The Ruins at Pooc, Santa Fe
Many of the photos used to promote Santa Fe include one or two shots taken at The Ruins. Set cliffside, the “Ruins” are simply the remains of a derelict house. However, the brilliant white walls with large round empty windows are dramatic when photographed against the surrounding green grassland and the sparkling blue sea.
Tide dependent, the cliffs offer some good jumping points and are a popular spot for locals early mornings, late afternoons, and weekends.
Located a couple of minutes from Ogtong Cave Resort, at one end of Santa Fe, this is the best place in Bantayan Island for Insta pics.
It’s Always Fiesta Time
Bantayan Island is split into approximately 49 barangays (small regions). Each barangay celebrates its own annual Fiesta, each lasting three days. Thus, there is usually a Fiesta or two happening somewhere… And joining the fiesta fun is a really immersive experience, making it one of the standout things to do in Bantayan Island, Philippines.
Fiestas are noisy affairs, celebrated across the three days with a mixture of religious, family and sport activities, and a whole lot of dancing! The first night is usually a hardcore disco, held within the barangay’s large basketball court or – more dramatically – in a marked off area within a field under swaying coconut trees. Atmospheric, to say the least, as thumping loud music vibrates through the night, with both tourists and locals enjoying fun times.
On the second night, there are usually more sedate happenings, with beauty competitions for youngsters and teens, singing competitions for all ages and perhaps sporting competitions, followed by another disco.
The third day is the true “Fiesta Day’, with the whole barangay taking part. Families rent tables courtside or disco-side, with children, parents and grandparents joining in the fun. Religious ceremonies are held; usually a parade organized through the local area and awards presented for the previous activities. And, then, a mammoth disco commences with traditional “cha-cha-cha” dancing, 70’s disco tunes and on thru to modern sounds. When it ends, no-one is really sure, and usually depends only on the current President’s ruling… Viva la fiesta!
Similar to almost all the hotels-with-pools on the island, Maia’s Beach Resort welcomes day visitors. We particularly recommend this hotel over others due to its quiet location.
Found on a coastal road half-way between Santa Fe and Bantayan Town, you’ll probably need to rent a trimotor-with-driver or ask for help to find it. …but the remoteness is part of the charm!
With only six individual cottages, topped with white turrets, the hotel’s gardens are beautiful. Colorful flowers, vines and more lead you past the small reception-with-billiard-table area and a bamboo stairway over limestone karst craters and rocks. At the end of the pathway, you’re greeted with a small swimming pool – usually empty of guests – and a couple of huts for rent. Take the one to the rear of the pool, which opens fully onto the splendid sea views.
The shoreline is a massive bay, with a tidal flow that leaves behind many shellfish; thus you’ll often see locals searching amongst the mudflats and the area is a magnet for seabirds—definitely our favorite spot on the island.
Admire The Balidbid Lagoon
A unique saltwater river that snakes around palm tree inlets and bays into the island’s interior, the so-named “Balidbid Lagoon” is an insanely scenic place to visit. Though reachable by road, it is best discovered by pumpboat (at high tide), when you can glide along the river, listening to hundreds of birds’ calls.
Rarely visited, this area is wonderful for drone aerial shots, with lush greenery and white sandbanks alongside the blue snaking canals.
If you take a swim, be careful of the currents near the entrance channel, especially when the tide is flowing out.
For all you adrenaline junkies looking for things to do, Bantayan Island, Santa Fe is the home of SkyDive Cebu Adventures, offering exhilarating tandem or accelerated freefall skydiving! Discover more here.
Chill Out At Ogtong Cave
Found at Ogtong Cave Resort, a pretty and long-time established hotel at one end of Sugar Beach in Santa Fe; this natural cave is a refreshing dip on a hot day!
Relatively small, the cave is easily accessed by steps and is a clear bluish color. After a swim, stay longer at the resort to enjoy their swimming pool and take in the spectacular views that stretch down the entire length of Sugar Beach to Kota’s sandbar.
Swim At Sugar Beach
Famed amongst Filipinos as the Easter-weekend beach to hit – when the whole island teems with local tourists – Sugar Beach is a long, wide beach stretch that spans from Ogtong Cave to Kota Beach. It’s a great spot for a swim with a gentle shoreline and is the longest stretch of beach running alongside the village of Santa Fe.
Easily reachable on foot from most Santa Fe hotels, the beach is also lovely for an early sunrise walk or evening to chill out.
Cebu Bantayan Island Itinerary
A visit to Bantayan Island can be as busy or as relaxing as you wish. A Bantayan Island itinerary 2020 should focus on all the fabulous open-air and outdoor activities – such as island hopping, the Mangrove Eco walkway and the epic Madridejos walkway. In fact, almost all the activities are outdoors and any itinerary to Bantayan Island will ensure a healthy, fun-filled stay!
If you only have one day, the best Bantayan Island 1 day itinerary would be a full-day trimotor tour. Let the driver take you around the island, visiting all three towns and the main tourist highlights.
Though a small island, you’ll never be stuck wondering what to do in Bantayan Island; itinerary ideas above will keep you busy for many days! Home to many people, there is always some celebration, fiesta or party happening, and the friendly locals will be more than pleased if you join in!
Bantayan Island Attractions Map
Best Place To Stay In Bantayan Island
Hotels in Santa Fe are springing up quickly and you will not struggle to find somewhere to fit your budget. However, don’t expect five-star resorts or service levels. Even at the best hotels in Santa Fe, things work at a slower pace. But you can expect rooms that open out onto scenic beaches, and clean, modern facilities.
Below I’ve listed a few different places to consider, including a budget, mid-range and more expensive option.
BEST – Anika Island Resort Review
Opening directly onto one of the most scenic stretches of beach, just on the outskirts of Santa Fe, Anika Island Resort is one of the best hotels that the island has to offer.
Featuring a newly built outdoor swimming pool (colorfully lit at night for atmospheric evening swims), and an adjacent large and modern restaurant, the resort offers various room choices.
Strangely, the majority of “rooms” that surround both sides of the pool are made from re-fashioned shipping containers. The rooms themselves are basic inside but have flat-screen TVs, air-conditioning and mini-fridges.
The standout rooms are at the rear of the pool and restaurant, facing the beach. Again basic inside (but not shipping containers), most have small balconies for relaxing at.
The beach area is private for hotel guests, where you’ll find some loungers and kids beach toys.
MID-RANGE – Amihan Beach Cabanas Resort Review
A winner for location and opening directly onto the beach, Amihan Beach Cabanas make for a terrific mid-range stay.
Located right in the middle of Santa Fe, on a small secluded beach that slopes quickly down to the welcoming sea, the small cabanas are dramatically positioned for an epic sunrise. Built of traditional wood and bamboo, and with thatched roofs, they are super picturesque – the quintessential Robinson-Crusoe hut!
Inside, the cabanas continue with the bamboo theme, with the bed and furniture. White linen and mosquito nets compliment the bright wood, and you’ll find a clean, modern toilet, sink and shower cubicle. Each cabana has a flat-screen tv, air-conditioning, and its own small terrace area, for those hours spent admiring the views.
Opening directly onto the sand – a-la-Maldives style – there is a two-floor bamboo structure in the middle of the resort, home to the reception, a small bar and your breakfast venue.
At the time of writing, no lunch or dinner is offered, but you are only a couple of minutes walk from the center of Sante Fe, with many restaurants and MJ Square.
You’ll find basic, clean rooms, with one or two queen-size beds, Cable TV and a private bathroom including a shower and free toiletries. Air-conditioning is standard across all rooms and there’s a small onsite restaurant, free parking, and shared kitchen and BBQ facilities at a surcharge.
How To Get To Bantayan Island
It’s easy to get to Bantayan Island by bus, ferry, or car. If you have your own car, great! You are good to go.
From Mactan-Cebu International Airport, take a taxi to the North Bus Terminal. Then ride a bus or van to Hagnaya port. Once in Hagnaya, purchase a ticket to the ferry bound to Santa Fe Port in Bantayan Island.
If you need to take a bus, click here for the latest timetables and bus prices.
You can also hire a car/van to get you there by clicking here.
Or click here to see all the latest ferry ticket prices and schedules.
Bantayan Island With Kids
Leave the iPads at home, and rediscover outdoor life, nature and enjoy a classic family holiday.
Bantayan Island is all of that and more, with empty beaches with perfect sand and calm seas. Children especially love playing in the rock pools left behind at low tide. We recommend grabbing a torch in the early evening and joining the locals searching for crabs, octopus and other shellfish left behind in the pools.
Children enjoy riding on the trimotors, bouncing around as you explore bamboo walkways into mangroves, or beg to jump off the diving platforms at Madridejos. They’ll marvel at the plethora of fish and shellfish at the markets, enjoy the fresh coconuts sold along the highway, laugh at the massive pigs wallowing in the mud and learn from watching the local farmers plow their fields by hand, alongside massive caribou.
And days out on the pumpboats – exploring islands, stopping at small beaches, looking for dolphins or turtles (rare, but definitely around), and snorkeling and swimming until the sun sets – well, days like this are what “vacations” are made for.
Perfect for families as there are many things to do in Bantayan, Cebu, and with very little traffic, clean, fresh air, and friendly locals, we doubt anyone will want to go home…
It’s hard to find fault with Bantayan Island. Peaceful, safe, friendly locals only too happy to take you around the island for the day, take you out on the water exploring even more magical islands, or welcome you into their Fiestas. …and the scenery is beyond stunning, often used to promote the Philippines in magazines and at airport billboards.
With cheap accommodation, food and tours, we find Bantayan Island is a stand out Philippines destination.