Guide to Visiting Bantayan Island, Philippines

January 22, 2024laurenslighthouse

Bantayan is one of the Philippines’ most underrated islands. It’s a gem with some of the most pristine white sand beaches and clear waters we’ve ever seen. Just off the northwest coast of Cebu, many locals from the Central Visayas region will vacation here, but international visitors are much fewer, making it easier to evade the crowds, giving you the opportunity to explore a less widely known paradise. 

We were completely enamoured with Bantayan after spending a few days here. Particularly after our journey island hopping over to the neighbouring Virgin Island and exploring the coast of mainland Bantayan, including swimming at the picture perfect Sandira Beach. If you’re considering adding Bantayan to your Philippines itinerary, I’m telling you: do it! 

In this post, given that you’ve made the right decision to visit, we’ll give you a complete guide on how to get to Bantayan. Everything you need to know about the buses and ferries, as well as how to best get around the island when you get there, we’ve got you covered. 

When to Visit Bantayan

It goes without saying that the Philippines is best to visit during its dry season, which is from November to May. But with the change in climate, the line between dry and wet seasons is becoming more and more blurred. Even mid to late January, we experienced some high winds and rain storms that put some of our excursions on pause!

Before heading to Cebu, we were actually heading to Siargao. After flying from Palawan back to Manila for our connecting flight, our second flight to Siargao got cancelled due to the torrential rains! Yikes. We quickly had to pivot. In the small terminal 4 check-in area of Ninoy Aquino International, we quickly started to research where to go next that wasn’t experiencing horrid weather. Lo and behold, northern Cebu was forecasted to be all sunshine for the next few days! An hour later, we were at the airport ticket office in terminal 1, getting our refunds for our Siargao flight itinerary and booking the next flight out the next day, with plans to head straight for Bantayan Island.

Perfect weather for a swim at Sandira Beach

So with that said, no matter what time of the year, you may experience unfavourable weather conditions in the Philippines. But for the best chances, aim for November to May! In Bantayan, the weather is for the most part dry and the seas calm, making that white sand and those turquoise waters as pristine as ever! All four days that we spent in Bantayan at the end of January gave us nothing but blue skies (with a short burst of light rain) and perfect tides for swimming.

How to Get to Bantayan

Many locals who vacation in Bantayan will actually drive over from Cebu Island, taking the ferry over, and use their own vehicle to get around once there. If you choose to rent your own car while exploring the Cebu region, we recommend comparing prices on Discover Cars and Rental Cars. Having your own car is great for convenience and flexibility, but not so much for ease of parking and driving on narrow and unpaved roads. In our opinion, renting a car for a trip to Bantayan is not necessary and will give you a few too many headaches – and wallet aches.

If you still prefer to have a private transfer, you can book one directly from 12Go Asia, the best online platform to find affordable tickets for buses, ferries, trains and car transfers throughout Asia! This private transfer will pick you up at any accommodation in metro Cebu City, and will drop you off at the Hagnaya Ferry Port for you to catch your ferry over to Bantayan Island.

Wish we could fly over like this little guy

The third and most budget-friendly method is to depend on public modes of transportation. This is how we did it and I’ve got it all detailed below.

From the Airport

If you’ve just landed at Cebu-Mactan airport, there are three legs you’ll need to take to get to Bantayan. One city bus to the North Bus Terminal, one regional bus to the Hagnaya Ferry Port and one ferry to Santa Fe, Bantayan.

Important note: If you’re arriving later than 1pm, you’ll likely have to book yourself a stay in Cebu City as you won’t be able to catch the final ferry over to Bantayan Island. I’ll be sharing the available online bus and ferry schedules below so you can best time your itinerary!

Getting Yourself to the North Bus Terminal

There are a couple ways you can get yourself to the North Bus Terminal. You can either go privately or take the local city bus. Taking a Grab (the primary rideshare app in Asia similar to Uber) or a local taxi is fairly inexpensive, but would be mostly recommended if you’ve got 3 or more people in your group. The two of us took the bus and it was effortless. We literally stepped out of the airport and there it was.

The city bus is easy to find. As soon as you exit the airport, you’ll see the bus loop. Look for the MyBus, which picks people up at the bus stop nearest the exit. Just confirm with the driver that he/she is indeed going to the North Bus Terminal and you’re good to go! 

Have the exact change amount on you to pay for the bus tickets. At the time of writing, the cost was 50 PHP per person.

Important note: Cash is king in the Philippines and it’s one of the most important things you’ll need to know before visiting the country. You’ll need to have a bit of cash on you in order to get yourself to Bantayan, dine there and do any experiences! So be sure to exchange or take out some money before you leave the airport.

Regional Bus to Hagnaya Ferry Port

Once you get dropped off at the North Bus Terminal, head to the main platform where you’ll see some buses parked one after the other. In January of 2023, everything was open-air and there was no building you needed to enter in order to purchase tickets and get through a gate. All you need to do is walk through the parking area to the buses.

It’s not super clear where the bus is along the platform, but look for any signs on the bus windshields that show in large letters the destination. Also, the bus you’re looking for should be am air-conditioned CeresBus. The attendants and bus drivers along the platform are super helpful in getting you to the right place. Don’t be shy to ask for assistance! Look for any signs saying “Hagnaya Port” and particularly “Bantayan – Santa Fe”.

At the time of travel, there was no concrete bus schedule that we could find online and we had to resort to just showing up and waiting, hoping that we don’t just miss one. Fortunately, there was a bus ready to depart in about 30 minutes that was ready for us to hop on! And fortunately for you, there is now an online schedule. Yay! Check out bantayanisland.info for the updated schedules and fares.

The bus attendant didn’t take our payment until we packed our luggage in the baggage compartment, got on the bus and found our seats. It cost us 295 PHP per person, but included the bus transfer all the way to Santa Fe, the port city of Bantayan.

Ferry from Hagnaya to Santa Fe

Even though we didn’t have to disembark the bus at Hagnaya port, we still had to get off and pay for our ferry tickets separately. Once we reached Hagnaya, the bus dropped us off right at the ticket booth to pay our fares and met us on the other side of the ferry terminal so we could all get on the boat together. The ferry cost 325 PHP per person and left within about 20 minutes after we arrived at the port. Check the daily schedule for the ferry here to make sure you don’t miss the last one!

Just think about all the pristine beach time you’ll get after this long journey!

During the ferry ride, we all got off the bus, leaving most of our baggage, to sit out on the decks. This gave us some fresh air and views of the Visayan Sea while we sailed for the hour. Just as the ferry was docking, we went back down to the vehicle area and got back on the bus to transport us over to the port. A bit unnecessary, but at least we didn’t have to take out our luggage and could leave it safely on the bus the entire boat ride!

Santa Fe is not the final destination for the CeresBus. It continues onwards to the town of Bantayan, hence the bus gets on the ferry to cross the sea. But for us, we got off right at the port, the hub for the great majority of accommodations. Once we got into the Santa Fe terminal, we had to pay the 30 PHP ecological fee, a small cost to enjoy this stunning island.

From the South (Moalboal)

If you’re coming from the south of Cebu to visit Bantayan, there’s another leg of travel you’ll have to consider. Unless you’re taking a private transfer, you’ll need to hop on the CeresBus. Coming from the town Moalboal, there’s a not-so-obvious bus station on the main road. Call a tricycle taxi if you’re not in walking distance to the bus terminal like we were. We were staying right by Panagsama Beach and the tricycle ride cost us 150 PHP for the 12-minute ride.

The bus to Cebu City coming from the South of the island will end the journey at the South Bus Terminal in the city. The bus ride cost us 210 PHP per person. Once you arrive, this terminal is still a drive away from the North Bus Terminal, which you need to get to to be bound for Bantayan. Taking a Grab cab is the best and most affordable way to get there.

After you arrive at the North Bus Terminal, follow the steps written above for the bus and ferry all the way to Santa Fe, Bantayan! And remember, be sure to catch the north CeresBus by 1pm in order to catch the final ferry from Hagnaya Port!

How to Best Get Around Bantayan

There are a couple of ways you can get around the island of Bantayan without a car. You can take a tricycle taxi or rent your own scooter. We did both and enjoyed the convenience of either one!

Renting your own scooter is a fun and flexible way to explore the island on your own time. We managed to hit up a bunch of spots, including Sandira (Paradise) Beach, and drive ourselves into town for lunch and dinner to save ourselves the tricycle rides. With the cost of the rental and gas, we paid 350 PHP (US$6.30) for the whole day! Each tricycle ride from our resort – we stayed at Jelly’s Haven – to Santa Fe’s town centre cost us about 40-50 PHP (US$0.70-US$0.90).

A different mode of transportation for some amazing island hopping

Where to Stay in Bantayan

There’s no shortage of comfortable, beachside accommodations on Bantayan Island. Most of them you’ll find to be very affordable, with a few considered to be slight splurges but still great value. We consider the best area to stay in is within or near the main town of Santa Fe. Whether you’re on the south or east coast is up to you.

We stayed at Jelly’s Haven Resort, a humble and budget-friendly resort that sits right on the southern beach of Santa Fe. Just a ten minute walk – or short tricycle taxi ride – away from the town centre, it’s well located for easy access to good dining, coffee shops, markets and pharmacies. It’s also a few minutes’ drive from Sandira Beach! The two things we enjoyed most about it was the complimentary breakfast and our on-demand shuttle ride from and back to the ferry port. Makes life a little bit easier!

Other accommodation properties we recommend include:

Conclusion

It might be a long journey to get to Bantayan, but it’s so worth it to explore the off-the-beaten-path island of Cebu! If you have time to fit it in your Philippines itinerary, do it! With a bus then another bus then a ferry, the pristine beaches of Sandira and Kota welcomed us with open arms. But the best part of all was our day of private island hopping to Virgin Island and Balidbid Lagoon! This is an excursion you cannot miss when visiting Bantayan.

As the island is more remote and less developed, you won’t see as many big brands and commercialized resorts here. Practically all the accommodations are locally owned and you’ll mostly find them to be mid-range. Come here not for the luxury stays but for the untouched beauty of island paradise!

The same goes for the food options. You’ll mostly find simple Filipino dishes as well as pasta, pizza and burgers when you dine in town at Santa Fe. Nothing too special but enough to refuel you after your day of exploring and soaking up the Bantayan sun! If this is your first time coming to the Philippines, don’t forget to read up on our top things to know before visiting this mighty archipelago.

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