Bantayan Island – Facets of a mosaic paradise

Posted by on March 5, 2015

Bantayan title image escapology

Finally! Finally Bantayan! A place I could not visit during my three months journey across the Philippines but which I always longed to see. The beckoning stories of a magical and authentic island getaway still rang in my ears as I received the invitation to join some of Cebu’s finest bloggers and writers for a tour of this Filipino gem. It would be a jam-packed itinerary, a mix of sightseeing, couch sessions with local politicians and officials, networking and a also charitable work. However, what I found during this eventful journey was a place not only impressing by its sheer beauty and its authentic charm but also by being a perfect example of the renowned Filipino resiliency. Bantayan, a mosaic paradise. 


The discovery of paradise

Standing on the upper deck and blinking into the bright reflections of the tropical sun, we anxiously awaited the landing of our ferry in the port of Santa Fé.  Santa Fé is just one of the islands three municipalities but where the port and most of the tourism resorts and night life are located. More in the centre you will find Bantayan (town), boasting with its unique and authentic flair. Madridejos, located in the far North of the island, is not only famous for its fishing but also for the islands best sunsets.

Ferry to Bantayan.

The arrival in paradise. By ferry from the town of San Remigio in Northern Cebu.

Street scene in Santa Fé Bantayan

Sleepy during the day, liveyl at night. The port town of Santa Fé.

After our arrival, we toured big parts of the island, dropping people off at different resorts and checking out the area at the same time. What I discovered was an island featuring glistening white beaches, lined by lush green flora and towering coconut trees and with the seductively cerulean waters of the Visayan Sea gently caressing its shores. One of the fellow bloggers on this trip, Johnn Mendoza of, said: “When people talked to me about Boracay, I would scoff and say, ‘Wala ra na sa Bantayan!’ (That’s nothing compared to Bantayan!)”. And although I have never been to Boracay, I cannot imagine it being more beautiful than this little piece of heaven.

Bantayan Beach

One of Bantayan’s beaches. Relaxation and serenity are calling.

Bantayan fishing net

Bantayan impressions.

Madridejos on Bantayan

Madridejos in Northern Bantayan. The place to go for a magnificent sunset.

Apart from its seductive white beaches, the island has a lot more in its treasure box. Resorts surrounded by dense jungle, the strangely beautiful tidal flats during sunset,traditional fishermen preparing their nets, old coral formations lining parts of the shoreline or caves filled with fresh water to bathe in. There is so much more to this place it than one would expect at first sight.

The tidal flats of Bantayan

Bantayan tidal flats. A srange beauty.

Bantayan cave

The famous Sto. Niño cave at Island Nature Park Resort.

Bantayan Maia's resort

Built into old coral. Maia’s beach resort in Bantayan.


Bantayanon resiliency after typhoon Yolanda

Bantayan Island was struck hard by the recent super typhoon, which fortunately did not claim many lives but left behind utmost devastation. To learn about how the island and its people coped with this and the status quo of the restructuring and rehabilitation efforts was one goal of the trip. Guidance was given by the honorable Sir Vince Escario, consultant to the mayor of Bantayan and eloquent and rigorous advocate of the islands interest. He told us about how the local government together with NGOs and foreign governments acted quickly in launching first aid measures followed by restoration and relocation projects.

Bantayan lunch

Invited for a sumptuous welcome lunch by the honorable Mr. Vince Escario.

A good example is the Gawad Kalinga housing-project (GK Village), some 300 houses on an 8 has area, which was set up to give victims of the typhoon a new home away from the impact zone. Although not yet finished and fully occupied, the settlement was just bustling with activity. Despite all the hardship these people went through, there was a sense of lightheartedness  in the air, that only Filipinos seem to possess. The Bantayanons are a perfect example of this phenomenon, given perfect proof by the many children of the village.
As I handed them a pack of simple Filipino balloons and blow bubbles, they weren’t to be stopped. Worry-free laughter and cheering instantly filled the air while the kids tried to beat each other at making the biggest bubble. They seemed to have arrived and accepted their new homes and to be ready to move on. And as kids are supposed to be our future, I think this was a great sign and just inspiring to witness.

Children in Bantayan

The little rascals of Bantayan.

We also wanted to support this noble cause personally and helped some of the villagers with building more houses. Everyone got dirty and sweaty, painting walls, shoveling cement, carrying rocks and heavy sacks of dirt. Working alongside these tough and resilient people while joking with them was a one of a kind experience. I am aware that the difference we made that day, if at all, was only a tiny one. Others have accomplished way more and deserve the highest respect for that. But I can say it was a truly rewarding experience which put some of the things we worry about back into perspective.

Housebuild GK Village Bantayan

Work and fun at the housebuild. GK-Village, Bantayan

Other measures that were taken in the wake of typhoon Yolanda were providing the local communities with new and sustainable sources of income. One great example was the women’s group which was taught how to recycle used plastic rice bags. But not the average recycling that you may think of, no, they weave those rice bags into unique and beautiful bags and pursesto be sold to tourists.
Another Bantayan livelihood project is candle making. 27 women who were affected by the typhoon are now producing 10kg of candles per day and they do it all manually. What an effort.

Bantayan livelihood projects

Weaving bags and purses out of recycled rice sacks

Bags in Bantayan

The artistically woven bags. Photo by Johnn Mendoza

Bantayan candle makers

Another project, another improvement. The candle makers of Bantayan.

All those projects are aimed at bettering people’s lives, providing them with new income opportunities and improving the island’s overall social situation. Every little step counts and from what I have heard and now seen in person, Bantayan is on the forefront on charitable groundwork like this. A pioneering example and maybe also an alternative for other communities.


Authenticity, flair and local charm

Santa Fé town can be bustling at times, making for a great party at night complete with bars, live music and videoke. Whereas this is nice to have, it doesn’t take much to get away from it all and experience the islands true and authentic character. As you drive across the countryside, you will pass by traditional settlements, see abandoned bankas in the middle of nowhere, fishermen preparing their nets or the locals shooting hoops on makeshift basketball courts.

Bantayan boats

Abandoned bankas in the middle of nowhere

Fisherman in Bantayan

Fisherman preparing his nets for the next day.

Bantayan court basketball

A makeshift court in Bantayan. Was fun to shoot hoops with these guys.

The town of Bantayan is a great starting point if you are after a truly authentic experience. You can visit the traditional market which sells so called dry and wet goods or play basketball in under the floodlights of the court right smack in the center of town. A one of a kind event however is a traditional “Bayle”, a sort of party in the street where people come together to play games, party, drink and have a merry good time. Kindergarten children or grandparents, everybody joins in. We were lucky enough to take part in such an event and even my Filipino friends considered this something typical Filipino with a long tradition. So if you have the chance, try to attend one of the islands Bayles or Fiestas, it is sure worth it.

Bantayan bayle

A merry good time at the “Bayle” (Picture by Ferliza Calizar Contratista)

Another typical Filipino pastime which you can observe in Bantayan is cockfighting. Critically discussed in Europe, it is yet an important facette of Filipino culture. And that’s exactly why I find it very fascinating. In the local cockpit one can almost conduct a social study. The breeders petting their little heros and talking to them, some are even said to treat them better than their wives, the energetic comparing and haggling over prices, the torrential soundscape which arises as the betting for a fight begins and the bookies who miraculously seem to bring order into this anarchical chaos. No matter what one might think of cockfighting, it is sure fascinating to witness. And Bantayan is a great place to get a taste of it.

Bantayan cockfighting

Anarchic chaos inside the Bantayan cockpit

During a dinner with local government officials, Vince Escario whose family is tied to the history of Bantayan like no other, made a very interesting statement, “The local government’s plan is not to turn Bantayan into a small Boracay”. I find this concept very appealing and salute to this. In the end, authenticity, flair and local charm make a place special. Let’s hope that Bantayan Island won’t change too much and will stay as special as it is for a long time to come.


Last thoughts …

I am grateful to have been part of this one of a kind experience and to document the beauty of this underestimated gem alongside a bunch of great people. What we found was a mosaic little paradise which somehow seems like the Philippines seen through a magnifying glass. At the same time the island features an atmosphere which just makes you feel in tune with world and everything around you. It soothes you, calms you down and gives you the serenity which often seems to get lost in the hustle and bustle of big city living.
The official claim for marketing tourism on the island is “Bantayan beckons”,  and I can say it really does. It’s an intriguing place and after all the destinations in the Philippines I have visited, a true highlight of the archipelago. As sad as I was to leave this small paradise behind, I didn’t want to say goodbye as I knew I will return some day. So until next time and I hope you will stay as you are.





The #iBLOGforBANTAYAN ECO-VOLUNTOURISM Event was organized and sponsored by The Philippine Information Agency (PIA) in coordination with the Pilippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR-7), the Local Government Unit of Bantayan, and the Cebu Blogging Community (CBC).


30 Responses to Bantayan Island – Facets of a mosaic paradise

  1. Philipp Dukatz

    Sorry guys, comments were closed without me noticing it …. appreciate yourfeedback as always and I hope u liked the post … Cheers

  2. The Photoblogger

    Great article Pipoy! Nice to see your view of the Island paradise which is Bantayan!

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Johnn, thanks man, I really appreciate your feedback. I like your portrait as well. Good stuff…glad to have shared this superb experience with you and the others. Keep up the good work and best of luck with your project. Cheers, Philipp

  3. Jhanis

    This is making me miss Bantayan all the more! Great photos Phil. Too bad I missed the sunset in Madridejos. Gotta go back for that one. Cheers!

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Jhanis, thanks for stopping by, I miss it too. Would give a lot to be there right now. You can go back anytime hehe..lucky

  4. Vince

    Philipp, what a fantastic feature! Thank you for such a comprehensive article that is both moving and fun to read. And the photographs are lovely! Remember, you’re always welcome to come back and stay as long as you want. Thank you for the kind words too! DAGHANG SALAMAT GIKAN SA TANANG BANTAYANON!!! THANK YOU FROM ALL BANTAYANONS!!!

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Vince, I am happy to hear from you and a compliment coming from a renowned former editor like yourself means a lot to me. So salamat for that my friend. You know, I will come back, it is absolutely no question. I honestly really got to like your island home and as I said, despite having seen quite a bit of the country, Bantayan is a true highlight. I just hope it won’t be before too long.
      Keep upthe good work there, keep on inspiring. We will meet again some day. Until then… Philipp

  5. kathy

    Hey Philipp, first of all, we superrr love Bantayan! 🙂 It’s not that crowded (at least in Kota Beach Resort where we stayed, where did you stay?) so we really enjoyed just lounging around the beach. And yeah (like everybody) eventhough the resort suffered the wrath of Yolanda (they haven’t finished cleaning-up the whole place yet when we went there around May last year as there were still some uprooted trees and the damaged kubos in the area), still, we saw that they were really doing their best to make their guests happy and experience the best service that they could offer. And having heard their stories on their experiences during the typhoon, on how high the water was and the heartbreaking feelings that they felt at the sight of the damages, its just so unimaginable. And yet, after the loss, and the heartaches, they slowly moved-on and rebuilt their lives in the happiest way that they can – very very admirable.
    On the house-building project of GK, it’s really great and I guess we’re lucky that the private sectors are very actively pursuing this endeavor to help our kababayans. Sept last year, we spent three days in Bogo to help the rebuilding project of a school damaged by Yolanda. And you’re right about the local people (esp the kids!) trying to help that we had to remind them to be careful and just take everything slowly as they were just sooo excited. 🙂
    Happy for you that you were able to join the street party! I think ‘bayle’ is really more of like a dancing event for the young people in the provinces? Not really a street party (haha!) though maybe that’s how they call the street party in Bantayan? 😛
    With the sabong (cockfighting), did you make some bets? To be honest, haven’t been to a sabongan ever! 🙂

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Kathy, thanks a lotforyour kind comment here and sharing your experiences. It’s good to hear that you also had a great time in bantayan, despite the damages still being cleaned up. Good ony ya as well for spending threedays to build a school, that is the efforts that I was talking about when I said that our only few hours didn’t make much of a difference. You probably di there in Bogo. That is great. In time of calamity like these, people have to stand together. And no, I didn’t place any bets since I didn’t know how the system works and no one really approached me. Next time I gotta go with local to show me the ropes haha. OK Kathy, thanks so much for taking the time to read my post and commenting. All the best, Philipp

  6. Tess dela Pieza

    HI, As a local of Bantayan Island I totally agree to what you said not only the sunset is great and also the night sky. You can see the clear sky glistening with countless stars that you can hardly see in the city. Not only the main island is a great spot to wander around, next time I would suggest go island hopping and experience how plain and adorable island life is, as the locals enjoy being one with nature. It may have a kiss of modernization in some parts but the island has more to offer like fresh catch from the sea (if you love seafood you will surely define it as heaven). Also during the Holy Week make sure to capture the moments. 🙂 I may be traveling far but my heart always belong to Bantayan.

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Wow, nice said Tess. where areyou living now then? Unfortunately I did not have the chance to do the island hopping. Two and a half days were just too short. That#s why I desperately wanna come back and I hope it’s not gonna be before too long. And yes, I am a seafood lover, I dig it so much. I sampled a little bit of it while I was there but I couldsure go for more. Next time as well… so much to do, so much to see. Thanks Tess for your kind input. Maybe one dayour paths will cross in bantayan…. Cheers and all the best

  7. Nenita Ferido

    I like your parting words, Philipp,it was like saying goodbye to a friend… ” I knew I will return someday, and until then,I hope you will stay as you are”…-The Philippines says,take care and come back soon!..

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Nenita, it sure was like leaving a good friend. But same goes for leaving the Philippines as a whole. I really hope I can come back soon. I miss it lots …

  8. Ernest

    Yes, Bantayan is cebus biggest tourist spot and future money machine. Finally
    they can be happy about Yolanda. N ow everybody in the western world knows
    what Bantayan means….

    And Yolanda was a real blessing for politics and smart filipinos. Millions of dollars
    from America and other western countries were flowing in.. and many of it in the
    pockets of rich filipinos. Israel was sending 2 Jumbo Jets with 150 medical stuff
    to Bogo and Bantayan and a state of the art movable hospital. So the local government could save a lot of money… for their own purpose… NGO were taking
    the responsibility away from the government of Manila, who also saved money and
    resources…. Bantayan got payed a new infrastrucure with foreign, not local money.
    Happy Bantayan

    The real victims in SAMAR and Leyte wait until today for help. Many still live in
    shacks and tents. They got only the blessing of the pope and the Ignorance of the
    government in Manila…. But who is interested in poor SAMAR ? Bantayan is
    a better eyecandy for tourists, sooo nice beaches….;-) and even tourists who
    help building houses…..haha…

    This is the reality. Backpackers come for the nice sights and dreambeaches or
    landscapes of the “paradise”. But they are blind for the real reality, and the poorness and hopeless that is also existing for more then 40 million filipinos….

    Its sad… but ok, tourists come for “holidays” only…..

    • dines

      Hello Ernest, you sounded sceptical and a bit harsh, but i would say there is truth in what you have written. Sad as it is, that is the way of things in the PI. It is a good thing NGOS are there, otherwise, the victims of calamities, not only in Visayas, would totally be forgotten. Europe and the rest of the world have given a lot of aids (financial, medical and food) to the PI but the BIG question is : Where are they? of course the Filipinos know where they are! But they just couldnt do anything. Transparency is just an unknown thing! And for backpackers who are blind, i think those who really dig the culture of the PI and really mingle with the people realize that Pi has another side, apart from a tourist destination. That PI is a both a “paradise” and a “non-paradise” place!

      • Ernest

        Yessss Dines thats right. A paradise for foreigners and travellers and a non Paradise for the most filipinos. Therefore 11 Million filipinos work abroad to earn money for their filipino families. Then the government take all the hard earned remittances and give the people Paper money, called Pesos. Fresh printed by the Bangko Central. Without the OFW, Philippines would go bancrupt… Therefore the government in Manila call them heros…..unbelievable…. Finally all the money ends up in the hands of the Ayalas, Lims…. and all that rich chinese parasites, who live the luxury life on the backs of 70% of the filipinos…. pork barrel and other corruptions show where the helping money of Yolanda funds goes…. I am really sorry for all that super poor people in Samar and Leyte… They lost all their existence…. but like you write, they are nearly forgotten….

  9. Julie Uchima

    Hi Philipp, Thank you for the beautiful piece you wrote about Bantayan Island and the pictures are lovely.

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Julie, thanks a lot for your feedback. I am happy that you like my stor and the pictures. Thanks for stopping by, Philipp

  10. Sab

    I love your photos! I’ve been to Bantayan as well, that blue lagoon is magical, isn’t it? Great post, will share! Cheers from South Africa 🙂

    • Philipp Dukatz

      It’s magnificent there… I actually could imagine living there one day… If I’d just know how to make a living there haha. Cheers Sab!

  11. dines

    Hey PipZ 🙂 Finally my long-awaited blog about Bantayan. Ive never been there, or any other part of Visayas. You made a really comprehensive article. Love it. You made astounding fotos. Love all the pics on the beach, the tidal flats, the sunset,the kids´pictures and maia resort. i found the cover pic really apart! Just wondering if you didnt ask someone to dance with you there during the bayle, and if you didnt place your bet during the cockfighting (just for fun).
    Good for you that you contributed even a tiny part in housebuilding there. I know there are still a lot to be done with rehabilitation, but with Filipino resiliency, it will happen. Thank God, we dont have to always depend on the government to do that, otherwise the people could be waiting for years! We are thankful for cause oriented non profit organizations who really reach out for the victims of disasters.
    I just hope together with you that Bantayan retains its charms, and will not be plagued by the negative consequences mass tourism brings with it. Cheers, Dines 🙂

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Dines, thanks for your comprehensive comment. I am glad you liked the comment since you have been waiting for quite some time. I didn’t ask someone specific to dance, we just danced as a groupwhich was heaps offun.. Someone told me they even saw a video of it on IG. How funny, I didn’t even see that. I would have liked to place bets at the cockfighting but I didn’t know how and no one approached me. Maybe next time and I will bring a local to teach me the ropes hehe.
      The contributions are good of course but yeah, the government should not rely solely on those. The government officials told me, that they are still waiting to be granted 130 Mio. PHP which they were promised by the federal government. I mean come on, it’s been more than a year. How’s that even possible?
      Anyway, I also hope that Bantayan can remain it’sunique charm, it’s such a nice place and the the right mix. I heard their holy week fiesta is really famous… maybe some otherday. Thanks a lot Dines, takeit easy ….

      • dines

        Too bad I don’t have IG, I’d love to see the video 😉 maybe YT? The bayle is famous at barrios, especially during fund raising nights; then people have to pay for a dance. And with cockfighting, you just have to choose Pula or Puti ( red or white) coz that’s what the Kristo shouts. I have to smile when you wrote some men love and treat their roosters better than the wives. Could be a truth in that 😉 As for rehab works, much are being delayed thru hierarchy and corruption which are very typical Filipino. The victims of disasters then become victims of corruption and malpractice, what sad and ironic thing is! The country needs leaders who really are true to their words and have the courage to fight the rotten system. And the Filipino people have to be really intelligent and responsible on who they are going to put in the position. But I guess, that is a different topic and doesn’t belong here in this blog. Anyway, cheers again for this wonderful write up. And yes, we are taking it easy. Our journey is almost at its end and I don’t wanna think about it.

        • Philipp Dukatz

          Haha, you should have told me about the Pula or Puti before… sounds super easy. Next time then. The things you say about corruption seem right but actually I am missing the real insights in touchy topics like that. I mean, I am interested in these things as I have studied Political Science but in order to have an educated opinion and write about it, one needs to do some research or live in the country. Maybe some day… Thanks for your input. Your journey is almost over, but the next one is probably waiting already …

  12. April Violet

    Looks like you had quite an experience of Bantayan despite a short time alloted. As always, the photos are wonderful. I really dig the tidal flats and cave photo!…it’s different from the usual beach scenery pics. Speaking of beach, I actually had been to Boracay (2011) and at some point it probably was like a Bantayan–paradise. I remember when I saw Starbucks in Boracay near the beachfront along with other plenty hotels/accomodations/establishments…i knew it’s a sign it’s commercialized. And the smoking turned me off too. Yet I still had a great time especially when interacting with the locals and good thing I had decided to stay in a more secluded area of the island. One can hope that this paradise Bantayan will not be a Boracay. I had recently watched a feature on Galapagos Islands and the plan of putting a cap on tourists that visit which made me think of Bantayan…could this also be a plan to be implemented that could work to keep the island’s authenticity and a gem. Maybe?!?…and of course involvement from local government (not a corrupt one hopefully). Unfortunately sometimes government is synonymous to corruption. I know it was disheartening to watch the images and hear the stories of those affected on tv during when they typhoon hit and the victims not getting the assistance they needed (but i think the most attention was Tacloban City of what I saw).

    On the bright side, it’s nice to see photos of the locals with their genuine smiles/laughter and seem to be thriving with new learned crafts. It was nice that you were able to volunteer even if you think it was just little. Sometimes little action can be big to others, hence i think the genuine smile/laughter of the two ladies hugging you…such a lovely photo. And the cute little girl was the one who caught the bubble ha! 🙂 I also love the little colorful purses…if I was there I know I would’ve sucked into buying several 😉 but it would’ve have been all good since it’s supporting their livelihood. When I was in Boracay, I ended up buying quite a bit of the locals’ handmade jewelries and I didn’t try to bargain so much knowing that it’s probably one or the only source of income for them and that they put effort in making such beautiful things.

    As for the cockfighting, it’s expected to be controversial especially to those in Western society or not growing up with this part of Filipino culture…and to many is important and I would think a part of their livelihood as well. You remained objective and actually gave a good description of what you witnessed. I’ve seen some gory photos online which I could understand how issue of animal cruelty arises…like yourself, i like animals too. But, same could be said of bullfighting and hunting I suppose. I remember when I was in Mexico and learned that they had bullfighting and was intrigued but didn’t get to go for some reason. Here in the US, when I lived in the Midwest and had a part time job where I sold hunting permits…boy do they sell out pretty fast when hunting season comes. Regardless, of where one may stand about cockfighting, it’s an important part of someone’s culture. We can all respectfully agree to disagree 🙂
    Best wishes always, Philipp and congrats on getting your blog featured by the Bantayan Municipality!

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi April, yeah it was a great stay despite only being an extended weekend. But better than nothing right? I also especially like the image of the tidal flats as it somewhat looks unreal. Wouldn’t really expect this sight and the colors in an exotic paradise which is Bantayan.
      Thanks for sharing your experience of Boracay. I hear good and bad about it and I guess some day I will just have to go to see for myself. Then I can really judge..but it will be hard to come with an open mind I have to admit. I just hope that Bantayan will find a way to manage in a sustainable way and keep it’s authenticity. Because tat I think makes the place so special.

      OK April, thanks again for taking the time to read my article and also commenting and sharing your thoughts. I think that’s really great. I hope you are good .. Take care and all the best. Philipp

  13. David

    Hi Phil,
    How often or what time of year/month is a Bayle held?


    • Philipp Dukatz

      I actually don’t really know…. best you contect tourist info Bantayan. I know the town of Bantayan just held their annual huge fiesta…. that’s probably a real highlight which I also wanna see one day ….

  14. Sykrette Remudaro

    Grabe! Found myself literally brushing through each and every article. Great write ups about the Philippines, love how brutally honest you speak of your thoughts may it be good or bad feedback. Kudos! And shame on me as you’ve literally outnumbered not just me but most filipinos when it comes to beach destinations… in our veeeeery own country! lol. Looking forward to more of your insightful articles especially that I’ve beeeen longing to travel solo, maybe a tip or two can come in handy!