Rain and grey skies greeted us upon arriving on the white shores of Sta. Fe. I couldn’t help but think of what it must have been like in the wake of the Yolanda tragedy. Still, it felt good to be right next to the sand and the sea. As long as I could hear the water and smell the sea air, I was where I belonged.
The last time we visited Bantayan was before the destructive typhoon Yolanda. I half expected to see the place still recovering and struggling. Even the weather seemed to conspire with this thinking. As we walked down the slow boat, the winds pushed through the coconut trees and the water was rough. The familiar look of coconut trees swaying side to side along with the wind didn’t put much hope on our sunny vacation plans.
Fortunately, the gloom didn’t last long and it became clear that Bantayan has, at least on the surface, recovered quite well. Many of the houses we passed were in good shape. The resorts seemed to be functioning just fine. Restaurants were open and, in many cases, full. There seemed to be a healthy number of tourists. I’m guessing tourism is a big part of the Sta. Fe, Bantayan economy. With that in mind, I’m writing this piece hoping you plan to visit this lovely place.
You can still see remnants of the damage from the typhoon. This was evident on our motorcycle ride to Bantayan town proper. There were a few houses that were clearly abandoned, still damaged from the typhoon, no roof or proof of anyone still living inside. But there was also evidence of lots of activity in the area. On the ride, we saw someone sky diving, plenty of new housing, a full sabongan and lots of people in the city.
In Sta. Fe, there were lots of expats. We still saw the usual old dudes with the island girls, but what surprised me was the good number of young foreigners roaming the beaches and inner streets. According to one of the waitresses, many of the volunteers who visited Bantayan to help out (because of Yolanda) decided to stay. There were still lots of old dudes looking for a little Filipina loving, but it was peppered with plenty of young couples enjoying the laidback affair of the island.
Places to stay
At first, it was difficult to book a place. We visited during the Chinese New Year weekend and many resorts were full.
Thankfully, when we checked Kota Beach, they had a room available. This resort has arguably the best beach front in Bantayan. It has its own natural sand bar right in front of the resort. The rooms were a no frills experience; big rooms with good sized terraces to hang out on. Like many resorts in Sta. Fe, they were damaged by the typhoon and still renovating. The price at the time was very affordable. Our room only cost about 1500 a night.
Bantayan has lots of small resorts to choose from. Other places we’ve stayed in before were Hoyohoy Villas and Anika Island Resort, both great choices. We heard the Coral Blue Oriental Beach Villas and Suites was good. So we decided to check it out. According to the receptionist, it was the most expensive resort in Bantayan. The rooms were right next to the beach. Each room had a view of the beachfront. It also had beach chairs under the shade (surprisingly, not many resorts offered this). Still… most expensive meant 5-8k a night.
You won’t find a big expensive resort in Sta. Fe, Bantayan. No giant Shangrilas or Waterfronts here. It’s still dominated by the many smaller mom and pop style resorts. If you’re the type of traveller that enjoys a little kinawboy style traveling, Bantayan is the place for you.
The Foooooooooood (The ‘oooo’s’ represents the wait)
Eating out wasn’t a challenge. There are lots of places to check out. All you need to do is go to the mercado area, then look for the corner with all the restaurants. You’ll find places called Blue Ice Bar and Restaurant, Caffe Del Mare Resto-Bar and HR Music Bar and Native Restaurant. Of course, you can also eat in the resorts.
A word of warning, while the food was generally good, it needs to be said that we waited an hour for almost every meal we ordered. This happened in practically every restaurant we visited. So it would be unfair to point to a specific place. So don’t expect the same service as those in major cities. Good thing beer was still served fast.
The most happening place we hung out in was Blue Ice Bar and Restaurant. It was a Saturday night. There was a band playing and the people were really game. There were lots of singing and dancing then eventually lots of drunken singing and dancing. As a spectator, it was EPIC. One middle aged woman was happily singing her heart out while clearly intoxicated. She shortly had to be helped out of the bar because she couldn’t stand anymore. Then she passed out while dancing, all in the name of good fun.
The first place we asked was at the receptionist in our resort. They didn’t organize any activities, but they helped us get into contact with someone who handled all that – a ‘fixer’. Basically, they referred us to a random dude who hung outside of the resort gates. He handled everything. You just need to keep in mind that you are dealing with a ‘fixer’. Make sure to ask plenty of questions so as not to be surprised by the charges.
First off, if you plan to do more than just lounge on the beach, rent a bicycle. We spent about 150 pesos for a 24 hour rental. That way, you can explore a little more and even get a little exercise. Make sure to visit the mercado and ask when and where they’ll be selling Bantayan’s famous dangit (dried fish).
You could also take a 45 minutes boat ride to the nearby Virgin Island. The charge for the boat was about 700 pesos (good for 2 people). We also asked the fixer to buy us food. We just gave him 500 pesos while he went to the market and bought us food to be grilled in the island. The boatman would do the cooking. When we arrived, we had to pay entrance fee of 500 pesos for 2 people and 300 pesos to rent the tent. You also have the option to rent snorkelling gear from the boatman at 50 pesos each.
Virgin Island, like its name, is literally an untouched island paradise. You are greeted by an expansive white sand shore surrounded by untouched blue water. There are plenty of quaint little cottages and lounging chairs for hanging around at the beach. You could go snorkelling in a few spots very near the shore. There were all manners of colourful fish swimming about on some of the rocks nearby. While you are doing all this, your boatman will start grilling and cooking your meal. We had a feast of squid, some sort of fish and porkchop. Afterwards, there was nothing else to do, but lounge and sleep.
In many ways, that’s what a trip to Sta. Fe, Bantayan is for. I asked a friend who visits Bantayan often, “What else is there to do here?” She simply replied, “Nothing.” That’s probably the point. When was the last time you had the opportunity to just sit back and not do anything?
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