Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

Bantayan before the Holy Week

Archie Modequillo - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines — In the local tourists circle, Bantayan Island is a hot destination during the Holy Week. Well, it’s hot on the island, literally. The salty breeze from the seas surrounding the small island naturally adds to the sweltering summer temperatures on land.

Those who’ve been to Bantayan call it “an island paradise.” Its beaches are, to a very good extent, clean and unspoiled, with clear waters and impeccable white sand. The laid-back culture of the island communities contributes to the idyllic character of the place, very attractive to the work-worn from the big cities.

With summer traditionally being the popular “break” time (it’s called the summer break, right?), many people want to spend time at Bantayan during the sunny days. The island’s beaches are the main destinations, with the rich cultural and religious traditions of the place as added attraction. Visitors troop to Bantayan during the Holy Week to experience its colorfully unique festivities.

It may seem the right time to go to Bantayan during the Holy Week. But, in fact, it is not the perfect time to visit the island. Certain inconveniences are to be expected.

One possibility is that the limited fresh water supply of the place may not be sufficient to provide for the heavy influx of visitors. Also, there is the potential problem of the big volume of waste that will be produced by the great number of people coming together at one time. Hence, it is a better idea to visit Bantayan before the Holy Week… or maybe after. 

Bantayan Island is comprised of three towns: Bantayan, Madridejos, and Sta. Fe. The island’s seaport is at Sta. Fe, although Bantayan is the major town. It takes a ferry ride to get to the island from the Cebu mainland.

At the city’s North Bus Terminal, visitors can board a bus for Hagnaya Port, in Medellin town, where to take a ferry to Bantayan Island. Starting at 5 a.m. there are buses departing every 30 minutes. Early in the morning, when the city traffic is yet light, the trip to Hagnaya takes about four hours.

Bantayan is a nice place to visit anytime, not only during the Holy Week. Even on regular days, the unique features of the place are there for visitors to relish. The public beaches and beach resorts are always there, and so are many other attractions.

Ogtong Cave. This cave, located in Ogtong Cave Resort in Sta. Fe town, has a clear freshwater pool inside that beckons everyone for a refreshing dip. It is open to all, not only to guests of the resort, for a minimal fee.

Kota Park. This park in Madridejos takes its name from the ruins of an old Spanish fortress (called “cota” in Spanish). The fort is said to have been built by the Spaniards in the late 1700s to serve as a military camp and watch tower. Afterwards, it was transformed into a public cemetery, and eventually into a park that now has a museum housing cultural and historical relics.

Saints Peter and Paul Church. Established during the 15th century, the Saints Peter and Paul Church, in Bantayan town, is noted to be the oldest parish church in Cebu. The original wooden structure was destroyed by the Moros, but in 1863 the church was rebuilt using coral stones as main construction material. The church has a museum that displays religious memorabilia.

Obo-ob Mangrove & Eco Park. Located in barangay Obo-ob in Bantayan town, it’s a mangrove marshland established to promote environmental awareness. Fishing being the main livelihood of Bantayan folks, the mangroves are a significant habitat of marine life and are, thus, worth preserving. As it is, the park provides humans with needed respite, too. An in-house restaurant serves delectable local dishes.

Bontay Walk. The 187-meter footbridge in Madridejos is a good vantage point where to enjoy a breathtaking view of the sunset. Many people say that walking on the footbridge is therapeutic, while lovers find it really romantic. A good time to visit would be in the late afternoon when the sunlight has softened a bit.

Bantayan Public Market. Each of the three towns on the island has its own public market where foodstuff and other items are sold. But perhaps the public market of Bantayan town is the largest and most abundant. It’s a nice experience exploring the market, where various “pasalubong” items are found. The best “pasalubong” from Bantayan are dried or salted sea produce that are of the best quality for the least price.

Visiting the nearby islets around Bantayan also gives a differently refreshing experience. Virgin Island, for example, is a mere 20-minute boat ride from the port of Sta. Fe. Plus – visitors may ask the boatman to arrange a fresh seafood meal for them.

Accommodation is not a problem at Bantayan Island. Many local homes now offer bed-and-breakfast. And the many resorts around offer better options, of course.

Bantayan is truly “an island paradise” for visitors that time their visit right. And the right time is when there’s enough space to enjoy the fresh air and experience the relaxing island life. Incidentally, this is possible only when there are not too many other visitors buzzing around.

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