Few beach destinations in the country offer more than the crystal-clear water and the sand. There is only one island perhaps than can transport one from the tropical paradise of the beach and into a time-warp right into the heart of Spanish Catholic Philippines. That island is Bantayan.
Bantayan got its name ater its role in during the Spanish time, a guard post for marauding Moros attacking Christian towns in the Visayas. Aging watchtowers can still be seen especially in some parts of the island.
Now sitting peacefully surrounded by progress and modernity, Bantayan continues to lay back to its old Philippine charm and the embrace of the warm people of the island, while welcoming the throng of tourists out to experience the unique offering of its one-of-a-kind island.
These days, perhaps Bantayan is known for its “fiesta” during Good Friday – a traditional solemn day for pious and mourning for Christians. It is not actually a celebration. Not in this solidly Catholic island. Pope Leo XII gave a special exemption for the people of Bantayan so they can eat pork on Good Friday at the end of the traditional religious procession. As fishermen refuse to go out to sea for religious considerations, there is no fish and therefore nothing else to eat but pork. Known for his conservatism, Pope Leo XII did this one thing right. In fact, a copy of the order can still be seen inside the museum in the Peter and Paul Church in the heart of Bantayan town.
The procession on Good Friday is an event on itself. Old families from the island own one carriage depicting a point in the life of Jesus Christ and on Good Friday, this old neighborhood rivalry comes out into the open (in a good way, of course) as families try to outdo each other for the brightest, most colorful (and most followed by the crowd) carriage. Children are also dressed by their parents into the traditional garb of saints, to ask the saint to watch over the child. This is a sight to see indeed. The feast follows after the procession.
Economically, Bantayan is known as the egg basket of Cebu with its huge poultry farms. The famous danggit (dried fish) of Cebu is also produced en masse in the island.
For many travelers and beach lovers, Bantayan is a special island where relaxation, culture and history are rolled into one.