They say Bantayan Island has a unique way of celebrating the Holy Week. Well, instead of simply hearing others' stories, why not plan your own trip in one of northern Cebu's best tourist destinations during the Lent's long regular holiday?
Here are 10 things you can do in this paradise island during the Lenten season:
1. Join the procession.
While the whole country is silently praying, reflecting, and fasting during April's holy days, this province in the north of Cebu crowd the streets, organize parties, and do a range of activities. Why? Well, according to history, Bantayan was granted a papal permission in 1800s exempting them from the usual religious duties done during the Lent. This is most likely the reason behind the place's festivities from Maundy Thursday until Good Friday. One of their Holy Week highlights is the grand Good Friday procession that features huge and fabulous carrozas, particularly the image of the Santo Entierro, which is believed to be miraculous by Bantayan locals. To fully witness the festive atmosphere of Bantayan's Holy Week, head to Saint Peter & Paul's church located in the heart of the town.
2. Eat pork.
Since Bantayanons usually eat fish and other seafood on most days of the year, they choose to feast on meat during the Lent, and the classic favorite is the ever-delicious lechon. If you are a huge fan of this proudly Filipino dish, go to Bantayan during the Holy Week to enjoy limitless servings! ADDITIONAL SCOOP: A friend of mine who comes from Bantayan shared that the excuse to eat pork during Holy Week is still part of the papal exemption. Fishing is the primary livelihood in the island, and since fishermen were requested by the Catholic church not to fish during the Lent (leaving the locals no seafood to eat) Pope Leo VII issued a Papal Indult document stating that Bantayanons can eat pork during this no-fishing season.
3. Reflect by the sea.
Would it not be really relaxing to enjoy quiet moments by the sea? This is exactly one activity you can easily do when celebrating the Lenten season in Cebu's paradise island. Stroll by the white-sand beaches. Or better yet, have some silent reflection while sitting on the shore and watching the sun set and listening to the waves come and go.
4. Meet lots of foreigners.
Bantayan has always been a favorite of many foreign tourists. You can meet lots of expats here participating in the local festivities or enjoying the beautiful beaches. If you feel like searching for your destiny this Holy Week, Bantayan could be a perfect rendezvous.
5. Have an island hopping.
No trip to northern Cebu's gem can ever be completed without an island hopping escapade in the ever-famous Virgin Islands. This tourist destination is just 15 minutes away from Bantayan and you can easily go there with the help of some friendly Bantayanon boatmen.
6. Go wall climbing.
This is one of the beach activities that lots of locals and tourists always look forward to each year. Wall climbing facilities are installed in Bantayan during the summer months, giving all visitors a chance to enjoy their Lenten break to the fullest.
7. Take pictures.
If there's only one travel item you should not dare forget when going to Bantayan, it would be a camera. You can't choose not to take LOTS of pictures with the island's white-sand beaches! Plus, you can perfectly capture their unique ways of celebrating Holy Week if you take pictures. So, make sure your digital or phone camera is working properly before the trip, do bring along its charger, and have this useful gadget ready wherever you go in Bantayan. You won't wish not to be able to bring home awesome memories of the stunning island, would you?
8. Enjoy the seafood.
A seafood feast is nothing but ordinary in this Cebu paradise. So, if you are into shrimps and clams and other delicious seafood, Bantayan is a perfect destination. Whether you want them raw or grilled, local Bantayanons are more than willing to catch and prepare fresh seafood dishes for all Holy Week visitors.
9. Try fire dancing.
Summer evenings in the island are always full of life, thanks to the many talented fire dancers who are eager to showcase their impressive fire dancing skill for local and foreign spectators. You should never fail to go out of the beach at night to witness this exciting show or even consider doing it yourself. Ask a professional fire dancer to teach you some tricks and feel the thrill yourself! Be really careful though so you won't end up celebrating the Lent with an injury.
10. Drink with friends.
Finally, enjoy the company of friends by sharing a few bottles of beer beside the stunning shoreline. Alcoholic drinks are sold almost everywhere in Bantayan during the Holy Week and all throughout summer, particularly near the beach to cater to the obviously huge number of guests during this peak season. The place is indeed a perfect venue to get wasted during the long April holiday, but make sure you don't stray too far from your tent so you won't fall asleep beside the shore and find yourself in the middle of the sea the next day.
Camping, partying, and sunrise or sunset watching are other fun activities you should experience when in Bantayan for Holy Week. But of course, aside from indulging in the festive atmosphere of the province, do check out the local church, which is considered as one of the oldest churches in the whole Philippines, and take time to pray during the Catholic year's holiest days.