After exploring the provincial capital of Romblon for a three days, I spontaneously decided to stop by for a few days on the island municipality of Banton – still part of Romblon province – en route back to the Luzon mainland. The remote island sits halfway between the larger islands of Tablas and Marinduque in the northern portion of the Sibuyan Sea. It is known for its exceptional archaeological sites, colonial-era fortress, and isolated white-sand beaches that ring its mostly rugged coastline. The name Banton was derived from the Asi word batoon, meaning “rocky”, referring to the rugged topography of the island due to its volcanic origin. Another possible origin is the word bantoy, which is the Asi word for the venomous stonefish.
Heritage Town of Banton
Ferries to and from the island arrive and depart from Banton Town, along the eastern coast. The Port of Banton is a great place to start your exploration of the compact town center, which can be easily explored on foot. The pier area is a great place to watch the sunrise breaking over the Sibuyan Sea and the rocky beach next to the port, which leads to Punta Matagar, a rock formation shaped like an arrowhead as its name in the local Asi language suggests.
Established by Spanish colonizers in 1622, Banton is the oldest colonial settlement in Romblon province. A walk around town reveals a Spanish-era church, fortress, and some heritage houses. Fuerza de San Jose was built between 1640 to 1650 to protect the settlement from Moro pirates from Mindanao. Unfortunately, due to poor restoration and surrounding urban development, this fortress isn’t as impressive as Fuerza de San Andres, the hilltop fort in Romblon town. Saint Nicholas of Tolentino Parish Church was also built around the same time as the fortress which surrounds it, however, the church now has a 20th-century facade.
Guyangan Cave System
In 1936, archaeology put Banton on the map when 700-year-old textile fragments were discovered inside a wooden coffin inside Ipot Cave (closed to the public), one of the seven caves of the Guyangan Cave System, located at a forested limestone hill just north of Banton town. Declared a National Cultural Treasure, the Banton Burial Cloth dates from the precolonial times, between the 14th to 15th centuries, and is the oldest surviving example of ikat textile not only in the country but in the entire Southeast Asian region!
Ikat is a resist technique that originated from Indonesia. It involves the dyeing of the textile fibers prior to weaving. In warp ikat, only the warp fibers are dyed. The Banton Burial Cloths are displayed at the National Museum of Anthropology in Manila.
While most of the Guyangan are closed to the public to prevent looting and disturbing important archaeological sites, a few like Silak Cave can be visited by tourists with the help of a local guide. Accompanied by experienced guide Awe Faigo (Tel. +63 9661541826, Guiding fee: ₱500 per group of 1-10 persons), who’s been visiting these caves for more than 50 years, we hiked up a steep, rocky path for 10 minutes to the narrow entrance of the burial cave, where we slipped through a large crack into a small cavern with human bones and broken Chinese ceramics.
The cavern was lit by natural light from an opening that overlooks the coastline, giving the cave its name which means “light” in the Asi language. If you look closely at the skulls, some of them exhibit artificial cranial deformation, a practice among precolonial Filipinos especially among the nobility.
Beach Hopping by Scooter
To visit the beaches elsewhere, I rented a self-drive scooter that took me on counter-clockwise tour that circumnavigated the island. Most of the roads on the island are paved, however, they are mostly single-lane narrow and very steep at some portions, so one must be extra cautious and wear a helmet when navigating the island. Alternatively, one may hire a habal-habal (motorcycle taxi) to tour you around the island. You’ll have to bring packed lunch with you, as there are no places to eat outside of town.
My first stop was Catarman Beach, a boulder beach along the northern coast which reminded me of those found in Batanes. This shoreline has views of Marinduque island to the north and its peak, Mt. Malindig. Driving farther east to an access road that abruptly (and dangerously) ends at a cliff then climbing a concrete steps, I reached Tabunan Beach, the largest white-sand beach on the island with a rocky islet, Polloc Island, offshore. I ate my packed lunch here and went for a short swim before rounding the southern section of the island to drop by more white-sand beaches, which were smaller: Suk-an Beach, Macat-ang Beach and, finally, Tambak Beach, which had powdery white sand.
Hiking at Mt. Guinsiba & Mayamig Peak
Aside from exploring the coastline, one can discover hiking trails that lead inland to the island’s mountainous interior. A rewarding day hike from Banton town is Mount Guinsiba. On my second morning on the island, I decided to go on a solo sunrise hike. I left the guesthouse at 4:00 am drove the scooter up a mountain road for 15 minutes to the bottom of concrete steps that led to the top of Mt. Guinsiba. It took me 30 minutes to reach the unfinished concrete view at the summit, climbing 643 steps then a 100-meter grassy trail. The cloudy weather obscured the sunrise on the horizon, but the weather eventually cleared to reveal magnificent views overlooking Banton Town, the Sibuyan Sea, and the taller mountains nearby.
A more challenging but more scenic hike is Mayamig Peak (also called Malamig Peak) in the mountainous heart of the island. From Banton town, I drove to the trailhead at Barangay Tan-ag via Barangay Tungonan (since the route via Sibay has a very steep ascent). Visit the Tan-ag barangay hall to register and hire a guide (₱200 per group). From the trailhead, it’s a 40-minute easy hike to Mayamig Plateau, a grassy highlight with panoramic views of the surrounding islands and cold, foggy weather. Walking across the plateau, we could see, to the south, Gakot Island (Bantoncillo), Simara Island (Municipality of Corcuera) and Tablas Island, and, to the north, Marinduque Island. From the plateau, its another 10 minutes to Mayamig Peak itself, the highest point of the mountain.
How to Get There
Inter-island ro-ro ferries travel to the islands of Romblon Province, including Banton, from Lucena City, Quezon, a few hour’s bus ride south of Metro Manila. Starhorse Shipping Lines (Tel. +63 42 7107403) has overnight trips via Lucena-Banton-San Agustin (Tablas Island)-Romblon on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays at 4:00 pm. Travel time from Lucena to Banton is around six hours. Schedules frequently change, so it’s best to contact the shipping companies to confirm. The ferries also don’t leave on time.
Please contact the Romblon Provincial Tourism Office for the latest travel requirements and other tourism inquiries.
Where to Stay
There are only a few basic guesthouses in Banton town. I highly recommend Hipos Yang Inn (Tel. +63 9184011324), a family-run budget accommodation with dorm-style rooms and sari-sari store where you can buy basic food supplies. The inn is located at Alejandro Fatallo St, 250 meters away from the Port of Banton. Room rates are ₱300 per head for solo guest and ₱250 per head for two guests for a fan room, and ₱500 per head for solo guest or ₱350 per head for two guests for an air-conditioned room.
Where to Eat
There are no restaurants on the island, only a few carinderias or eateries that primarily serve local residents. At Hipos Yang Inn, you may cook your own food in the common kitchen, or have the staff prepare your meals during your stay.
The most practical way to get around the island is to hire a habal-habal (motorcycle taxi) or rent your own scooter. I was able to rent a Motorstar scooter with helmet from a local couple I met on the ferry en route to Banton for ₱300 per day. Contact Cecil at +63 9216881240.