Life on a Budget in Santa Fe

I sat on a bamboo bench, caressed by the wind. I watched the very turquoise water that you see in the above picture. Words come to me, as naturally as the palm branches of the coconut lifting gracefully.

The upside to living on the island sans TV, there’s a lot of room for creativity. Two hours passed felt like 6 hours. We wake up before 7AM and sleep by 8PM or so. Traveling with our baby daughter leaves us no time to hang out in bars at night. No complaints, we had plenty of time doing that in the past.

This time, it isn’t just vacation. It’s an attempt to live the way locals do.  How to get to this paradise- Santa Fe, Bantayan Island in the province of Cebu? Click here.

Santa Fe is the touristic part of the island of Bantayan. Due to its fine white sand and clear waters perfect for swimming, many B&Bs, resort hotels, beach villas and restaurants are situated in this side of the island.  Bantayan on the other hand is more commercial which I will feature separately in another post. 

When to Go?

The Holy Week is the busiest season. It turns into a party island during this time of the year. For those craving for tranquility, this is not the time to go there since the beach ends up heavily littered after a night of binge drinking and partying. We went around April to June and it was perfect. The island is lively enough at night and more family-friendly.  This period is perfect for swimming, but let me warn you that it could get really hot during the day and a skin tan is inevitable no matter how high your SPF is.  August is the low season with plenty of great deals. However, this is also jellyfish season with monsoon tide carrying trash along the shores.

Update:  Upon arrival on the island, we were summoned to sign up and pay an ecological fee. Effective April 10, 2017 Municipal Ordinance No. 05-2017 prescribing Tourism Ecological Fee of Php 30.00 per person needs to be paid by tourists, visitors, guests and beach comers above 18 years old.  

To our disappointment, we have no idea where this fee is going, since the beach shoreline not fronting hotel establishments continue to be littered. Some residents. hotel staff and managers did mention, they do beach clean up themselves to maintain their property but so far no aid from this so called "ecological" fee has been received.

Where to stay in Santa Fe?

For a weekend getaway, there are multiple options depending on your budget. Pre-book hotels in advance. It got super busy during the Holy Week that Santa Fe ran out of accommodations last March. Coming from the Cebu Ports Authority Passenger Terminal, on your right, you will find a few resort hotels, but they're a bit secluded.  To those who would like to be in walking distance to restaurants and bars, you're better off staying somewhere closer. The long stretch of Kota Beach is the most popular area to stay.

In case you're looking for a much more comfortable and scenic accommodation by the beach, check out:

  • Kota Beach Resort where Camp Sawi was filmed (Php 1900 Deluxe Cottage Beach Villa 3rd or 4th row per night , if you book online you can probably get it much cheaper. Php1900 was a walk-in price during low season. They do have rooms for Php809+ that go down to  Php755 during off peak months. These rooms are situated in a building along the rear side adjacent to the reception which has a partial sea view. The ones closer to the beach : Deluxe Cottages are priced at Php5700 per night and Superior Cottages at Php 7500 per night.  The Camp Sawi arch is no longer there by the way. Each cottage has a separate dry toilet and shower area with a spacious lavatory counter. It has a double bed and 1 double deck bed which is perfect for a family or a group traveling together. Each beach cottage has its own terrace with a view to the sea. Even at 3rd or 4th row, the beach could still be glimpsed from the window.  It has its own restaurant. 

  • Amihan Beach  Cabanas Resort located just right next to Jasmin Guesthouse. Php 5500 per night but it could go down to 2900 per night during August - low season. Accessibility is good since it is in walking distance to restaurants at the town center. It has its own open restaurant where we enjoyed breakfasts and lunch.  They don't serve dinner however. 
  • La Playa Estrella accommodations are priced at Php 1280 for a standard room,  Php 2400 for a family or barkada room and Php 2600 for a beach front room.  This is a bit further from the town center. 
Living on a Budget on Kota Beach

We’re currently staying in one of the cottages along the beach of Sante Fe. A Php 500- 600 per day fan room with an open shared kitchen that allows us to cook meals. It's called Bahay Kubo also known as Jasmin Guesthouse, a series of beach front cottages along Santa Fe Coast with direct access to the beach. My husband stayed here during his first visit to Bantayan alone. It was recommended to him by a friend from Cebu City.

 Fan Room with Double Bed & Private Bath at Php 600
Fan Rooms With Double Bed & Private Bath at Php 500 
 Toilet & Bath with Shower
Open Kitchen and Dining Area for Guests' Use
Rolly and Mila,  the couple managing the property are both warm and lovely. We felt like their own family guests spending vacation in their home.

For bigger groups who would like a 2-bedroom beach villa facing the beach , they have 2 villas that can be rented for Php 1300- Php 2500 per night. Each house is equipped with its own open terrace, living area, kitchen and bath.

You can also rent a large tent for Php 500 and bring your own and pitch it up here for Php 300.

Update August 2017:  This beach resort has a new management and a new owner.  They have kept the same rates. However, a down payment is required to book the rooms in advance.  They are planning to undergo renovation in the last quarter of this year.  

Should you decide to stay longer on a monthly basis or more, there are available fully furnished two bedroom houses on the island for monthly to long-term lease.  The rent can stretch from Php 9K to Php 25K excluding water and electricity. The price depends on the location, proximity from the beach, design, look and feel of the property.

The Public Market of Santa Fe

Ideally, we should head out to the public market for fresh goods and fresh catch of the day before breakfast. We ended up going there daily around mid-morning.


Per meal, we end up spending Php 90-200 for 2 people and a baby. Should we have a refrigerator, We can reduce that cost even more because we can cook and use ingredients for a much larger portion and store them for another meal, thus saving gas.

There are small gas bottles that can be purchased at Php 55. This gas lasts for 2.5 times of cooking.

There are fish and seafood vendors going around selling the fresh catch of the day such as prawns, scallops and large fish. Scallops (Php 30 uncooked and Php 40 cooked per kilo) and fresh seafood like crabs, squid and fish are a must try on the island.

There's Kerwin Mini Mart as well along the bend of F. Roska Street where we buy toiletries. If you do rent a motorbike, the market in Bantayan 10 minutes away is a great destination to purchase everything you need. There's Mercury Drug there around the plaza.

For evenings we don't feel like cooking, MJ Square is a great destination for affordable meals. We ate a lot in Chef Panyang when during our 2 month stint here on the island. We had food poisoning on the Paella Rice twice.  I believe it was the seafood and how it was prepared.  We informed them about it.  I did try their other local dishes and didn't have a problem. So no more Paella Rice for me. Too bad because that was delicious.

Having returned recently, I'm not much of a fan of MJ Square anymore because it gets too busy and loud but most tourists prefer dining here.  However, I might return for the quaint bar at the center called Liquido for good cocktails and a small grocery that sells good red wine vinegar.

Where to Eat in Santa Fe

Stumble Inn
If you're craving for western dishes, Kev's Diner now called Stumble Inn in front of Sta. Fe Public Market next to M. Lhuillier, offers specials for Php 195. We love the vibe here and a popular hangout of the foreign residents of the island. You have to try their Creamy Scallops. They have the best and freshest beer on the island, the perfect temperature that would quench your thirst after a long day under the sun. Play a game of billiard and throw in scintillating conversations with lovely people who frequent this bar and you'll leave happy.

Coucou Bar and Restaurant
Given a bigger meal budget, you won't be disappointed by Coucou Bar and Restaurant. They have an extensive menu suitable to a western palate as well as local dishes. It has great ambience and a good selection of drinks. We dined here a lot during our recent visit in August 2017.  Their dishes would average between  Php190 to Php250 but they are large portions. Sizzling beef shanks and curry are our favorites here.  Oh, and their breakfast options are by far the best on the island. They offer great quality brewed coffee and cafe latte.  

Amihan Beach Cabanas Terrace Restaurant
Breakfast and Lunch al fresco by the sea? This is the place to go to.  A hammock, a bamboo bench facing the sea with a cold beer as you can imagine it, yep, the whole package.  They have a good selection of breakfasts too! One of the few places where you can either have a brown wheat bread or a french baguette! (Yes not the "tasty" uber sweet slices of white bread that most places serve).  The only drawback is their coffee. It's an instant Nescafe stick.  

For a once in a blue moon expensive meal, try:

Caffe del Mare
Italian cuisine all the way!   For an evening of pizza and pasta craving, this is the best place on the island. Mind you, They make their own pasta.  We enjoyed an apertif of bruschetta and fresh cold beer here one hot afternoon and it was delicious.  It's pricey. Each dish would be about Php 320-500 but for special evenings, why not.

Blue Ice Bar is now called Blue Eyes. They used to have great curries but they were closed for lunch  during our last visit so we didn't get to try them.

Island Life

We are slowly getting into the rhythm of living on the island.  My daughter asked for Barney only once.  She was preoccupied bathing in the sea, playing with sand along with other children running around, enjoying the hammock.

For my husband and I, we spent a lot of time meeting and hanging out with both travelers and locals, reading a book, exploring the island on a motorbike, taking afternoon walks along the sea and inland, occasional browsing on social media, and gradually learning more about the place and its lovely people.

Is an island lifestyle something you'd like to consider?
Wishing you all a lovely week.
Love and light,

Disclaimer: Prices mentioned above are subject to change at any time after the submission of this post.  

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  1. For about 500 per night, I say that's cheap and the room looks decent. I agree, life in the province, disconnected from all the chaos in the city, time seems slower.

    I haven't been to Sta. Fe, actually I haven't been to rural parts of Cebu. I am seriously considering moving to an island now that I don't have a job and I am looking into the possibility of doing some freelance work. I would love to go to Sta. Fe and see if it would be an ideal place for me.

    1. It is a good idea to try since you can work remotely. Someone I met here mentioned some friends of hers having online work staying around rural parts of Cebu for a much longer time. There are some students as well who spent their summer doing their research work here. I suppose there are less distractions and more work done. 😊 It would definitely be a nice change.

  2. all that fruit and vegies! Twould be the only thing that would make me happy in a tropical place :)

    1. We have been eating more fruits and vegetables since we came here. 😊

  3. What a lovely spot. Sounds very idyllic. I love it

    1. Right now , it feels like home. We wonder how we would feel during the low and rainy season.

  4. Such a nice place! The life is so simple and tranquil, yet the place is so beautiful at the same time.

    1. Thanks Rosemarie, welcome to Travel Gourmande.

  5. Hi!
    Do you have the cell phone number for the Bahay Kubo? We stayed there twice, but I accidentally lost their number.
    Thank you.

    1. Hello there, thank you for your comment. Bahay Kubo (a.k.a. Jasmine Guesthouse) is currently closed for renovation. I got this 0947 065 6556 from their facebook page which I used last year. However, not sure if the new owners will use this same name once they re-open this year.