I’ve been all around the world, backpacking throughout the globe for an entire year, I’ve visited 45 countries in my life, flew in the back of a Cessna to the Bahamas before I could even walk, and been living abroad in tropical wonderlands since 2011, and THIS island is one of my favorites.
I’m talking about Virgin Island in the Philippines.
You’ve probably never heard about it before, as it doesn’t even appear on most maps. In fact, we can’t even agree on a name for this majestic place, as local Filipinos have long called it “Sillion Island,” although the newer, tourist-friendly name is Virgin Island. Even getting there is a journey you have to earn, adding to its charm. Virgin Island is actually a 30-minute boat ride from Bantayan Island, a beautiful white-beached paradise in its own right. To get to Bantayan, one has to take a bus from the city of Cebu about 4 hours north to the port, and then take a ferry across to Bantayan. Yes, you can also take a small puddle jumper charter plane there, as I did with Island Air Tours, but there aren’t many tourists that even know about that option and few locals who care to pay that much for the ride.
The arduous journey to Bantayan weeds out the cheap backpackers and partiers, so it’s mostly stayed a more relaxed, chill place. There aren’t many structured activities, but one of them is island hopping . Simply walk up and down the beach in the Santa Fe community on Bantayan and someone will ask you if you want to go island hopping within 10 minutes. We found a local older man who was thrilled that we’d pay him 800 Pesos (about $16) to haul three people around half the day in his local outrigger boat. It only took about half an hour to get to Virgin Island, and even approaching, we knew we were landing somewhere special.
The island is small, so you can walk front to back in about 15 minutes. It’s also privately owned (but I don’t know by whom) and it shows, as it’s immaculately clean, impeccably organized and managed, and insanely cool.
The best feature, of course, is the powdery white sand beaches that rival anything I’ve ever seen, but they’re mixed into rock walls, palm groves with hammocks, and pavilions for shade out in the perfectly translucent blue-green water. Other than chilling on the beach, there are gardens to see and bamboo huts and cabanas that you can either rent for the day or overnight. They also have a small open-air restaurant, where we saw plenty of people order freshly grilled local fish and seafood (although we only had beers). After following a well-laid path through a cactus forest where everyone carves their names, we arrived at the back of the island. There, we found tall bamboo towers built onto the small cliffs above the water, perfect for cliff jumping. One was about 40 feet tall (I wimped out) but the smaller one was only 15 feet or so, and they even had a lifeguard on duty and a series of bamboo ladders to help us get out of the water.
Back to the front of the island, we chilled on the beach and played in the water for a couple of hours, snapping photos of the hand-painted signs with charming sayings and quant seashell curtains and artwork. Soon, it was time to say goodbye and hop in with our trusty boat driver for the ride back to Bantayan. But I won’t forget Virgin Island, and plan to get there again as soon as I can – for a longer stay next time!