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Batanes

Posted by on Dec 17th, 2009
Filed Under: Batanes, Featured, Luzon

Batanes Map
Batanes

Taming the wind and the waters in the northernmost Philippine frontier, the relatively isolated islands of the Batanes, the home of the resilient and welcoming Ivatans, with its rolling hills, subtropical climate, ancient cultures, windswept traditional stone houses and breathtaking landscapes and seascapes which perhaps make it one of the prettiest corners of the world.

After about 1 hour and 45 minutes SEAIR flight from Manila, we finally caught a glimpse of the northernmost province of the Philippines and from the air, one can see the fields that look like a labyrinthine patchwork of green bordered by tall hedgerows of grass, reeds, piled stones and trees which serve as a crop protection from the fierce winds, and typhoons which commonly pass near the islands as well as huge waves that crash into dramatic cliffs and rocks that jut out into the ocean, which undoubtedly look incredibly similar to the English moors and Scottish Highlands with a Filipino twist. Think Wuthering Heights and you’ll know what we mean. In 1687, English freebooters with a Dutch crew arrived in these islands and named three of the islands in honor of their monarchs- the main island of Batan was named Grafton Isle after Henry Fitzroy, First Duke of Grafton; Sabtang was named Monmouth Isle after James Scott, First Duke of Monmouth and Itbayat was named Orange Isle after William of Orange. The freebooters were led by William Dampier who stayed on the islands for three months but never claimed the islands for the British crown.


Philippines batanes Mahatao Hedgerows
Mahatao Hedgerows
Photo by Noli Gabilo

Batanes is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the east, South China Sea to the west, Bashi Channel and Taiwan to the north and the Balintang Channel to the south. It is composed of 11 islands, of which Itbayat, Sabtang and Batan Islands are inhabited while Ditarem, Adekey, Vuhus, Misanga, Dinem, Mavudis and all others are uninhabited.

We held our breaths as the Dornier plane finally landed at the Basco Airport, with its tiny terminal building inspired by the traditional Ivatan stone house, a refreshingly different architectural and classy take on the many airports that I have went through so far. Under the shadows of the looming Mount Iraya in the distance, finally we had arrived in Batanes.

Early in its history, Batanes already had a civilization flourishing on its islands and was ruled by powerful chiefs who exacted revenues, administered justice, as well as exercised military might especially during times of invasion from other tribes. The idjangs or fortresses of pre-colonial Batanes can still be found all over the islands and they are usually perched on hilltops like the ones that we have seen on Sabtang and Batan Island (Itbud). The idjang in Savidug on Sabtang Island is considered to be one of the most perfectly shaped and the most beautiful among all the Batanes idjangs. Apparently, experts have noted how these idjangs are pretty similar to the gusukus found in Okinawa, Japan. The ancient Ivatans who are Austronesian in origin lived on these idjangs since they first migrated into Batanes about 4,000 years ago during the Neolithic Period. It was during the Spanish Inquisition and the Spanish governorship was established along the coastlines and lowlands which forced the early Ivatans- the people of the islands, to come down from their idjangs and convert to the new system of government. It was around 1686 and 1719 when Dominicans sent expeditions to the islands to proselytize and by 1773, the Ivatans became subjects of the Spanish King. It was only in June 26, 1783, over two centuries after the formal colonization of the Philippines by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, when Batanes was formally annexed to the Spanish Colonial State under Governor Jose Basco y Vargas. The capital town Basco, obviously got its name from the Spanish Governor General’s surname.


Philippines batanes lighthouse
Batanes Lighthouse
Photo by xave

The Spanish imprint on the islands became indelible when it was finally decreed that no house should be built more than 2,786 meters (half a league) from the nearest church. The Dominican influence is very much alive today in the similar architectural styles of the Batanes churches – the most notable churches are the gorgeous churches of San Jose Obrero Church in Ivana, Sabtang, San Carlos Borromeo Church in Mahatao (1873), Sto. Domingo Cathedral in Basco (the oldest built in early 18th century), Sta. Maria Immaculada (1845) in Itbayat as well as the church in Chavayan, the latter, is the only church left in Batanes which still sports a thatched roof and probably the only pink church in the Philippines, the church of Itbud.

Limestone technology was introduced to the islands by the Spaniards and is still pretty much evident among the Old Spanish Bridges in Mahatao and Ivana as well as the iconic vernacular houses made out of limestone, stones, corals and a thatched roof which dot the three inhabited islands. The Itbayat houses apparently are built the sturdiest as they receive the harshest winter winds from Siberia from December to February. Walking through the tiny villages of traditional stone houses and quiet narrow streets of Savidug and Chavayan on Sabtang felt like being transported to another world and where time just stood still. Chavayan, which is currently nominated for the UNESCO World Heritage List, was exceptionally stunning with the village nestled between the tall lush mountains and cliffs on one side and a sweeping view of the sea where the churning waters of the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet. It was also in Chavayan where we met Lolo Emilio, Batanes’ oldest resident at 102 years old going 103. Like most of the houses in the islands, the houses in Chavayan are normally left unlocked while the Ivatans leave for the fields to farm or to the oceans to fish. Batanes enjoys an extremely low crime rate so much that we couldn’t help but pay the local police station a visit. According to the Ivatan’s Finest, the local police force’s nickname, aside from the occasional noisy drunks, Batanes is pretty crime-free. Of course save for the Vietnamese, Chinese and Taiwanese fishermen usually caught illegally entering and fishing in Philippine waters around Batanes. Strangers greet each other on the street. After the first day, we finally caught up with this practice and I ended up greeting every person while I was taking photos by the National Highway.


Philippines batanes Chavayan Heritage House
Chavayan Heritage House
Photo by Dave Ryan

Just as the rains started pouring, we ducked into probably one of the quirkiest and the most refreshing places we went to – the famous Honesty Coffee Shop in Ivana. The rules are simple, you choose what item you want to get, check the price list, and drop your payment into a box The owner who prefers to work in the field leaves the store and basically trusts their customers to be honest and pay the right amount even when no one’s looking. One of the signs on the wall reads “This store is too small for dishonest people.” True enough, not one customer has been dishonest so far.

It goes without saying that there are only about 15,974 (2007 census) people living on the only three inhabited islands, making the province the most sparsely populated in the Philippines and at 219.01 square kilometers, also the smallest province by land area. With the sounds of wind and the waves, there was a utter stillness even during the middle of the day in Batanes and moreso at night where streets are literally empty around 6PM. Electricity is on for 24 hours on the main island of Batan while Itbayat and Sabtang have electricity from 6AM-12MN. In the charming fishing village of Diura (three kilometers east of Mahatao town), which faces the Pacific Ocean and the site of busy arayu (dorado/mahi-mahi) fishing season in summer virtually becomes a ghost town during the cool winter season and from the cliffs in Tukun, one can see the only three lit lamp posts in the area. The fishermen of Diura perform the Kapayvanuvanua (which literally means, “the making of the port”), a ritual opening the port to obtain the favor of the spirit dwellers of the sea and signifies the start of the fishing season.


Philippines batanes Taming the Waves at Sabtang Port
Taming the Waves at Sabtang Port
Photo by Noli Gabilo

Being master seafarers and boat builders, the Ivatans are known to be well versed in reading the stars and the phases of the moon in relation to sailing between the islands. According to our extremely helpful and hospitable Ivatan guides from the Batanes Cultural Travel Agency (http://batanestravel.com/), Ely Gabilo and Tita Donato, the seas are rougher 3 days before and 3 days after a full moon and a new moon. The boats of Batanes are called the tataya (an Ivatan dory, a smaller boat usually with twin oars), the faluwa, (Ivatan boat, usually motorized as is pretty common with most boats in Batanes now and can accommodate 20-40 people and in some instances cattle and livestock- during our trip to Sabtang from Batan, we had to wait for a cow to be unloaded from the faluwa first before we boarded the last boat for the day) and the chinarem. The boats of Batanes are hardy and in the hands of a good captain, they can skillfully navigate their way through the chaotic waves that are as unpredictable as the weather in Batanes. The way I felt us moving through the waves felt like we were actually surfing the waves ( I could hear similar rushing sounds one would hear while surfing as the boat moved forward and weaved its way through the roaring waves) and eventually my suspicions were confirmed by the boatmen themselves.

The seafaring culture is pretty evident in Batanes even in the pre-Spanish boat shaped burial markers found scattered all throughout the islands (we have reports that one can find such markers at Vuhus Island, an island south of Sabtang facing the village of Sumnanga, another stunningly beautiful village made up of traditional stone houses. Sumnanga is called Little Hong Kong for the number of boats that line the coast of Duvek Bay. There are similar burial markers found on Nakamaya as well as at Nahili du Vutux, an ancient settlement which is characterized with an idjang, boat shaped burial markers, and a gorgeous view of Dinem and the eastern coast of Itbayat Island.

Windswept hills, steep cliffs, and rugged coastlines pretty much characterize typical Batanes topography, as seen in Rakuh-A-Payaman or better known for its nickname as the Marlborough Country as well as the Vayang or the Rolling Hills with the many grazing carabaos (Philippine water buffaloes), cows, horses and goats roaming the areas. The coasts made misty by ocean mists such as what we saw on our way to Chavayan along one lane road that hugs the sides of the cliffs just left us literally speechless for its absolute beauty. From Rakuh-A-Payaman as well as in Tukun, one can see the hedgerows from a distance; the spectacular scenery makes these areas one of the many favorite spots for photography in Batan Island. Tukun is the site of the northernmost Philippine weather station (PAG-ASA) in the country where the province is used as the last reference point of any tropical weather disturbance thus unfairly associating the province with perpetual bad weather. The weather station sits on top of the hill with a commanding and panoramic view of the northern portion of Batan Island where one can literally see both the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean at the same time. Also in Tukun is the beautiful former studio of Batanes’ foremost artist, the late Pacita Abad. The studio which stands on a cliff facing the Pacific is now part of the Fundacion Pacita, a charming bed and breakfast affair run by affable Former Education Secretary Butch Abad and his wife Ms. Dina Abad.


Philippines batanes Sabtang Church
Sabtang Church
Photo by Dave Ryan

Batanes also boasts of stretches of white and cream colored sandy beaches, probably the most famous of which is the Nakabuang Beach on Sabtang with its often photographed stone/rock arch formation where picnics are usually held during the summer months. The smaller White Beach and the nearby Blue Lagoon in Mahatao offers pretty views as well. Swimming is unsafe in Blue Lagoon however, that is if you don’t want to get smashed into the massive rocks while White Beach is a good and passable beach in our opinion (however, we saw a small but growing problem of garbage around the area which we hope would be addressed pretty soon, Nakabuang Beach is in more pristine condition). A private beach, Disvayangan has a row of private picnic houses for rent. Diving (www.divebatanes.com/) is also possible in Batanes with Duvek Bay in Sumnanga having one of the best coral conditions in Batanes as well as in Siayan Island about 5.5 nautical miles from Itbayat which is surrounded by beautiful white beaches and rich coral which teems with abundant marine life.

Itbayat, the northernmost inhabited island in the Philippines, however, does not have any beaches as the entire island is basically surrounded by cliffs. There are other interesting islands in the area, however, they are better reached during the summer months as travel from islands can take a lot of time and the waves can be treacherous. One of the most striking and probably one of the images that we will probably remember about our trip to Batanes would be the Valugan Boulder Beach facing the Pacific where huge smooth stones spewed out by Mount Iraya during an eruption in 400 AD are found right along the beach.


Philippines batanes Fundacion Pacita
Fundacion Pacita
Photo by Dave Ryan

The formidable looking mountains and hills of Batanes are a great challenge to mountaineers. Mount Iraya on Batan Island rises to about 1,009 meters above sea level and is the highest peak on Batan Island and its spring water is the main source of water for Basco. A good climb for mountaineers, it is also home of the Batanes pit viper, an arboreal snake found only in Batanes and one of the rarest snake species in the world. The Batanes Pit Vipers live on trees and produce their young from eggs hatching within their bodies. They are typically green in color with some others having yellow, black, orange or red markings. Mount Iraya is also home to an abundant number of endemic species of flora and fauna. Some of the flora and fauna that can be found in Batanes are the Indochinese Shrew, Ryukyu Flying Fox, Asian Water Snake and plants like the Voyavoy (a Philippine date palm which is used to make another iconic Batanes item- the Vakul- the traditional headgear for women who use them to protect themselves from the sun, and the rain; the men use the traditional vests called Kanayi and the Salakut as a hat), Kanarem, and Vuhuan. The entire province was declared as a protected landscape and seascape by the Philippine government in 1992.


Philippines batanes Cows of Batanes
Cows of Batanes
Photo by Dave Ryan

On Itbayat, there is the Turungan Hill where ancient stone boat-shaped burial markers are found and believed to be the burial ground of the early Ivatans living at the Turungan Cave (believed to be the first landing place of early Austronesians from Taiwan 4,000 years ago) while Mount Ripused, considered as one of the two volcanoes (the other being Mt. Karoobuban – Itbayat’s highest point) that served to be the foundation of Itbayat, has great views southeast portion of the island including the airstrip and Lake Kayaywan. Rapang Cliff, also on Itbayat, is a natural park with rocky hills, cliffs, a forest and a grazing area. One can also find the bonsai version of the native Batanes arius tree which is commonly found all throughout the province. There is a natural stone bell which is a flat stone that lies naturally upon another stone and produces a sound resembling a bell. The stone bell served as warning system for early settlers especially when there were enemies approaching as well as a signal for meetings and goat gathering. There are also hiking opportunities on Dinem Island. Contact Batanes Mountaineers (http://batanesmountaineers.multiply.com/) for more information regarding mountaineering in Batanes.

The province also plays host to many lighthouses, the oldest (but now defunct) of which still stands in Mahatao in front of the Mahatao Church. The Basco Lighthouse on Naidi Hills which is also the site of the American era wireless telegraph facilities until being bombed to smithereens by invading Japanese Imperial Army forces is the best place to catch the picturesque Basco sunset. The Basco Lighthouse is considered the oldest working lighthouse in the province now. Other noteworthy lighthouses with gorgeous views would be the Tayid Lighthouse, on the other part of Batan Island facing the South China Sea as well as the Sabtang Island Lighthouse near Sabtang Port.


Philippines batanes Ruins of Sungsung
Ruins of Sungsung
Photo by Noli Gabilo

One would also find the remains of what used to be a vibrant village in the town of Uyugan, the Ruins of Sungsung, (a group of destroyed lime and stone houses a few meters from the beach) as it is called, are what is left after the village was wiped out in a tidal wave in 1954. While the houses in Sungsung were unfortunate, the UNESCO World Heritage Building House of Dakay (Vahay ni Dakay) in Ivana survived a big earthquake on September 13, 1918 which leveled the entire town. The House of Dakay, which was built in 1887 by Luisa Estrella, is one of the 5 houses which survived the tremor and went on to become the oldest existing stone house in Batanes. The house was bequeathed by Luisa to her nephew Jose “Dakay” Estrella whom the house was named after. The current occupant is Lola Florestida Estrella, a kind and rather frail looking lady in her advanced years seemed pretty happy to receive us graciously inside her home. Our guide told us afterwards that the old lady needs financial help to keep her and her house going. Also even if she is probably the most photographed woman in Batanes, she doesn’t usually get to see her photos as well. Good thing we showed her the photo that we took of ourselves with her. The house which is pretty much in great condition is made up of stone, coral and lime walls and original shutters and hardwood floors. The roof made out of cogon as is customary in traditional houses in Batanes is changed every 30 years. Also when in Batan, make time to explore Imnajbu, the last village from Basco. When residents are tending to their farms, you will probably see all the doors and windows in the village open.


Philippines batanes House of Dakay
House of Dakay
Photo by lightindependent

Also check the Dipnaysupuan Japanese Tunnel, where the Japanese hid during World War 2. Although areas of the tunnel were heavily vandalized and seemed poorly maintained by the local government it is still worth a visit. One can take a torch and a short guided tour inside the elaborate tunnel. Batanes was the site of the first Japanese landing in the Philippines during World War 2 which coincided with the day Pearl Harbor was bombed.

Going even further off the beaten track, there is the sinkhole which works as a giant drain in Itbayat called Manoyok which is believed to be haunted. The sinkhole was found to be around 45 meters deep with two big chambers and a narrow passage between them and apparently, this was where the ancient Ivatans used to throw witches as a punishment. There is also Kumayasakas Cave and water source, an underground stream in the northwest of Itbayat and the Rakuh-a-idi Springs (also known as the Spring of Youth) on Batan Island. If the weather permits, one may even go to the northernmost island of Mavudis (also called Y’ami), an uninhabited island covered with palms and mangoes which also serves as a refuge for fishermen. On a clear day, one can even see Taiwan. All over Batan and Sabtang we saw possible surfing opportunities for advanced surfers, we even saw a surfboard hanging around in Malakdang!


Philippines batanes The Vakul
The Vakul
Photo by Dave Ryan

Batanes Cultural Travel Agency or BCTA (http://www.batanestravel.com) probably offers the most consistent and the most definitive travel arrangements for those planning to head out and visit these beautiful islands. We went with BCTA on this trip, and it was a very pleasant one and we were taken care of by their wonderful staff in Manila and their experienced Ivatan tour guides in Batanes. BCTA’s Manila Office is at Unit 201 Parc Chateau, Onyx Road, Ortigas Center, Pasig City, Philippines. In the Philippines: call (+63.2) 9108801. 6354810, 6342982; Mobile- 0917-811-BCTA; US/Canada – 1-888-808-4123 or you may catch them on Skype ID: bctasales.


Why Not Go


Excessive noise, rudeness and lack of cultural and environmental concern are frowned upon not only by the Ivatans but travelers like us who are protective of the stunning beauty of these islands. Trust, honesty and community spirit are the operative words here. There are no malls here, no clubs, and no fastfood chains. If you are looking for that then Batanes is not for you, so just leave Batanes alone.


Why Go


Batanes is perfect for honeymooners and other couples as the province provides a calm, serene and contemplative respite from the noise and chaos of urban living. It also great destination for serious travelers who are more interested in communing with nature and culture at the same time rather than just taking pretty photos and getting senselessly drunk.

One of the main things that we totally love about Batanes was that aside from extremely pretty scenery, amazing culture, great food and hospitable people, it is still in pretty much pristine condition and has not been ravaged by mass tourism as in a lot of places in the country. Due to its relative isolation and because it’s a little more expensive to get to, Batanes tourism, if administered properly, is poised to create an important niche in the tourism industry. For now, it has generally avoided major and noisy crowds looking to make the requisite jump shots of themselves. We hope that it stays that way for good.


Best Time to Visit


Depending on which weather you are after, Batanes is a good year round destination, save for the stormy months of July – September. The weather is cool, with the coldest months around December to February when the temperatures drop down to as low as 7C-10C. During the summer months from March to June, the seas are calmer, and trips to other islands are easier. When traveling to Batanes however, you must have a very flexible schedule as flights and boat trips can get canceled at the last minute. If you intend to travel and sufficiently cover most of the main destinations just for Sabtang and Batan, a 4 day trip can suffice, if you wish to head out to Itbayat as well, you may as well make sure that you stay there for a week. But trust us, once you get to Batanes, you actually won’t want to leave.


Where to Stay


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For now, there are enough rooms to let in Batanes. We had the pleasure of staying in three different lodgings while we were in the province. While our Sabtang trip was meant to be a day tour, the boatman refused to return to Batan because the waves were really getting rough so we ended up staying the night at the Municipal Guesthouse by Sabtang port. Arranged by BCTA, we had a rather spartan room of two single beds with the window opening to the ocean. With the windows left open to let the cool ocean air in, we slept quite soundly under a blanket.

On the second night, we ended up staying at the clean and convenient Batanes Seaside Lodge and Restaurant in Basco on the main island, run by the very efficient Ms. Lydia Roberto, it is perfect for groups. Batanes Seaside boasts of being the official lodging place of film crews who shot the film Batanes and if I am not mistaken was also the base for the film Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit, a Tagalog adaptation of the film Wuthering Heights.

For our last night in Batanes, we were invited to stay at the sprawling Fundacion Pacita (http://www.fundacionpacita.ph/) in Tukun by Ms, Dina Abad. The well-appointed suites adorned with the artworks of up and coming Ivatan artists all sit on a cliff with private verandahs which overlook the gorgeous Pacific Ocean and the nearby fishing village of Diura. The suites are a beautiful fusion of traditional Ivatan architecture with nice maritime touches and a warm country feel. The atmosphere was incredibly dreamy and perfect for honeymooning couples. The next morning we were even invited for a cup of coffee and jam with toast by the owner herself at their main house, whose balcony has well tended topiary and a stunning view of the cliffs and the ocean. Aside from being a haven for Ivatan artists, Fundacion Pacita is also very active in heritage conservation projects all over Batanes which makes it one of our top choices of places to stay in the province.

We were meant to stay in a stone house in Diura, but due to the delay from our trip back to Batan, it was too late to arrange lodgings there. Meanwhile, Pension Ivatan’s lodgings by Valugan Beach are only open during the summer season.

Aside from these, there are other places to stay in Batanes and you may have to coordinate with them or the travel agency first before heading out there.


Where & What to Eat


Before coming to Batanes, we had no idea of the local cuisine and we did not know what to expect except that we asked BCTA to make sure we get authentic Ivatan fare all throughout our stay. And we did.


Philippines batanes Luñis
Luñis
Photo by Dave Ryan

Sabtang is perhaps known for Tatus, the local name for the Coconut Crabs. While I could not verify whether it is an endangered animal, the locals said that during the cold season, the crabs hide and are harder to catch and while we were in Sabtang, apparently we ate the last coconut crab on the island for the season. We do not support eating of endangered animals, and unfortunately we weren’t informed that it is now included among the list of threatened species and taking the Tatus out of Batanes is strictly prohibited. Skip this one out if you can. The crab gets its diet from eating coconuts thus its name, while the meat in its pincers is very difficult to get, the fat was incredibly creamy and has the slight coconut aftertaste. Also in Sabtang, we had grilled Kanañiz, which is literally a squid which is tougher and thicker than what we are used to eating. If you have sensitive teeth, you may want to pass over the Kanañiz.


Philippines batanes Tugi
Tugi
Photo by Dave Ryan

While dry and a little too crunchy, Luñis or Adobo Ivatan Style was a tasty twist on this famous Philippine dish. Instead of the usual vinegar, soy and herbs marinade, the Luñis only uses salt and is cooked until dry. Due to the unpredictable weather in Batanes, the Ivatans learned to do preserving techniques for their food to last them during the stormy months. We also had Puhug (Winged Beans or Sigarilyas in Tagalog) mixed with meat which was well cooked and all fresh and Tuhos nu Wakay (Camote Tops/ Talbos ng Kamote) sautéed in garlic which was rather clean tasting compared to the ones in Luzon. I was never a fan of the Luzon variety of Camote Tops, but I could not have stopped myself eating my veggies in Batanes. After all, Ivatans don’t use chemical fertilizers or pesticides- everything is organic!


Philippines batanes Hapa, Ivatan Style Laing
Hapa, Ivatan Style Laing
Photo by Dave Ryan

At Rakuh-a-Payaman, we had a massive lunch and extremely delicious too. We almost devoured everything on the table (save for the plates and the cutlery). BCTA prepared such delectable Ivatan food that we are still wistfully thinking of it until this day. Aside from rice, Batanes main staple is root crops which better survive the sometimes harsh weather conditions. This is exemplified with root crop dishes such as the boiled tugi (yam) and the venes, (dried stalks of taro) where the venes is shredded and mixed with meat like beef or pork. Of course there is the hapa, an Ivatan twist to the Bicolano laing where fresh stalks of taro are cooked in fresh coconut milk and sprinkled with tiny dried fish on top, and with the Ivatan classic turmeric rice, it was just heavenly. Interestingly, the Ivatans also grill pork the way I used to, just rub the pork with sea salt and then grill it over charcoal. It gives the meat a more natural flavor and when dipped in spiced silam, (the Ivatan sugarcane vinegar) it is pure joy.

We also loved the fried dibang (flying fish, I guess the fish wasn’t quick enough as he landed on my plate) for breakfast at Batanes Seaside Lodge and Restaurant. Try the arayu (mahi-mahi) as well, which is always freshly caught from the seas surrounding the province. We were on our way back to Batan when we had to stop in the middle of the ocean when one of the passengers caught two big arayus.
For those with a sweet tooth, try their own version if uvi halaya which is a mixture of uvi (yam), dukay, and sugar cooked in fresh coconut milk.

To cap the meal, either fresh coconut juice or a warm Ivatan spirit, the palek, Batanes’ answer to the Ilocos basi (sugarcane wine) is always a great way to finish the meal. For the aged version, try the Minyuvaheng which is dark in color and the Mavaheng which is black.


Nightlife


There is almost virtually no nightlife in Batanes although we spied a karaoke machine next to Batanes Seaside Lodge and Restaurant. The best way to enjoy nights in Batanes is to sit back and relax and admire the views of the sea, the starlit skies and the cliffs from one’s hotel room balcony.


My to do List


1. Have an authentic Ivatan lunch at the Rakuh-a-Payaman.*
2. Visit and have pictures with the many docile carabaos in Vayang. *
3. Go Lighthouse hopping!**
4. Stroll along the streets of Chavayan. *
5. Get yourself a Vakul from the Sabtang Weavers. (PhP 350) *
6. Soak in the waters by Nakabuang Beach.**
7. Go hiking in Dinem.
8. Visit the burial markers in Itbayat.
9. Take a lot of photos! **
10. Take a glimpse at the artworks at Fundacion Pacita. *
11. Go mountaineering and climb Mt Iraya.
12. Share stories with Lola at the House of Dakay. *
13. Sip a cup of coffee at the Honesty Coffee Shop.**
14. Visit the churches of Batanes. **
15. Go fishing! *
16. Witness the Kapayvanuvanua in Diura.*
17. Search for the best surf spot or go diving!
18. Take out your jacket and wrap around your scarf and experience winter in the Philippines! *
*- Highly Recommended
**- Recommended by Locals


Things to Bring


• Bring your personal medicines.
• Trekking shoes.
• Cash – ATM Cards, Credit Cards are rarely accepted and used.
• Sunblock, lip balm and sunglasses.
• Bug repellent.
• Jacket, or a scarf to protect from cold during the winter months.
• Extra memory cards and batteries for the camera – we almost used up 3 GB of photos and videos.
• Mobile phone and your chargers.
• Passports for foreigners and valid IDs for identification for locals.
• A well-stocked mp3 player.
• A good book to read while you wait for boats and flights.
• Ziplocs to keep your valuables from getting wet.
• Love for the environment and for the Ivatan culture!


Stay Away From


Drowning – Make sure you wear a working life-vest when swimming in bodies of water! Keep away from raging surfs as some of the areas may have rip tides. The boatmen would usually never travel when the seas are considered rough. Heed what the locals say. Don’t go if they tell you no.


Getting There



Philippines batanes Basco Airport Terminal Building
Basco Airport Terminal Building
Photo by Dave Ryan

Batanes is accessible through a 1 hour and 45 minute flight from Manila through Southeast Asian Airlines or SEAIR (http://www.flyseair.com/), the only airline that currently serves the Manila-Basco route through its 32-seater Dornier planes. While flight cancellations can be common due to bad weather, the flight was generally smoother than what we expected. It was our first time with SEAIR and we were quite pleased with their simple but efficient service. To book, check out their website (http://www.flyseair.com/) or you may call them +632 849.0100 or visit their office at 2nd Floor La’O Centre, Arnaiz Ave. Makati City, Philippines 1200. Currently, the Itbayat Airport is closed for renovation and improvement. Once it is opened, flights between Basco and Itbayat would hopefully commence and bypass the approximately 3-5 hours travel time between the islands by a faluwa.

Alternatively, there are flights coming from Tuguegarao in Cagayan Province through Batanes Airlines and Chemtrad but these are mostly seasonal flights. For the adventurous, one can take the boat (MISUBI Sea Transportation Cooperative) from Santa Ana, Cagayan which supposedly plies twice a week but we have no confirmation of this information.
Around Batanes, the most common form of transportation is by riding a bicycle, which is no wonder, the province is called the Bicycle Capital of the Philippines. There were very few jeepneys available in all the islands, and if I am not mistaken, there were only or two in the entire Sabtang.

Traveling to Sabtang (45 minutes from Batan) requires one to be up very early in the morning to catch the first, and maybe the only trip for that day. Be at the San Vicente Port by 6AM and you’d be safe. Remember to be flexible with your times here as we have experienced a 4 hour wait for a faluwa going to Sabtang and an 8 hour wait going back to Batan.


Philippines A Batanes Falowa.
A Batanes Faluwa
Photo by Dave Ryan

Prepare to walk around town as there is a dearth of public transportation on all the islands (especially in Itbayat where there still no public transportation). Otherwise, you may want to arrange with your travel agent beforehand so that vans may be provided

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42 Responses to “Batanes”

  1. airwind says:

    great job in coming up with this site =) just came back from batanes and i’d love to go back again =)

    • Ryan says:

      Batanes is just unbelievably beautiful….I agree with you, we cant wait to go back and maybe stay a little longer… a month? 2 months? That place is one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been to….

  2. Bon Russel says:

    were planning on a 1 week trip on their town fiesta end of april up to first week of may… thanks for posting pictures and nice insights… it helps us to plan ahead and i have an overview for our trip…

    • Ryan says:

      No prob Bon! You can find more photos of our trip to Batanes on our Facebook Fanpage – Look for Tourism Paradise Philippines fanpage. Be a fan so you can also keep track about our trips, travel guide updates and travel news. Cheers and hope you will have a great time in Batanes!

  3. tay jonson says:

    Thanks for the post… Love to go to Batanes! Its on my top list.

  4. Ian says:

    Thanks for the information. Got no facebook account, tho. So, if you have email blasts on your packages, count me in!

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Ian!

      Unfrotunately, we are not a travel agency… I recommend BCTA though- we went through them last November and we are absolutely satisfied with their services!

      Ryan

  5. tagoy says:

    good to be in BATANES and i like the ivatan culture..!!hay ust relax time for a while…

  6. ice says:

    Batanes!!! paradise of the north!! :))

  7. gene says:

    hi, ryan. thanks for the info. indeed very invaluable for someone like me who has had batanes on top of her must-go-to list for as long as she can remember. the 2nd is tawi-tawi on the opposite end of the archipelago. i’ll check out BCTA as well. maybe next time i post something i’ll be able to share my own batanes experiences as well. who knows, di ba? :)

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Gene,

      Batanes was a dream for us. And thanks to SEAIR and BCTA, that dream came true. Tawi-tawi is also another dream, but we are working on it. :) Please, don’t forget to share your travel experiences here- it would be a great help to other travelers as well. :)

      Cheers!

      Ryan

  8. Joey says:

    Hi Dave
    I just bookmarked this page! yours is probably the most comprehensive guide i’ve seen so far about batanes. we’re vacationing next year and can’t wait to see this wonderful place. i’m checking BCTA’s website as well.
    thanks for writing about this place.
    regards,
    joey

    • Ryan says:

      Joey,

      Thanks for your kind words! Batanes is truly a special place and I think I don’t think any word can ever describe this serene place. Wish we can come back soon! Let us know how your vacation to Batanes had been like. :)

      Cheers

      Ryan

  9. Metty says:

    My take on Batanes, visited February 23-27,2010
    Batanes

    There is no question that the allure of Batanes lies in its remoteness, isolation, purity, simplicity, unsophistication, authenticity, and unspoiled landscape and people. There are the plunging cliffs and rugged, rocky coastlines broken by sandy coves and breaking surf. There are the infinite verdant pastures and rolling hills, framing grazing cattle and carabaos, and goats effortlessly climbing steep slopes that seem to meet the clouds and blue sky. The morning mist casts a mystical spell on the cracks of canyons and blankets the valleys, and the evening comes after the sun sets in the southern China Sea in spectacular splendor. On Tukon hill, where there is a vernacular house inspired chapel built by a local politician son for his daughter’s wedding, one can see the Pacific ocean in the east and the south China sea in the west. On a clear day you might just see Taiwan from the northernmost island of the 10-island Batanes group, a mere 100 kilometers away, nearer than its distance from mainland Luzon.

    There are no big hotel chains, and hopefully, they will stay away forever. There are no Jollibees or Starbucks. Basco, the capital, only recently had 24-hour electric service. The other 2 inhabited islands, Sabtang, gets 16 hours, and Itbayat, 12 hours. There are only hole in the wall eating establishments but the food is good, the only pizza place Napoli, delivers gourmet pizzas out of the owner’s home, the inns accept walk-ins for meals and serve a set daily changing menu, depending on the daily catch and what was brought to the market, and what was slaughtered. You can ask the inns to get certain foods from the market and cook it for you and they will oblige if available. We like the pako salad and the marinated dried dibang (flying fish) and the exotic and hard to catch coconut crab (tatus), and lobster, and got them when requested. There is internet in the town center, and cell phone reception, and TV, but no movie house. The inns are pared down basic. The Honesty Cafe is an unattended convenience store and coffee shop, where you get what you like, list it, then drop your payment in a slot, breathtaking! The local garlic is reputed to have the most fragrant and sweet flavor, and the sweet potato and taro are plump and firm. Everything else is imported from the mainland and has Manila prices. The traditionally woven baskets are exquisite.

    Sabtang, a 40-minute boat trip from Basco, is served by a 15 and 30-passenger round-hulled boats, different from the outrigger bancas of the rest of the Philippines, more like the early Viking boats, more suited to ride the oftentimes choppy and strong currents of the channel, where the currents of the Pacific and China sea collide and the strong winds from Siberia blow. We didn’t have time to visit Itbaya, where the ancient funeral caves of the Ivatans, the indigenous ancestors , were excavated. It is 4 hours away by these native boats or a 15-minute flight with a 9-seater plane, Skypasada, that also serves Tuguegarao. We met the ragtag crew of this airline at breakfast one morning.
    Sabtang holds the most number of occupied vernacular houses in the province, and is nominated to be included in the UNESCO Heritage Sites, a must see for its uniqueness.
    These are houses made of limestone and coral with thatched cogon roof, with a distinct architecture, a fusion of the early ethnic houses and European technology introduced by the Spaniards. The houses have withstood the typhoons that regularly visit the islands and the test of time.

    We embarked from the port of San Vicente, rising very early, and didn’t realize we will be using the public boat, not a chartered tourist boat. We were with locals, and sacks of produce,motorcycles, livestock and other cargo, such as a shipment of Ginebra San Miguel, which we were told, hasn’t arrived at the port yet so we will all have to wait because the boatman does not want to lose his revenue. Norma, the ultimate problem-solver negotiated to have our group reimburse the boatman for the cargo’s passage, so we can leave ASAP, without a second thought to what consequences will result to the island’s inhabitants from the failure of delivery of this vital shipment. Thankfully, the boatman piloted his vessel back to Batan later with us safely on board. The sea was choppy on the return trip, the boat cresting and slamming on bigger waves, and hurling buckets of the ocean at us and soaking us to the bone. There were other suspenseful moments here, such as when something cut my ankle from stepping on canvas and other stuff on the floor with bleeding that was out of proportion to the size of the cut (from low dose ASA intake prolonging coagulation?) and Mars almost getting decapitated by the bamboo steering pole that slipped from its mooring. However, the whole experience was authentic, and an adventure. Anchors, away!

    I visited new friends staying at the Batanes Resort, 1 1/2 miles away, to check out the accommodations (recommended, but get the ocean view Itbayat or Sabtang cottages) and to watch the sunset from their beach, and it was dark when I walked back to where I was staying at Seaside Lodge. There are no taxis, very few cars, a couple of jeepneys for inter-town travel, some tricycles, and a number of scooters and some motorcycles. A couple of lone scooter riders stopped to offer me a ride, and our tour guide certifies that the offer is sincere and without malice and no remuneration but a smile and thank you is expected. The authenticity and sincerity of the people beguiles and disarms, and is a breath of fresh air. And what are we city slickers doing about going with the flow and being laid back and not sweating the small things? Going into zazen? The masseuse was 2 hours late, and she smiles and says she overslept. We rescheduled after dinner, and we were late, and relieved that she wasn’t there waiting. She knocks as we’re about to go to bed, says, she was called to Fundacion Pacita, and did 3 massages, do we still want one? Our lunch caterer in Uyugan did not have lunch ready when we arrived, uh oh. She forgot to put it in her schedule but she’ll have one ready for us in 30 minutes. She called her husband back from the farm and put him to work, then had lunch on the table as she promised. She was a barangay chief for 3 terms and now she’s running for the council, and maybe town mayor someday. She is a multi-tasker and we empathize perfectly. We couldn’t get a manicure appointment from the 3 manicurist in town, because they’re all at a wedding, which by custom is attended by everyone. The party was on the street, so we asked if we could come, and we were warmly welcomed. They’ re playing carinyosa and dancing the traditional folk dance. We got in the mood and I danced with the groom, then another guest who had already too much palek, the local sugar cane brew. He wasn’t going to let me go, and I didn’t want to offend, so I was about to dance again, but Lida rescued me and took me away. It was the custom to give a gift of money to the bride and groom, and we were delighted to do the same.

    People smile and greet you warmly on the street. I was poking around the vernacular houses, curious about an occupied interior and the man of the house introduced his family and invited me for coffee. The mayor stopped to say hello,and chatted. A bucolic scene is displayed as you drive in the countryside. A man knee-deep in the receding tide casting his net, a young boy tethering his goat, the farmer in the field, the basket weaver at her craft, a family group laden with produce in baskets on their backs, leading their carabao to their destination, a 103 year old man weaving a fish net, children playing in the school yard, a man taking down coconuts, undulating pastures, cows and carabaos on hills and ridges grazing, surf breaking on the shore, or exploding against volcanic cliffs, a calm blue lagoon, bright orange pandanus fruit, azure sky, warm sun, gentle breeze, dollars in your pocket. Is this paradise?

    http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=53723&id=1425897414&l=d21311fb73

    http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=53715&id=1425897414&l=147a1e0e77

  10. Rodel says:

    Hi, we were planning to visit the area. and can you give me an insight or any suggestions where to stay and how much will be the damage? maybe for a 5-7 days escape from the urban city.

    • Ryan says:

      Check out the article above on the section on where to stay.

      Fundacion Pacita is the most expensive, Midrange is Batanes Seaside (about 1,000 a night) and the cheapest that we found was the Ivatan Stonehouse operated by Shanedel (but only opens during Summer) and costs about PhP500.

  11. Chito says:

    Rodel,

    This will help:

    http://www.ironwulf.net/2009/05/13/batanes-accommodations-and-places-to-stay-in-basco/

    Information gets updated unpredictably, so make sure that you do some research on your own.

  12. Chito says:

    TRIVIA: It’s a myth that Batanes’ jails are empty all-year round. They actually jail people every now and then. And these people they jail fall under only two categories:

    1. Taiwanese/Chinese (or even Vietnamese) fishermen caught within Philippine waters; and

    2. The occasional Ivatan who can’t handle his alcohol and makes a nuisance of himself (usually after a celebration.) Being jailed for this reason is deemed to be very, very embarrassing among Ivatans and one jailed as such will not likely repeat the same offense.

  13. Friday says:

    If available, try the yellow rice with tiny meat bits wrapped in (banana?) leaves! Yum!

  14. rona says:

    hi ryan, just love reading your articles here. been going through all ur archives too=) im just wondering if it is safe to travel alone in batanes, im a 30 yr-old woman who just wants to experience travelling alone. just stay there for maybe 5 to 7 days this sembreak. thanks.

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Rona,

      Yes. It is very safe. Just think of this, people will travel miles for you to give you your 20 pesos change. :)

      Ryan

  15. Liz says:

    I am an Ivatan, and reading this post makes me even more homesick (because I am pining for home all the time).

  16. Henry says:

    We were planning to visit Batanes on 1st week of February 2011… I am interested in knowing the weather conditions during that time.

    Though your posts are comprehensive, i understand that it was 1 yr ago when you were there, do you have any updates? or we will be experiencing the same with what you had experienced before?

    thanks to advise us…

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Henry,

      Batanes is still difficult to get into so I am not expecting a deluge of tourists in the islands. There should be more people going in February through the summer season but still lesser compared with other destinations due to the high costs.

      I apologise for the really delayed reply. I am no longer based in the Philippines at the moment, you may check with SEAIR/BCTA for updates prices and itinerary.

      Best regards!

  17. samm says:

    I just came from a month vacation but unfortunately wasnt able to visit batanes..now that I read ur article,i kept on reading and reading it everynight for the past 4 days…it really amazes me and am so excited to save more for my next vacation this 2012!! do you think February or March is a very good month to visit batanes?
    I promise to myself that I will definitely fly to batanes next year!! only 16 months to go and starting this month, I will prepare myself for this travel. Thank you very much for a very detailed article you made. Truly, it is a huge help to all of us who does not know how amazing batanes is! Where can I find a website wherein I can have the latest information regarding the cost in going and staying in batanes? I hope you can help.

    Samm

    • Ryan says:

      As for the latest costs, you could check out SEAIR and BCTA. They usually have flight deals and discounted trips depending on dates. February and March should be fine to go just check the weather bulletins all the time. :)

  18. Flor says:

    I have been wanting and dreaming to go to Batanes since then. I am encouraging my friends and office mates to go this year. Hope I could organize a group to go there and see the beauty of Batanes. I just hope we could get a promo fare.

  19. jenmai says:

    Hi Ryan!!

    wow. you just dont know how this post of yours made an impact saken. never experienced going out of the country pa kasi i really want to explore our country’s top tourist spots. at dahil jan, batanes talaga….can u give just a rough estimate siguro as to how much should be prepared if I go there? I’m just planning to go on my own. i’ve been backpacking to a lot of places in the Phils but tihs is my ultimate dream. hai…………..

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Jenmai,

      Sorry for the delayed reply, but yeah, you may have to plan ahead if you are going to Batanes. It’s not cheap to go there. Both the flight and the tours will set you back quite a big sum of money. So check with the flights in advance, you may want to see if there are promos for BCTA/Seair. Also I heard there’s Sky Pasada and some seasonal flights going there.

      I hope my articles inspire you and others to travel this wonderful country. :)

  20. Florante Gato says:

    CONGRATULATIONS Ryan !…Your write up of Batanes so impressed me an Ivatan myself…GoodLuck and morePower !

    I look forward to meeting you too in your future trips to Batanes.

    Godbless You and all your Noble Projects !

    Ting

  21. Lord says:

    Ryan,

    Great write-up. Very informative. I’m planning to go to Batanes this year – and found your blog.

    As I read through the things to bring – I am happy you mentioned extra memory card. I actually had an almost nightmare-ish experience on my trip to Cebu for Sinulog recently when my Camera told me I was having a memory card error. Fortunately – I just had to let the camera cool down and the error went away. In Cebu – I can go to the nearest mall and grab a card — in Batanes? I doubt I can do that.

    :D

    Lord

  22. luka879 says:

    hi ryan, thank you for this site – very comprehensive….and thank you for helping me finalize my travel plans for this year…Batanes it is! keep it up!

  23. May says:

    You were able to cover everything a first time traveler should know. Thank you very much. This will guide my balikbayan friend very well.

  24. lynette says:

    we were there march 2-5, 2012 and personally i fell in love with the islands. the scenery is so beautiful… as if you’re in another time zone, in a foreign country. Sabtang is such a wonderful place, the awful boat ride is worth it. with batanes’ God given beauty, something must be done to preserve the place. i’ve seen a few grafitti written on the rocks and the beach is strewn with garbage=plastic, broken bottles (especially at the back of batanes seaside). the local govt must protect their place at all cost. five years from now, i will visit the isalnds again and i hope it will still be as beautiful as i left it.

  25. Denise says:

    This is so informative! Thank you so much!

  26. daly says:

    very informative. i promise to visit batanes soon

  27. lalaine says:

    hi, ryan!

    I was really impressed with this writing…I wanna go there in Batanes and see its enticing beauty myself..(Hope to have big bucks of money soon so I can try all of the adventures you’ve mentioned.hahaaha) I wanna experience the same breath-taking moments Mr. Aga Muhlach had when he taped their episode in Batanes for Pinoy Exlorer. Planning to go there when my aunt return from Canada…She likes to visit lots of places here in the Phils…and because of your write up, I guess Batanes will be first on our list!^^,

    Impressive culture. Impressive traits. Honest and welcoming folks. I guess it will really be a great trip. Lushes and greens, “Marlboro Country”…angry surfs and breath-taking sceneries… Oh well..it’s a a piece of heaven here on Earth..hahahaha..:)

    A week will not be enough to experience and indulge to this scenic beauty,I guess…:)

    It’s really more fun here in the Philippines!(And this time in Batanes, it’s safe to say “No pickpockets!”. LOL. Peace!)

    Keep posting informative entries..
    Good job!

    Thumbs up here…

  28. allan says:

    I’m glad of the write ups about batanes! It is truly different place!!!! I have been in almost all the parts of our archipelago but seems batanes is one of its kind! Actually Im so fortunate having stayed in the place for almost a year…. I encourage everyone to explore batanes and see the difference…

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