Batanes: The Northern Wonderland
An eight-day tour of Batan, Itbayat, and Sabtang offers an encounter with rugged mountain ranges, majestic waves, and warm, welcoming locals.
Former Roam editor in chief Upper Viceo is no stranger to travel--but her eight day trip to Batanes introduced her to a completely different side of the Philippines. Here she shares their island-by-island tour of this unique destination.
Ah, Batanes. No words can adequately describe the northernmost swells and sierras; even photographs may fall short. Its islands are too mystical. I think of it as our very own Garden of Eden. I just have to put it at this--Batanes is sublime.
Our group of ten visited this cluster of islands at the tip of the Philippine archipelago for an extensive tour. As our plane approached, my five co-backpackers and I (the other four followed a few days later) found ourselves peeping through our windows, ogling the mountain ranges and rough borders of the land in awe. Everything looked so peaceful from up there.
DAYS 1-2: BATAN ISLAND
The towering Mt. Iraya is clearly visible as you land in Basco airport. After we landed, we headed straight to DDD Habitat, our hotel, for a long nap. Refreshed, we wandered around Basco for an hour, then made our way to the Basco Lighthouse on Naidi Hills to wait for sundown.
If our first day was a breeze, our second day was activity-packed with a tour (on a rented van) around Basco town. We started with a quick trip to Diura Beach in Mahatao. We left before sunrise (we still got a good view of the roads in the pre-dawn light), and arrived in Diura Beach at the crack of dawn. Everything was just stunning.
From Basco on our way to Mahatao, we made a quick stopover at the Batan Marine Sanctuary. The quiet meandering road beside the calm ocean made for an idyllic drive, and we made a stop at the Chawa View Point to take photos. Here, the waves are much stronger. From the view deck, you can trek down to the coast.
Continuing our joyride, we passed by The House of Lakay, the oldest surviving stone house in Batanes, located in Ivana. Other must-sees are the huge jackstone-like wave breakers and the Ivana Church. A few meters from it is the famous Honesty Coffee Shop.
Soon we reached Rakuh a Payaman, more commonly known as The Marlboro Hills. The landscape, sky, and that magnificent view of Mt. Iraya were priceless. To cap the day off, we dropped by the Mahatao Lighthouse for a few snaps.
Meals on Batan were mostly courtesy of Pension Ivatan, where we always had our breakfast: Pancit Ivatan with brewed coffee. Take their Ivatan platter to go (the size is perfect for a group of 10) and bring it along on day trips for lunch. There are only a few eateries in the island, so it's better to be prepared. Among the dining options are Hiro's on Abad Street, Lunch Box in DDD Habitat building itself, Shanedel's Inn, SDC Canteen, and Casa Napoli.
DAYS 3-4: ITBAYAT ISLAND
We planned to go to Itbayat Island by boat on Day 3--I admit, the idea of the four-hour U-haul boat ride on rough seas from Batan to the Chinalopiran Port in Itbayat almost made me chicken out. Thankfully, the ride was not that rough. In fact, schools of dolphins swam with us on our way to northern Batanes. We arrived at the port around 11AM.
From the port, we hitched a ride with a local to Mrs. Cano's Homestay. What impressed me about Itbayat is the way the locals help one another. Mrs. Cano spared beds for us to use that night, and her other neighbors served our meals while her brother, Kuya Toby, acted as our guide. The hospitality extended to the quality of the food, too--their blue marlin (the Ivatan's sinigang version) was easily the best meal during our eight-day trip.
With barely two days in Itbayat, we had no time to waste. On board a red-plated pick-up, we drove our way to a viewpoint to see Diogo Island, one of the uninhabited islands in Batanes. We then proceeded to Torongan. After an hour's hike, we got to the Torongan Cave. A year ago, I'd had an unforgettably extreme spelunking experience that I had no desire to repeat, so I had to forgo the Torongan caving, but my travel buds who went inside were all praises for the cave.
It took us another hour to hike back to the pick-up. During our trek, our guide Kuya Toby shared that there are only a few tourists in Batanes (or as they commonly call us, ipula) because of the lack of an efficient transport system. How I wish the LGUs and DOT would improve on this. We got to our pick-up just in time for sunset--an orange and pinkish sky that was a graceful retreat from the tiring day.
Our last day in Itbayat was spent checking out their soon-to-be-developed runway. On the boat ride back to Batan, we all just slept during the four hour trip. We arrived in Basco with the sun still bright and shining, and took a tricycle to Vayang Ranch, where we ended the day.
DAYS 5-6: SABTANG ISLAND
The rest of our friends arrived on Day 5, so our group was finally complete! The ten of us left DDD early to catch the boat to Sabtang Island. It only takes 30 minutes to get from Batan to Sabtang, but the waves were more extreme than they were during our Itbayat trip. Nonetheless, we arrived safe and sound.
After registering in the Sabtang Tourism Office and leaving our bags for safekeeping at the Fisheries College, we continued our adventure on board a rented jeepney.
Sabtang has a more laid-back feel as compared to Basco. Our first stop was Savidug Beach, which overlooks the island of Batan. The water was so serene, and the sky was so blue--another lovely day in Batanes. Further on, we reached Chamantayad-Tinyan Sitio Marine Sanctuary. This tops the list as my favorite place in Batanes. After a short 10-minute hike, we reached the peak overlooking the Marine Sanctuary. It truly was "a little piece of heaven on heaven," as my friend said.
Continuing our jaunt, we went to the picturesque Chavayan Village. It's another personal favorite as the locals were very friendly. We got the chance to mingle with a few fishermen preparing fresh triggerfish, fish liver, and squid kinilaw. It was the bomb!
If only we had more time to roam around Sabtang, we would have loved to homestay at Ka Harold's. But alas, transportation was difficult on the island, and we decided it would be more convenient to continue our trip and stay in the Fisheries College afterwards.
For a late lunch, we headed to Nakabuang Beach and Arc. Our lunch was a feast of lobsters, coconut crabs (a popular delicacy that is now unfortunately endangered and no longer legally served), grilled liempo and fish, some grilled eggplant and okra, and bokayo for dessert. Even after the heavy meal, the beach was just too tempting to resist. A warning though--wear aqua shoes or sandals while swimming to protect your feet from the rocky beach. We left midafternoon and drove to Duvek Bay for our sunset fix. As Batanes sunsets never fail, it was magnificent!
The next day, while waiting for our boat to arrive, we went on a quick trek to the Sabtang Lighthouse for a scenic view of the Sabtang coastline.
DAY 6: BACK TO BATAN ISLAND
A light drizzle welcomed us back to Batan. We spent the rest of the day touring Batan, with stops at Valugan Beach, Fundacion Pacita Batanes, the Japanese Tunnel, and the Tukon Church. We ended the day talking about our adventures over a few bottles of beer.
DAY 7-8: BASCO ON LA-DI-DAS
On our last two days, our group split up on our own adventures. Some of our friends hiked Mt. Iraya, and the rest of us opted to stay in town and explore more on two wheels. La-di-das and mountain bikes can be rented for a quick spin around town. We started a little late in the day, which was a mistake: we underestimated the difficulty of the uphill roads and finished after dark. Two of our bikes had faulty headlights, and since biking without lights is prohibited, we ended up walking our bikes back. Pasalubong shopping capped off our last night in Batanes.
As a backpacker, I've seen a lot of what our country has to offer--from beaches to mountains to caves and everything in between. The Philippines is beautiful, but also so accessible that sometimes we ourselves tend to overlook its charm. This trip was a totally new experience, different and awesome in all its forms--the breathtaking sights, the warm and hospitable townsfolk, and the overall charm that is uniquely Batanes.