Basco is a breather from the warm tropical islands and beaches that made the Philippines famous. Its ranges of hills and cliffs, peppered with grazing cows and quaint stone houses, look like the outskirts of a fantasy medieval kingdom visited by knights and warriors who are in search of a quiet tavern where they can spend the night. Basco and the whole province of Batanes are, without a doubt, the lost paradise that every local tourist needs to see.
Walking (and even running, for the young at heart) through the Vayang Rolling Hills in Basco will be irresistible once you view them from a great distance, especially when the morning sunlight illuminates the hills like huge emerald stones on top of the still beach. You will be able to see almost the entire main island of Batan while on top of the Basco Lighthouse, one of the attractions of the province. After exploring the hills, you can kick it up a notch by hiking the dense forest of Mt. Iraya. And if you're lucky, you might catch a rare view of the green hills from the cloudy summit.
But to fully experience the culture in the island, you should visit in the nearby municipalities the villages of the Ivatan people, the local tribe of Batanes, where they weave traditional headgears and sandals from dried grass. Other places to see are the Tukon Chapel, which was built on top of a hill in 2007 and the home and art gallery of the late internationally-acclaimed artist Pacita Abad.
To get to Basco in Batanes, you need to fly via Philippine Airlines (PAL), Wakay Air, or Skyjet Air. PAL and Wakay Air flies from Manila to Basco daily, while Skyjet Air travels every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Air travel is usually around one hour and 30 minutes.
How to Get Around
Going around Basco is made possible through bicycles. Not only do you get from one place to the other, you also get some cardio exercise while you’re at it. You can rent bicycles and even motorbikes if you know how to drive one. There are also tricycles available around town.
What to See
The Basco Lighthouse is an iconic landmark built in 2003 by then Congressman Florencio Abad, who hails from Batanes. The lighthouse towers at 66 feet with a viewing deck at the fifth floor, where you can enjoy a panoramic view of Batanes. Aside from being a tourist attraction, it is also a functional lighthouse that provides navigational aids for sailors and ships that cruise along the West Philippine Sea.
The Santo Domingo Church, more commonly referred to as the Basco Cathedral, is the center of Catholicism in the town of Basco. Established by the Dominicans in 1783, the original structure was built from cogon and wood. Over the years, the church has undergone renovations. The present church is made from sand and stone.
Batanes was not spared from the ravages of World War II, and there are still traces of it left in Basco. The Dipnaysupuan Japanese Tunnel, for instance, is a network of tunnels in Tukon Hills that served as shelter for Japanese troops. Tourists can pass through the tunnel where you’ll see the chambers, bunkers, and reservoirs used by the soldiers until the end of the war.
Mount Iraya is the northernmost active volcano in the Philippines, though its last eruption was still in 1454. With an elevation of over 1,000 meters above sea level, scaling Mount Irayat is possible, with professional climbers classifying it as a minor climb. The hike lasts for about three to four hours. Once you’re at the summit, you’ll enjoy scenic views of the surrounding areas.
Another stunning natural attraction in Basco are the slopes and dives of the hills of Vayang. Its rugged yet gentle terrains are covered with grass that sways back and forth as gusts of wind blow by. The picturesque rolling hills serve as a beautiful background for any photo op.
Even the lowlands in Basco are as picturesque as the highlands: Valugan Beach is characterized by the presence of andesite rocks that are believed to have been spewed by Mount Iraya when it exploded in 400 AD. The beach is not recommended for swimming because of the huge waves, but the seascape and the rocky shore are a sight to behold.
Chadpidan Boulder is another impressive shore that gives out an otherworldly charm. Located along the Songsong Iraya Road facing the West Philippine Sea, Chadpidan is also characterized by its boulders and huge waves.
Fundacion Pacita was once the home of renowned Ivatan gypsy artist Pacita Abad, also from the renowned Abad family. Pacita was an accomplished artist, having held exhibits in over 200 museums and galleries all over the world before she succumbed to cancer in 2004. Fundacion Pacita is said to be the best hotel in Batanes. In addition to offering accommodations, the hotel also features some of Pacita’s masterpieces.
Public weather bureau PAGASA also has a weather station located in Basco, which is open to the public. Visitors can climb up the radar station to see an amazing sweeping view of the verdant greens and the surrounding waters.
The Tukon Church, located not too far from the PAGASA Weather Station, is known for its architecture that drew inspiration from Ivatan stone houses. Its interiors are just as impressive, with walls adorned by beautiful paintings made by the students of Pacita Abad.
Events and Festivals
The annual Palu-Palo Festival is held every August in Basco. The festival serves as a cultural celebration for the people of Batanes.
Where to Eat
Café du Tukon is a must-visit when in Basco. The dishes are all made with the freshest catch of the day and produce of the neighboring fisher folk and farmers. The restaurant specializes in an array of cuisine ranging from European and American to traditional Ivatan.
For al fresco dining, try Bunker’s Café in Naidi Hills. The restaurant, which used to be a bunker during the American occupation, can only accommodate a handful of guests, so reserving a table is required. This quaint restaurant doesn’t have a fixed menu, but the dishes are guaranteed to be delicious and made with fresh ingredients.
Octagon Restaurant is recommended for those who want to try dishes that are distinct in the province like the Ivatan’s version of adobo. But if you want something more commercial like pizza, visit Casa Napoli for their selection of pies.
Fare: PHP 10,000.00++
Airfares to Batanes are not exactly cheap. On a regular day, a single journey airfare alone can cost you PHP 7,000.00 to PHP 8,000.00 already. Do take advantage of seat sales promos where you can score PHP 10,000.00 for round trip tickets.
Once you’re in Basco, the cost of renting a bike for the day starts at PHP 300.00. Motorbike rentals is priced at PHP 500.00. Taking the tricycle is charged around PHP 200.00 per hour.
Food: PHP 150.00 to PHP 250.00
The average price of a meal in Basco ranges from PHP 150.00 to PHP 250.00. The servings are huge and are all made fresh with the produce of the province.
Shopping: PHP 20.00 to PHP 300.00
Small trinkets like key chains or ref magnets from pasalubong areas cost around PHP 20.00 to PHP 50.00 apiece. Souvenir shirts start at PHP 200.00.
Accommodations: PHP 500.00 to PHP 13,500.00
A stay at the luxurious Fundacion Pacita range from PHP 6,500.00 to PHP 13,500.00 overnight. There are also pocket-friendly hostels available that offer comfortable accommodations at PHP 500.00 a night.
Activities: PHP 1,200.00
Most of the activities in Basco don’t really cost a lot. All you’ll have to pay for is the tricycle fare or the rental of the manual or motorized bike. If you want to climb Mount Irayat, the fee for the tour guide is about PHP 1,200.00
Other Fees and Taxes: PHP 20.00 to PHP 100.00
Tipping in restaurants is optional, especially if a service charge is already included in your bill. You can still tip a small amount of PHP 20.00 to PHP 50.00 if you wish.