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Travel notebook – Batanes, the secret places of the Philippines

The rough sea hits the island of Batanes as if to say I am a king.

The waves violently hit the rocks with an enviable freedom. His stuttering power ignores remorse.

The island, however, does not recede, fold or disintegrate. It takes a proud beating with a ‘Ha’, I’m Batanes.

Batanes should be proud of their coffers. It offers an incredible landscape that is as intricate as a Roger Dean artwork. The spiraling mountains roll for miles and miles carpeted with green pastures. Atop its many cliffs, one can get a front-seat view of the brisk waters merging from the China Sea to the Pacific Ocean.

There is also something incredibly charming about the island’s unique stone houses. Around 3 meters thick, these rock adoes crafted by the ancestors have withstood torturous rain and harassing winds. The roofs are made of cogon which provides waterproof shade. From afar, the houses create an amazing texture of color and shape that is bucolic and unlike anything I have been in in the provinces I have visited.

Despite the incredible scenery, the island’s greatest strength is its people: the ivatans. Born storm warriors, they still possess a gentle demeanor, a friendly disposition, and an incredible sense of reliability. It is said that crime is non-existent in Batanes and people do not find the need to close their doors. There is even a sign posted at the city treasury that says “LOSS AND FOUND – MONEY. Claim inside.”

As most travel addicts know, Batanes is the northernmost province of the Philippines and the smallest island both in terms of land area and population. Among its ten small islands, only three are inhabited: Batan, Itbayat and Sabtang. Sandwiched by the island of Babuyan and Taiwan, the province is closer to Taipei than Manila. In fact, an urban legend says that on a clear day you can see Taiwan and hear Chinese roosters crowing.

The growth of tourism in Batanes has been fueled by airlines such as Asian Spirit, which conveniently runs weekly flights (for a round-trip ticket price of P10,000). Surprisingly elegant, the main airport is located in Basco, the capital of the province (which is located on the island of Batan). Although the flight is a bit bumpy, I land safely in Batanes and seek my adventure.

DAY 1 – Walking around Basco

A refreshing contrast to other city centers, Basco doesn’t have a strip mall or Starbucks coffee shop, yet. The pseudo mall is a small street lined with small supermarkets, supply stores, and ukay-ukay shops. Zero trikes explain the quiet streets and only a couple of jeeps and cars exist here.

2:00 p.m.

Shanedel’s, a family-run inn, is a great place to crash. The place has an amazing view of Batan Bay and is right next to the busy port of Basco. You can also see an old lighthouse perched on a hill. Languid cows graze on the pasture. The bovines stood so still I almost doubted they were real.


Conveniently, the lighthouse is only a 20 minute walk from my house. The sky was turning crimson as the sun was preparing to rest when the moon decided to pass. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to watch the sunset and the moon reveal itself simultaneously.


Fried flying fish, it was my first dinner in Batanes. The meat was fine. Nothing fantastic.

DAY 2 Exploring Batan Island

Batán, is the second largest island of Batanes that serves as a center of commerce and houses the seat of the provincial government. Travelers can arrange sightseeing tours that will explore Batan townships, which include Basco, Ivana, Uyugan, and Mahatao.

10 a.m.

The ‘topload jeepney’ is the best seat to contemplate the landscape of Batan. The ride meanders through the undulating terrain of the island. Above me are spectacular mountain formations that resemble stoic hunchbacked giants. The white sand beach below me has crystal clear waters that are splashed over huge rocks.

From time to time, the driver parks his vehicle and allows my group to get out to absorb the scenery. There is nothing more beautiful than sitting on the edge of a cliff to look at the horizon. No skyscrapers, no ships, not a single living person litters my view, just clear blue skies. I pretend that this really is the edge of the world.

12:30 pm – Honesty Shop in the town of Ivana

Lunch takes place in a small, unmanned canteen packed with goodies (mommy, chips, soda, cookies). The owners trust the honesty of the customers…hence the shop’s nickname.

2:10 PM – Marlboro Country

After a stomach-filling lunch, I head to the town of Payaman, known as Marlboro Country. The tour guide boasts ‘Makikita mo parang wala ka sa Pilipinas’. The city has a different feel. The grass, from afar, is a mix of green and deep brown tones. The guide explained that the brown color is actually thin bamboo wood cordoning off the land of an Ivantan family from their neighbor. This town is the Batanes version of the Tagaytay Highlands, but instead of golf courses, it’s actually cattle pasture. Fantastic!

DAY 3- Sabtang Island

Sabtang is considered one of the top 12 destinations by the Department of Tourism in 1994. Compared to Batan, the island is less prosperous but more charming (in my opinion). Batan’s modern influences have turned its precious stone houses into concrete walls and thatched roofs. Meanwhile, Sabtang still has its cobblestone streets and stone houses intact. Although the Sabtang is also starting to fall into disrepair as people start to modernize their houses. The danger of deterioration of Batanes is an issue that the government should pay attention to, but that is another article entirely.

Sabtang’s landscape is also more impressive than Batan’s. Steep mountains, deep canyons, and a seemingly endless stretch of white beach are incredible. The sheer limestone cliffs plunging into the cerulean waters below make it so surreal. I was able to swim in the waters of Batanes!

PS Oh, and by the way, I saw an indie film production filming a scene on the island (these guys did the indie film called Donsol). I heard that Angel Aquino was the star. Interesting…

20:00 – Dinner time

A birthday party organized by a fellow adventurer livened up the night. A tummy-busting feast includes fresh tuna sashimi, lobster and suckling pig. We washed it down with a ubiquitous Pinoy drink: Tanduay. yum.

Other memorable dishes I tried at Batanes were the fresh blue marlin tuna steak, green pepper stuffed lapu-lapu steak, beef steak (let me tell you, they have a lot of cows here), cuttlefish, and pizza. Yes, pizza… there’s a pizza guy in Basco called Iván, my favorite flavors are pepperoni, garlic and cheese and anchovy pizza. You have to order it in advance to be able to enjoy its delight.

DAY 4 – Return home

Flights from Batanes to Manila always take off around 10 am. There was a certain melancholy feeling that came over me when I left the picturesque island. Probably because I’m going back to the circus that I call my life. I guess one thing I have in common with Batanes is that, like its islands, I always try to ride the metaphorical raging waves of life.


Batanes will definitely see me again. There are also so many things I couldn’t do.

Here is my list:

1. Fly to Itbaya, which is the third inhabited island of Batanes. I was supposed to go, but unfortunately the only light plane that flies to the island was out of order. For those who wish to go to Batanes, I suggest you explore Itbaya first before going to the other island, as it is much more difficult to access.

2. Climb Mount Iraya

3. Visit Mavudis Island, which is the northernmost island of Batanes. Coconut crabs litter the island teeming with rich marine life.

4. Explore Nakabuwang Cave in Sabtang and Chawa Cave, said to be haunted. It has a bed of natural salt and a mouth that opens to the South China Sea.

Finally I would like to surf, wouldn’t it be so rude to say to the rough waters of Batanes ‘HAH I am the Queen’?

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