Batanes · Philippines · Travel Tales

Dios Mamajes, Batanes! A Batanes Travel Guide

Batanes had always been the dream. I’ve been to quite a few places here in the Philippines and around Asia, but Batanes always remained elusive — it’s either too expensive, and the only time when airfares to Basco are cheap is during the rainy season.

Meanwhile, I consider marriage as a confluence of dreams. It is, among other things, about two people making a vow to help each other fulfill their aspirations. So before I started booking any of our wedding vendors, my ex-boyfriend-now-husband and I went to a travel fair and — because I not-really-but-demurely-totally asked — booked tickets to Basco for a little discount.

(Yes — for the months I neglected to post anything in this blog, I was busy planning my wedding and gettting married, and working for moolah in between! I half-jokingly told friends that I was more excited for the honeymoon than the wedding, wink, but both turned out awesome.)

In the next few posts, I’ll be telling you about a wish finally fulfilled with a person I’m to spend a lifetime traveling with. 🙂

Chos.
To the ends of the earth! (Teehee.) Taken at the Chamantad-Tinyan Viewpoint in Sabtang, Batanes.

About Batanes

Batanes is the Philippines’ smallest province in terms of both land area (219.01 sq. km.) and population. It comprises 10 islands, three of which — Batan, Sabtang, and Itbayat — are inhabited. The capital, Basco, is on Batan.

DSC_7717
Valugan Boulder Beach, Basco, Batanes

Batanes has six municipalities: Basco, Itbayat, Sabtang, Uyugan, Mahatao, and Ivana. Its population remains at only 16,000 to 17,000 — for the whole province. (In comparison, there were almost 56,752 people in Barangay Alabang, Muntinlupa in 2010. That’s in a land area of 8.064 sq. km.!) We were told that part of the reason for this, aside from the province’s small land area, is that there are only two colleges with limited course offerings. As a result, very few of the youth stay after high school and instead opt to go to Pangasinan or Manila for college and, eventually, work.

Most travelers see only Batan and Sabtang islands, as Itbayat is a tortuous three-hour boat ride away. (I looked at Google Maps and saw that a few hours more on the boat and one would be in Taiwan!) We were told of travelers who went to Itbayat only to be stranded there for more than a week! However, if that is your thing (as well as caving and lots of hiking), do go.

Batanes in Six Days: Our itinerary as it happened

Day 1
Arrival in Basco
Settled in at Marfel’s Lodge
12:00 noon: North Batan Tour

  • Mt. Carmel Chapel
  • PAGASA Tukon Radar Station
  • Basco Idjang viewing
  • WWII Japanese Hideout/Tunnel
  • Valugan Boulder Beach
  • Basco town proper
  • Vayang Rolling Hills
  • Naidi Hills Lighthouse

Day 2
6:00 AM: Sabtang Tour

Day 3
9 AM: South Batan Tour

View from Marlboro Hills
View from Marlboro Hills

Day 4
waited out typhoon Dodong
walked around Basco town proper

Day 5
Racuh a Payaman and Vayang Rolling Hills via tricycle

Day 6
departure fom Basco

Accommodations

We stayed in Marfel Lodge in Brgy. Kayvaluganan, Basco. You need only to turn a couple of corners from the airport and you’re there! Its ubiquity in backpacker blogs is almost legendary, and so it is almost always fully booked. Recently they had an extension and annex built to deal with the many inquiries. Its reputation is well-earned. The extension, where we stayed, has only five rooms — a good thing if you’re seeking something homey. We had long chats during the day with the staff, and even into the night with the other guests. (The staff actually leaves us on our own in the evening. I can’t get over how important trust is in Batanes!) There’s a kitchen where we could cook our own meals and an “honesty store” where we simply leave money to buy food they have in stock. This kitchen turned out to be our savior during the typhoon when almost all the restaurants around were closed.

We were lucky to get the air-conditioned room with a private toilet and bath. When power was down, the staff was kind enough to deduct from the original cost of the room for those nights when we didn’t get to use the air-con. Ate Fe, Jay-ann and Jimlan will also tell you stories — you’ll really appreciate how lovely it is that people in this small town seem to know each other!

DSC_8047
Jim, Jay-ann, and Ate of Marfel’s Lodge, and Niko of BISUMI Tours

Touring the Island

We got the services of BISUMI Tours and Services, which is managed by Ryan Cardona (also a popular name in blogs). We were quoted a total of P5,200 per person for a three-day tour of North and South Batan and Sabtang. This includes all registration and entrance fees, sea and land transfers, and lunch for three days. You’ll also get valuable information from their tour guides.

Too steep? (I was okay with steep because this was a honeymoon, after all.) Another thing you could consider, especially if you’re a couple, would be to take a tricycle to tour you around. It would cost you P1,000 for a North Batan tour and P1,500 for South Batan. It would be very convenient, though, to get tour services for Sabtang Island. BISUMI quotes P2,000 per person for a Sabtang tour, including transfers, fees, and lunch.

Transportation

We went to Batanes via Skyjet. Right on time, too, because CAAP suspended its services after a week! Philippine Airlines and Sky Pasada are other airlines with flights to Basco.

You can rent bicycles for as low as P200 per day in many areas in Basco. You can also rent motorcycles.

There are exactly eight jeeps plying the roads of Batan island, and only four of them can be found in any given day. Waiting for one could take hours.

Tricycles are mostly used by travelers. They are not cheap — after all, a certain oil company has monopoly on the province. For instance, a return trip to Marlboro Hills from Basco is P200/passenger. For uphill places, only two passengers are allowed in a tricycle.

I invite you to look at the unique tricycles on Sabtang island:

Tricycles in Sabtang

Tricycles in Sabtang

Food

Let’s begin with pizza, because pizza is awesome, even more so in the northernmost province of the Philippines. You have a choice between Casa Napoli, with its juicy tomato quarters and soft mozzarella, and Jino’s Pizzeria, with its crunchy  thin crust and spice-topped pepperoni. Gosh, I’m salivating right now. Both deliver anywhere in Basco — just ask the front desk.

The coconut crab, or tatus, has a lot of meat under its huge exoskeleton. Alive, they have bluish parts, and they reside in the forests (!) of Mt. Iraya. Are they good? Well, yes — the way crab is always good, in my opinion.

A couple of dishes that you should try are vunes — dried gabi stalks, which can get your carnivorous husband to eat vegetables — and luñiz, or the Ivatan liempo.  Have them with their yellow rice, rice cooked with turmeric. Pension Ivatan, just a five-minute walk from Marfel’s Lodge, serves all these and more.

For snacks, eat their camote chips and fries, and Sabtang’s ube served in little cups. Wash it all down with young coconut water — and eat some more by asking kuya or ate to halve the coconut and make you a makeshift spoon so you could scrape off the juicy white meat.

I dieted for months before my wedding, so eating a lot in Batanes was so damn liberating, like a huge tasty middle finger to whoever first said that brides should look good in their white dresses. As you can see, I have no pictures of food because I devoured them before I could even think of taking pictures.

Why you should go

Because it isn’t really that expensive if you’re willing to make some adjustments in accommodations and transportation.

Because it’s peaceful and safe, and the people are lovely. (If you get drunk and fall asleep on the sidewalk, your wallet and cellphone would still be with you along with your hangover the next morning.)

Because the Ivatans are a lovely, strong, and proud people. Did you know that no one from another province can purchase land on Batanes? And never mind a signal no. 4 typhoon — their houses are strong, and a half day later, their backyards would be cleared of branches and other debris.

Because its rugged landscape is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my whole life — so beautiful that I had tears in my eyes when I first saw Vayang Rolling Hills.

Vayang Rolling Hills
Vayang Rolling Hills
Advertisements

22 thoughts on “Dios Mamajes, Batanes! A Batanes Travel Guide

  1. Hi Fil,

    Just want to know if the price you mention P 5,200 include the accommodation in Marfel’s Lodge and did you join others or just you and your husband? and lastly what mode of transportation tricycle or a van?

    please let me know. because i’m planning to surprise my wife for Batanes this December.

    Thanks in advance and Regards.
    Kel

    1. Hi Kel! That sounds like a lovely surprise 🙂 The price doesn’t include accommodations yet, and we were in a van with a group. All in — entrance fees, great lunch, boat to Sabtang.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s