Batanes, the northernmost province of the Philippines, has been on my bucket list for years. Referred to as “the Home of the Winds” because of its cool and windy weather, Batanes offers a unique blend of breathtaking scenery, natural attractions and well-preserved culture. It’s the only province in the country that’s been declared in its entirety as a protected Landscape and Seascape. You could spend days here and not get tired of the views.
Since I was traveling solo, I was advised to join a group tour to save on costs. The package tour includes the transportation (van) ensuring a comfortable ride, lunch at a nice restaurant, and a guide to take us to all the main sites in the South of Batan, the mainland of Batanes. If you’re in a big group, this is the best option, since the costs per person go down the bigger the group is. If you’re a solo traveler, it’s easy enough to hook up with other people doing tours and tag along. I joined up with backpacking couple Natz & Bona, office mates Cel & Miguel (of Go Miguel Go!), solo travelers Mary Sel and Paula, and tour guide Ryan (Discover Batanes). Nice meeting you, guys!
Here’s a look at some of the sights that we got to visit during the South Batan Island Tour.
The first stop was Chawa View Deck located along the steep mountainside heading out of Basco and on the way to Mahatao. At the top is a grotto of the Virgin Mary and a few benches where you can sit and just admire the view. This spot is ideal for watching the sunset since it faces the South China Sea. From the viewdeck, you can climb down more than 100 steps leading to a small rocky coast below. Climbing back up is quite a workout.
While driving around the roads of Batan island, we noticed a lot of yellow “Blow Ur Horn” signs painted on stone markers which signal blind spots in the coastal road. According to our tour guide Ryan, these signs existed long before text lingo became popular. They’ve sort of become a tourist icon as well.
Next, we stopped by the Mahatao Boat Shelter Port, a small port where small fishing vessels and motorboats dock during bad weather. Fishing is one of the main industries in Batanes, and the boat port was built to support the industry as well as to provide jobs to locals. At least, that’s what it says on the marker right by the site. There were lots of small rickety old fishing boats docked here which make for good photo ops.
From there, we headed to the town of Mahatao, which is just six kilometers south of Basco. At the center of their town is the San Carlos Borromeo Church, built in 1873 A.D. by Onesimo Polo using limestone for wall and cogon roofing. The church was declared by the National Museum and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts as one of 26 churches in the Philippines recognized as cultural icons.
Right next to the church is Maywang A Libro Du Vatan (Batanes Blank Book Archive), a small mini-library that contains shelves of bound blank books for guests to write in.
Along the road, we passed by the Spaniard’s Blue Lagoon. It’s called as such because during the Spanish Colonial times, only the Spaniards were allowed to swim here. But now, it’s open to all guests for swimming and picnics. I’m not sure where the path going down is, but the water looked really inviting. Too bad we didn’t have time to take a dip. Since the weather was really windy and cold and none of us brought swimming gear, we just contented ourselves with more photo ops from the top.
We stopped at a beautiful cove with white sand and a great view of Mt. Iraya in the distance. This beach is located along the national highway between Mahatao and Ivana. If you’re not on a tour, this would be another great place for a swim or picnic.
The great thing about Batanes is that there are so many scenic views right by the side of the road. The province is hilly and mountainous, with the national highway carved into the side of the cliffs. Their coastal roads are the most scenic I’ve seen in the country and you can’t help but just want to stop and admire the view.
For lunch, we stopped at Vatang Grill and Restaurant, a stone restaurant by the roadside in the town of Ivana that caters to tourists. The restaurant serves Ivatan cuisine and is located right in front of a quiet beach, where you can see fishermen going about their work.
We tried the venes, a local vegetable dish made of minced gabi stalks (a type of root crop) that tasted like Bicol’s laing, without the coconut milk or spicy flavor. Our main viand was cuttlefish, which had the same consistency and taste as squid. We also had Brown Rice and Yellow Rice (rice cooked and sauteed in garlic, slices of turmeric pulp and pork), which is a specialty in Batanes. The best dish was the Fish Lumpia, a fried spring roll filled with dibang or flying fish, which was quite flavorful.
L-R: Fish lumpia, yellow rice, venes, cuttlefish
After lunch we stopped by some tourist spots in the town of Ivana. We passed by the Spanish Bridge, an old stone bridge built during the Spanish period that is still being used today. Then, we made our way to the House of Estrella, or more popularly known as the House of Dakay after its original inheritor Jose “Dakay” Estrella. The house originally built in 1877 for Luisa Estrella (Dakay’s spinster aunt), through the bayanihan (voluntourism) system, this stone house is said to the oldest surviving house in town, after an 8.3 magnitude earthquake leveled the town to the ground on 13 September 1918.
Miguel enjoys a cup of Nescafe at the House of Dakay. Hanep sa props!
While four other houses survived the quake, they eventually gave way to newer structures, leaving the House of Dakay as the lone survivor in its original form. All original Ivatan households built during the Spanish colonial times are actually composed of several houses, since the kitchen and comfort room are built separately a few steps away from the main living quarters. The roof is made of thatched cogon grass and is replaced every 25 to 30 years, depending on the thickness.
Another famous attraction in Ivana is Honesty Coffee Shop, a small unmanned store which is left open for anyone to buy whatever they need from it. All items, like souvenir shirts, coffee, snacks and candies are labelled with their prices, and visitors drop their payment into a donation box and list down what they bought in a ledger. The store has items like the vakul (traditional Ivatan headdress) on display here if you want to take a souvenir photo (P20/picture taking fee).
Paula posing with a vakul at Honesty Store
Our next stop was the Ruins of Songsong in the town of Uyugan, located in the
southeast corner of Batan Island. Along the road to Itbud are ruins of an old settlement that was ravaged by a tsunami in 1953 and 1954. From the beach, you can get a view of the coastal road going up the hill.
One of the most scenic roads in Batan Island has got to be the Imnajbu Road Cliffs with a view of the Alapad Rock Formations. Alapad offers a really great view of a hill curved by wind, rain and time. The town of Imnajbu is rugged, with ranges of rocky hills stretching from Itbud to the south and Mahatao to the North.
The highlight of the trip was one of our last stops: Racuh a Payaman or more popularly known as Marlboro Country. With rolling hills, animals grazing on the pasturelands, the view of the vast blue sea and mountains and a lighthouse in the distance nestled within hedgerows, this has got to be one of the most perfect views I’ve seen in the country. In the next two days, I found myself going back there again to just sit and admire the view.
Souvenir jump shot. Paula, me, Cel, Miguel, Bona and Mary Sel (photo by Ryan)
We really didn’t want to leave, but we had a couple of stops left to visit. We stopped by the Diura Fishing Village, a sleepy village in the eastern part of Mahatao town where fishermen still practice the traditional fishing for Arayu (dorado). This village offers a good view of the Pacific ocean and Mt. Iraya. From the shore, you can get a glimpse of the Tayid Lighthouse atop a hill, which was our last stop before heading back to Basco.
Built only recently in 2000, the Tayid Lighthouse in Mahatao offers another great view of the Pacific Ocean well as the other part of the Batan Island and its rugged mountains cliffs facing the South China Sea. Apparently, it’s different from the original Mahatao Lighthouse built in the 1700s. At the back of the lighthouse was a small pasture where cows were grazing.
There was a motorcycle parked right in front of the lighthouse, which others in the group asked to hide at the back so that we could get clean shots. Back in the van, as we looked at each others photos and talked about plans for the next few days and which tours to take, I decided that I really needed to explore the island by motorcycle.
NEXT POST: Motorcycling around Batanes
- For tours, contact Ryan Cardona of Discover Batanes (http://www.discoverbatanes.com/)
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