Whenever people ask me what the best destination I’ve been to in the Philippines is, it’s easy for me to say Batanes. In terms of raw landscapes, the northernmost province of the Philippines is really a dream destination. Though I love a lot of places I’ve been to around the country, Batanes is really special. It offers a unique blend of breathtaking scenery, natural attractions and well-preserved culture. Plus the locals here are just the most hospitable and kind people I’ve ever met. Everyone and everything here just feels so pure and good.
Batanes is the only province in the country that’s been declared in its entirety as a protected Landscape and Seascape. Seriously, this place just breathes magic. I’ve raved about how special Batanes is in previous experiential accounts, but I still get questions from readers asking for specific travel tips, so I thought of compiling everything into a more informative travel guide.
WHERE EXACTLY IS BATANES:
Batanes is an archipelago province in the Philippines, geographically part of the Cagayan Valley Region. It is the northernmost province in the country, and also the smallest, both in population and land area. The province comprises ten islands situated within the Luzon Strait between the Babuyan Islands and Taiwan, but only the three largest islands, Batan, Itbayat, and Sabtang are inhabited.
GETTING THERE & AROUND:
Batanes is only accessible by air travel from Manila. The capital Basco located in the island of Batan is reachable by Philippine Air Lines and SkyJet from Manila and Tuguegarao and through chartered flights on the Ivatan-run airline Wakay Air in partnership with AirSWIFT. Flight time is about 1 hour and 45 minutes. While cargo ships bring supplies to the different islands, as of 2017, there are no commercial passenger ferries connecting the mainland Luzon to Batanes.
The main capital of Basco is compact enough that you can just walk around. To reach other towns, you can commute using passenger jeepneys or tricycles. If you’re traveling with a group (5-10 pax or more) and are after sightseeing, it’s best to avail of a package tour with accredited agencies like BISUMI Tour & Services who can provide a van or jeep, so that you can easily visit all the sights in North and South Batan Island and Sabtang Island.
For smaller groups (up to 4 pax), you can charter/hire a tricycle in the different islands. Tricycles in Batan and Itbayat are just normal, while in Sabtang Island, you can find quirky trikes designed with nipa hut cottage roofs resembling the native houses.
For inter-island travel (connecting Batan to Sabtang and Itbayat), you will need to ride ferries or boats, which can be a thrilling ride depending on the sea conditions. The faluwa is a traditional boat without any outriggers that is made for traveling in places with strong waves. Prepare for a wild ride especially if you’re going to Itbayat (which is at least a 4 hour journey through open seas).
If you’re traveling solo and know how to drive a motorcycle, the main island of Batan is one of the best places to ride. There are no motorcycle rental shops, but you can talk to locals to borrow their motorcycles for an agreed daily rate (usually P500-1000/day depending on the number of hours you use it). Locals mostly use semi-automatic and manual motorcycles, though there are a few automatic scooters available. The views here are just spectacular and there’s really no better way to explore it than on two wheels.
READ MORE: Motorcycling in Batanes
Batanes is also a bucketlist destination for cyclists. While vintage Japanese bicycles are good enough for just riding around the Basco town proper, you will want to rent mountain bikes if you plan to ride around the whole Batan, Sabtang or Itbayat because of the challenging terrain. Seriously, this is hands-down one of the best, most spectacular biking destinations in the Philippines.
READ MORE: Biking in Batanes
WHERE TO GO IN BATANES:
Though it’s the smallest province in the Philippines, there’s a lot to see in Batanes and it’s best to soak up the sights slowly to savor everything. Most visitors spend at least one day each to cover the following geographical areas and spend quality time in each spot.
North Batan covers the town proper of Basco, the Basco port, Naidi Hills, Basco Lighthouse, Vayang Rolling Hills, Japanese Tunnels, Fundacion Pacita, Chadpipan Boulder Beach, Valugan Boulder Beach, PAG-ASA weather station, Tukon Hills, and Tukon Chapel.
Mountaineers can also allot a day Hiking up Mt. Iraya.
Highlights of South Batan include the Chawa View Deck, Mahatao Boat Shelter Port, San Carlos Borromeo Church, Spaniard’s Blue Lagoon, White Beach in Maydangeb, Spanish Bridge, House of Dakay, Honesty Coffee Shop, Ruins of Songsong, Imnajbu Road Cliffs, Racuh a Payaman (Marlboro Country), Diura Fishing Village and Tayid Lighthouse in Mahatao.
READ MORE: Batanes: South Batan Island Tour
For a half-day Sabtang Island tour, you can visit the Savidug Village, St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel, Chamantad Cove and Tinyan Viewpoint, Chavayan, Sta. Rosa de Lima Chapel, San Vicente Ferrer Church, Sabtang Lighthouse, Morong beach and Makabuang Arch. If you have more time, you can also visit the Sumnanga Fishing Village and Vuhus Island.
READ MORE: Travel Guide: Sabtang Island, Batanes
The most accessible sights of Itbayat include the Chinapoliran Port, Town Proper, Lake Kavaywan, Mt. Karoboban View Deck, Paganaman Port, and Small Lagoon. If you stay longer, you can hike to some stunningly beautiful destinations, including Torongan Cave, Torongan Hills, Rapang Cliffs, Stone Bell and the beach of Kaxobcan.
READ MORE: Travel Guide: Itbayat, Batanes
More than just ticking off sights to see on a checklist, make sure to just go around on your own, talk to locals and find your own special spots.
WHERE TO STAY IN BATANES:
Fundacion Pacita offers the best accommodations in Batanes. Formerly the home studio of renowned artist Pacita Abad of the prominent Abad family, the place is now a nature lodge and art destination. There’s also a restaurant here called Cafe de Tukon, for checked in guests and by reservations.
The place is a landmark, with rooms and suites showcasing traditional Ivatan art. However, staying here is a bit expensive for backpackers and budget travelers. You can still visit just to see the place if you’re traveling with a package tour and if there are no private events ongoing.
Bernardo’s Hotel is one of the newer hotels in Batanes, located at Chanarian right next to the famous Casa Napoli. The place is ideal for families and couples who want a more quiet and secluded place, as it’s a bit of a walk from the Basco town proper.
For business and leisure travelers, Batanes Resort is a local government-owned and newly-renovated hotel with 6 stone houses having 2 rooms each. They’re located on the mountain slopes, giving guests a spectacular view of the sea. The hotel is about 10 minutes away from Basco.
For backpackers and budget travelers, there are lots of cheaper homestay options available in the Basco town proper, as well as Sabtang Island and Itbayat Island. While you can expect to spend at least P2,000 or more in hotels, most homestays only charge a few hundred pesos per night. Bathrooms are shared, but there are kitchen facilities where you can cook, so you can stretch your travel budget.
With its main and annex homes, Marfel’s Lodge / Annex provides homey accommodations in a central location in Basco. Marfel now operates five homestays/small houses for rent, which are equipped with a living room, kitchen with complete set of appliances and utensils, honesty store, toilet and bathroom and mini garden. The Annex also has a porch and wider garden area where you can hang out. Marfel’s Lodge offers bike rentals for all guests at a very reasonable rate while Japanese bikes are always available anytime of the day. Rate: P400-500/head night. Contact: 0908-8931475.
One of Marfel Lodge’s extensions, Nanay Cita’s Homestay also offers a pleasant place to stay and live with a local family who have opened up several rooms and their kitchen to guests. The house has a small rooftop area where you can hang a hammock and enjoy the breeze. Rate: P350-400/head. Contact: 0939-9193616.
Homestays are also the best bet for those staying overnight in Sabtang Island. Neyala’s Homestay has several fan and aircon rooms with bunk beds available. Rate: P300/person per night. Contact Teresita: 0920-6200754, Rita: 0919-8885141 or JB: 0949-9922551
Cano’s Lodge is a well-known homestay in Itbayat, run by the friendly Faustina Cano, a retired teacher who serves as Itbayat’s tourism officer. Contact: 0919-3004787
Levinda Lodge is a two-story house converted into a homestay, which has several rooms on the second floor, a balcony with a good view of the plaza and church where you can take your meals, a spacious kitchen, and two well-maintained bathrooms. Contact: 0921-5668269
WHAT / WHERE TO EAT IN BATANES:
Ivatan cuisine offers something different from the rest of the Philippines as many dishes evolved because of their need for survival. Since the province is plagued by typhoons, dishes that make use of root crops are abundant. Many dishes are healthy and simple, with spices like salt, soy sauce and vinegar only used as condiments. There are a few restaurants and eateries in Batanes, mostly concentrated in Basco where you can try traditional Ivatan cuisine.
Batanes Octagon Bed & Dine is a pleasant dining place that offers both local Batanes food and Filipino food with a great view to boot. Popular dishes here include uvud (balls made of minced banana pith or roots), lunis (a crispy and dry Ivatan version of adobo), turmeric rice, lumpiang dibang (flying fish) and beef-based meals. They also serve beer here.
Pension Ivatan, located right across the Basco airport also serves Ivatan cuisine and Filipino favorites. Their best-seller is the Ivatan Platter, which is best shared by groups. Traditionally considered a local delicacy, tatus or coconut crab has become endangered and overharvested because of the high demand from tourists. Though it is still served in some restaurants, local tourism officials are discouraging visitors from eating this. You can order regular crabs, lobster and other types of seafood instead.
Vunung Dinette is a courtyard and veranda turned into a dining area that serves rice and viands served on leaves. Vunung refers to the package of a large kabaya or breadfruit leaves, and is a traditional way of serving food so people can easily wrap it up to take it out in the field.
Many inns around town which have their own in-house eateries including Shanedel’s Inn serve tapsilog type meals. For breakfast, dried fish like dibang or flying fish and dorado are specialties. Vatang Grill & Restaurant is another common dining stop during tours.
Fundacion Pacita’s artistic Cafe de Tukon is open to the public (prior reservations required). They serve both Ivatan cuisine and Western dishes highlighting vegetables, beef, and pork served that are locally produced and organically raised by farmers of Sitio Tuko.
Casa Napoli is a home-grown restaurant and the only pizzeria in Batanes. They offer familiar Western flavors on their pizzas such as Pepperoni, Margherita, Hawaiian, Garlic and Cheese, as well as Pasta Bolognese, Chicken and Ice Cream.
Marconine’s is the canteen at Rakuh a Payaman (Marlboro Country), where visitors can enjoy meals with one of the most stunning views. If you’re part of a package tour, you can make reservations to dine here.
Lunch at the restaurant in Morong Beach (the only restaurant on the island run by same family who manages the eatery next to the port) is a highlight of day trip visits to Sabtang Island. Must-eats include turmeric rice, uvud (meatballs made with banana pith), dibang or flying fish and lunis (Ivatan adobo).
If you’re staying in Itbayat, Larez Carinderia in the town center is one of the few eateries that serves home cooked dishes and Ivatan specialties.
WHAT TO BUY IN BATANES:
Traditional handicrafts and costumes have become popular souvenirs among tourists. This includes the vakul, a traditional headdress, kanayi (vest), talugong (wide-brimmed farmer’s hat) and native sandals.
More modern souvenirs like t-shirts, keychains and food products are also available in souvenir shops around the island province. The most famous one is the Honesty Coffee Shop, where you take what you want and just leave money.
Sabtang Island also has a similar shop relying on the honesty system called Conscience Cafe & Souvenirs right next to the church near the port.
- April 25 – 27: Vakul-Kanayi Festival, Sabtang Island (highlights traditional garments which are symbols of the Ivatan people’s creativity and resilience; coincides with the feast day of St. Vincent de Ferrer)
- June 21 – 26: Payuhwan Festival: Batanes Day (Anniversary celebration of the establishment of the civil government of Batanes)
- August 4 – 5: Palo-Palo Festival (cultural presentation of the different municipalities of Batanes)
TRAVEL TIPS & USEFUL INFO:
- The peak Season in Batanes is from March – June for summer and November to February for the cold season. If you’re planning to travel during these months, you need to get your tickets months beforehand.
- During the summer months from March to June, the seas are calmer, and trips to other islands are easier.
- July to September is lean season in Batanes because it is more stormy during these months and sea travel can be rougher. Be prepared to be stranded for a day or two in case flights are cancelled.
- It is highly recommended to hand-carry extra clothes for a day or two. Airlines may off-load your luggage without your knowledge and send it the following day especially during the peak seasons.
- Bring enough personal medicines. The drugstores in Basco may not carry them.
- Bring good trekking shoes and be prepared to walk a lot.
- Bring enough cash. The only ATM machine in Batanes is provided by Landbank (Bancnet/Megalink & Expressnet cards are accepted at Landbank ATM in Basco) cards. Credit cards are not accepted in most establishments.
- Bring fully charged powerbanks (power interruptions are common especially in Sabtang and Itbayat) and camera batteries.
- Globe, Smart and Sun network is available in Batanes for text messages, but the signal may be intermittent.
- Prepare to disconnect while you’re here. The 3G network and WiFi is still not that reliable in Batanes. Bernardo’s Hotel and Amboy Hometel are the two accommodations in Batanes that have internet.
There’s so much to see in Batanes right? If you want to maximize your time and save costs, your best bet would be to join a hassle-free package tour. I highly recommend BISUMI Tour & Services. BISUMI is a local Travel and Tour Company that specializes in eco-adventure tours around the municipalities of Basco, Ivana, Sabtang, Uyugan, Mahatao & Itbayat). Aside from providing knowledgeable and friendly tour guides and hassle-free transport getting around, they also take pretty good souvenir photos when sightseeing, which is great for solo travelers.
Aside from the regular tours, they can also arrange your accommodations, tours and lunch packages and offer van and tricycle rentals. During my first solo trip in 2014, they arranged for my motorcycle rental, which I will forever be grateful for. If you do book tours with them, please let them know that you learned about them from TRAVEL UP! Look for Ryan Cardona, the Owner/Manager of BISUMI.
For Inquiries and Reservations:
- Facebook: BISUMI Tour & Services
- Contact numbers: Smart: +63 919.279.5963; +63 998 889 8078
- Globe: +63 915.803.4582; + 63 977 850 9647
- Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: www.discoverbatanes.com
NOTE: Information for this travel guide was compiled from three separate trips to Batanes in January 2014, April 2014 and April 2016.